A renewed attack on trial by jury in Scotland has been met with scorn from attorneys.
A”cross-justice” group headed by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, has proposed a pilot of juryless rape trials in what constitutes the most recent attempt to remove juries from sexual offences cases.
A similar attempt was made last March by the Scottish authorities , in the outset of this outbreak, but was fiercely criticised and led to the government backing down.
Lady Dorrian’s team has mooted a”time-limited pilot” of what are called”single judge rape trials”, so as to”fully evaluate and fully consider their efficacy and how they’re perceived by lawyers, accused and complainers by a sensible perspective”.
“Any real improvement in the process of delivering justice is welcomed but the voice of the unjustly accused ought to be heard as loudly as any other type,” explained Tony Lenehan, president of the SCBA.
“Innocent women and men end up in precisely the exact same dock as the guilty every day of each week. Our taxpayers form sensible, balanced and experienced decision-making juries who separate the guilty from the rest with care and insight.
“The lack of public confidence in justice that juryless trials would bring was recognised last year, even in the cauldron of this pandemic. The arguments for ridding citizens of the right to decide the facts of sexual offence cases, though loudly made by some, have only superficial attraction.
“We are steadfast in our long believed resistance to this step.”
Ronnie Renucci QC, Vice Dean of Faculty told Scottish Legal News:”The report is very full and detailed also makes a number of recommendations, as such it warrants careful and full consideration before placing out a considered reaction.
“That was said, it is disappointing and concerning this once more the spectre of non-jury trials has raised its head. What I can say with a degree of certainty would be that that particular recommendation will last to be resisted as strongly now as it was last year as it was first proposed.”
Criminal silk Thomas Ross QC told SLN that we should be in no doubt about what the purpose of the suggestion is: to affect conviction prices.
He said:”I have yet to read this long report in detail but it is likely to argue that most of the proposals are intended to improve the expertise of the witness. But allow us to be in absolutely no doubt what the proposition to run juryless trials is about — it could simply be intended to affect conviction prices.”
Mr Ross said that he had been”appalled” that the thought was being nurtured.
He said:”Rape Crisis Scotland — that do a fantastic job for all those they serve — make absolutely no secret about it. I am appalled that encouragement, nevertheless cautious, is being given to this idea. They need to be told today that it will never happen: it is the very key to this right to a fair trial”
He added:”The report suggests — and I agree with the proposal — that the evidence of the complainer will be pre-recorded possibly within days of the report being made. If this works, and there is not any reason why it should not, then no complainer will be compelled to be in the same room for a jury ever again. If so, what impact would the elimination of the prosecution have on a complainer?”
The advocate also inquired what will happen if the change does not affect the conviction rate in the manner victims’ groups hope for.
“And what of the judges who are to be deprived of their juries? If Judge X sitting without a jury acquits three accused in succession — how long before Rape Crisis is calling for his head?
“I think that the conviction rate should match precisely the number of cases which are proved beyond reasonable doubt. I believe we’re reaching that at the present time.”