A SCOTTISH victim support charity has warned that further delays to re-starting jury trials has the “potential to cause further and trauma and distress” as MSPs investigate getting the criminal justice system up and running again. 

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf is set to face questions from MSPs on Tuesday over plans to restart jury trials in Scotland

Last week, Lady Dorrian setting out the first steps to restart jury trials in Scotland – including an initial number of jury trials to take place next month with use of three courts at the High Court in Glasgow and the jury using the public gallery. Plans in Edinburgh would allow the jury to view trials remotely from a separate courtroom to allow for social distancing. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Plan revealed to restart jury trials in Scotland

Other options being considered to work through a backlog of hundreds of delayed trials include reducing the number of jurors, remote juries and some trials potentially being held without juries. 

Kate Wallace chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, will also appear before Holyrood’s justice committee on Tuesday, and has warned of the “devastating and lasting impact that delays to the operation of the criminal justice system has on victims of serious crime”. 

She added: “Many families feel that they cannot grieve properly until the trail is over and that they cannot move on with their lives. Victims of serious sexual assault and rape are often traumatised by the experience of giving evidence, feeling they are re-living their abuse and that itself is re-traumatising. 

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Controversial no-jury trials 'could be only option' to tackle courts backlog

“In just one month, Victim Support Scotland has seen a 400 per cent increase in the numbers of safeguarding reports through our support service of potential suicide relating to victims and witnesses. "This is a deeply concerning situation and demonstrates the compounding effect of Covid-19 on a highly vulnerable group of people. Ensuring that proceedings in these cases should be concluded as soon as the administration of justice allows is of utmost importance to the wellbeing of vulnerable victims and their families.” 

Ms Wallace has called for all options that would allow trials to re-start, including controversial proposals for no-jury trials, to be considered – warning that trails taking place with smaller juries could cause a “risk of cases collapsing and complainers of sexual violence requiring to give evidence again”. 

READ MORE: Smaller Scots juries considered to clear serious trial backlog

She said: “Any move that increases the potential for a mistrial to occur will have a devastating impact on the mental health and wellbeing on people affected by crime. 

“It is unacceptable to knowingly put victims in the position where they may possibly have to give evidence more than once due to a mistrial, which for many is worse than no trial taking place at all.” 

The Scottish Criminal Bar Association will also give evidence to MSPs on Tuesday, having previously called for “the creative use of courtroom space to allow social distancing” as well as “remote juror balloting be carried out with only the selected jurors entering the court”, 

The president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, Ronnie Renucci QC, has been named among the members of a new group which will examine the possible return of jury trials. He will appear before MSPs on Tuesday. 

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In a statement to Holyrood, the Scottish Criminal Bar Association’s Faculty of Advocates, stressed that “jury trials were made to run successfully through two world wars - they can be run through this”. 

It added that at the High Court in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, the well of some courts “is large enough to allow social distancing between the professionals taking part and any witnesses not giving evidence remotely, and the jurors can safely socially distance by using the public benches. 

The organisation said that the “use of Perspex screens could also be deployed if necessary”. 

The statement adds: “The juries could then safely deliberate in any of the unused smaller courts and other large rooms throughout the building such as the cafeteria or jury muster room. 

“These are practical solutions to practical problems making good use of the court estate and resources already available at minimal cost.”