The Law Society of Scotland has said the legal profession is committed to ensuring delivery of an effective justice system during this challenging period and that it is motivated to take a proactive approach in restarting criminal jury trials.
The Law Society submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, follows the announcement on Tuesday, 26 May, by Lady Dorrian on her working group’s proposals to restart jury trials in Scotland in July.
The Working Group on Restarting Solemn Trials in the High Court, set up under Lady Dorrian, is currently running in tandem to the parliament’s Justice Committee’s work in considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic emergency on the Scottish criminal justice system as a whole.
John Mulholland, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “While recognising the obvious challenges presented to solemn courts at the moment, there are opportunities we should grasp to ensure the delivery of effective justice despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have welcomed the announcement by Lady Dorrian. The working group has worked very quickly on how we might restart jury trials in the courts and bring forward proposals which will respect the current social distancing rules to ensure the safety of all those involved.
“We would support the working group’s proposals to use the court estate in a more creative and versatile way. In our submission to the Justice Committee, we have suggested using other rooms in court buildings which may not have been deployed previously for jury trials and even if needs be, using additional external Scottish Government buildings, supported by the existing and available technology, we have the opportunity to restart jury trials in the coming weeks.”
In its submission, the Law Society has emphasised the need for greater use of technology, including remote balloting and in obtaining evidence. It also believes technology should have a role in allowing public access to watch trials online.
The professional body for Scottish solicitors has also restated its opposition to judge-only trials saying that ‘now is not the time to fundamentally change the Scottish criminal justice system by instituting judge only solemn trials’, adding that potential consequences could involve a need for additional judges and possible legal challenges.
While it accepted adjustments could be considered to reduce the numbers of jurors and to modify summary and/ or solemn sentencing powers, this would require legislative changes to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, which would delay the restart of jury trials.
John Mulholland added: “We all recognise that there is an urgency in restarting jury trials to avoid further backlog. While of course this is a complex matter and there is still a great deal of work to do before trials can recommence in July, I am confident that through the working group being led by Lady Dorrian, and support from the wider legal and justice sectors, we will develop solutions to ensure that jury trials can go ahead safely and that we can continue to have a fair and effective criminal justice system during this challenging period.”