SNP ministers have been urged to “finally get a grip” of Scotland’s court cases backlog after a record 43,606 trials are waiting to go ahead.
Last week, Justice Secretary Keith Brown told the Herald that “it will take time” to clear the soaring backlog but insisted SNP ministers “have to look for new ways” to reduce it.
He added: “We are very keen to focus on the backlog and have allocated additional resources for that purpose.”
The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) has said fewer court days were planned during early January and the requirement for self-isolation meant more cases were adjourned – due to the Omicron surge of Covid.
The level of cases concluded in January was 77% of the average pre-Covid level.
David Fraser, SCTS executive director of court operations, said: “Our court buildings continue to operate in accordance with guidance from Public Health Scotland to safeguard our staff, judiciary and court users.
“As the impact of the Covid Omicron variant reduced, we were able to ease the restrictions in our courts at the end of January while continuing to maintain necessary baseline safety measures.
“The collaboration across the judiciary, justice organisations, the legal profession and the third sector is helping to effectively manage court business, including the ongoing delivery of the recovery programme.
“We will continue to publish these figures on a monthly basis to illustrate the progress we are making and the challenges still being faced.”
Scottish Conservative justice spokesperson, Jamie Greene, said the waiting list has now reached “unprecedented levels”, adding “this has to be the catalyst for Keith Brown to finally get a grip of the record court backlog”.
He added: “Justice delayed is justice denied and with violent crime set to rise to the highest level since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister, this backlog will only take longer to clear.
“Yes, the pandemic has hugely exacerbated the problem, but even before Covid there was a huge backlog and now, after two years of inaction from the SNP Government, countless victims of crime are being left in painful limbo.
“The SNP failed to give the courts the funding they needed to tackle this injustice, leaving victims as an afterthought.
“They must U-turn and urgently provide the extra funding that the Scottish Conservatives called for in the most recent budget.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur said: “The pandemic has had an enormous disruptive impact on our court system. But this is much worse than it needed to be because a backlog was building for years before the pandemic struck.”
“Lengthy delays deny victims their day in court and the chance to achieve some semblance of closure. Memories get hazier, victims lose faith and it becomes harder and harder to ensure that justice is done.
“It also means our courts are under severe pressure and there are worrying numbers of people who haven’t been convicted spending long periods in prison awaiting trial.
“We need to see fresh resources for our beleaguered justice system and a fundamental reform of legal aid funding to prevent a further haemorrhage of solicitors from the scheme and ensure everyone has access to legal support.”