Concern in Scotland over plans for juryless trials in rape cases

Concern in Scotland over plans for juryless trials in rape cases

Controversial plans in Scotland to allow for trials without juries in rape cases have come in for criticism.

The Scottish government has introduced a bill that would enable what it calls judge-only trials.

The pilot project would, however, require the consent of the accused to participate. Lawyers are, unsurprisingly, advising their clients not to take part, which could cause serious embarrassment to the government and judiciary, who have spearheaded the plans.

Solicitor advocate Stephanie Clinkscale said: “I will not be accepting instructions in any judge-only trials.”

Defence advocate Thomas Ross KC said: “Spirits lifted this morning by a number of solicitors already declaring that they will take no part in legitimising non-jury trials.

“Hopefully our judges…will stand up and help us defeat this. Scottish lawyers from all backgrounds – sheriffs and judges too – must speak out against this proposal. On an issue as important and fundamental to fair trial protections as this, I’m afraid even silence amounts to complicity.”

He added: “At the moment, you have 15 anonymous jurors, but now judges will be under a huge amount of pressure to convict because there is a political agenda to push up the conviction rate and those who don’t do so will find themselves under a lot of scrutiny.”

Tony Lenehan, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association of the Faculty of Advocates, said: “The most alarming part of the bill is the proposal for juryless rape trials because it is anti-democratic.”

Murray Etherington, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The right to a fair trial is a cornerstone of the Scottish criminal Justice system. Even on a pilot basis, judge only trials will put that fundamental right in jeopardy with no discernible benefits.

“By its very definition, a jury is a better reflection of Scottish society than a single judge can possibly be. Juries act as an essential and effective safeguard against the potential for unconscious biases to unfairly influence trial outcomes.

“Undermining the foundations of the Scottish justice system to increase conviction rates is a dangerous approach which will create a serious risk of injustice.”

The Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain KC, has said there needs to be a “properly informed” debate about abolishing juries.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance claimed was “vast evidence” that in many instances juries “are influenced by false and stereotypical views”. She said the proposal was “fair and legitimate given the long-standing low conviction rates for rape”.

Share icon
Share this article: