The Vision for Justice in Scotland

We set out our transformative vision of the future justice system for Scotland, spanning the full journey of criminal, civil and administrative justice, with a focus on creating safer communities and shifting societal attitudes and circumstances which perpetuate crime and harm.

Aim - We address the on-going impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to renew and transform justice

COVID-19 exacerbated and created new challenges for the operation of the justice sector. Exceptional measures have been required to maintain public health. In parallel, an unprecedented response has been necessary across Scotland’s justice system to maintain the most essential services that support justice. It is widely acknowledged that restoring the capacity of the courts and community sentencing to their pre-pandemic levels will not by itself address the growing backlog of delayed activity. Prior to the pandemic there was work being progressed which recognised the need for wider transformational change to respond to changing demands and the needs of those who rely on Scotland’s justice system. It is with renewed vigour that we undertake this system wide transformation to improve the experiences and outcomes for those we serve.

To enable transformative action to be taken forward in alignment with the preceding aims and outcomes we must continue to focus on recovery of the justice system. Recovered services will be in a better position to take forward transformation.

One of the most serious impacts of the closure of Scotland’s courts and tribunals at the start of lockdown was a substantial increase in the backlog of civil and particularly criminal cases which has resulted in delays. As the country re-opened, some court and tribunal business got underway either in virtual, online form or through a limited number of cases where participants (judges, lawyers, witnesses, the accused, media and the public) attended in a socially distanced manner, and remote jury centres were set up. Although measures have been undertaken to mitigate the impact of the delays on the public, the impact of the pandemic has been especially hard on witnesses and victims of crime due to delays. For those accused held on remand, delays have meant extended periods in prison and extra strains on an already stretched prison service. For those in prison, pressures have affected the delivery of programmes, interventions and other services while the day to day effects of the restrictions required to control the spread of the virus have also been considerable. A full public consultation on a Covid Recovery Bill – aiming to support Scotland’s recovery from COVID-19 – invited views on 30 specific legislative proposals that have the potential to support COVID-19 recovery. We must learn from the response to COVID-19 and keep appropriate legislative and operational measures.

The Recover, Renew, Transform (RRT) programme set up in 2020 in response to the pandemic, focusing on returning court capacity to pre-pandemic capacity and reducing historical backlogs, creating new ways of working and resolving cases at the earliest possible opportunity. Greater use of technology and more digital practices have a potential to lower, if not eliminate, some of the usual barriers to accessing justice such as financial cost, time and the complexity of justice systems. However, there are some risks, barriers and challenges when considering current justice innovations through a person-centred approach. This includes, ensuring accessibility for vulnerable and marginalised groups, who may be affected by lack of connectivity, skills or worsening economic situations; and to ensure their rights are upheld. We must continue to respond to the immediate challenges while informing the delivery of transformation across the sector.

In order to support the recovery of justice services action should be explored to reduce the need for traditional justice processes, in keeping with the wider ambitions of the Justice Vision. The programmes and approaches set up in the midst of the crisis have been successful in ensuring the operation (in new ways) of the justice system, and have tried to limit negative impacts. Prior to and throughout lockdown, domestic abuse cases have been prioritised. We anticipate the waiting period for domestic abuse cases will further reduce with the additional court capacity. However, it is anticipated that it will take several years to manage the backlog and return to waiting times of 10 weeks for domestic abuse cases. Work to ensure that we reduce the immediate backlogs and delays and negative impacts on service users should be taken forward in full consultation and collaboration with interested parties, reflecting the pace and stage at which we are now at in the pandemic. We must use a full range of solutions to reduce the need for and pressure on, justice services while negative impact on users is reduced.

We will have achieved our aim of addressing the on-going impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to renew and transform justice when:

  • people experience less delays and upheaval as a consequence of COVID-19.
  • the impact of COVID-19 is planned for and mitigated across all parts of the system.
  • we learn the lessons of the pandemic to ensure a more resilient justice system.
  • we continue to renew and transform, drawing on the experience of what worked during the pandemic to improve efficiency and deliver better outcomes for individuals. Principles



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