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Covid backlog of serious criminal trials may not be cleared until 2026 – courts

Backlogged solemn procedure cases may not be cleared until 2026, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has warned (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Backlogged solemn procedure cases may not be cleared until 2026, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has warned (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Serious criminal trials backlogged in the sheriff court due to Covid-19 restrictions may not be cleared until 2026 according to figures released on Thursday.

The backlog of solemn business at Scotland’s sheriff courts may not be cleared until March 2026 and at the high court until 2025 due to the continuing trend in increased case levels on top of the Covid backlog, according to statistics released by the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS).

Summary criminal cases for less serious crimes should be cleared by March 2024 as expected after the trial backlog was reduced by 8900 cases since the beginning of 2022.

SCTS say they are switching court recovery resources from summary to solemn in order to work through cases more quickly.

Solemn cases are the more serious cases which could lead to a trial with a jury before a judge or sheriff while summary cases are more minor and can be dealt with by a sheriff alone.

The figures, published as part of the SCTS monthly workbooks, also show the overall level of new cases registered is 87% of the average pre-Covid level.

Additionally, the number of petitions, which provide a “useful indicator” of future solemn business, are 25% higher than the average monthly pre-Covid level.

The average time between the pleading diet and evidence-led trial is 49 weeks for the High Court compared to the pre-Covid level of 22 weeks.

David Fraser, SCTS Executive Director Court Operations, said: “The statistics demonstrate the courts recovery programme is having an impact in reducing the backlog created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The trial backlog has reduced by 8,900 trials since the start of the year, with the percentage of cases concluded above pre-Covid levels.

“The collaboration across the judiciary, justice organisations, the legal profession and the third sector is helping to effectively manage court business, including the ongoing delivery of the recovery programme.

“The monthly publication on throughput of cases, combined with the revised modelling reports, illustrate the progress being made and the challenges still ahead.”