Scotland set to cut juror numbers for criminal trials to adhere to social distancing rules

Lady Dorrian, the senior judge who presided over Alex Salmond’s trial in March, will lead the panel amid growing fears that a large backlog of cases is being built up. Jury trials in Scotland were suspended at the end of March. 

“The courts have been working extremely hard to deliver justice in the current challenging circumstances,” she said. “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. 

“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.”

Juries of 15 have been a long-standing feature of the Scottish justice system. Unlike in England, where juries usually consist of 12 people and at least 10 must agree to reach a decision, a simple majority is enough for a guilty verdict in Scotland. 

The group considering the changes will include other senior judges, lawyers, Scottish government and police representatives and members of advocacy groups.

Its initial focus will be on trials in the High Court of Justiciary, where the most serious cases are heard, but rules could later be applied to jury trials in Sheriff Courts. Members will also consider how laws should be changed to bring in the new rules.

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