Exclusive: Scottish Government 'very unlikely' to push on with proposals for jury-less trials
The Scottish Government is “very unlikely” to push on with proposals for jury-less trials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf.
With judge and jury court trials on hold during lockdown, Yousaf had introduced the plans, which would have seen serious trials take place without a jury, in an attempt to avoid a huge backlog of cases, alongside lengthy waits for both victims and those accused of crime.
But the Scottish Government temporarily dropped its plans following an outcry from both opposition parties and the legal profession, with ministers instead launching a consultation on the matter.
Instead of attempting to introduce the proposals, Holyrood understands ministers are likely to either pursue plans based in social distancing for jurors, or accept there will be a backlog of cases when the pandemic recovery begins.
Asked whether ministers are likely to push on with the proposals at the end of a consultation period, Yousaf told Holyrood: “I honestly think that will be very unlikely, because I don’t think, from the conversations I’ve had thus far with the legal profession and others, that there is likely to be any change in their position, and this is not something that I am intending to force onto the legal profession even if I have the parliamentary arithmetic on my side.”
In an exclusive interview, Yousaf also reiterated that it was likely some prisoners will be released in response to the pandemic, though numbers in Scotland’s jails have fallen following the suspension of new trials.
While ministers are minded to use new emergency powers for early release, with growing concern that the current lockdown will see a rise in domestic abuse, Holyrood understands that those with domestic offence convictions will not be considered as part of the scheme.
Meanwhile, Yousaf also warned that deaths in custody would be unavoidable.
He said: “Any expectation that we can stop people dying in our custody, I am afraid, is just not an expectation we can meet, particularly because some of our prison population will have underlying conditions, some will be elderly, some will have other vulnerabilities. There is no way, I am afraid, of preventing deaths happening. What I will do is my best to minimise the impact of COVID-19 in prisons.”
The full interview is available in Monday’s issue of Holyrood magazine.