Domestic abuse cases prioritised in Aberdeen virtual court hearings
From May the majority of domestic abuse summary trials in Aberdeen Sheriff Court will be conducted virtually, with only the accused person and their solicitor having to be present in the court premises, Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle has announced.
This follows a pilot project which was conducted last year. It will allow up to nine trials to take place each week, which would otherwise not be able to proceed because of Covid-19 restrictions and also offers the opportunity for a national roll-out to provide much needed additional capacity to assist in dealing with the trials backlog post pandemic.
Sheriff Principal Pyle said: “This is an important step in finding imaginative ways to deal with the huge backlog in summary crime caused by the pandemic. It will improve the experience for witnesses but, crucially, the court will ensure that the rights of the accused persons are protected during the trials and at the same time gathering evidence on what works and what does not work in the virtual world. I am grateful for the willingness of the local defence solicitors, prosecutors and sheriff court staff, as well as Victim Support Scotland, to support this initiative.”
Summary trials have been on hold since January due to the impact of lockdown on court proceedings, but this initiative will allow domestic abuse hearings to resume with specific support arrangements in place, provided by Victim Support Scotland (VSS) for civilian witnesses, both prosecution and defence, to give evidence remotely.
For the new arrangements, the sheriff will decide that the case is suitable to be heard virtually, and there may be reasons identified, such as vulnerability, which require the case to proceed in person in court.
While case witnesses will also be able to give evidence remotely, the accused, the defence solicitor and sheriff will be present in the court building, although normally participating from a non-courtroom setting.
A new policy setting out how Aberdeen City Council’s housing service will deal with incidents of domestic abuse was unanimously agreed at a committee meeting last week.
The policy applies to current and prospective tenants and includes actions to increase awareness and training of council staff and allows for perpetrators of domestic abuse to be rehoused away from the family home.