COURTS across Scotland were thrown into disarray at the beginning of this week as a new contract for the provision of custody and prisoner escorts got under way.

Anglo-American company GeoAmey succeeded G4S as the sole provider of transportation services on Monday after last year emerging as the only bidder for the £238 million, eight-year contract.

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service, which led the procurement of the contract, said a software issue had affected the scheduling of some deliveries at the start of the week, with around a quarter of drop-offs thought to have been delayed as a result.

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He confirmed that there had been no overlap between G4S giving up the contract and GeoAmey taking it up, with the staff that transferred between the two organisations having to move from using one computer system last Friday to a completely different one on Monday with no chance for any training in between.

Lawyers said the situation in courts in Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Glasgow and Perth was “shambolic”, with numerous cases being forced to start late while some had to call out of order in a bid to keep the system going.

Brian McConnachie QC, who is currently acting for one of three people accused of murdering 49-year-old Haider Hayat in a hammer and knife attack in Castlemilk last year, said the trial was delayed by more than an hour on Monday after just one of the three accused was delivered to Glasgow High Court on time.

“The only vehicle that arrived at the High Court on time was from Barlinnie,” he said. “We were all sitting waiting, a pathologist was sitting waiting.”

Noting that similar difficulties were also experienced when G4S ran the contract, Mr McConnachie said that “over the course of this trial, if you added up all the time we have spent waiting for the accused to arrive we’ll have lost at least a day of court time”.

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“It’s a waste of time and a waste of money,” he said. “On this trial there are three accused with senior and junior counsel, there’s a judge and a court clerk. That adds up to about £15,000 to £20,000 a day by the time you take court costs into consideration.”

Liam McAllister of Aberdeen defence firm Lefevre Litigation said Aberdeen Sheriff Court experienced similar delays, with the court still waiting at 6pm on Monday evening for a number of people who had been arrested over the weekend to appear from police custody.

“The tracking system wasn’t working properly and there was confusion about where they were,” he said. “The sheriff decided to put them off to the next day, but that’s not fair for anyone. These things should have been ironed out in a transition period.”

Despite this, a spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said the issues experienced on Monday did not lead to any scheduled cases spilling over into Tuesday, although he admitted that the service had been hit by teething problems.

“Given the scale and complexity of the contract handover, and notwithstanding the significant amount of planning invested, some operational issues were to be expected,” he said. “We are working closely with other justice partners and with the new contractor and fully expect these to reduce as this first week progresses.”

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GeoAmey, a joint venture between UK public services company Amey and Florida-based prisons business Geo Group, has been providing prison escort services across much of England and Wales since it was formed in 2011.

The company, which made a profit of £2.4m in 2017 - the most recent year for which figures are available - won the Scottish Court Custody and Prisoner Escort Service contract last year after the other two bidders, G4S and Serco, dropped out of the tender process at an early stage.

The contract, which will see the private business transport 180,000 prisoners each year in addition to managing them while they are in court, is worth just under £30m a year. Under G4S, the contract was worth between £23.6m and £26.4m a year.

A spokesman for GeoAmey said that despite there being “a number of late arrivals at court this week”, the company is “very confident that the solution we have for a smooth and efficient service will be delivered in full”.