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Court / Sheriff voices concern over future of jury trials in island courts

LERWICK’s sheriff has expressed fears over the future of jury trials in Shetland amid continued restrictions on island courts in Scotland.

It comes as an order, first imposed in July, continues to prohibit new jury trial business in the Scottish islands due to staffing challenges with prisoner escort provider GEOAmey.

Lerwick Sheriff Court heard on Wednesday that a jury trial set for Lerwick later this month had to be discharged because of a lack of suitable counsel of the accused.

Sheriff Ian Cruickshank.

The case in question is against 41-year-old Stephen Tait, of Lytham, who faces six historical charges relating to lewd, indecent and libidinous practices against young people, which he denies.

Because the trial had to be discharged, it has been moved to the Scottish mainland – to Peterhead, in February.

With the order on courts in Stornoway, Lerwick, Kirkwall, Portree and Lochmaddy continuing, Sheriff Cruickshank said he had concern that the “erosion” in the ability to deliver justice locally “will be irreversible”.

He said it would be “shameful” if jury trial business was lost in the islands.

The Sheriff highlighted how accused people on bail on an island have to travel to a jury trial on the mainland at their own expense.

He also questioned if it was fair to ask witnesses to travel to the mainland too.

In a separate case on Wednesday the court heard that there could be the potential for as many as seven Shetland police officers needing to travel to the mainland to give evidence if that matter resulted in a trial south.

Sheriff Ian Cruickshank said it appeared to him that Shetland was getting a less favourable deal than other courts on the mainland, and wondered if it was against the principles of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018.

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However, he concluded: “It is perhaps a matter for politicians to debate and resolve.”

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur previously said the situation was “wholly unacceptable”, impacting those facing trial as well as witnesses, victims and lawyers.

In September Scottish Courts said the order on island courts was “under constant review and is consulting with justice partners with a view to returning jury trials to island courts when practically possible”.

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