Law Society raises ‘serious concerns’ about judge-only sex offence trials

Law Society raises 'serious concerns' about judge-only sex offence trials

The Law Society of Scotland has raised serious concerns about a possible move to judge-only sexual offence trials in Scottish courts, and the creation of additional courts outside the existing judicial structure.

The proposals are among a number contained in a Scottish government consultation paper titled Improving victims’ experiences of the justice system. The full Law Society response can be found here.

The Law Society supports some of the possible changes canvassed in the paper, including the creation of a statutory Victims’ Commissioner.

Stuart Munro, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Criminal Law Committee, said: “It’s important that people who are affected by crime are treated with respect. We support changes that make it easier and less traumatic to participate in our justice system, but not if they compromise fundamental principles such as the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.

“The right to trial by jury for serious crimes is a cornerstone of the Scottish legal system, and we believe replacing that with judge-only trials would carry risks with no discernible benefits. A jury will always be far more reflective of Scottish society than a single judge can be, which greatly reduces the potential for subconscious bias to influence trial outcomes.

“Juries are anonymous while judges are not. Overt public criticism of judges or the exertion of political pressure on them would be unfair on the judiciary and incompatible with justice.

“We would not support the creation of a new specialist sexual offences court outside of the existing court structure. This would add another layer of complexity and bureaucracy, which would come at a considerable cost.”

He added: “Despite our concerns about the profound risks posed by a number of proposals contained in this consultation, we believe significant improvements can be made to reduce trauma and barriers to justice. We support the creation of a statutory Victims’ Commissioner, and the move towards trauma-informed practice.”

Share icon
Share this article: