Court restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic are to be extended to cover the month of March, it was announced today.

This means that Scotland’s criminal courts will continue to focus on the most serious trials and the majority of summary trials in the sheriff court and justice of the peace court will be adjourned. 

The move will reduce the overall number of criminal trials taking place during lockdown by up to 75%. This will significantly reduce the number of people required to attend court in person, by around 7,000 per week, while ensuring that the most essential business is progressed in the interests of justice and the safety of those involved. 

Courts will remain open for business during March but will stay closed to the general public. All criminal jury trials in the High Court and sheriff court will continue as planned. These will focus on the most serious cases, where people are in custody and where the nature of the alleged offence, including sexual offences and offences involving domestic abuse and children, demand that priority be given. 

All new custody cases and summary custody trials in the sheriff courts and justice of the peace courts will continue to be heard. With the exception of a limited number of priority cases with a trial diet already set in March, all other non-custody trials where an intermediate diet has already taken place will be administratively adjourned. Provision will remain for the Crown to accelerate priority or urgent trials, such as those involving allegations of domestic abuse or child witnesses. 

All intermediate diets, with the attendance of the accused excused, and remand court hearings will continue, with remote representation supported where possible. All High Court criminal and civil appeals and the Sheriff Appeal Court, the Bail Appeal Court, Office of the Public Guardian and tribunals will continue to operate virtually and remotely, as they have been doing throughout the pandemic. Similarly the vast majority of civil business in the Court of Session, Scottish Land Court and sheriff court will continue to be conducted remotely. This includes the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court (ASSPIC). 

Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said the news did not come as a surprise but warned of the potential long term impact on society as well as on legal firms. Click here for her full statement.