Juryless rape trials pilot will not start before late 2028, says minister

The justice secretary said she would listen carefully to concerns from MSPs and the legal profession.

Juryless rape trials pilot will not start before late 2028, says Scottish justice secretary Angela Constance PA Media

A pilot scheme to hold rape trials without juries present would not go ahead until late 2028, the justice secretary has indicated.

Angela Constance said she would listen carefully to concerns from MSPs and the legal profession about the proposal in the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill.

The juryless rape trial plan has proved to be the most controversial aspect of the Bill, which introduces a number of reforms to the justice system.

The Law Society of Scotland has said trial by jury for serious crimes is a “basic right” and the plan should be scrapped.

MSPs on Holyrood’s Justice Committee were split on the proposal, with SNP members in favour while Labour and the Conservatives opposed.

There was a similar split along party lines on the Bill’s proposal for a new sexual offences court.

Ms Constance wrote to the committee, addressing a number of points they had raised.

She was asked to provide a clear timeline for when the various provisions of the Bill would be implemented.

Based on the assumption that the Bill passed in late 2025, she said the sexual offences court would be implemented in the fourth quarter of 2026.

The pilot would be the last element to be implemented, taking place in the fourth quarter of 2028.

Constance’s letter said: “Our intention is that a baselining exercise will be carried out before

the pilot is run.

“This exercise will look at cases that meet the same criteria as those that will be heard in the pilot, and will review them using the same evaluation questions that will be used for the pilot.”

Constance noted that some members of the committee are set against the pilot.

She said: “We note members’ views on the pilot and re-iterate our commitment to continuing to listen to the voices of members from all parties, as well as those of partners from across the justice system and of victims themselves.

“Juries play a key role in Scotland’s justice system, but there is a compelling body of evidence that rape myths may influence the decisions that jurors reach in sexual offence cases.

“That is a risk to the administration of justice, which could in turn undermine public confidence in juries.

“We believe it is important that we examine the use of juries in rape cases and try to better understand the impacts they have – a time-limited pilot enables us to do that.”

The SNP minister said the Government would explore the possibility of a panel system for the pilot scheme, where two lay members sat alongside the judge to decide on rape cases.

Amendments may be brought forward at Stage 2 of the Bill which limit the time of the pilot scheme, she said.

Conviction rates for rape are significantly lower than for other types of crimes, the Justice Secretary said.

Constance pointed to research which showed the conviction rate for accused people on single charges of rape or attempted rape was between 22% and 27% in recent years.

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