Stornoway Sheriff Court is to see some changes from today (Tuesday 12 January) as the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service implements stringent new measures in response to the increasing spread of the new variant of COVID-19.

Scotland’s Lord President yesterday announced that during the lockdown period the majority of summary trials in Sheriff Courts would be adjourned.

In a statement released yesterday lunchtime, the SCTS said: “New arrangements will be introduced in Scotland’s courts in order to support the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic at this critical time. 

“These will significantly reduce the number of people required to attend court in person, whilst ensuring that the most essential business is maintained in the interests of justice and the safety of those involved.”

Stornoway Sheriff Court sits between Monday and Thursday every alternate week, but since the start of the first lockdown the court has remained closed to the general public in compliance with Covid legislation. 

During that period, Civil Ordinary Court cases have been conducted via telephone conference on Mondays and the Criminal Diet Court and Remand Court on Tuesday using the WebEx video platform.

This means that those involved in the case, including the Procurator Fiscal, appear virtually, with minimal accused appearing.

Cases where people arrested the night before have been kept in custody to appear the next day before court have also been appearing via video link from Stornoway police station since lockdown began in March.

The most significant change to business in Stornoway is likely to be on Wednesdays, the trial court day.

In line with the Lord President’s announcement, which was confirmed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday lunchtime, trials scheduled between today and 28 February are to be administratively adjourned unless the accused is in custody, or unless the Procurator Fiscal deems the case to be a priority.

This means that some trials will be put off until after the lockdown period, which is to be reviewed on 15 February.

The SCTS explained the Lord President’s decisions in their statement yesterday. They said: “On Friday we discussed the rapid spread of the new COVID-19 variant with senior public health officials in the Scottish Government. 

“With their advice and the recognition that we have taken all the right steps in making our buildings safe, we have determined that we should focus on the most essential business to reduce travel, overall footfall and physical interaction in our courts and therefore support the public health response at this critical time.

“As a result all our courts will remain open but we are taking immediate steps to reduce the numbers attending from Tuesday 12 January.”

A spokesperson for Stornoway Sheriff Court said that trials would be administratively adjourned and the Procurator Fiscal would then lodge an application to accelerate some, with the Sheriff to make the decision whether the trial is to be accelerated and, if so, whether it can be handled virtually using the technology available.