THE NUMBER of criminal trials taking place during the lockdown will be dramatically reduced to allow courts to focus on the most serious cases during.

The move, announced by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS), means that most summary trails will be adjourned amid concerns over the new variant of Covid-19 – thought to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.

The SCTS said the action will reduce the overall number of criminal trials taking place during lockdown by up to 75 per cent.

All courts will remain open but the SCTS has moved to reduce the number of people attending from Tuesday amid fears over the spread of the new strain of the virus.

But the SCTS said that all criminal jury trials in the High Court and Sheriff Court must continue, focusing on the most serious cases, where people are in custody and where the nature of the alleged offence, including sexual offences and offences involving domestic abuse and children, demands priority.

From January 12, all new custody cases and summary custody trials, which are conducted without a jury, in the Sheriff Courts and Justice of the Peace courts will continue.

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But all trials where no-one is in custody will be adjourned, with a provision in place to be able to accelerate priority or urgent trials, such as those involving allegations of domestic abuse or child witnesses.

People will also have to wear face coverings in court rooms, where previously they were just required to wear them while moving around the building.

An SCTS statement said: “The position across the country as a whole has changed over the last week, requiring us to review our position.

“On Friday we discussed the rapid spread of the new Covid-19 variant with senior public health officials in the Scottish Government.

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“With their advice and the recognition that we have taken all the right steps in making our buildings safe, we have determined that we should focus on the most essential business to reduce travel, overall footfall and physical interaction in our courts and therefore support the public health response at this critical time.”

All criminal appeals, the Bail Appeal Court, Office of the Public Guardian and Tribunals will continue to operate virtually and remotely, as they have been doing during the pandemic.

The vast majority of all civil business in the Court of Session and Sheriff Court will also continue to be conducted remotely, including the All Scotland Personal Injury Court (ASSPIC) and the Sheriff Appeal Court (SAC).

Lawyers are being asked to hold consultations with clients away from the court buildings where possible, and can ask for an adjournment if they need to speak to a client during a court hearing.

HeraldScotland: Justice Secretary Humza YousafJustice Secretary Humza Yousaf

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I welcome the Lord President’s decisive action, which balances the interests of justice with the very serious public health challenges presented by the new variant of the coronavirus.

“I am acutely aware of the impact that trial delays have upon victims, witnesses and the accused, as well as on professionals working in the justice system.”

He added: “Nonetheless, it is clear that all parts of society must step up our efforts to help safeguard health, protect the NHS and save lives.

“While the very concerning rates of infection, hospitalisation and deaths present us with arguably at least as challenging a position as we faced last March, today the justice system and in particular Scotland’s courts are logistically and operationally in a much better position than in the spring when a full shutdown of criminal trials was needed.”