Report calls for more video hearings to reduce ‘time-consuming and expensive’ custody process

Greater use of videolinks for criminal hearings could reduce the need for “unnecessary, time-consuming and expensive” measures to move people from custody to courtrooms, a report has suggested.

The number of people held in custody who end up not being required in court because of last-minute adjournments or cancellations is putting a strain on resources, said the review by HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS).

The recommendations followed a series of unannounced visits to court custody units (CCUs) in Scotland between May and October last year.

They found that conditions in most court cells were adequate “although a minority of courts face an urgent requirement to upgrade facilities”.

The report, by chief inspector Wendy Sinclair-Gieben, also recommended an “effective shared digital platform” to promote information-sharing between managers and staff to help “reduce unnecessary transport and court custody use”.

It says: “It is worth mentioning that CCUs are largely poorly ventilated, contained environments unsuited in a pandemic to large amounts of human traffic.

“To have multiple cell occupancy and unnecessary attendance of custodies increases the airborne viral load and inhibits CCUs becoming ‘Covid-19 safe’ workplaces.

“HMIPS has for some years criticised the minimal use of video courts throughout Scotland and particularly to those cases where distance or vulnerability is an issue.

“Women and young people in particular, complain of long travelling times and waits in CCUs often for very short appearances in court, and would prefer the increased use of virtual courts.

“Appearances at court can be very short indeed or even cancelled at short notice. HMIPS have found that the number of custodies who end up not required in court puts unnecessary pressure on CCUs and escort services as well as subjecting custodies to unnecessary journeys.”

National figures compiled on January 11 this year found that a quarter of all people in custody taken from a CCU to a courtroom were not required to appear; similar figures on December 7 2020 showed that 16% of custodies taken to court were redundant.

The report added: “However, one of the welcome benefits of the pandemic is the rapid and significant increase in the number of video courts.

“I look forward to the results of the current trial being published, and if positive, to even greater use of video courts reducing unnecessary, time-consuming, and expensive transport provisions.”

The full report: Court custody unit Covid-19 liaison visits can be found here.

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