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Courts Playing Catch Up With Remand Cases

2nd November 2020

Scottish Labour has called for the SNP Government to step up its plans for dealing with a backlog of court cases as figures released this week show a sharp rise in remand prisoners who now make up almost a quarter of the prison population.

Recent figures from the Scottish Prison Service show that as of 23 October there were 1,717 untried prisoners in Scotland's prisons. This equivalent to 23 per cent of the whole prison population and over 300 more untried prisoners than at the same point in 2019.

Recently-released Scottish Government figures have also revealed that in September 2020, 67 per cent of arrivals into prison were untried and 14 per cent were still awaiting sentencing. Evidence has also shown that remand is not only unproductive but can also lead to offending behaviour in the future, with long lasting, harmful effects on both prisoners and their families, disrupting access to health services, work, housing and benefits.

Scottish Labour claims that these figures display the urgent need for the Government to improve efforts to tackle the court backlog.

Scottish Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said, "The Scottish Government has said that it has a plan to keep courts running but these figures show that efforts to address the backlog and tackle remand levels are not making progress.

"Far more use needs to be made of virtual technology, especially in less serious cases, and the government must commit to ensure that the equipment and resources are made widely available to expedite such cases.

“Extending remand is putting prison services under immense strain and forcing courts into an impossible game of catch-up. Much more could be done to streamline the process through virtual hearings and trials, and would go some way to ensuring the legal rights of those on remand are being respected.

“We cannot have remand prisoners languishing in prison for months on end without a trial as the Government sits on its hands. They are presumed innocent until otherwise proven - and forcing remand with no end in sight does not uphold principles of justice.

“While we cannot compromise on the need for fair trials, we must not allow the principles and protections of our justice system to be undermined by the pandemic, and the Scottish Government must find a way to process these cases as a matter of urgency."

Data report from Justice Analytical Services on Covid-19:

In September 2020 the population increased by 61 to 7,519

67% of arrivals in September were untried (698 of 1,024), and 14% awaiting sentence (147)

Data of Prison Populations from the Scottish Prison Service:

At 23 October 2020 there were 1,717 untried prisoners in Scottish prisons - 23% of the total 7,460 population.

The number of untried prisoners is 23.1% higher than at 24 October 2019 (1,717 compared with 1,395).