A jury will be hosted in a Scottish cinema for the first time before the end of this month.
The Odeon cinema at Ford Kinnaird in Edinburgh will host the first remote jury on September 28, with the firm’s complex at Braehead on the outskirts of Glasgow hosting from October 12.
In a bid to address the backlog of court cases due to the Covid-19 pandemic, plans were approved to allow jury trials to take place with members of the jury in cinemas, viewing the trial taking place in court.
After a successful pilot scheme, the Scottish Government supplied £5.5 million for the courts service to set up as many as 16 complexes in the east and west of Scotland.
These remote jury centres are a first in the UK.
Cinemas were chosen due to having high levels of digital connectivity and secure IT infrastructure, soundproofed rooms and space to socially distance.
As part of the contract, SCTS will use the cinemas from Monday to Friday.
The venues will remain open for cinema-goers at weekends from 6pm on Friday through to Sunday night.
SCTS courtrooms are being fitted out with the cameras and technology necessary to broadcast the trials to the cinema screens and to receive the video wall of jurors into the courtroom.
Balloting the jury is done in the court room in advance and only the 15 jurors, plus a small number of substitutes, will arrive at the cinemas for the trials, with each jury being supported by a court officer.
Masks will be available to jurors on arrival for this purpose but will not be required to be worn in the jury room.
SCTS chief executive Eric McQueen said: “We are grateful to Odeon Cinemas for working alongside us to make the concept of remote jury centres a reality.
“We need to move swiftly to increase the number of High Court trials taking place and we will do this incrementally as soon as we can.”
He added: “The next couple of weeks will involve testing and familiarisation visits from all professional trial participants and supporters.
“It is important for everyone involved in these trials to understand the setup and functionality of the centres and their relationship with the court room.
“For the jurors who will be taking part in these cases, we have to reassure them of the steps we have taken to support them to undertake their civic duty during this time.”
Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service chief executive David Harvie said: “The opening of these jury centres is an important step which will allow for the number of High Court trials held to come back up to pre-pandemic levels.
“Work across the justice system on tackling the accumulated case load continues, and innovative measures such as this will bring real benefits for people who are waiting for cases to come to trial.”
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has welcomed the move, saying it has drawn interest from the rest of the UK.
He added: “The Scottish Government has provided £5.5 million funding for these remote jury centres which allow serious criminal cases to proceed, therefore providing reassurance to victims, witnesses and accused who have been adversely affected by case delays.
“Work is ongoing to consider what further actions may be required to address the backlog and for remote jury centres to be further rolled out for sheriff and jury cases.”
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