Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur has written to Justice Secretary Angela Constance seeking an update on when jury trials will return to various rural and island courts, including Kirkwall Sheriff Court.
It follows an order in July that prohibited new jury trials in island courts as a result of failures in prisoner transport arrangements for which private contractor, GeoAmey is responsible. When making the initial order, Sheriff Principal for the Highlands and Islands Derek Pyle emphasised that it “should only be a temporary measure” for “exceptional circumstances”.
Last week, at Lerwick Sheriff Court, Sheriff Ian Cruickshank expressed his fears that the “erosion” of local justice might be “irreversible” if jury trials are not returned urgently to island courts, and posed the question as to whether the disparity between island and mainland access to justice could be in violation of the principles of the Islands (Scotland) Act.
Back in Augus, Mr McArthur sought reassurances from the Justice Secretary that steps would be taken to fix the issue as a matter of urgency. In light of the latest concerns expressed by Sheriff Cruickshanks he has written again to Ms Constance seeking details and specific timeframes for the return of jury business to Kirkwall and the other rural and island courts affected.
Commenting, Mr McArthur said:
“The concerns expressed by Sheriff Cruikshanks about a loss of access to local justice in the islands are serious and entirely justified. It is clear that the current situation benefits no-one, whether victim, witness, accused or legal representative.
“When I wrote to the Justice Secretary in August, she told me that the government’s intention was to see jury business return to Kirkwall. Three months on, we need to see a timeframe and detailed actions for achieving this.
“What was initially supposed to be a temporary emergency measure is in danger of continuing indefinitely. In the interests of equal access to justice for islanders, the Minister must now act with urgency.”