Letter: Jurors represent the voice of society
The Dundee criminal defence agents met on Wednesday 3 May, and it was a unanimous decision that they will not be taking part in the Scottish government’s planned juryless trials pilot scheme. After this meeting I noted numerous Bar Associations and Faculties doing the same thing.
On Tuesday 9 May, whilst I was on holiday in Spain, I received a call from a reporter at the BBC asking for the Dundee Faculty’s position on the Scottish government’s planned juryless trials pilot scheme. I provided the Dundee Faculty’s comment on the matter which was very similar to what other critics have reported so I will not bore you with it.
However, whilst I was travelling home from Spain, I was reading the excellent “A Life of Crime” by the late Sir Harry Ognall KC (a retired high court judge who presided over the Colin Stagg trial amongst many other trials). There is a passage in this book I would like to share as it is very relevant to the current juryless trials debate. At pg. 139 Sir Ognall KC states:
“Trial by Jury remains the best vehicle for determining guilt in major criminal cases. A judge sitting alone or with assessors is bound by the letter of the law; a jury is not. A jury can simply cast aside a legal principle and conclude ‘We don’t care what the law says; this is not fair.’ On another point, those who suggest that some issues in today’s world have become so complex that they would elude a jury’s understanding are aiming at the wrong target. It is within the competence of Counsel of quality to deal with that complexity, and it is their duty to frame the charges and present them in a way that a jury can understand – and, believe me, they will understand.
“Moreover (as I said much earlier) a jury represents the voice of society in matters of supreme importance to all of us. It is a voice that is highly relevant to the criminal trial process, and one, in my opinion, that demands to be heard.”
Dean of the Faculty of Procurators and Solicitors in Dundee