How is the criminal justice system adapting to the coronavirus pandemic?

While all areas of business are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, essential services such as courts and tribunals must ensure minimal disruption to the lives of the public. The criminal justice system is an integral part of society, and as a result, has had to adapt and adopt new working methods to continue running.

In coordinating the response to the coronavirus outbreak, the government and the courts and tribunals service has had to consider:

  • How best to minimise the impact of the virus on the judiciary, court staff and users of the courts and tribunals service
  • How best to ensure that specific sites can remain open or make alternative arrangements for priority and essential services
  • How to ensure minimal disruption to non-priority services at this time

How will I know what is happening with a trial I am involved in?

If a case you are involved in is affected by new measures, you will be informed in the usual way – normally by telephone or email.

It is the role of the judiciary to determine whether a hearing will go ahead at this time, and also whether video link or telephone link would be appropriate in the circumstances. The judiciary may also consider adjournment or other alternatives.

The courts and tribunals service, the police, and the prosecution service are working to ensure that witnesses and victims are kept updated on changes to trials and hearings, and provided with adequate support on how they might provide evidence.

What types of hearings will be a priority?

Generally, issues pertaining to deprivation of liberty, the rights of an individual, welfare, and public safety are deemed to be a priority. In the criminal justice system, examples of hearings which will be a priority include all hearings related to bail, detention, and custody, as well as urgent matters such as domestic violence, search warrants and terrorism.

Much of the work relating to these hearings is now carried out remotely. Sentencing hearings, bail applications and extension of custody time limits can now be carried out by video link where possible and appropriate.

JURY TRIALS

No jury trials are taking place at the moment, as it is a priority to keep court staff and users safe from the threat of coronavirus. However, the government, as well as the courts and tribunals service, is continuing to review the situation. Jury summons are still being sent, to ensure that when jury trials start up again, there will be jurors available.

TELEPHONE AND VIDEO HEARINGS

Criminal courts have had video link functionality in place for some time, with vulnerable witnesses and others giving evidence that is either pre-recorded or by video link.  The use of video in trials is set out in existing legislation, but new emergency legislation has extended the circumstances under which video or audio technology may be used in trials.

Where possible, hearings will be conducted via video link and the courts are increasing capacity for such hearings on an ongoing basis. At present, it is not feasible for jury trials to be conducted via video link while ensuring adequate access to justice.

MEDIA AND PUBLIC ACCESS TO COURT HEARINGS

It is important that the media still have access to court hearings, and that the public can view trials in some way. Journalists and media representatives may still attend court proceedings where it is safe to do so.  Channels will also be available for the media and the public to view virtual court hearings.

Observing strict social distancing in Scottish courts

In Scottish Courts, conducting only priority and emergency business has greatly reduced the number of the judiciary, staff members and court users in court premises. In court buildings, strict social distancing measures are in place, with those attending court buildings being encouraged to “take personal responsibility for social distancing. Protect your personal space and respect others’ personal space”.

Video criminal custody hearings now take place by video links to police stations, and SCTS, COPFS and the Law Society are working in collaboration to enable all hearings to proceed by telephone or video link.

Over the Easter period, all ten of Scotland’s Sheriff Courts dealt with custody hearings. The digital team also worked to set up remote devices in the homes of judges and to configure new ways of remote working.

SCTS Chief Executive Eric McQueen, said:

“The Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society are rightly both challenging and collaborative in helping to find solutions. The measures we are putting in place this week are a big step forward, however, while we remain in lock down, any steps must be proportionate to the requirement to protect public health.”

Contact our Criminal Lawyers in Glasgow

For further advice and support in relation to attending court, or any other criminal law query, contact us today on 0141 378 2560

This guide does not constitute legal advice and is provided for general information purposes only. If you require specific legal advice you should contact one of our lawyers who can advise you based on your own circumstances.

Please note this information is accurate as of 01/05/2020 and is subject to change as official guidance is adapted to reflect the implications of the virus.

Coronavirus: The possible future of criminal proceedings via video links

The COVID-19 outbreak has required organisations all over the world to adapt to new ways of working. The Scottish Criminal Ccourts are in the same position, and as an essential service, the courts must adopt modern technology to continue to function. However, unlike other businesses, the courts face the distinct challenge of balancing the right to a fair trial, with dispensing justice.

The Coronavirus Act 2020, and the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, introduce several new measures and practices designed to keep the public safe while allowing the courts to run in this unprecedented era. Significant consideration has been given to the increased use of video links for both witnesses and the jury. In this article, we look at the existing use of video in Scottish Courts, and how this might be utilised during the coronavirus pandemic.

Video links and Scottish Courts

While many businesses are only now moving to conduct meetings by Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or other platforms, the courts have had video conferencing functionality in place for some time. The use of video in trials is set out clearly in legislation. Still, the new emergency legislation extends the circumstances under which video or audio technology can be used in trials.

In introducing the new measures, the Government stated that the overarching aim is to make sure the Courts “can continue to function and remain open to the public, without the need for participants to attend in person.”

What has been the approach of the Scottish Courts?

The approach of the Scottish Courts has been to delay criminal trials where possible and suspend trials which require a jury (solemn trials). Initially, it was proposed that jury trials could take place via video link. However, the Scottish Government stated there would be “significant legal, technical and operational challenges” and that it would not be achievable within the time constraints available”. The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) has stated that the situation will be reviewed regularly.

However, the first online hearings in response to the COVID-19 outbreak have begun to take place in Scotland (week commencing April 21st 2020). The SCTS has been working with the judiciary, court staff, and the Faculty of Advocates to create the Court of Session virtual court. In most cases, legal representatives will take part in custody hearings remotely, meaning that they will not be required to attend court and can avoid travel.

All those held in custody who were confirmed to have, or suspected of having COVID-19 would attend hearings via video link from the court to police custody. SCTS intends to continue to increase the number of appearances via video link until all custodies are conducted via video link. Once this has been achieved, it would be possible for all custody cases to proceed with the relevant parties participating remotely.

Are the new provisions sufficient?

There has been much discussion around the use of video link, in particular, whether the new legislation provides sufficient protection for the rights of the defendant, as well as safeguarding the principles of open justice.

The defendant’s right to a fair trial should be carefully considered before video, or audio trials are conducted. A commonly cited example is the defendant’s right to have a confidential conversation with their lawyer or legal representative. A trial conducted by video or audio link, where the defendant and their legal representative are in separate physical locations may not always guarantee this essential part of a fair trial.

Secondly, the reliability and quality of the technology used by the courts may be called into question. There has been a lack of investment into this type of technology as well as into the training of court staff. The result is that it may be challenging to implement the required level of technology and skill needed to enable audio or video link quickly. Without the correct infrastructure, the courts might struggle to use video or audio link effectively during the coronavirus crisis.

The situation and response to the COVID-19 pandemic is changing rapidly, and so it can be challenging to plan and predict how the criminal justice system will respond. It is encouraging that courts are being given the power to expand the use of technology to adapt to new ways of working. However, the rights of the defendant must continue to benefit from the safeguards of a carefully considered approach to dispensing justice.

Contact our Criminal Lawyers in Glasgow

For further advice and support on this topic or any other criminal law query, contact us today on 0141 378 2560..

This guide does not constitute legal advice and is provided for general information purposes only. If you require specific legal advice you should contact one of our lawyers who can advise you based on your own circumstances.

Please note this information is accurate as of 01/05/2020 and is subject to change as official guidance is adapted to reflect the implications of the virus.

Statement of Matthew Berlow at Graham Walker Solicitorsre: Scottish Law Society Victory

It is not often in the career of a criminal lawyer that one finds oneself in the position of having to represent yourself but that is exactly what happened to me when I came to the aid of a good friend who found himself the target of an organisation called The SPSC (The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign).

My friend was an Israeli businessman selling cosmetic products in various malls in Scotland. Wherever he set up the business the SPSC would intimidate and harass him and his customers. Eventually, my friend was hounded out of Scotland. The SPSC do not believe in the right of Israel to exist and I viewed their actions as targeting and racist. I said so in a discussion on Facebook and a member of the group complained to the Scottish law Society about being labelled as a racist.

Perversely the law society determined that I should complete diversity training and pay compensation to the complainer even although my comments were directed to the SPSC as an organisation and not to this individual. We showed the tribunal material demonstrating the racist nature of the organisation and argued that I had every right to defend my friend.

At my appeal, I was ably represented by Queens Counsel (Adam Solomon QC) and at that hearing, we demonstrated that the complainer’s case did not stand up and that I was in no way in need of diversity training. Her complaints were dismissed and any compensation to the complainer was cancelled too.

I still require to pay a fine for using intemperate language against The SPSC but this is a price worth paying in the circumstances of defending a friend and doing what I thought was right.

I don’t simply defend clients but will stand up for what is right in my personal life too where I perceive injustice.

Matthew Berlow, Criminal Lawyer. Glasgow May 2019

Undertakings

Legal Aid for bail undertaking in Scotland FAQ

Legal Aid in Scotland

If you have been released by the police on undertaking, it is vital you attend court on the due date. Your bail undertaking indicates the date of your court appearance and it’s imperative you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity. You will need to decide whether you will plead guilty or not guilty at your Bail Undertaking Hearing and your solicitor will be able to offer the best guidance.

Matthew Berlow at Graham Walker Solicitors provide a 24-hour advice line and you can speak direct with a member of our legal team to discuss your bail undertaking and ask for a solicitor to represent you at your hearing.

Legal Aid is often available for clients attending Bail Undertaking Hearings and some of the questions we’re most frequently asked are highlighted below:

 

Q What if I plead guilty to the charge?

As already noted above, legal aid is different if you plead guilty. Your solicitor will be able to advise you further.

Q What if the case goes to trial?

All circumstances are different, so if your case goes on to a full trial your solicitor will advise you further and any entitlement to legal aid will be based on your current financial situation.

Q What if my case is classed as a serious matter?

It is possible you could still qualify for legal aid if your case is classed as a solemn matter by the courts. Any available assets will also be considered within your legal aid application.

Q What are capital limits for legal aid?

In January 2019, the savings capital limit was pegged at £1,716. If you are facing a summary case which will be heard in a magistrates court, the savings capital is also £1,716. Capital limits for summary cases or solemn cases to be heard at the Sheriff Court or High Court have far higher capital limits and this makes it much easier to claim Legal Aid.

Q What if my case is too expensive for me?

If you cannot afford to pay to put some aspects of your case together, such as for medical or expert reports, then an application for Legal Aid can be put in place.

Q Where is the official Legal Aid online calculator?

This can be found at: https://www.slab.org.uk/public/advice/index.html

Q What benefits give me automatic entitlement to Legal Aid?

If you or your partner are claiming income support, income-related employment and support allowance or income-based jobseeker’s allowance, you will automatically qualify for Legal Aid in Scotland.

Scotland in grip of national emergency as drugs epidemic tears apart generation

Scotland’s failure to counter its growing drugs menace has become a national emergency.

A death rate which was slipping out of control as far back as 2007 has now reached epidemic proportions – especially when compared with our European neighbours.

Starting tomorrow, the Record will publish a new series of articles which will ask: What can be done about
Scotland’s drug deaths?

Featuring many voices and perspectives, we will speak to academics who are at odds with each other’s
ideological stances, as well as GPs and recovery specialists running residential abstinence programmes.

We will also feature heart-rending tales from ordinary people whose lives have been blighted by drug dependency – including long-term drug users and their families.

Their revelations make clear that, for every life lost to drugs, there are many others blighted by the mental scars associated with tragedy – sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, mums , dads and more.

Some of the questions asked include:

● Have the benefits of the methadone and other opiate replacement therapies been shattered by the explosion in cheap street drugs?

● Are too many people “parked” on methadone for decades?

● Should more funds be set aside to bring more people into properly supervised ORT regimes, rather than be driven to street drugs?

● Is it right that the UK Government believes a lifetime on methadone might be regarded as a successful outcome for some?

● Should drugs laws be devolved and should this lead Scotland to decriminalise drug possession, set up safe consumption rooms and move to genuinely radical action?

● Is decent housing the key to meaningful lives and should this become the focus of massive Government funding?

● Should we fund more long-term residential abstinence-based detox programmes?

● Should we promptly establish a proper register of how many people are on methadone and ascertain how many are moving towards a life free from drugs?

 

Our forum will feature politicians and GPs whose jobs have given them first-hand knowledge of the way drugs are wrecking the lives of their patients and constituents. And we will investigate genuinely radical moves that are being made on a small scale to bring life skills to those prepared to be abstinent on long-term residential, community-based programmes.

The Record has heard many stories over the years of people whose only wish is to get clear of methadone, amid claims by many they are being “held” – sometimes against their will – on such programmes.

A review of methadone in 2013, after our series of stories, promised much but resulted in no improvement.

The number of methadone deaths rocketed from 237 at the time of the inquiry to 2013 to 439 in 2017. Heroin related deaths more than doubled in the same period and benzo-diazepine deaths rocketed from 196 to 552, as street “benzos” like diazepam and etizolam took hold of Scottish streets with devastating effect.

Many academics and GPs stress the huge risk of overdose and relapse for those who try to get free of drugs too quickly.

Prominent experts believe reducing the stigma against drug addicts is the best way to begin solving the problem.

The Record accept there is no easy solution.

 

Source: Scotland in grip of national emergency as drugs epidemic tears apart generation

Backlash after BBC Scotland recruit Nazi dog salute’

Backlash after BBC Scotland recruits Nazi dog salute’ criminal Mark Meechan leaves Airdrie Sherriff Court. Picture: SWNS Published: 09:48 Updated: 09:52 Sunday 03 March 2019 Share this article Sign Up To Our Daily Newsletter Sign up New Age Entrepreneurs: why retirement can be the perfect time for a new enterprise A number of people reaching retirement age are realising that their hobbies can fast become a fulfilling pursuit during retirement. Read More Promoted by 0 HAVE YOUR SAY BBC Scotland’s new digital channel is facing a major backlash after recruiting a criminal who taught his dog to perform the Nazi salute. Mark Meechan will be allowed to air his right-wing views next month on the taxpayer-funded channel, despite his conviction for a “grossly-offensive” hate crime last year. The appointment will outrage members of Scotland’s Jewish community, who already feel vulnerable to what they perceive to be a rise in anti-semitism in the country. Meechan, 31, caused an uproar when he uploaded a video to the website YouTube showing his girlfriend’s pug dog doing the ‘Sieg Heil’ salute alongside obscene Nazi imagery. PEUGEOT 208 Tech Edition. With Park Assist, Active City Brake & reversing camera. Everyone needs a hand in the city. Promoted by Peugeot 208 The provocative blogger, from Coatbridge, in Lanarkshire, also chanted variations of the phrase ‘gas the Jews’, repeating the slur around 23 times in a few minutes. Just this week Meechan boasted to his social media followers that he was still refusing to pay the £800 fine handed to him by a judge at Airdrie Sheriff Court. Meechan will star alongside reality TV personality, James English, and Edinburgh-based dominatrix, Megara Furie. Glasgow Friends of Israel member and prominent Scottish lawyer, Matthew Berlow, said he could not believe that Meehan, who he accuses of making light of the Holocaust, is being given such a public a platform. READ MORE – Swimmer David Wilkie: Should mere mortals like Andy Murray be given a knighthood? He said: ‘It is absolutely sickening and disgusting. Anti-Semitism is a very difficult subject but we Jews know what it looks and feels like. ‘I know that anti-Semitism has become very popular but I don’t think that [Meechan’s politics] can be described as a ‘view’. The Holocaust is no laughing matter.’ Mr Berlow added: ‘We are entering a time now where the generation of Holocaust survivors is dying out. The internet is now becoming a breeding ground for idiots like this. It’s a very great shame. ‘There’s a difference in making fun of Hitler and making fun of gassing six million Jews.’ Man arrested after a suspected stabbing in Edinburgh Swimmer David Wilkie: should ‘mere mortals’ like Andy Murray get knighthoods? The controversial BBC Scotland programme will air in April and will see four people with strong opinions take on the world’s most hotly contested topics each episode. Unlike a panel show, it is up to the regular contributors to lead and present the show and debate between themselves – in the comfort of a living-room style set up, according to one source. Megara Furie, who has previously said she charges clients £150-a-time said of the programme: ‘It’s really getting into the nitty-gritty of things. There were arguments, there were times when we all agreed and there were times when we all vehemently disagreed.’ Last night Scottish Conservative shadow culture secretary, Rachael Hamilton, said that the Corporation needed to reconsider its decision to give Mark Meechan a slot on national television. She said: ‘The promotion of this individual in any BBC programme would seem to be entirely against the BBC charter. ‘If BBC Scotland wants to retain the goodwill of its many audiences it really should reconsider this decision. ‘It would be berlowastonishing if the BBC, in any capacity, was to give a platform to someone convicted of a hate crime.’ Although Meechan’s appeal was not accepted, it is thought he has still not paid his fine. When contacted by the Scottish Mail on Sunday about his co-starring role on the BBC Scotland show, Meechan declined to comment. Last night the BBC said: ‘We had a broad range of contributors in for the recording of a new late night format in which a wide variety of issues are debated and opinions are challenged. “The production is currently in the edit where the content of the programme will be decided, subject to the BBC’s robust editorial review and compliance procedures. “We don’t discuss payments to individuals. When a fee is paid in relation to a production it is in line with standard industry practice.’

 

Read more at: https://www.scotsman.com/news/backlash-after-bbc-scotland-recruit-nazi-dog-salute-criminal-1-4882454

Released on Undertaking

What is an undertaking?

 

If you are charged by Police Scotland with a criminal offence then they have the power to hold you in Police Custody in a cell at the Police Station until court the following day. (If you are held on a Friday this means you will hold until Monday at the earliest). Colloquially known as a “weekender”.

 

Very often, however, the Police will not hold you in custody but may elect to release you on what is known as an “undertaking”. Also known as “liberation from Police Custody on an undertaking”. Essentially what this means for you is that you give an undertaking to appear at court at a later date. It is a legal document which you sign and breaking the undertaking (ie failing to attend court on the specified date is a criminal offence in of itself).

 

In addition, the Police Scotland can insist on “special condition of bail” in the interim period which you must adhere to under penalty of law.

 

Examples of Special Conditions of bail

  • Stay away from specific places
  • Do not communicate with certain individuals (directly or indirectly)

 

What being “Released on Undertaking” actually means for you

You will already have spent some time in police custody and been charged with a criminal offence of some kind. Instead, they released you on a bail undertaking. Please be aware that this is a very serious issue and you will have already been notified of the date for your court hearing.

 

Your release on an undertaking is noted on the form given to you by the police, which you will already have signed to confirm you will be attending court. The charge(s) you are facing are also noted on this form.

 

It’s absolutely vital you go to court on the due date, as a warrant for your arrest will be issued if you don’t show up. Your case will normally be heard in the Sheriff Courts, although sometimes cases are heard in Justice of the Peace courts.

 

An undertaking is a promise and a legal obligation

Your bail undertaking is your guarantee to the police that you will behave in a lawful manner while you are on bail and that you will attend court on the due date. You will also need to follow any special conditions which have been agreed, if applicable.

Contact a Criminal Lawyer right away

After your release from police custody, you should seek professional legal advice at the very earliest opportunity.

 

Your criminal solicitor will help you and be able to represent you in court on the date of your undertaking. This court hearing is called a bail undertaking or simply undertaking.

Instructing a criminal lawyer at the earliest opportunity allows more time for negotiations to take place with the Procurator Fiscal, as it’s possible your charge(s) can be negotiated. In some circumstances, the Procurator Fiscal may even decide not to pursue any further action.

 

The expert lawyers at Graham Walker Solicitors have the skills to handle any kind of bail undertaking to achieve the best outcomes for clients. Get in touch with us at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss your charge(s) in detail and benefit from the best available advice.

 

Alternative to undertakings

 

  • Held in a Police station cell overnight and appear in court the next working day.
  • Bank Holiday’s are not working days, you will be held in a cell until Tuesday.
  • Released for “report” – This means you will be released with no court date but the case will be referred to the prosecution lawyers (Procurator Fiscal’s Office) and they will decide if there is  sufficient evidence against you and you may then go on to receive a citation/summons weeks or perhaps months later.

SLAB (Scottish Legal Aid Board) vs The Law Society – what is the difference

Getting free legal advice

The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) provide funding so that everyone who needs access to a criminal solicitor in the police station will get the help they need. If you’ve been arrested or are being investigated by the police, you can access assistance from a criminal lawyer for no cost at all, in some cases. It is not available for minor driving matters.

 

When you need legal aid or help with criminal law, time is of the essence. An arrest can happen at any time and you may need help outside of normal working hours. If you’re detained at a police station during the night or in the early hours of the morning, don’t worry. SLAB ensures there is funding available for 24-hour help, so you can contact criminal solicitors at any time of the day or night.

 

Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) vs The Law Society Of Scotland

 

All qualified, practising lawyers are regulated by the Law Society of Scotland so you can be sure you’re getting help from a reputable criminal solicitor.

 

The Scottish Legal Aid Board also provides contact information for criminal solicitors who accept legal aid payments. It is the Scottish Legal Aid Board that ensures that Scots get fair access to the law and representation if they are low on funds.

 

Citizens Advice Scotland is also a great place to find resources and help if you’ve been arrested or charged with a crime.

 

24 Hour Criminal Law Advice

 

When you’re arrested, however, you may not have the time or the ability to trawl through lots of profiles to access help with criminal law. Fortunately, you won’t need to. With one simple call, you can get help from experienced criminal solicitors.

 

We’ll attend the police station so you can benefit from our advice before and during any police interviews, and we’ll also help you to apply for additional legal aid in Scotland if it’s necessary to do so. We’ll even provide detailed information about the legal aid Scotland application process and what type of help SLAB entitles you to.

 

Although the legal aid application process is fairly uncomplicated in the majority of cases, facing a criminal charge is a stressful time and it shouldn’t be made more difficult by money worries or financial issues. With our criminal solicitors at your side, you can be sure you’ll get the help and advice you need.

 

The Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Scottish Law Society are committed to providing criminal law advice to everyone, no matter what your financial situation is.

 

A Millionaire would get free Police Station representation with SLAB!

Get your charges dismissed/reduced with Legal Aid

Having to appear at a Sheriff court or a Justice of the Peace court can be a scary and overwhelming experience, and even being interviewed in a police station can be daunting. If you’re facing a criminal charge or are likely to be questioned by the police, it’s essential you seek legal advice and assistance.

 

By getting help from criminal solicitors, your charges could be reduced or even dismissed completely, and this could put an end to any on-going criminal investigations. The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) puts everyone on a level playing field when it comes to criminal law, and you have every right to have a solicitor with you when you’re being questioned by the police. It is also FREE. Even Alex Salmond would get his police station interview funded by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB).

 

SLAB routinely dispenses funding for individuals who have been charged with crimes and this legal aid will ensure you can access advice from a criminal solicitor regulated by the Scottish Law Society. With the Scottish Legal Aid Board providing a whole host of resources online, you should find it easy to get the help you need.

 

As well as having an in-depth knowledge of criminal law, your SLAB funding will provide you with a legal professional who has extensive experience of working within the criminal justice system. This means they’ll know if your charges can be reduced or dismissed. Often, the right legal advice can put an end to your legal problems straightaway and it’s available completely free of charge!

 

Should you contact SLAB?

 

When you’re detained by the police you will not have to contact SLAB to confirm your eligibility for legal aid funding. You’ll have the right to access a criminal solicitor so you should be able to get legal advice straightaway. In many cases, this will be all you need to bring matters to a close as your specialist criminal lawyer will attempt to have the charges against you dropped or dismissed as quickly as possible.

 

If matters progress, there’s further help available and legal aid Scotland will ensure you have representation in court if you’re charged with a crime. It’s easy to apply for legal aid in Scotland and our experienced legal team can help with Scottish Legal Aid Board forms and applications when they’re needed.

 

With initial legal advice available free of charge to everyone, there’s no need to delay getting the help you need. Before you speak with the police, admit to any charges or accept any direct measures, take advantage of the funding from SLAB and seek free legal advice.

 

To find out more about securing legal aid in Scotland from SLAB, contact our team today on one of the numbers above.