Responding to the news that the reduction in court business currently in place will be extended throughout March, Law Society of Scotland President Amanda Millar said:
“This is unlikely to come as a surprise to most court users. It is right that the circumstances of the pandemic and rate of infection continue to be kept under close watch and steps taken to minimise the risk to all court users.
“However, we cannot lose sight of the long-term impact that this will have on society. Many witnesses, accused and complainers will have an extended wait to see justice done, and legal firms will continue to be impacted by a loss of business after close to a year of restrictions.
“The launch earlier this week of the Scottish Government’s coronavirus legal aid resilience fund is a positive response to our call for action, and I continue to encourage all firms for whom legal aid represents 20% or more of their turnover to check the criteria and apply if they are eligible. But, continued reductions in court business mean that the pressure on many legal firms will not lift.
“We continue to be willing to engage with and support the development of creative and workable solutions to address the growing court backlog. These need to be developed now to ensure that as soon as business can resume, all parts of the court process, including the defence, are ready to move forward. That can only happen where we work together.”
To ensure the experiences of court practitioners are taken into consideration the Law Society has been meeting weekly with members from across Scotland to share feedback from what working on court business during this time is like in reality. This is then shared in weekly meetings with the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Faculty of Advocates, and the responses shared with our members.
Amanda added: “We have heard a growing number of examples of positive experiences in courts across Scotland about simple safety measures such as the availability of hand sanitisers and wipes for defence agents to use in the well of the court. Unfortunately, this is still patchy and there remain inconsistencies in practice in different courts. Even with the proposed reduction in business, the court service needs to ensure that all court buildings in use maintain the same high standards of cleanliness and safety to protect all court users.”
Court practitioners who do not see hand sanitisers and wipes available in their local court should raise this with court staff in the first instance.