The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 and what it means for families affected by imprisonment

Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 1st of April 2020 to enable a number of measures aimed at tackling Coronavirus across Scotland, This followed similar legislation by the UK Parliament. The Act has a number of impacts for families affected by imprisonment. The Scottish Government, along with the Scottish Prison Service, has used the Act to implement a number of options designed to help keep people in prison safe and well, in addition to ensuring that the justice system can continue to operate. The Act does not necessarily mean all of the options will be used. The measures that are outlined below will be used by the Scottish Government and SPS where they are essential to maintain the functioning of the justice system and the health and safety of people in prison.

A summary of the measures which will directly impact on families are as follows:

Suspension of Impediments to social distancing in Courts and Tribunals

This section allows any participant in a civil or criminal proceeding (judge, tribunal member, clerk, legal representative, accused, appellants, witnesses) to attend remotely for hearings.

For criminal trials, the physical attendance of participants is still required. However, the Bill allows for courts to act flexibly to allow for the appearance of participants remotely where it will not prejudice fairness.

Case beginning with an appearance from custody

A number of Courts have closed during the outbreak, with many more expected to close at times due to staff sickness. The rules for a person attending Court straight from police custody have been relaxed in two ways.

Firstly – A person can attend a Court that is out with the Sheriffdom where the alleged crime was committed.

Secondly – The Bill relaxes the jurisdiction of Sheriffs to allow them to consider cases out with their Sheriffdom and now consider cases from the whole of Scotland.

The example provided is that a person is arrested in Peterhead and appears in the Sheriff Court in Dundee, a Sheriff from Glasgow could then participate via video link.

Release of prisoners

The Bill rules out the increase use of Home Detention Curfew and temporary release on the basis that neither is able to reflect the situation created by the Coronavirus pandemic. The Bill, however, does allow Scottish Ministers to consider releasing lower-risk prisoners to allow prisons to continue to operate effectively.

Scottish Ministers would be required to set out the conditions of release in secondary legislation. Prison Governors would have a veto over any prisoner being released as a result of further regulations.

Families Outside staff are working closely with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service to ensure families have the most up to date information and that the needs of families are taken into account.

For more information, please see our Frequently Asked Questions related to Corvid-19

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