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Court / Island court jury trials due to recommence in the spring

Jury trials are set to return to island sheriff court in spring of next year. Photo: Shetland News

JURY trials are expected to return to island courts in Scotland in the spring.

It comes after assurances from prisoner escort company GEOAmey that it will be able to properly resource courts.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart welcomed the news, but said jury trials should resume “as soon as possible”.

An order imposed in July prohibited new jury trial business in the Scottish islands, including at Lerwick Sheriff Court, due to staffing challenges experienced by GEOAmey.

It meant that new jury trials had to be assigned to courts on the Scottish mainland.

The effects of the order on local justice have caused concern across the political spectrum, and in November Lerwick’s Sheriff Ian Cruickshank expressed frustration in the courtroom about the situation.

One particular area of concern was islanders having to travel to the mainland for jury trial matters, including witnesses.

However the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service confirmed to Shetland News that the order is set to be lifted in the coming months.

They said: “Following the pausing of the post pandemic reintroduction of solemn jury trials to the sheriff courts at Lerwick, Kirkwall, Portree, Stornoway, Lochmaddy and Wick, assurances have been given by GEOAmey, the prisoner escort contractors, that they will be able properly to resource the courts from spring 2024.

“Accordingly, Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle, Sheriff Principal of Grampian, Highland and Islands, has instructed that jury trials should recommence in those courts.

“Planning with local justice partners is now underway.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News.

“The Sheriff Principal will continue to keep the effectiveness of the arrangements under close review.”

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Commenting on the update, MSP Wishart said: “It is wholly unacceptable that a private company has been allowed to cause this level of disruption to the justice system and that it will continue to spring 2024.”

She added that her party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, have been calling for the reinstatement of local jury trials since the order was imposed.

“We have seen the impacts of having to hold trials away from the islands with reports of police witnesses having to travel to a trial on the mainland and the need for cover while they are away,” Wishart continued.

“And I heard from the Compass Centre about the impact it has had on cases related to gender-based violence.

“Equal and local access to justice is important to ensure a trial by peers and there should be no further delay.”

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