JUSTICE: Solicitors accuse the Scottish government of “political meddling” in rape trials

A steadily increasing number of solicitors have stated they will join a boycott of plans to pilot rape trials without juries in Scotland.

The latest group to do so,  Aberdeen Bar Association, have branded the proposal, contained in the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill, “a danger” and accused the Scottish government of “political meddling.”

The majority of lawyers lawyers from at least “seven or eight” other Scottish bar associations, including the Glasgow Bar Association,  which covers Dumbarton,  Dunoon and Oban Sheriff Courts, according to an interview with Vice-President at the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association Stuart Murray.

The bill includes proposals to develop and conduct a pilot of single-judge rape and attempted rape trials.

It bill requires that judges in trials which are carried out as part of the pilot, must give written reasons for their verdicts.

According to the bill, this enhances the rights of an accused by giving them an opportunity to challenge those reasons in any appeal against conviction.

This process does not currently exist within Scottish law regarding jury verdicts, which are delivered without provided reasoning.

At the end of the pilot, the bill requires that Scottish ministers carry out a review process and publish a report. The report must then be presented in Parliament.

The Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill also proposes to reduce the size of criminal juries from 15 jurors to 12.

Speaking on The BBC Radio 4 Today Program on Tuesday morning, Vice-President at the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association Stuart Murray said: “There’s a concern as to the devolution of the Scottish national justice system, but in particular, to the suggestion that duties be removed from certain serious offences like rape.

“There’s also  concern that a duty of one’s peers has been removed and so take a great degree removes the diversity, the scene within the judicial system and leaves the system open to bias by single judges.”

Scottish Justice Secretary Angela Constance, pictured right,  stated she believes the plan will work and that it is a good plan for Scotland.

Recently, in the Scottish Parliament, Constance said the bill “is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to be introduced in the history of this Parliament, and will represent transformational change that is informed by the very strongest of evidence and debate.”

While all accused persons in Scotland have the right to a fair trial under current law, there is no right to trial by jury. This position has been confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights, which expressly ruled that the right to a fair trial does not require that the outcome be determined by a jury.

Top picture: Dumbarton Sheriff Court in Church Street.

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