Juryless trials: SNP MP suggests judges sit with lay members

Juryless trials: SNP MP suggests judges sit with lay members

An SNP politician has suggested a middle ground may be found in the juryless trials debate by including lay members with a judge.

The party’s former justice spokesperson, Stuart McDonald, broached the possibility at a fringe event during the SNP conference in Aberdeen, organised by the Law Society of Scotland.

Mr McDonald said: “The aim of the criminal justice system is ensuring those who are guilty of a crime are convicted and those against who guilt has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt, acquitted.

“And all parts of the justice system need to work towards that. But I think we are now in a place where we have found evidence, significant evidence that the jury system in these particular cases are actually undermining that goal.”

The MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, said cases could be overseen by a single judge and two lay persons.

He added: “If a single judge is not acceptable, is there a way that we could, for example, [look at] employment tribunals, a judge sitting with a couple of lay people in it so perhaps that may be something we want to consider.”

Professor Pamela Ferguson of Dundee University advocated for the pilot.

She said: “No one is saying that you were abandoning juries forever in these cases, but let’s see what the pilot reveals.

“If you’re opposing that, what are you saying? Are you saying our judges cannot be trusted to determine whether someone is guilty or not guilty of rape?

“Are you saying they will lock up innocent people just because they want to have the ability to say Scotland’s got a really high conviction rate in these cases? I doubt that very much.

“I think that’s a slur on our judiciary. They are perfectly capable of applying the legal rules. They are perfectly capable of looking for corroboration, and they have to give reasoned verdicts.

“Let’s have a pilot. Let’s see what comes out of that pilot and then we can take it forward.”

Stuart Murray, president of the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association, said the proposed pilot was “nothing more than a social experiment in a blatant attempt to increase conviction rates in these most serious cases”.

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