John Swinney clashes with Tory Jamie Greene over juryless trials
Former Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said that discounting juryless trials would be to “slam the door” on a means of improving justice for rape victims.
Swinney intervened in a Holyrood debate, the first time he has spoken in the chamber since leaving the Cabinet, to respond to comments by Tory MSP Jamie Greene.
Greene had raised concerns about plans to stage judge-only trials for sexual offence cases as part of sweeping Scottish Government justice reforms.
The measure is one of several aimed at improving processes for victims and addressing low conviction rates.
However, legal professionals have spoken out against the move, fearing this could undermine the system.
Defence solicitors will boycott the pilot proposed by senior judge Lady Dorrian in her recent review, it is claimed.
Greene, the Tories' shadow cabinet secretary for justice, said "more needs to be done to improve outcomes for victims but the question is what we reform and how we go about it".
He told the chamber: "Pretty much every defence lawyer in Scotland would boycott a pilot for such juryless trials.
"No defence solicitor in their right mind would advise a client to participate in a pilot of this nature and a judge-only trial for the most serious of crimes, so I have to ask the cabinet secretary [Angela Constance], if the accused has no solicitor, it begs the question how on earth the trial could even be a trial, never mind a fair one.
"And of course, what sort of pilot at the end of it - if it is a pilot - will admit to the world that it has failed in any way, because that surely will leave the door open to miscarriages of justice?"
Responding to Greene, backbencher Swinney, who stood down as deputy first minister in March, said: "Most of his speech, which I've heartedly agreed with, has been about the enhancement of the situation facing victims, the protection of victims and the articulation of victims' interests, but he's just, essentially from listening to him, slammed the door on a means of actually strengthening the potential outcomes on rape cases. I'm really interested to understand how he squares that particular circle."
In reply, Greene said: "We've also heard from every bar association in the land that they have nervousness and unease about the plans; we've heard from many eminent lords and ladies and others, and commentators.
"It's not just the media or politicians who are fuelling this discussion, it's coming from the judiciary itself. The government cannot ignore those views or warnings - in fact, it would do so at its peril."