Lord Hope: Efforts should be made to ‘preserve jury trials’ during pandemic

Lord Hope: Efforts should be made to 'preserve jury trials' during pandemic

Lord Hope

A former senior judge has said efforts should be made to preserve jury trials during the pandemic after the Scottish government attempted to pass legislation allowing solemn trials to be conducted without juries.

Crossbench peer Lord Hope of Craighead’s comments come after the government removed proposals for ‘non-jury’ trials from the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill following a widespread backlash from lawyers.

The provisions on non-jury trials are to be amended and reintroduced at Holyrood on April 21 for consideration by MSPs.

Speaking to Scottish Legal News, the former Lord President and Deputy President of the Supreme Court said that “for the reasons Lord Carloway gives there is an urgent need to find a solution to this crisis”, referring to the Lord Justice General’s wish to “preserve the fair, effective, and efficient administration of justice” during the pandemic.

He added: “I would try very hard to preserve jury trials in the cases that need them, while being careful to use summary trials wherever possible – bearing in mind the consequences as regards sentencing.”

Lord Hope also suggested that smaller juries could be used.

“I would also like to explore the use of smaller juries as it is so much harder to link a jury of 15 into video conferencing. Perhaps a jury of seven with four for guilty would be acceptable in cases sent for trial by sheriff and jury.

“That would be much more workable and might be acceptable to the criminal bar.”

The former judge said that in 1981, due to a strike by court staff, another approach was taken when trials could not take place at all.

“Steps were taken to relax time limits and release on bail, but [the Lord Advocate] Lord Mackay’s policy was to take each case as it came up on its own facts rather than rely on a blanket rule,” he said.

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