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First steps in re-starting jury trials


May 26, 2020

The Lord Justice Clerk set out the first steps to restart jury trials in Scotland.

Lady Dorrian, who is leading a Working Group with representatives from across the justice sector, has announced that planning is under way for an initial number of High Court jury trials to take place in July.

She said: “The Courts have been working extremely hard to deliver justice in the current circumstances. The challenges in conducting 15-person jury trials in a physically distanced environment cannot be underestimated. A pool of jurors must be cited, assembled and balloted in a way which respects social distancing guidelines. The court facilities must be configured to ensure the safety of all those involved in the trial, including access for the public and for the media, whilst at the same time ensuring effective participation of all the main participants.

“However, thanks to the constructive input of all those on the Working Group, we have identified the steps needed for the first trials to take place in Edinburgh and Glasgow in July. I am grateful to the Working Group members for their effective collaboration and commitment.

“There is still plenty of work to do before this can become a reality, however. The details are now being worked through, and specific plans will be developed for different approaches in each location. It is anticipated that we will use a 3-court solution in the High Court in Glasgow, with the jury using the public gallery in the trial courtroom. In Edinburgh, we hope to use a 2-court solution, allowing the jury to view the trial remotely from a separate courtroom. Nothing will take place until we have finalised the planning and can provide the assurance that it will be safe for all of those participating in the trial and that proceedings may be recommenced without significant risk to the administration of justice.”

The Working Group will continue to assess and develop ways to allow more jury trials to take place in both the High Court and sheriff courts, including identifying necessary changes to legislation in order to allow more innovative digital solutions where these are appropriate.

The Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, asked the Lord Justice Clerk to chair the cross-party Working Group to consider the practical implications of restarting jury trials, with an initial focus on using the existing legislative framework.

When the lockdown commenced, the Lord Justice General determined that, in accordance with Scottish Government guidelines on physical distancing and travel, the requirements of public health protection meant that jury trials could not take place in a suitably safe and secure manner. It was recognised that there was a need to explore ways that these trials could restart when those guidelines and other protective measures were changed to allow greater activity.

The group includes 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.

26 May 2020