Scottish defence lawyers to boycott controversial juryless trials pilot

Scottish defence lawyers to boycott controversial juryless trials pilot

Scottish defence lawyers are preparing to boycott a controversial pilot scheme for juryless rape trials.

The plans, which have been advanced for a number of years, would see juries removed from rape and sexual offence trials on the basis that the conviction rate for such crimes is artificially low.

Research commissioned by the Scottish government has shown that juries subscribe to rape myths, resulting in worries that they are acquitting people who are in fact guilty of rape and other crimes. 

The Scottish Solicitors Bar Association (SSBA) is to ballot members on the new proposal contained in the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill.

The SSBA said it would effectively be professional misconduct for lawyers to allow clients to take part in test trials. It is doubtful the pilot will even go ahead as it requires the consent of the accused.

Solicitors told The Herald that they are “fundamentally opposed” to the pilot.

They said it would increase the risk of “accused persons suffering a miscarriage of justice, deliver no discernible benefits for either the justice system or wider society and undermine the public’s confidence in our criminal justice system”.

It concluded: “For the avoidance of any doubt, despite the huge financial pressures currently being faced by Scottish solicitors and the consequential decimation of our numbers, this is not and has never been a question of fees.

“We are not prepared to take part in this scheme.”

The statement comes in the wake of the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee excluding the SSBA from its consideration of the bill.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Running a time-limited pilot of judge-only rape trials was a recommendation of the review carried out by Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, on improving the justice system in the way it responds to serious sexual offending and is a key part of the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill.

“It is disappointing that some criminal defence lawyers have pre-empted the opportunity for debate, scrutiny and collaboration on the bill’s proposals before Parliament has even had a chance to scrutinise them.”

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