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COVID-19 and support

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.

Criminal cases

From April 26th, 2021, the courts will again gradually increase the number of criminal trials they hear while also ensuring they follow government measures against coronavirus.

For now, the focus will be on:

  • custody trials (where the accused person is being held in custody until the trial)
  • non-custody trials related to domestic abuse, sexual offenses and violence.

The trial for my case was scheduled to happen in 2021, will it still go ahead?

This will depend on the type of criminal trial your case was going through.

  • Jury trials will continue as planned
  • Most trials without a jury (also called 'summary trials'), which were postponed in January 2011, will now restart from April 19th.

The jury trial for my case was postponed when the pandemic started, when will it re-start?

Although most jury trials were postponed when the pandemic started, recently the Courts introduced remote jury centres to allow jury trials to continue.

Jury trials have now re-started in Glasgow and Edinburgh and they are expected to re-start in other parts of Scotland by February 2021. However, there is currently a backlog of cases, so it might not yet be possible to know when a trial is re-starting and it may take some time before you are asked to attend court.

If you haven’t heard any updates about your trial, contact your allocated Sheriff Court or ask a worker or person supporting you to find this information for you.

We understand this uncertainty can be very upsetting and disappointing, so we recommend that you continue to speak to those supporting you about any worries and concerns you have while you wait to hear from the Courts. This could be your family or friends, an advocacy or other support worker, Scotland’s National Rape Crisis or Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage helplines, or a combination of these.

I’m due to attend a jury trial to give evidence, what should I expect?

To comply with social distancing and coronavirus-related hygiene measures, the Courts have introduced remote jury centres. These centres allow trials to continue while reducing the number of people in a court room.

This means jurors will sit in a separate building and they will participate remotely through video link. Witnesses (which includes the victim of the crime) will attend the court in person. This video explains what to expect when you attend a jury trial as a witness during the pandemic.

Another measure introduced allows children and vulnerable adult witnesses to pre-record their evidence so they don’t have to attend court. This will apply to sexual violence, stalking and domestic abuse trials.

If you still have questions about how remote jury trials will work or about criminal trials in general, contact our Advocacy Support helpline.

Civil cases

The Court of Session (which deals with complex civil cases) and Sheriff Courts are gradually increasing the civil cases they hear. Hearings are taking place remotely via telephone, video conferencing or in writing, where possible.

If your case involves witnesses, it should continue remotely through video conference. Hearings will only take place in person if witnesses cannot participate remotely and it is possible to follow COVID-19 hygiene measures. We have written some information about attending a remote court hearing.

Each Sheriffdom has also issued their own guidance on how they will be dealing with civil cases and you can read more on the Scottish Courts website. We have also written a blog explaining what to expect and how to prepare for a remote court hearing.

What civil cases are being dealt with?

For now, most civil cases will continue remotely, and the priority are still ‘urgent’ cases as well as the backlog of cases submitted throughout the pandemic.

Some of the ‘urgent’ work being prioritised includes applications for orders which can be helpful in cases of violence against women and children, such as:

  • child protection orders
  • urgent child contact and residence applications
  • interim interdicts (these are temporary court orders that forbid an abuser from doing certain things. Read Shelter Scotland’s information about interdicts)
  • urgent protective orders (e.g. non-harassment orders and sexual harm orders)
  • urgent applications related to Adults with Incapacity

Additionally, the courts are now processing:

  • notices of intention to defend
  • returned citations
  • initial writs
  • simple procedure registrations.

You can read an up to date list of civil court business here.

If you are unsure whether your case will be heard in the coming weeks, speak to your solicitor or call your local Sheriff Court or Tribunal.

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.
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