Scotland’s Sheriff civil courts will be able to conduct hearings, debates, evidential and Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) cases virtually from today.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has been rolling out Cisco’s WebEx capability since April and it is widely used in the Court of Session, Sheriff Appeal Court, Personal Injury Court and increasingly for tribunal hearings, including the Upper Tribunal. 

Civil business has continued to take place through and since COVID-19 lockdown, with many proceedings conducted via telephone conference. The use of virtual hearings will extend the opportunities for complex cases to be heard where evidence is required to be presented to court. 

Pilot hearings including ‘proofs’ – which is Scottish legal terminology for a hearing – debates and FAIs have already taken place with input from the judiciary, SCTS staff and legal practitioners to test and develop the WebEx procedures and guidance. 

Sheriff Principal Anwar, South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway, said: “Following the success of Sheriff Principal Stephen’s use of WebEx for virtual hearings in ASSPIC and the Sheriff Appeal Court, and Sheriff Principal Pyle’s use of WebEx for fatal accident inquiries, the Sheriffs Principal have worked closely with the digital teams and SCTS staff to manage the roll-out of virtual hearings throughout the sheriff courts in Scotland. Civil practitioners and Sheriffs have readily embraced the pilot exercises which have allowed us all to learn what works best and how to refine digital hearings. The sheriff courts re-started civil business very quickly after the lockdown and the ability to conduct more video hearings will improve the experience for all court users.” 

Julie Scott-Gilroy, Senior Associate, Morton Fraser, who participated in one of the pilot debates, said: “The use of WebEx provided the ideal opportunity for the case to proceed without delay in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.” 

Scotland became the first part of the UK last month to set up remote jury centres to conduct ‘virtual criminal trials. Glasgow and Edinburgh High Courts are both utilising local Odeon cinemas to allow cases to be live-streamed to jurors.

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