SOME remand prisoners may not need to appear in person at hearings at Glasgow Sheriff Court as part of an action plan to try and reduce backlogs.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has taken the ‘unprecedented’ step of setting time limits on certain custody courts to deal with significant delays it says have been caused by staff shortages at contractor GEOAmey.

The firm is responsible for escorting suspects across the country for in-person court appearances.

The service says they hope this will allow GEOAmey to focus on other areas of its work and go some way to cutting the backlog of cases that are threatening to cripple the justice system. It is also still considering the option of holding virtual hearings.

The Glasgow Times understands that representatives from the judiciary, SCTS, COPFS, SPS, Police Scotland, SLAB and Scottish Government have acknowledged that there is no single solution to the current challenge and a range of areas are to be explored, including virtual custody courts and the processing of warrant cases.

As an immediate step to support the wellbeing of all involved in custody courts, sheriff principals have taken the decision to set time limits on custody courts to avoid sittings running late into the evenings. 

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Sheriff Principal Aisha Anwar, from the Sheriffdom of Glasgow and Strathkelvin, adds: “The sheriffs principal have a statutory responsibility for the efficient disposal of business.

“The current difficulties are continuing to have a significant impact upon trial and custody courts throughout Scotland.

“The measures introduced are designed to enable GEOAmey to prioritise resources and acknowledge the need to safeguard the wellbeing of all those involved in custody courts.

“These measures are unprecedented and temporary short-term solutions to the current challenges faced by the courts.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We are working with partners to address the current issues and a series of practical steps are being taken to reduce the pressure on justice services including cutting the number of people travelling between prison, court and police custody.”

A GEOAmey spokesperson said that the firm believes the new measures will help to improve the judicial system.

They added: “GEOAmey welcomes the recent changes to the running of court business for persons in custody.  These changes are the result of positive discussions with all stakeholder partners on how to fulfil our shared ambition to improve service to the courts and broader judicial system."

"Like most organisations across the UK, GEOAmey has been impacted by the post-COVID19 labour market, and extensive recruitment activities are underway to address this issue.

"GEOAmey remains committed to working with our partners in order to collectively improve service to the courts and wider judicial system."