The average waiting period for high court trials has doubled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
New figures from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service shows the average waiting period for high court trials has doubled from a six-month wait in pre-pandemic levels to 12 months.
However, the introduction of remote jury centres allowed 29 high court evidence-led trials to be heard in December, which is higher than both the two previous years of 26 in 2019 and 23 in 2018.
The remote jury centres were extended across Scotland to restart sheriff court jury trials and 11 evidence-led trials started in Lothian and Borders and Glasgow and Strathkelvin. Other areas will follow in the early part of 2021.
Due to coronavirus, evidence-led summary trials were just 69% of the average monthly pre-Covid levels while the overall number of new cases registered in courts was just 67% of the pre-pandemic monthly levels.
However, courts concluded 15,643 cases in the second quarter of 2020/21, which was more than four times the number of cases concluded in the first quarter.
David Fraser, executive director of court operations, said: “All courts are open and our court buildings continue to operate in accordance with guidance from Public Health Scotland to safeguard our staff, judiciary and court users.
“As a result of the increasing spread of the new variant of Covid-19 across Scotland, the Lord President announced on January 11 that non-custody and non-priority summary trials due to call between January 12 and February 26 are adjourned.
“While this is necessary to support the public health response to Covid-19, we anticipate that this will increase the summary trial backlog by around 3,000 to 4,300 cases.
“Solemn business continues to be prioritised and since the first full month’s criminal programme in September, we can see further progress towards pre-Covid levels.
“While these are encouraging signs, scheduled cases are twice the normal level and the average waiting period for trials has doubled to 12 months in the high court and 15 months in sheriff solemn.
“Seven weeks without summary trials is likely to cause the waiting period to rise further from six months to 7.5 months in sheriff summary.
“We are working closely with the judiciary, Scottish Government, justice organisations, the legal profession and the third sector to find solutions to minimise delays and plan for an effective recovery when lockdown eases.
“We will continue to publish these figures on a monthly basis which will show the progress we are making and challenges we face against the backdrop of a global pandemic.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The new arrangements introduced in Scotland’s courts last week to support the public health response to the pandemic, were also critical to ensuring that we retain the confidence of all court users that they remain a safe place to be.
“While Covid-19 continues to impact jurisdictions across the world, the Scottish Government has provided the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service with £15 million to establish the UK’s first remote High Court and Sheriff jury centres, as well as strengthening court technology.
“The Scottish Government will continue to work with justice organisations and victims representatives to respond to the inevitable increase in cases awaiting trial, as well as the wider impact of the on-going public health challenges across the justice system.”