Now showing: no blockbusters, no matinees, but a drama that had an innovative plot

Social distancing requirements caused a major headache for Scotland’s jury-based courts. Te solution, involving technology and cinemas, could transform the justice system


When jurors enter the solemn surrounds of a courtroom in Scot- land today, centuries old sand- stone edifices and wood panelling have largely given way to steel and glass, covered up popcorn kiosks and empty film poster hoardings. Tey will be filing into an

Odeon cinema complex, but there are no blockbusters, matinees or trailers to speak of; instead, jurors are greeted by courtroom staff in a manner that befits the serious- ness of participating in a criminal trial. Interactions between jury

members, defence and prosecu- tion counsel, judges, victims and witnesses are now done online over a Webex platform designed by the American tech giant Cisco. Jurors take their seats (much comfier than the hard benches

in court) and watch the proceed- ings from afar. On their screens, they see a composite view of the courtroom – the Edinburgh or Glasgow high courts – as cameras display all the main protagonists split into quadrants. Te 15 jurors themselves are

filmed individually and rendered onto a video wall in the court- room, allowing the process to be as two-way as possible. When it comes to their deliberations, the jurors are brought together in an oval-shaped space at the bottom of the cinema’s main auditoria, seated two metres apart, with microphones allowing their voices to be heard by their fellow panellists. Te remote jury centres have

been up and running since Sep- tember 2020, after six months of disruption that severely curtailed the ability to conduct judicial business across the country. In

46 | FUTURESCOT | WINTER 2020/21

the interim, courts had been carrying out a reduced quota of cases, but social-distancing requirements meant that jury members had to watch court- room proceedings from adjoining rooms, which limited the capacity of the building as a whole.

A working group, chaired by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, was established by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) to find a solution, and what has taken effect is arguably the biggest single innovation in the history of the judiciary in the UK. Scotland was the first of the home nations to set up cinema-based jury centres. It has transformed a traditional profession often seen as immune to change. And for jury members themselves, the situations they find themselves in are actually not so strange; it is a diary commitment that is

more than likely to be a one-off in most people’s lives, as Tim Barraclough, Executive Director, Judicial Office, SCTS, explains. “Te most important thing was

that we got the justice system back up and running as effec- tively and safely as possible, and that was what happened,” he says. “Tere was a huge amount of goodwill and support – which stemmed from the working group involved in designing the new approach, feeding in a number of requirements at the outset, to the practitioners and other partici- pants. And the feedback so far has been pretty positive; there will be a proper evaluation in the longer term but so far, because every- body was on board, things have worked out pretty well.” He added: “For the juries, they

don’t really know any different. It’s not as though they have done several trials in their lifetimes.

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