Minister responds to call for local remote court hearings

In his reply to Iain Gray MSP’s letter requesting consideration be given to holding remote hearings in East Lothian as the courts system recovers from the pandemic, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has said while there are no current plans for such hearings, he has shared the suggestion with the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service to take into account when considering future plans.

Mr Gray’s call followed 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.

Iain Gray MSP said:

“Given the history of the closure of our court in Haddington, it’s not really a surprise that there are no current plans for holding remote court hearings in East Lothian. However, I do welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s apparent openness to considering this option as part of future plans for our justice system.   

“I believe that the dramatic delays and backlog in court cases that the pandemic has caused, and the impact this is having on victims, witnesses and other court users, means we should explore all options for getting our justice system back on track.

“Virtual courts have been running for some time and court practitioners and sheriffs are now getting used to remote working. I believe conducting some hearings remotely via videolink to East Lothian could play a part in tackling the backlog, make access to justice easier and safer for local people, and help return a local dimension to the administration of justice.”