WITH the courts closed for all but emergency business last year, a huge backlog of cases arose.

The wheels of justice required oiling – and just as families and friends embraced the world of virtual family occasions, get-togethers and pub quizzes, so the powers that be in Scotland’s courts system embraced the silver screen.

Cinemas across Scotland were repurposed as remote jury centres, allowing the High Court to restart criminal trials by beaming live court action directly onto the cinema screen.

During trials, jurors are sworn in and watch and hear the evidence from the comparative luxury of their cinema seats. (Cinema auditoria are, of course, perfect to allow the required level of social distancing.) The initiative has allowed the backlog of cases to be addressed, affording both victims and accused persons closure of matters long outstanding.

Virtual courts have also helped improve public access, given that people can log on to proceedings from anywhere.

The right to be tried in public is a fundamental right under Scots law, and one which is preserved, even with the current restrictions. In fact, the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service publishes lists of accessible remote hearings on their website. The website contains all of the instructions necessary to connect to hearings – and importantly also sets out the restrictions placed upon those who observe in this way.

Anyone failing to obey or respect the authority of the court may be subject to contempt of court proceedings.

In addition, those accessing a hearing must not record or store the proceedings, and must not broadcast the proceedings. The re-use, capture, re-editing or redistribution of the material in any form is not permitted.

In relation to social media, members of the public must not, during the course of a virtual hearing, comment on the proceedings using any social media platform in relation to: jury trials; cases involving sexual offences; or cases where the participants cannot legally be identified.

Users ignoring this guidance, do so at their peril, with criminal penalties available for contempt of court as well as civil liabilities for breach of copyright and defamation.

Scotland’s work with remote jury trials is just one example of how public courts have responded to the impact of coronavirus.

According to Remote Courts Worldwide, almost 60 countries have adopted some form of virtual court, ensuring courts worldwide have been able to remain open despite restrictions on physical hearings.

Find out more at scotcourts.gov.uk/coming-to-court/access-to-virtual-hearings.