What will happen with my court case during the COVID-19 pandemic?
During the pandemic, the Scottish courts and tribunals have made changes to adapt to coronavirus guidelines and to keep their staff and the public safe. This means that how the courts and tribunals operate has temporarily changed.
In this blog we describe what to expect if your case was already in court before the pandemic or if you are considering taking your case to Court now.
Changes are happening all the time as the Courts issue new processes and guidance. We will add any updates here.
Last updated: 30 April 2021
First things first: is it a criminal or civil case?
To find out what will happen to your case, it is important to understand the difference between civil and criminal cases, as the adjustments are different for each.
Both types of case are mostly dealt with by the Sheriff Court, but some can go to the Tribunals. The more complex cases will go to the High Court or Court of Session.
Criminal cases: these are crimes that have been reported to and investigated by the police. They cover sexual violence, domestic abuse, stalking, image-based abuse (someone sharing your intimate images without consent), FGM, and any other situation that is considered a crime by the law.
Civil cases: these deal with all other issues, including cases of abuse, and conflicts between one person and a company or organisation. Some examples of civil cases are: divorce, child contact hearings, requests for protective orders and housing and mental health cases.
Some general changes
In response to the pandemic and government guidelines, the Courts and Tribunals have had to reduce the number of criminal and civil cases they hear.
At the moment there are 19 Sheriff Courts open which are dealing with ‘urgent’ civil cases and criminal trials, as well as with the backlog of cases submitted during lockdown. You can find a list of open courts here.
Only those directly involved in a court hearing and asked to attend court in person can access the Courts and Tribunals buildings, and they will need to follow COVID-19 safety measures while on court premises.
The Courts have also introduced other changes to continue their business safely during the pandemic. Some of these include using video link or telephone conference calls for some types of hearings to reduce the amount of people who attend court in person. For example, Mental Health Tribunals are taking place by teleconference and children’s hearings by video conference.
If you are unsure about what will happen with your case, contact your solicitor or get in touch with your local Sheriff Court or Tribunal.
Below you will find information about criminal and civil cases during the pandemic.
If you have an issue regarding your immigration status in the UK, it is very important that you get legal advice.
A solicitor specialising in immigration advice will be able to look at your particular circumstances and give you advice on your immigration options in the UK. The information you share with your solicitor is confidential and this confidentiality can only be breached in limited circumstances.
Solicitors are not under any duty to inform the Home Office of your immigration status.
You can find an immigration solicitor to help you through the Law Society of Scotland website.
It is important that you stay in touch with your solicitor. If you are questioned by the police they may contact Home Office UK Visas & Immigration to check your immigration status. You should keep your solicitor’s details with you so that you can contact them if you need to.
The Scottish Women’s Rights Centre (SWRC) can also provide free advocacy and legal support on immigration issues. You can find more information on the SWRC website.
If you cannot pay for a solicitor to help you, you may be eligible for legal aid. The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) administers legal aid in Scotland. You do not need to apply for legal aid; the solicitor representing you will make the application. You can check if you might be eligible for legal aid by visiting the SLAB website.
Victims of domestic violence and abuse
You may have a visa to stay in the UK as the spouse/partner of someone who is a British citizen or has settled in the UK (including as a refugee). If you are experiencing domestic violence and abuse from them, you may be worried that if you leave the relationship, you will automatically lose your permission to stay in the UK. Domestic violence and abuse can be emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, or financial. It includes threatening or controlling behaviour to try to harm, isolate or frighten you.
If your relationship has broken down because of domestic abuse, you may be able to apply to the Home Office for indefinite leave to remain in the UK (‘settlement’) through an immigration application process specifically for victims of domestic abuse whose leave to remain in the UK is linked to a spouse or partner who is a British citizen or has settled in the UK (including as a refugee).
You should apply as soon as possible after the relationship breaks down. You do not have to wait until your current visa expires.
If you do not have any way of supporting yourself, you may be able to apply for temporary access (up to three months) to public funds (benefits) through the ‘Destitution Domestic Violence (DDV) Concession’ while you apply for and wait for a decision on your application for settlement in the UK as a victim of domestic abuse.
These applications can be complex. Therefore it is very important that you get specialist legal advice.
If you believe you will be at risk of serious harm if you return to your home country and your country’s government cannot or will not protect you, you may need international protection. You can seek international protection in the UK by making a claim for asylum. By making a claim for asylum, you will be asking for permission to stay in the UK for your own safety as a Refugee or by being granted Humanitarian Protection.
Claiming asylum is a complicated process and you have the right to legal advice. It is very important that you have a solicitor to advise and help you with your asylum claim. It is very important that you get legal advice as soon as possible.
No Recourse to Public Funds – ‘NRPF’
NRPF is a condition that may be attached to your immigration status in the UK. The NRPF condition can limit your access to some benefits and social housing in the UK.
The NRPF condition only applies to specific listed public funds. These include (but are not limited to):
- Child benefit
- Council tax benefit
- Disability living allowance
- Income Support
- Universal Credit
- Housing & homeless assistance
The NRPF condition does not include:
- Scottish Legal Aid
- Free school lunches
- Early learning childcare support
- Access to some health services
- Local authority/social work assistance for vulnerable adults and children
The NRPF condition may be linked to your immigration status from before you came to the UK (when you applied for a visa to enter and stay in the UK) or after you arrived in in the UK. Examples include (but are not limited to):
- Spouse visa
- Student visa
- Work visa
- Asylum seekers
- Migrants without permission to be in the UK • Visa overstayers
The NRPF condition may be preventing you from leaving an abusive relationship because you believe you will be homeless and destitute if you leave. It may also put you at risk of being exploited or prevent you from seeking the help you need.
Your options will depend on the type of immigration status you have. There are situations where you can apply to the Home Office to remove the NRPF condition, for example if your circumstances have changed. You may also be eligible for a different type of immigration status that does not have an NRPF condition.
Immigration law is very complex and therefore it is very important that you get specialist legal advice as soon as possible.
European Union Settlement Scheme
If you are:
- a citizen of an EU country (including Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland), or
- married, in a civil union or in a long-term relationship with a citizen of an EU country (including Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland)
and you started living in the UK before 31 December 2020, you should have applied to the EU Settlement Scheme before the deadline of 30 June 2021.
If you didn't submit an application or have questions about your immigration status, benefits or your experience of abuse, the following organisations can advise you:
Citizens Advice Scotland: 0800 916 9847 (Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm) They offer information and support to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland/immigration
Citizens’ Rights Project: This organisation offers support to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. www.citizensrightsproject.org/1-2-1-support/
General health services
You have the right to free, confidential healthcare from a GP (called ‘primary care’). You can register by visiting your local GP surgery.
You can also access accident and emergency services at NHS hospitals, for example those provided by an Accident & Emergency department, walk-in centre, minor injuries unit, or urgent care centre, for free. Depending on the type of permission you have to stay in the UK, if you are admitted to hospital, you may have to pay for treatment.
Depending on the type of permission you have to stay in the UK, you may have to pay for other types of healthcare. This can include dental or eye care.
You can find information about health services available in your area as well as other useful health information at NHS Inform.
Maternity and children
If you are pregnant you can access maternity care. Depending on your immigration status and the type of permission you have to stay in the UK, maternity care may be free. The Scottish Government policy is that maternity services are ‘immediate and necessary treatment’. This means you should never be denied maternity services or have maternity services delayed because of your inability to pay for these services.
You can find the contact information for the maternity service in your local area online, where you will be able to book an appointment with a midwife.
Your GP surgery can also refer you to a maternity service where you can meet a midwife who will help you with your pregnancy. You can access antenatal classes to learn about giving birth and get help and advice on how to look after your baby when they are born.
If you need more information on anything in this guide, or if you are experiencing or have experienced gender-based violence and/or immigration issues, the SWRC can help with advocacy, legal advice and putting you in touch with other services. Find out how we can help.
I would like to explore my legal options, where can I get advice?
If you are a woman in Scotland experiencing abuse, you can contact us to ask questions about your situation and explore your options:
- Call our legal helpline if you need legal advice or information about a legal process.
- Contact our advocacy support helpline if you have questions about court processes or if need support to find out what is happening with your trial.
- You can also make an appointment for one of our advice surgeries.