McArthur challenges the removal of island jury trials

21 Aug 2023

Last month, Sheriff Principal for the Highlands and Islands, Derek Pyle, issued an order to transfer existing proceedings in Kirkwall to Inverness Sherriff Court, due to the failure of private contractor GeoAmey to provide the staff required for prisoner escorts in such cases. Solemn cases in Lerwick, Portree, Lochmaddy and Stornoway were similarly required to be transferred to courts in Inverness, Aberdeen and Peterhead.

Jury trials in Kirkwall Sheriff Court were previously suspended as an emergency measure during the pandemic. Though Sheriff Pyle emphasised in delivering his order that this transfer “should only be a temporary measure” due to “exceptional circumstances”, it is currently unclear when such trials will be able to resume in island courts.

Orkney’s MSP has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Angela Constance, to demand that steps are taken to allow jury trials to resume in Orkney as soon as possible.

Commenting, McArthur said:

“The suspension of jury trials in Kirkwall and other courts during the pandemic was understandable. However, this was supposed to be a temporary measure in response to extraordinary circumstances and that once restrictions were lifted jury trials would return to courts across Scotland.

“The fact that the failure of a private contractor to fulfil its contract has led again to the centralising of trials is wholly unacceptable. At the very least this will have the effect of restricting access to justice at a local level.

“As well as the impact on those facing trial, this move will affect witnesses, victims and lawyers representing their clients. All now face the prospect of extra costs in time and travel to attend court.

“I have written to the Justice Secretary highlighting these concerns and seeking urgent reassurance that steps will be taken to allow jury trials to be reinstated in Kirkwall. Depending on the response I receive, I will be raising this in the Chamber when parliament returns from recess at the start of next month.”