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Lady Dorrian to lead working group on restarting trials by jury

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Lady Dorrian to lead working group on restarting trials by jury

Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian has been tasked with leading a short-term working group on the practicalities of recommencing trials by jury when lockdown restrictions are relaxed, it has been confirmed.

With solemn trials suspended during the coronavirus pandemic, the working group will examine how jury trials could restart when public health guidance allows it.

It comes after Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf was forced to drop plans to hold trials without juries amid fierce criticism from opposition parties and the legal profession.

With a backlog of cases developing while courts are suspended, and social distancing measures likely to be in place for some time, the Working Group on Restarting Solemn Trials will look at how constraints on jury trials might be overcome, exploring options such as alternative uses of space in the court setting, new uses of technology, and smaller jury sizes.

The group will also consider what legislative changes will be needed to make the changes, and assess the potential impact on the rate at which trials may be processed. 

The work will initially focus on trials in the High Court of Justiciary, though findings may be applied to solemn trials in the Sheriff Court.

Lady Dorrian said: “The Courts have been working extremely hard to deliver justice in the current challenging circumstances. The use of remote technology, for example, is progressing to cover as many types of case as is technically possible across a wide range of criminal and civil business.

“This working group recognises the importance to the accused, to witnesses, and to their families, of continuing that progress to consider serious criminal cases. The particular challenges of conducting a jury trial, while also following public health guidelines to protect those engaged in the hearing, is a difficult balance to meet. 

“This group is working as quickly as is possible to ensure that all the impacts and practicalities are fully considered in order to provide the best outcome for Scotland, both in terms of justice for all concerned, but also in terms of public safety.”

The group, which will start work this week, will include representatives of the judiciary, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Faculty of Advocates, Law Society of Scotland, Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, Rape Crisis Scotland and the Scottish Government. 

It will also liaise closely with and seek the input of others with relevant expertise, such as Police Scotland, the Scottish Prison Service, Victim Support Scotland, and Scottish Women’s Aid. 

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