First physically distanced trial ‘a success’ at the High Court in Edinburgh

The High Court in Edinburgh has successfully held its first trial involving a remote jury via digital technology.
Jurors were located in a separate room from the trial courtroom at the High Court in Edinburgh.Jurors were located in a separate room from the trial courtroom at the High Court in Edinburgh.
Jurors were located in a separate room from the trial courtroom at the High Court in Edinburgh.

The case involved a new format to allow for physical distancing to be observed, with jurors located in a separate room from the trial courtroom. Cameras were also in place to allow the faces of the jurors to be visible on a video wall where they would normally be located.

At one point the trial was adjourned to allow Iain McSporran QC, the defence counsel, to confer with the accused at a safe physical distance.

Mr McSporran said: “The accused had a fair trial which worked very well. Any minor glitches were resolved immediately.

“I was really glad to be back at work and the success of this format was the result of the effort of many people including the judge, the counsel, the clerk and the jury. The Courts deserve our gratitude for the technological arrangements in place to allow jury trials to restart.”

While speaking to the jury in their separate room, he said: As the saying goes ‘I wish you were here’ but I am very glad that you are there.”

Prosecuting, Alex Prentice QC, said: “Although it was a strange experience, the format was a success and I would like to pay tribute to the Court Service and all involved who put the package together.

“Physical distancing slowed the proceedings down a little and we had to remember to stand in a certain position to be seen by the camera, but that did not present a problem and the technology and the link to documents to the jury room worked very well. I would like to express my gratitude to the people who managed to make it happen.”

The High Court in Glasgow is currently running its first remote jury trial using a different setup which involves three courtrooms.

The remote jury trials were arranged following meetings of the Restarting Solemn Trials Working Group, which is led by Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian. The group continues to assess and develop means to hold more solemn proceedings at both High Court and sheriff court levels and risk assessments have been carried out to allow court buildings to reopen.

Since the lockdown began some court business has continued held over virtual networking, including appeals, Court of Session hearings, personal injury cases and sheriff court civil cases.

Virtual summary criminal cases were successfully held at Inverness and Aberdeen and will be introduced to other courts.