Justice - vision and priorities: report

This report highlights our key achievements in justice since the publication of Justice in Scotland: vision and priorities in 2017. It also outlines the unprecedented impact of COVID 19 on the justice system.

6. Recover, Renew, Transform (RRT) Programme

6.1 Given these impacts, the Justice Board for Scotland, with membership made up of the Chief Executives and leaders of our Justice organisations, has led and overseen the strategic response to the pandemic.

6.2 This included promptly establishing a Criminal Justice Board to lead the system's 'Recover, Renew and Transform' Programme of work to enable the justice system to be able to not just operate again at pre-COVID 19 levels, but also prepare for future transformation.

RRT workstreams

6.3 The programme has 6 work streams:

(i) High Court Trials

(ii) Sheriff & Jury Trials

(iii) Virtual Summary Trials

(iv) Virtual Custody Courts

(v) Summary Criminal Process

(vi) Community Justice Preventing Offending

6.4 Each of these workstreams is focused on enabling the justice system to operate again at pre-COVID 19 levels and preparing for future transformation. Much of this transformation will build on the emergency response, which has seen innovative approaches to processing court business virtually and for case information and evidence to be shared digitally.

6.5 High Court & Sherriff and Jury Trials - The Scottish Government agreed funding of £12 million in 2020-21 for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to take forward an innovative approach that uses remote jury centres for High Court and Sheriff & Jury trials. This approach has resulted in reinstating pre-Covid capacity of 16 High Court trials and 18 Sheriff & Jury trials.

6.6 Virtual Summary Trials - It is widely recognised that virtual proceedings, combined with summary trials continuing in physical courtrooms, could provide a mechanism to deal with some cases awaiting trial. SCTS has assessed that, with physical distancing in place, court capacity will continue to be restricted.

6.7 Virtual Custody Courts - It is the intention for fully Virtual Custody Hearings to be deployed nationally to minimise the requirement to use physical court estate for Custody Hearings during the recovery of the Justice System as a result of COVID 19. The use of technology to enable this, builds essential resilience into the system and helps to create capacity within the physical court estate, for other court proceedings. This contributes to the delivery of the Scottish Government's Vision for a modern and effective Justice System underpinned by digital technology.

6.8 Summary Criminal Process - Positive progress was being made in recovering volumes of summary business within the Sheriff Courts prior to the second lockdown. In September, the number of summary trials that progressed with evidence led were at 76% of pre-COVID 19 levels. A Practice Note on Summary Criminal Business introduced pre-intermediate diet meetings (PIDMS) which aim to ensure that only those cases which cannot be resolved and are ready to go to trial proceed to a trial and that agents are present at an intermediate diet only when necessary.

6.9 Community Justice and Preventing Offending – Led by Community Justice Scotland and the Scottish Prison Service,. he group supports and encourages all local delivery partners in their local agreed recovery plans to ensure the most efficient and appropriate re start of all services in terms of delivery of community interventions in accordance with all public health guidance. The group also ensures that the impact of scaling up court business on community justice and prisons is understood and taken into account.

6.10 Overall, the Criminal Justice Board's supporting workstreams involve a range of valued partners, including COSLA and representatives from the legal profession and support services for victims, to help to ensure that this Programme is truly collaborative and impactful. To continue supporting the work of the RRT programme and to begin to address the backlogs that have built up, budget 2021/22 makes available an additional £50 million to the programme.

Key aims of RRT programme

6.11 The overarching ambition for the RRT programme comes with a recognition that creating additional trial court and sentencing capacity to reduce the backlog of cases will not be a sufficient response to the pandemic. Public confidence in the criminal justice system, as it recovers from the backlog, will depend on visible changes which demonstrate that the system is reducing offending and further offending through effective community justice disposals, has adapted to take full advantage of modern technology to improve service delivery, and promotes case resolution at the earliest opportunity, bringing sentencing as close as possible to the offending.

6.12 As the criminal justice system recovers from the pandemic, we aim to build a justice system that is fit for the future:

Effective justice: a system that resolves cases at the earliest opportunity, values and listens to its users and stakeholders and delivers informed outcomes based on evidence.

Open & Transparent: a system that lawfully and safely shares strategic data and personalised information.

Collaborative: a system that makes informed decisions together, working across organisational responsibilities and taking account of the impact of decisions on the system as a whole.

Safe: a system that continues to focus on the safety, protection and health of communities and all those involved in the system, in line with the Scottish Government's updated Strategic Framework to lift public health restrictions.

Resilient & Responsive: a system that continues to adapt, respond and modernise, including through the effective use of technology.

Preventive: a system that continues to prioritise prevention and early intervention, including outcome focussed support and diversion to promote rehabilitation and reduce crime, offending and further offending.

User-focused: a system that takes account of the impact of decisions for individuals, including victims and others, promotes trauma informed practice, equality and respects and protects human rights.

6.13 Renewal and modernisation will be achieved, with appropriate safeguards to ensure effective representation and communication between lawyers and clients, through the consistent and effective use of technology to allow remote appearance of parties in virtual or traditional courts. The Digital Evidence and Sharing Capability (DESC) project will support modern and flexible case preparation. The Evidence and Procedure Review (EPR) pilot courts will promote early case resolution and robust judicial case management. These projects will deliver a more convenient and flexible justice system in which case resolution is focused on the issues in a case and does not depend on the ability of multiple organisations to bring individuals and evidence to a court room on a particular date.

6.14 Enhanced community justice and a safe, stable prison population must also be at the heart of a transformed justice system. Such sentencing options must be visible, accountable and provide an equity of service across the country. They will provide enhanced opportunities for prevention, re-integration and rehabilitation. There should be appropriate, accessible diversionary opportunities which address the causes of offending and further offending and provide opportunities for restorative justice without the delay of a court system.

6.15 In terms of effective community options to reduce the use of remand, the greater use of electronic monitoring of bail and bail supervision will provide courts with enhanced options for sentencing, thereby increasing the likelihood of non-custodial disposals.

6.16 Further details on the RRT programme are provided in Annex A which contains a paper presented by the Criminal Justice Board for Scotland on the programme at a roundtable event for stakeholders in March 2021.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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