In Brief

Scotland to hold trials in cinemas with socially distanced juries

Experts have described the plan as ‘bold and imaginative’ as case backlog continues to grow

Scottish cinemas could be used for jury trials as part of a plan to halt the growing backlog of criminal cases caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the BBC, the most serious criminal trials will go ahead in courtrooms “while a socially-distanced jury watches a video-link in a cinema”.

The Law Society of Scotland has said that screens will be divided into four so that jurors can see the judge, counsel and the accused while listening to witnesses or viewing the evidence.

Cameras will “also face the jury members so that their faces can be seen on video screens placed above the jury box”, and jurors will be able to send messages to the judge through a member of the court staff as usual.

Lord Justice General Lord Carloway described the plan as “bold and imaginative”. A test involving an Odeon complex in Edinburgh “worked very well”, says the Edinburgh Evening News.

Brian McConnachie QC said the scheme could free up space and allow more trials to proceed.

“If the virtual jury model works – i.e. the jury not being in the court – then that provides much greater flexibility because if that works it doesn’t really matter where your jury are at all,” he said. “If there’s a line of communication you can have the jury wherever and you can have a situation that frees up more courts.

The BBC reports that “about 750 outstanding High Court and 1,800 Sheriff Court cases” are on hold as a result of the courts being closed by the pandemic earlier this year.

English judges “have been sceptical about the merits of such an approach”, says the Law Society, but there “have been no dissenting voices as yet in Scotland”. 

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