McArthur presses government on remote justice

Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur has challenged the Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf to ensure greater use is made of technology and other measures to enable more court business to be undertaken, particularly in the interests of those in remote communities across Scotland.

During the Scottish Parliament’s first ‘virtual’ Justice Committee session today, Mr McArthur acknowledged that the priority was safeguarding the health of court staff and the wider public. However, he urged the Justice Secretary to reflect on what was happening in England and Wales, where court services were making use of telephone, video and other technology to allow remote hearings and procedural business to take place.

Kirkwall Sheriff Court has been closed due to the coronavirus crisis, with emergency business transferred to a ‘hub’ in Inverness. However, concerns have been raised about the impact of this transfer, as well as obstacles in the way of securing new guardianship orders and Powers of Attorney.

The Justice Secretary acknowledged these concerns, and offered to pursue the issue with the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.

Commenting, Mr McArthur said:

“Nothing is ‘business as usual’ at the moment, and the well-being of court staff and the wider public has to be the number one priority. However, there are many aspects of civil court business that we cannot afford to put on pause.

“Over recent weeks, I have been contacted by local solicitors in Orkney, extremely concerned at the difficulties they have faced in getting urgent business completed. Delays in getting a new Guardianship Orders or Powers of Attorney in place, for example, can have serious consequences. Vulnerable people rely on effective and timely court processes that make sure their rights are properly safeguarded.

“In England and Wales we are seeing technology being used to enable more court business to be undertaken. There is no reason why a similar approach cannot be adopted in Scotland. Indeed, Sheriff Courts already conduct procedural hearings by tele-conferencing.

“The Justice Secretary insists that progress is being made, but has offered to take up these concerns with the Scottish Court and Tribunals Service. I welcome that assurance and hope it will allow access to justice for more people in Orkney, and elsewhere in Scotland, who need it.”

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