will be used to increase capacity across the justice system as we tackle backlogs built up while necessary public health restric- tions are in place.”

Established in June 2020, the RRT programme aims to recover essential services and, in due course, renew and transform how the justice system operates to ensure a resilient, effective system now and for the future. “It supports a co-ordinated ap-

proach between justice organisa- tions as we respond to on-going public health requirements and plan to emerge from them. Te RRT measures are contributing to recovering an improved justice system, rather than the system we had immediately pre-Covid,” adds Cowan. It is a continuing process. “Te

Technological innovation has demonstrated the opportunities for the future

Criminal Justice Board meets fort- nightly to oversee the programme and ensure it is implemented, recognising the needs and rights of all court users, and considering the whole system impacts of address- ing the backlog,” explains Cowan. Looking back over the past 12

transform the system in the com- ing years.” Te challenges of managing

the demands put on civil and criminal proceedings during the pandemic did not come cheaply. Cowan says: “We understand the

impact trial delays have on victims, witnesses and accused, and this was a key driver behind the provi- sion of £12m to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) for remote jury centres, in addition to £3m made available to develop court technology. We also allocated an additional £5.75m in-year to help support additional pressures on third sector organisations work- ing with victims and witnesses. “Most recently, and subject to

parliamentary confirmation, in the draft budget statement we committed an additional £50m to support the Recover, Renew, Transform (RRT) programme. Tis

months what stands out among the innovations made? “Te set- ting up of the remote jury centres is a key achievement for the sec- tor. Tese trials operate in a safe and effective manner thanks to the video conferencing solutions that have been put in place. “We have also completed over

3,500 virtual custody hearings as part of a pilot scheme which, in due course, is designed to deliver a national operating framework.” Cowan admits: “Tere are

always challenges when imple- menting, especially at short notice, a digital replacement for an existing service or method of doing things, but there has been a concerted effort across the system to overcome these and great suc- cess delivered as a result.” One area of concern has been

digital exclusion and in particular how it impacts victims and wit- nesses. “Te effective consideration

of human rights and equalities issues is central to the work of the RRT programme,” says Cowan. “An advisory group provides insight into the varied rights and

“Technology has been a key enabler for many of the innovative solutions being implemented by our justice system partners”

Willie Cowan, deputy director, Criminal Justice division, Scottish Government

needs of those impacted by the system and considers how best to reflect the views of individuals with lived experience back into the decision-making process. “Te group also assists in

informing equality and human rights impact assessments across the programme, comments on further evaluation/monitoring requirements, and provides guid- ance on mitigations required and trauma-informed approaches that could be adopted.” Te group’s discussions are fed

back to both the Criminal Justice Board and those working on the individual projects and the pro- gramme as a whole. Twelve months on, the justice

landscape now looks very dif- ferent for the legal practitioners – the judges, courtroom staff and lawyers. Cowan believes the experience for many has been “generally positive”. “We have many meetings

with our stakeholders and any emerging issues of concern are discussed openly and with a view

to agreeing a way forward. Clearly there have been issues –and that is to be expected, and it is right that they are recognised, discussed, and appropriately responded to.” Work is still in progress on pre-

Covid transformation projects. “We have been working hard, along with our partners in Police Scotland, COPFS and SCTS, to progress the Digital Evidence Sharing Capability programme as quickly as we can to the extent that, as we speak, we are in the final stages of procurement.” Cowan adds: “It’s obvious to say

in hindsight, but no contingency planning could have prepared us for a global pandemic that came upon all of us so quickly and impacted society as a whole. “In recovering, renewing and

transforming the justice system in the coming years we will revisit contingency planning and the real meaning of resilience in some detail and absolutely learn from this experience.”

Looking to the future, Cowan says that while the resumption of jury trials is a positive develop- ment, he cautions that “we must be realistic about the scale of the backlog of cases awaiting hear- ings in court and the speed with which it will be capable of being addressed”. He adds: “Te additional £50m

funding will be used to increase capacity for cases to proceed across the system and at a recent roundtable event with key players in the justice system discussion fo- cused around what the next steps are to tackle these challenges. “I think there is a general

consensus that we should not aim to recover what was in place pre- Covid – our ambition needs to be much, much greater than that. What that ultimately looks like is yet to be determined, but I think the actions of the justice system in the last year has demonstrated a huge appetite and ambition to stretch the art of the possible to its maximum,” he says. “Technology opens up a whole

new toolbox of opportunity going forward,” Cowan observes. l

This article was published online by FutureScot prior to 25 March, 2021


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