Pam Barker | Director of TLB Europe Reloaded Project
We’re letting the original article below stand, although it seems that the suspension of jury trial in Scotland’s criminal justice system, intended to be implemented under its new Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill, has just been revoked after an outcry from certain legal and political figures both in Scotland and Westminster. Jury trial – a trial by one’s peers – has featured in Scottish law for over 600 years.
The proposal to suspend trial by jury was made by Nicola Sturgeon two days ago (Tuesday, March 31). The justification to remove it? To ensure trials can still happen during lockdown according to The Guardian, an absurd justification if ever there was one. Just how long do they plan this lockdown to last anyway? The Law Society of Scotland called this move ‘one of the most dramatic changes to the legal system ever considered’. See also this report by the Daily Express.
Criticizing this, and commenting on the dangerous situation of banning political gatherings, which we now find ourselves in almost everywhere, Craig Murray, a resident of Scotland, remarks,
It (ER: emergency measures including lockdown) certainly does not justify banning jury trials, which the Scottish government has just dropped from today’s Bill after a revolt led by Joanna Cherry. The bill still weakens the defence in trials by allowing pre-taped video evidence, and dispensing with the right to cross-examine. If the accusers had been allowed to get away with their lies in the Alex Salmond trial without cross-examination, the result might have been very different. For God’s sake, if you cannot do justice, suspend it. Do not dispense rough justice.
This topic was discussed yesterday in UK Column‘s Wednesday edition of its program. The video is cued to start with this topic (22 minutes to 34:30), indicating why jury trial is fundamental to justice, both civil and criminal, and the proper functioning of democracy. (Commentator Alex Thompson notes that section 34 of the more than 300 page Coronavirus Act, likely written or conceived well in advance of this virus crisis, permits mandatory vaccination.) The discussion also reveals that there has already been a concerted effort in certain quarters to undermine the justification for trial by one’s peers. Scotland seems to be leading this tyrannical advance ahead of other English-speaking countries, including the rest of the UK. Will it spread in time?
Scotland’s “Sinister” Covid19 Response – Suspend Trial by Jury Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill removes and undermines hard-won legal protections
The new legal powers sought by Scotland’s devolved law-makers undermine ideas of justice in place for hundreds of years, according to the Scottish Criminal Bar Association.
The new Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill grants sweeping powers to Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Parliament, and makes dramatic changes to the criminal justice system.
Among a long list of changes, the Bill seeks to:
- Replace trial by jury with bench trials, presided over by a Judge or local Sheriff (ER: revoked)
- Remove the maximum time of 140 days an accused can await trial (ER: no information)
- Relax hearsay evidence law, allowing judges to hear pre-recorded witness statements that are not open to cross-examination (ER: maintained according to Craig Murray)
The new rules, unlike similar Diplock rules used in Northern Ireland in 1970s, do not guarantee an automatic right of appeal.
The Scottish Judiciary claims these powers are vital to protecting people from potential coronavirus infections, whilst following the European Convention on Human Rights requirements for an “effective justice system”.
But the Scottish Criminal Bar Association strongly disagrees.
In a statement on their website, SCBA President Ronnie Renucci QC wrote:
The SCBA believes that these draconian measures seeking to bring about seismic changes to our system of justice are premature, disproportionate and ill-advised. They are at best a knee-jerk reaction to an as yet unquantified problem instigated by panic or at worst, something far more sinister.
A long-form response, going point-by-point through the bill is available here.
Will other countries follow Scotland’s example? It remains to be seen. We will no doubt be discussing this unsettling development more in the future.
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