MSPs warned of unacceptable danger posed by juryless rape trials

MSPs warned of unacceptable danger posed by juryless rape trials

Lawyers have warned MSPs of the unacceptable risk posed by the proposal for juryless trials in rape cases.

Law Society president Sheila Webster appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee to provide evidence on the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill, alongside the society’s head of research Alan McCreadie.

The committee also took evidence from legal academics on conflicting research around rape myths and their potential impact on juries and judges.

Ms Webster told committee members there is no conclusive evidence to justify moving away from juries for sexual crimes.

She said: “There is a strong sense of concern, a very strong sense of concern, specifically about the single-judge pilot.

“This is not truly a pilot. We’re talking about live cases here. People who will, as others have mentioned, whose lives will be permanently affected if at the end of the pilot we decide it wasn’t a very good idea.

“What we’re dealing with are real life cases which, as we understand it, will not be optional. You will have to go into it whether you like it or not.”

Committee members also asked about the bill’s proposal for a new sexual offences court, with a number of concerns raised about its standing and the calibre of lawyers and judges who would be involved in cases currently heard in the High Court of Justiciary.

Mr McCreadie said: “We would agree with the Faculty that there is no need for a sexual offences court. There may however be a need and there is always a need for greater specialisation in the existing court structure of the High Court, and also the Sheriff Solemn Court.”

The Law Society of Scotland has previously provided a written submission and given evidence to the Criminal Justice Committee on other elements of the bill, including concerns about the proposal to scrap the “not proven” verdict.

Tony Lenehan KC, president of the Faculty of Advocates Criminal Bar Association, told MSPs: “If Parliament decides to implement something that is so widely unpopular there’s bound to be a practical consequence.

“It’s a struggle just now to resource the courts that are currently sitting.

“As people are driven out of the profession that’s a reality, so you’ve got to be super careful with massive changes that what you don’t do is, with the best intentions, deliver chaos, delay and disaster through people just not wanting to do the job.”

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