Jury trials working group

The Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, has today (12 May) established a short-term working group, led by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, to consider the practicalities of recommencing trials by jury as and when public health guidelines permit such a move.

When the lockdown commenced, the Lord Justice General determined that, in accordance with Scottish Government guidelines on social distancing and travel, the requirements of public health protection meant that solemn trials could not take place in a suitably safe and secure manner. It was recognised that there was a need to explore ways that jury trials could restart when those guidelines and other protective measures were amended to allow greater activity. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, chaired a series of roundtable discussions with those involved in the justice sector on the options available to facilitate that restart. Those discussions revealed a number of possibilities and challenges which would need to be addressed and the Cabinet Secretary advised that the Scottish Government would focus on four of these options. The Lord Justice Clerk now wants to build on this work by examining the practical and operational implications of pursuing such options. 

It is clear that, if the requirement for some form of social distancing persists in the period following the easing of lockdown restrictions, it will not be possible to reinstate 15-member jury trials just as they were prior to the lockdown. The Working Group on Restarting Solemn Trials will look at how the physical and other practical constraints on jury trials might be overcome, with alternative uses of space in the court setting and innovative use of technology, and how far a smaller jury size will make it easier to meet social distancing requirements. It will consider what legislative changes will be needed to facilitate the necessary adjustments to trial practice and procedure, and will assess the potential effect on the rate at which trials may be processed. Its initial focus will be on trials in the High Court of Justiciary, but there will clearly be lessons to be applied to solemn trials in the Sheriff Court. 

The group will include representatives of the judiciary, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Faculty of Advocates, Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, Rape Crisis Scotland and the Scottish Government. It will also liaise closely with and seek the input of others with relevant expertise, such as Police Scotland, the Scottish Prison Service, Victim Support Scotland, and Scottish Women’s Aid. The group’s work will start this week, and will be progressed as quickly as possible.

Lady Dorrian said: “The Courts have been working extremely hard to deliver justice in the current challenging circumstances. The use of remote technology, for example, is progressing to cover as many types of case as is technically possible across a wide range of criminal and civil business.

“This working group recognises the importance to the accused, to witnesses, and to their families, of continuing that progress to consider serious criminal cases. The particular challenges of conducting a jury trial, while also following public health guidelines to protect those engaged in the hearing, is a difficult balance to meet. This group is working as quickly as is possible to ensure that all the impacts and practicalities are fully considered in order to provide the best outcome for Scotland, both in terms of justice for all concerned, but also in terms of public safety.”

Notes 

Membership

Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk

Lord Mulholland

Lord Beckett

Lord Turnbull

Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull

Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland

Anna Donald, Scottish Government

Lindsey Miller, COPFS

Eric McQueen, Chief Executive, SCTS

Joe Moyes, Deputy Principal Clerk of Justiciary, SCTS

Stuart Munro, Law Society of Scotland

Alex Prentice QC, Advocate Depute

Ronnie Renucci, QC, Faculty of Advocates

Terms of Reference

To facilitate the recommencement of solemn trials, and in particular:

  • to consider options and make recommendations on the feasibility of commencing jury trials in some form whilst maintaining social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic, with initial focus on the High Court of Justiciary
  • to identify the conditions that need to be present to enable such trials to proceed, including the conditions necessary to enable all participants to engage with the process
  • to consider what technological support might assist the process
  • to consider the constraints and practicalities within the current legislative framework, and whether any further legislative change might be required to facilitate the restart
  • to assess the capacity of the court estate with appropriate measures in place, and the likely volume of cases that might be progressed.

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