Like other workplaces, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service 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 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: 15 February 2021
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.
In response to the pandemic and government guidelines, the Courts and Tribunals have had to close some courts and 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 go to 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.
At the end of 2020, the Courts started to increase the number of criminal trials they hear while also ensuring they follow government measures against coronavirus.
However, with new ‘Stay at Home’ and Tier 4 restrictions across the country, Scottish Courts have introduced new temporary measures until 31 March 2021, and only the following trials will go ahead:
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.
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.
Trials without a jury ('summary trials') - if you are a witness in a summary trial and you were scheduled to give evidence on or after 12 January 2021, you should not attend court unless the Crown Office contacts you directly.
Jury trials - 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.
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.
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.
While Tier 4 and 'stay at home' measures are in place across Scotland, most civil cases will continue remotely. Currently, the priority is 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:
Additionally, the courts are now processing:
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.
If you are a woman in Scotland experiencing abuse, you can contact us to ask questions about your situation and explore your options:
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