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COVID-19 and support

What will happen with my court case during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Like other workplaces, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals have had to make changes to adapt to social distancing guidelines and to keep their staff and the public safe during the pandemic. This means that how the courts and tribunals operate is temporarily changing.

In this blog we describe some of things you can expect if your case was already in court or if you were considering taking your case to court.

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 be dealt with by Tribunals. The more complex cases can be dealt with by the High Court or Court of Session.

Criminal cases: these deal with any crimes that have been reported to and investigated by the police. This includes sexual violence, domestic abuse, stalking, image-based abuse (sharing of 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 matters, including conflicts between one person and another person, company or organisation. Some examples of civil cases are: divorce, child contact hearings, requests for protective orders and housing or mental health cases.

Some general changes

The Courts and Tribunals are looking at different ways in which they can continue their usual work while making sure their staff and the public are safe. This has led them to close some courts and reduce the number of criminal and civil cases being heard.

They have reduced the number of Sheriff Courts open, so at the moment there are 10 Sheriff Courts open which will deal with ‘urgent’ civil cases and criminal trials that the courts have decided can continue. You can see a list of open courts here.

The Courts are also exploring other options to continue their business during the pandemic. Some of these changes include using video link or telephone conference calls for some types of hearings to reduce attendance at court. For example Mental Health Tribunals are taking place by teleconference and children’s hearings by video conference.

Changes are happening all the time as the Courts issue new processes and guidance. We will update the information here when there are any updates.

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 service.

Below you will find information on how criminal and civil cases are being managed at the moment.

Criminal cases

The courts have reduced the number of trials they hear during this time. 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 already in court before the ‘lockdown’, will it continue?

Trials which were already taking place will continue until the end if it is possible and practical to do so; this means that the Court will need to make sure that the people taking part can attend and that they can keep the recommended 2 meter physical distance during the trial.

My case was supposed to go to trial, will it go ahead during the pandemic?

The Courts have said that no new criminal trials will go to court until further notice, and this is expected to be until June 2020.

This decision is under constant review and it might change in the future. However, they have also indicated that some court cases, such as domestic abuse, sexual offenses and violence cases, will proceed if possible.

It is important to point out that for a trial to continue, the courts will need to make sure social distancing is possible and, if there is a jury, that jurors are able to attend court.

Civil cases

Most non-urgent civil and Tribunal cases have been postponed and only cases that are considered ‘urgent’ are continuing.

The Court of Session (which deals with complex civil cases) have started hearings remotely and are gradually increasing the cases they hear. We expect this to be the start of more changes to civil court business.

If your case involves witnesses, then at the moment it is likely to be postponed until further notice. Although a case may be able to continue if the people involved agree to do it by telephone or video conference call.

What civil cases are being dealt with?

At the moment, ‘urgent’ cases are continuing. To decide whether your case is ‘urgent’, the Court will need to review the information and circumstances around it.

Some hearings will also continue, including those related to family and personal injury. For now, the hearings will take place by teleconference. Some cases are being dealt with by written representations.

In addition, the Courts have identified the court work they will prioritise during the pandemic. Some of this can be helpful to protect women and children experiencing abuse:

  • 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
  • urgent applications related to Adults with Incapacity

There is a list with more details here.

If you are unsure whether your case will be heard during the pandemic, 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, sexual harassment or advocacy support helplines, depending on the kind of advice or information you need
  • Use our online contact form if it isn’t safe for you to call our helpline.
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