New recommendations to widen the opportunity for people with hearing or sight impairments to serve as jurors have been put forward in a report issued by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.
The study, Enabling Jury Service, was drawn up by a working group chaired by Lord Matthews. It makes a series of recommendations intended to open the way for as many people as possible to serve on juries, taking in to consideration their individual needs, impairments or disabilities. It explores what reasonable adjustments and measures might be put in place in courts to support jurors and the criteria that may be considered by the court in determining the suitability of a person to serve as a juror in a particular case.
The report was prompted by the experiences of a blind woman cited for jury service at a sheriff court who, despite having declared her disability at an early stage, was not informed until the day of jury service that reasonable adjustments could not be made to allow her to serve.
The working group, consisting of representatives of business areas within SCTS, was supported by contributions from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland and by expert advice from representatives of the Royal National Institute for Blind People and the Scottish Council on Deafness. In a short consultation it sought further views from a number of individuals and organisations including such bodies as Inclusion Scotland, Sight Action and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Welcoming the report, SCTS chief executive Eric McQueen said: “Jurors play a pivotal role in Scotland’s criminal justice system. Lord Matthews’ report gives us the opportunity to examine how we can meet a potential jurors’ specific needs or introduce reasonable adjustments to enable people to fulfil this civic duty in court.
“The SCTS is now looking at how we can take the report’s recommendations forward and we aim to have measures in place by April 2019. We consider this to be an important step forward in affording equal access to our justice system and ensuring that those available for jury selection represent the diverse identity of the Scottish population.”
The report’s recommendations fall into two categories: those in which procedures can potentially be adapted without changes to legislation and those where it is more likely that new legislation will be required.
Recommendations in the first category include:
- Revising information documents to encourage potential jurors to alert courts at an early stage to any support needs they may require;
- Updating present jury information and making the documents available online in appropriate formats;
- Specific contacts at court in the form of suitably trained Jury Liaison Officers available to discuss potential jurors’ needs and any arrangements required;
- Improving accessibility in courtrooms, jury boxes and jury rooms when buildings are being upgraded;
- Equipping jury rooms with secure systems to enhance hearing for all jurors and scoping the provision of electronic devices to support those with hearing or sight impairments.
- The second category includes two recommendations that would potentially require legislative change. These relate to making it possible for persons other than jury members, for example a supporter or interpreter, to be present in the jury room during deliberations, and a proposed statutory provision that the presiding judge be the final arbiter of decisions surrounding suitability of proceedings where jurors with support measures might serve. Where legislative changes have been proposed in the report these will require to be considered by the Scottish Government and may be subject to wider consultation.
Lord Matthews’ report deals primarily with measures to support jurors with sight or hearing impairments but recognises the need to explore similar provision to support potential jurors with learning and mental health issues and those whose first language is not English.
The report is available, in a number of different formats, on the SCTS website.