JUSTICE has briefed the Scottish Parliament relating to Schedule 4 of the Bill on justice matters, ahead of Stage 1, and all stages, due to take place on 1st April 2020.
We fully appreciate the pressure Scottish Government is under in responding to the outbreak of the coronavirus and understand that the measures proposed in this Bill are for the carefully considered extension of State power in a time of public health emergency. Nevertheless, it is important that due scrutiny is given to any expansion of power. JUSTICE is solely concerned with the operation of the justice system and the proposals in Schedule 4. We set out four narrowly confined concerns to ensure that the proposals enable fair trials to continue to take place, even during this emergency period:
- Every effort should be made to ensure that legal cases can proceed through the courts and tribunals. The preference should be for fully video trials to ensure equality of arms and effective participation for those who cannot attend in person. The Bill must make provision for open justice;
- Extension of custody time limits – these provisions violate Article 5 ECHR and should not form part of the Bill;
- Trial by judge alone is a significant erosion of the right to a fair trial in Scotland. It must be used only as a measure of last resort, in the interests of justice, where trial by electronic means has been considered and is not practicable. A right of appeal must lie from a decision for judge-only trial;
- Cross-examination of witness evidence at trial is critical to the rights of the defence. The admittance of witness statements alone must be due to guidance issued by Scottish Government preventing the person attending court and only where all competent means, including live or pre-recorded electronic means have been explored.