Iain Gray MSP has urged the SNP Government to explore the possibility of using remote hearings via videolink in East Lothian to deal with local cases and help clear the courts backlog, which has worsened during the pandemic and is now estimated to be in excess of 40,000 cases.
The call follows reports of a dramatic reduction in the number of trials taking place at Scotland’s courts due to the impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent negative impact this has on victims, witnesses and others in the justice system.
Using technology to continue to conduct some court business locally was something the then Justice Secretary Kenny Macaskill promised to explore at the time he took the decision to close Haddington’s court.
Unfortunately, that commitment was quietly dropped by his successor in the role who rubber-stamped the closure decision and snuffed out 800 years of locally delivered justice in East Lothian.
Mr Gray has now written to Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf asking him to consider remote hearings in East Lothian as part of wider plans for the justice system’s recovery from Covid.
Iain Gray MSP said:
“Everyone understands that safety concerns during the pandemic have inevitably had an impact on the justice system and that restrictions have caused significant delays. However, this disruption is having a detrimental impact on victims of crime and the wider justice system.
“As we begin to recover from Covid I believe the situation could provide an opportunity for doing things differently. This could include conducting local cases remotely at a location in Haddington, or even other parts of the county, something SNP Ministers promised to explore when they closed the town’s court back in 2015.
“Virtual courts have been running for some time and court practitioners and sheriffs are now used to remote working. Conducting some hearings remotely via videolink to East Lothian could help tackle the backlog which has built up during the pandemic. At the same time, it would also help return a local dimension to the administration of justice.”
Martin Whitfield said:
“The closure of Haddington’s Sheriff and JP Court was one of the worst examples of the shoddy way the SNP has treated East Lothian over the years. It was emblematic of the way they have behaved towards East Lothian and how they left us at the back of the queue for investment.
“I welcome this proposal for returning some element of local justice by using technology. It’s a sensible suggestion that could build on the shift towards virtual courts during the pandemic and make it easier for local victims, witnesses and others to access the justice system as we begin the recovery from Covid.
“If it proved to be successful, it could also provide a way forward for local justice beyond Covid, allowing justice to be seen to be done locally. It is certainly an issue I will be pushing for if I’m elected to Holyrood in May.”