Sheriff slams day trips from Barlinnie

Stornoway Sheriff Court and (inset) Sheriff Gordon Lamont.Stornoway Sheriff Court and (inset) Sheriff Gordon Lamont.
Stornoway Sheriff Court and (inset) Sheriff Gordon Lamont.
The prospect of people on trial being shuttled daily between Barlinnie Prison and Stornoway Sheriff Court was described this week as “deeply unsatisfactory”.

In a statement delivered in open court on Tuesday, Sheriff Gordon Lamont warned that current arrangements could be in breach of the Human Rights Act and the right to a fair trial.

Sheriff Lamont said he expects “different arrangements to be in place” for escorting prisoners in advance of upcoming trials at Stornoway and Lochmaddy Sheriff Courts.

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Trials in island courts were suspended last July following concerns about the performance of the private security company GeoAmey and were restored only after assurances about arrangements for escorting prisoners.

Announcing their return in January, Justice Secretary Angela Constance said GeoAmey would be “able to properly resource the courts from spring 2024.”

However, Sheriff Lamont said from the Bench: “I am aware that the Sheriff Principal transferred all jury trials in this and other island courts to Inverness and Aberdeen with great reluctance and only because he was not satisfied with the prisoner escort arrangements provided by GeoAmey.

“I understand that as a condition for jury trials being returned to the island courts he sought – and was given - reassurances from GeoAmey and Police Scotland that there would be no difficulty in providing appropriate arrangements for trials to be conducted properly”

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Sheriff Lamont continued: “It is unsatisfactory that the accused requires to be woken at 0330, catch a flight from Glasgow airport to Stornoway at 0710, attend a full day of trial (potentially giving evidence) and then be returned to Glasgow on the 1930 flight. This means he will likely not be returned to Barlinnie until around 2200 hours.

“The accused would then require to be up again at 0330 and follow this regime for three to four days in a row. Accordingly, an issue is raised about the accused’s Article 6 rights for a fair trial. This arrangement is far from satisfactory and I am aware that the Sheriff Principal raised his own concerns about this late last week”.

Sheriff Lamont stressed he was making no criticism of local GeoAmey staff who are “helpful and excellent”.

The Sheriff then added: “For future trials in this court and in Lochmaddy I expect different arrangements to be made to ensure that an accused is kept on the island during the whole course of the trial. In discussion with the Sheriff Principal, I can confirm that that is also his expectation”.

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It is understood that the arrangements referred to by Sheriff Lamont were in place for two jury trials due to take place in Stornoway this week although, in the event, both were curtailed.

Scottish Government ministers have faced criticisms for privatising the prison escort system and retaining the contract to GeoAmey. It was revealed in February that half of £4 million in performance fines would be handed back to GeoAmey in the form of “support” under a new contract.