NEXT March will mark the second anniversary of the Covid-19 public health crisis and lockdown.

Last March was the month the World Health Organisation declared the virus a pandemic; the first £12 billion tranche of public money to support people and businesses was announced by the chancellor; and far-reaching restrictions on our personal freedoms were introduced.

Some 20 months down that timeline, various vaccinations have been rolled out here and abroad. Most people in the UK are either single or double vaxxed; and many are now onto booster vaccinations.

The crisis of the pandemic has enabled billions of pounds of public money to be spent with virtually no scrutiny or accountability.

We now know that vast sums of public money have been wasted on incompetent track and trace software initiatives or ineffective or incompetent PPE products.

Numerous public contracts worth international telephone number sums of money were doled out to the friends and family of elected politicians. For a privileged elite the pandemic has been the opportunity to make fortunes.

As we approach two years on from this crisis, how much longer will Covid be used as the justification for governments to evade democratic scrutiny and accountability? Will Covid continue to be the go-to-reason to ride roughshod over our civil liberties and age-old principles of justice? When will Covid stop being the excuse for every policy flop?

During 2020/21 we were told to accept lockdown rules that had never been debated in the Scottish Parliament and came into force before anyone had even seen the statutory instrument. Most recently, a Covid passport scheme was introduced that determines whether you can access certain public venues.

Last week the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney MSP, conceded there was no empirical evidence that vaccine passports reduced the impact of Covid in Scotland. Whatever happened to public accountability for public policies?

We’ve now heard that members of the public are being refused entry to public places like our courts if they don’t have a mobile phone to do track and trace. What does our socially inclusive future look like? No access to public services unless you’ve been double vaccinated and have enough money for a smart phone? Who voted for that?

The current contradictions with Covid-19 policies in Scotland are truly staggering. We still have Scottish Government guidance that tells everyone to work from home wherever possible; while thousands gathered in Glasgow over the summer for Euro 2020 and considerably more are gathering for COP26 just now. While the last couple of years has seen Covid being used to justify the use of draconian executive powers, we’re now seeing Covid being used to eradicate fundamental principles of fairness and justice. A leading example of this is the proposal to abolish trial by jury in Scotland. You may remember this idea was first mooted by the Scottish Government last year but was kicked into the long grass after it was met with widespread opposition and concern.

Not even during the darkest days of the Second World War did we scrap the right to be tried by a jury of your peers. The Scottish Government has considerable form for seeking to jettison tried and trusted principles of Scots law. Corroboration in criminal cases – the need for two sources of evidence to establish a fact – has been a favourite to abolish in order to achieve more convictions.

The abolition of the not proven verdict is now back in vogue with the Scottish Government – despite the fact a trial is purely about whether or not a crime can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt on the evidence presented.

Before the pandemic, there were around 13,400 trials outstanding in Scotland’s sheriff courts – with this number now rising to more than 32,400. For more serious criminal cases, which are dealt with by a sheriff and jury, the number of cases awaiting trial has increased from 1330 before the pandemic to more than 3500.

The latest political expediency over principle is now the astonishing proposal to get rid of juries in order to deal with a backlog of cases from the impact of Covid.

The Lord Advocate is reported to have lent her support to this idea in order to “speed up prosecutions”. One might suggest prosecutions could be further sped up if we just did away with the courts all together.

Instead of removing the fundamental tenets of Scotland’s system of justice to expedite cases the Scottish Government could consider investing more funding in the legal aid system. It could create some financial incentives or pay for overtime in order to get through some of the Covid backlogs.

Sacrificing centuries old principles of Scottish justice at this stage in the pandemic is now wearing a bit thin to be honest.