Humza Yousaf 'committed' to rape trial pilot as boycott grows

The First Minister has said that he hopes lawyers who have joined a boycott of juryless rape trials 'reconsider'.

Humza Yousaf ‘committed’ to rape trial pilot as boycott grows PA Media

Humza Yousaf has backed plans to pilot juryless rape trials after lawyers in Aberdeen joined a boycott.

Members of the Aberdeen Bar Association revealed on Monday that they will join lawyers in Glasgow and Edinburgh in refusing to take part in the pilot, which was proposed as part of a new justice reform bill.

The plans were recommended by senior judge Lady Dorrian who undertook a review of the justice system which informed the legislation before Holyrood.

Yousaf said he heard the objections of the Aberdeen Bar Association “loud and clear” but said he hopes they will “reconsider that boycott”.

The First Minister added that he remains “committed” to the pilot because convictions for rape are “far too low” in comparison to other offences.

He said: “Lets not forget that the vast majority of trials that take place, take place without a jury.

“An overwhelming amount, 80 per cent plus of trials take place without a jury, so we have this time-limited pilot that has been recommended, and it’s one that we are very keen to work with the legal profession on.

“We know through the weight of evidence that exists just how many rape myths, rape misconceptions, stereotypes exist.

“That’s not in the interest of justice.

“We’re talking about a time-limited pilot and I hope that legal professionals that have said they’ll boycott will work with us and reconsider that boycott.”

In the most recent figures, conviction rates for rape and attempted rape were 51%, compared with 91% for all other crimes.

Aberdeen Bar Association vice president Ian Woodward-Nutt accused the Scottish Government of attempting to “engineer” higher conviction rates in such cases.

He said: “It is essential to understand that in many rape cases it is hard for the prosecution to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt.

“That is not due to some deficiency in the system that requires to be rectified, rather it is the inevitable consequence of the background circumstances in cases of this type.

“For the government to consider it appropriate to attempt to engineer higher conviction rates and for them to try to do so by removing the essential safeguard of trial before a jury is deeply troubling.

“That is why defence lawyers in Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland have declared they will not accept instructions in cases proceeding by way of this experimental scheme.”

Justice secretary Angela Constance said the Scottish Government will work closely with the legal sector on the pilot.

She said: “It is disappointing that some criminal defence lawyers oppose a recommendation of a review carried out by Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, to improve how the justice system treats rape victims by piloting judge only rape trials.

“There is overwhelming evidence that jurors are subject to preconceptions about rape that can impact the verdicts they reach – which is not the case in other serious crime trials.

“Over 80% of criminal trials in Scotland are already conducted without a jury.

“We have worked closely with the legal sector and will continue to do so during the development and evaluation of the pilot.”

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