Jury System Proposals

As I haven’t been blogging in a while I have not blogged about some important consultations taking place in the Scottish Legal System recently.  There is an important paper out for consultation just now regarding Juries in Scotland.

On 18th September 2008 the Scottish Government published a consultation paper on modernising the jury system.  This paper proposes a range of changes including:

  • Allowing citizens aged between 65 and 70 to sit on trial juries (personally, I see no problem with this as judges are allowed to continue sitting until they are 70)
  • Reducing the exemption from 5 years to 2 for those who have been called to attend court as potential jurors but are not subsequently balloted to serve on a trial jury.

The paper also talks about removing the exemption for those working in the legal profession from having to sit on juries.  The equivalent restriction was removed from the English System and we have already seen judges sitting on juries down there.  I am not too sure about this one myself.  Personally, I see a potential issue in relation to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 (some, however, see this as an opportunity to strengthen this right).  I see it as an issue when it comes to jury deliberations.  Some members of the jury might vote in the same way as a person who they know to have legal training on this basis, meaning they are not (as they are required to do) arriving at their decision based on the evidence heard in court and the directions of the trial judge in relation to what the law says.  While a solicitor, advocate, sheriff or Judge will have a greater understanding of the Law than a lay person does they can and do still get decisions wrong (this is why we have Appeal Courts and why convictions and judgements are overturned).  I may be wrong, but we never know what goes son in jury rooms while they are making deliberating and arriving at a verdict.  Maybe some of those in the English System who read this blog can help here.

Another proposal, which is proving quite controversial, is reducing the number of jurors who sit on a criminal trial from 15.  This proposal has been raised partly on the grounds of cost (which in my opinion should never enter into reforms of the Criminal Justice System, but sadly cannot be ignored as the pot is a limited one).  The proposal does raise the question (and the paper acknowledges this) of whether it would still be appropriate to allow a simple majority for conviction should the number of jurors be reduced from 15.  This, is a very important point.  Currently if you are on trial at least 8 members of the jury must be convinced by the evidence lead in court before they can convict you.  This is quite a high number to be convinced by a very high standard of proof.  It is a point that cannot be ignored through this consultation.

The consultation runs until 11 December 2008 and views are invited from anyone who happens to have one.