Jury trials could restart in Scotland’s courts this summer

The Lord Justice Clerk has revealed planning is under way to resume high court proceedings in July.

Scotland’s second most senior judge Lady Dorrian has announced plans to restart jury trials by the summer. 

The Lord Justice Clerk has revealed planning is under way to resume high court proceedings in July. 

She is currently chairing a working group tasked with looking at ways to allow jurors to hear evidence in the most serious cases. 

The group was convened earlier this month to look at ways juries could maintain strict social distancing in the light of the continuing Coronavirus crisis. 

Its membership includes representatives from the judiciary, Crown Office the Faculty of Advocates, Rape Crisis Scotland and the Scottish Government.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Lady Dorrian said: “The challenges in conducting 15-person jury trials in a physically distanced environment cannot be underestimated. 

“A pool of jurors must be cited, assembled and balloted in a way which respects social distancing guidelines. 

“The court facilities must be configured to ensure the safety of all those involved in the trial, including access for the public and for the media, whilst at the same time ensuring effective participation of all the main participants.

“However, thanks to the constructive input of all those on the working group, we have identified the steps needed for the first trials to take place in Edinburgh and Glasgow in July. 

“I am grateful to the working group members for their effective collaboration and commitment.”

Jury trials were stopped earlier this year after Scotland’s most senior judge Lord Carloway concluded that it wasn’t safe to allow the proceedings to go ahead.

The Lord Justice General believed that allowing jurors to sit in the high court wouldn’t be consistent with advice given to the public by health watchdogs.

Last month, justice secretary Humza Yousaf proposed scrapping jury trials. However, Scots lawyers feared that the development could undermine justice and the proposal was dropped. 

Civil cases in the Court of Session are currently being conducted with the use of video and telephone conferencing technology.

The group being chaired by Lady Dorrian are considering whether “innovative uses of technology” can solve the current problem of juries not being able to sit. 

It is also considering what other steps can be taken to ensure social distancing can be maintained in cramped buildings. 

On Tuesday, Lady Dorrian said the working group’s focus was on restarting proceedings at the High Court in Edinburgh and the High Court in Glasgow. 

She added: “There is still plenty of work to do before this can become a reality, however. 

“The details are now being worked through, and specific plans will be developed for different approaches in each location. 

“It is anticipated that we will use a three court solution in the High Court in Glasgow, with the jury using the public gallery in the trial courtroom. 

“In Edinburgh, we hope to use a two court solution, allowing the jury to view the trial remotely from a separate courtroom. 

“Nothing will take place until we have finalised the planning and can provide the assurance that it will be safe for all of those participating in the trial and that proceedings may be recommenced without significant risk to the administration of justice.”

The working group hopes to introduce measures which will allow jury trials to resume in the sheriff courts later this year. 

On Tuesday, Ronnie Renucci QC, who sits on the working group, welcomed the plan. 

Mr Renucci, the chair of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, said: “The SCBA very much welcomes Lady Dorrian’s announcement. 

“As advocates specialising in High Court jury trials, we will contribute our expertise and practical experience to the initial test trials, along with our undiminished commitment to see a safe, fair and efficient jury trial system evolve out of the process.

“Whilst we do not underestimate the challenges, we are convinced that the enormous assembly of experience, energy and talent in Lady Dorrian’s working group will galvanise our dormant but vital solemn criminal justice system with jury trials back at the heart of it.”

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