Unlocking the digital toolbox

Tere was nimble footwork on show as Scottish justice switched on technology to cope with the pandemic BY FIONA LAING

It’s all too easy to characterise justice with the image of dusty law books and protracted detail- heavy processes. One thing the pandemic has done is show what Scottish justice is capable of in terms of innovation and adopting technology. A year ago, trials were wrap-

ping up, with the courts about to be silent for almost six months. Yet now, in the latest lockdown, we have virtual custody hear- ings, remote juries and electronic signatures.

in September 2020, trials are back to pre-Covid levels and more than 3,500 virtual custody hearings have been completed. Tese changes to the tradi-

“Technology has been a key en-

abler for many of the innovative solutions being implemented by our justice system partners,” says Willie Cowan, deputy director, Criminal Justice Division at the Scottish Government. “Remote jury centres and vir-

tual custody courts are allowing essential business to continue, with work going on to consider greater use of technology in trial settings,” he adds. In fact, the investment in

remote jury centres means that since the first remote jury centre opened at an Edinburgh cinema


tional way of working were made possible by the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, which was passed as emergency legislation and included measures which al- lowed the justice system to adapt quickly and function flexibly. For instance, it enabled the use

of electronic signatures which minimised the need for staff and the public to be physically in con- tact or on justice premises.

The Covid-19 restrictions had a significant impact on the number and ways that trials could take place in courts. Tis affected not only victims, witnesses and de- fendants, but also lawyers, judges and court officers.

“Tese are, of course, issues be-

ing faced by jurisdictions around the world and while there are no simple and immediate solutions, Scotland’s justice system should be given great credit for the urgent, effective and collaborative work it has undertaken in response to the pandemic, supported by the Scot- tish Government,” says Cowan, who was a keynote speaker at Fu- tureScot’s Digital Justice & Polic- ing 2021 conference on 11 March. “Much has been achieved

in spite of the pandemic, with significant developments in the utilisation of technology, the delivery of the remote jury centre model which now enables pre- Covid levels of court activity and embracing new ways of working. “Our justice system has

changed and evolved over the last 12 months, and will continue to do so as we recover, renew and

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