Smaller juries to be considered in trials as lockdown eases

All new jury trials in Scotland are currently suspended in Scotland due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Legal experts will consider whether trials could take place with smaller juries to enable them to restart while following social distancing measures when lockdown eases.

All new jury trials in Scotland are currently suspended in Scotland due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice General, has now established a short-term working group to consider the practicalities of restarting trials by jury as and when public health guidelines permit such a move.

Experts said it is clear that, if there is still a requirement for some form of social distancing whenever lockdown restrictions ease, it will not be possible to reinstate 15-member jury trials just as they were before lockdown.

The Working Group on Restarting Solemn Trials will examine 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 to be considered.

It will also look at how far a smaller jury size will make it easier to meet social distancing requirements.

The group will consider the legislative changes 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.

Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian, who will lead the group, 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.”

She added: “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.”

The group said its initial focus will be on trials in the High Court of Justiciary, but that there will clearly be lessons to be applied to solemn trials in the Sheriff Court.

It 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.

Members include QCs Alex Prentice and Ronnie Renucci, Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull, Lord Mulholland, Lord Beckett and Lord Turnbull.

It will also liaise closely with and seek input from 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.

Ronnie Renucci, QC, president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, part of the Faculty of Advocates, said: “I am delighted to have been invited to represent the Faculty of Advocates on Lady Dorrian’s working group.

“These are indeed challenging times and the faculty recognises that, notwithstanding the efforts already made by the courts, further work is required to identify and put in place suitable practical measures that will allow jury trials to resume in Scotland.

“The faculty does not take lightly its important role in the trial process and is determined to do what it can to assist in the safe and speedy resumption of this fundamental part of our criminal justice system.”

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code