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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Neil Pooran

Virtual trials have been ‘resounding failure’ – senior lawyer

PA Archive

Virtual trials introduced during the pandemic have been a “resounding failure”, a senior lawyer has told MSPs.

Stuart Murray, vice-president of the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association, said virtual hearings hindered access to justice and detracted from the “solemnity” of proceedings.

He spoke to Holyrood’s Criminal Justice committee on Wednesday, where MSPs were taking evidence on the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill.

The legislation would continue some changes to the justice system introduced during the pandemic.

Technology was sometimes ‘woefully inadequate’, MSPs heard (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

Discussing virtual trials, Mr Murray said: “I have read commentary from sheriffs, sheriff principals and some politicians that it’s been a resounding success.

“But I can say, I think on behalf of the vast majority of the profession, it has been nothing but a resounding failure, unfortunately.”

Virtual hearings were “significantly detrimental” to the majority of clients in criminal cases, he said, arguing they could be more useful in civil cases.

Mr Murray continued: “But essentially, in the criminal realm, an accused person should be entitled to have their accuser in the same room as them.

“And my view, and the view of the profession I think, is that it takes away some of the solemnity of the court process.”

But I can say, I think on behalf of the vast majority of the profession, it has been nothing but a resounding failure, unfortunately

Stuart Murray, Scottish Solicitors Bar Association

The technology for virtual custody proceedings was sometimes “woefully inadequate”, he said, making it difficult for lawyers to communicate with their clients.

However Mr Murray said the practice of using cinemas to house juries in High Court proceedings had largely worked well.

He told the committee: “I think if you spoke to most criminal defence lawyers, and most criminal defence advocates, whilst they accept it works to a degree it is far from ideal.

“I think I’ve yet to see a jury trial where at least one juror doesn’t start to nod off during proceedings.

“That’s because they’re not in court any more – it doesn’t feel like a tangible experience for them.”

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