3rd April 2020

These are strange times, but as the days have gone on we have become accustomed to the sudden change in our lives knowing, hoping, that it won’t be for too long.

“Furlough, “social distancing”, “shielding” and “self-isolation” have become every day words and phrases. Daily briefings from Downing Street and the First Minister have become the norm as Covid-19 works its way around the world wreaking havoc.

Home in Shetland it now feels like the calm before the storm. We know something big is brewing, we’ve prepared as best we can for the worst, and we wait.

No-one doubts we are in a public health emergency. Emergency legislation was required to deal with the situation so the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill was rushed through Parliament on Wednesday with politicians of all colours working together collegiately. But the Scottish Government’s proposals to abandon criminal trials by jury during the crisis and replace with judge-only hearings was a step too far.

Courts must be able to function, and victims and the accused have a right to a fair and just criminal system. There are obvious health issues in bringing together in a court during this crisis a selection of people from different walks of life to serve on a jury. Social distancing may not be possible in traditional courts but there are digital options, and empty public buildings, that may provide a solution for court hearings.  Doing away with juries, and an 800-year old pillar of our judicial system, is not the way to deal with administrative and logistics problems.

That the Scottish Government withdrew their proposals following intense pressure from opposition parties, the Law Society of Scotland and others, was the right decision.

The volume of enquiries that MSPs are receiving has increased massively, unsurprisingly, and people want answers quickly. That’s understandable as people’s lives have been turned upside down through no fault of their own. Household incomes have either dropped or disappeared altogether, children are being schooled at home, and daily tasks such as shopping can be challenging.  

The economic impact on Shetland cannot be under-estimated. Businesses that were perfectly viable at the beginning of the year, and relying on summer trade to see them through the financial year, may not be around when we come out the other side of this crisis. Both governments and their officials have worked round the clock to find solutions to support business but there have been some shortcomings in schemes which have been brought to the attention of ministers to see if adjustments can be made. It may be difficult to find a solution for every situation, but it is not unreasonable for self-employed people or for a business operating from a home address to expect equality of support with those able to go on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or a business operating from a non-domestic property.

Stay safe, stay home, care for your loved ones. Protect the NHS. Save lives.

We will get through this.

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