The above scene, taken some years ago in Edinburgh’s Court of Session, portrays a normality that has been sadly lost to us in the legal world over the last month or so. It’s very unlikely that our two Advocates (the English equivalent would be Barristers) will be having face to face discussions for the foreseeable future.
Yes, we’re back to the ramifications of the Coronavirus (again) and lawyers, like so many other professionals, are now having to learn to rely on technology in order to deliver services to the public.
It should not have come as a great surprise, therefore, to see that Scotland’s most senior civil court has decided to proceed with a virtual appeal hearing in respect of a high profile defamation claim.
Last year, the well known Scottish independence (not to say controversial) blogger, Stuart Campbell was unhappy with the decision of a Sheriff in his defamation claim against Kezia Dugdale, the former Scottish Labour Party Leader (Campbell v Dugdale  SC EDIN 32).
Mr Campbell sought leave to appeal to the Inner House of the Court of Session – which was granted – but this was before the virus outbreak and life as we know it changing in ways that we could not have foreseen.
The old adage about justice delayed means justice denied is extremely appropriate to the times we are living in. Due to the viral outbreak, both civil and criminal proceedings in Scotland (as in so many other countries) have practically ground to a halt.
How do we deal with this?
Necessity is the mother of invention and a virtual Inner House has been created by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS). Eric McQueen, SCTS Chief Executive, is confident that the three appeal judges, court staff and lawyers for both litigants will be able to work with these arrangements. Currently, this is a temporary arrangement and jury is still out as to whether virtual court hearings will become a permanent feature of the Scottish, legal landscape. The answer to this question will surely depend on how matters progress in this particular appeal.
Even our legislators in the Scottish and Westminster Parliaments are having to grapple with the opportunities (and disadvantages) that remote working represents. Yesterday, the first virtual session of the House of Commons took place at Westminster.
Strange times indeed, but needs must when the devil drives …
A link to the BBC News website about the virtual Inner House can be found below:
A link to the original decision of the Sheriff (Nigel Ross QC) can be found below:
Copyright Seán J Crossan, 23 April 2020