Scottish Government
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Proposals to review jury system

A public consultation on options for modernising Scotland's jury system was launched yesterday.

The consultation document outlines Scottish Government plans to:

  • Allow Scots aged 65-70 to serve on trial juries
  • Reduce jury service exemption period from 5 to 2 years for those called to attend court as potential jurors but are not subsequently balloted to serve on a trial jury

It also seeks views on longer term options for reform, including:

  • Whether the current jury size of 15 for criminal trials should be maintained or reduced
  • Whether existing rules on exemptions from jury service, for example for certain categories of profession, remain appropriate or should be changed
  • Options for administrative changes to the scope and operation of juror allowances, aimed at minimising hardship whilst recognising overall constraints on public expenditure
  • Options around the possible use of tribunals of judges or substitute jurors

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said:

"Jury service lies at the core of Scotland's criminal justice system. The principle that the guilt or innocence of an accused is determined by fellow citizens, drawn from all classes, cultures and occupations and deciding without fear or favour, is fundamental to our sense of justice.

"At the same time, as we reform the running of our courts and wider justice system, we should review the operation of the jury system, reflecting on changes in society and pressures on the pool of eligible jurors.

"On some of the more fundamental issues, such as juror size and occupational exemptions, we will take time to hear from a wide range of people, allowing us to reach decisions in light of robust evidence.

"However, as a first step we will raise the age limit for jury service from 65 to 70, recognising as we do the vast knowledge and life experience that senior citizens have to offer.

"This change in the law, which we propose to make at the earliest opportunity, will remove a clear discrimination and help change attitudes.

"It will also bring operational benefits, enlarging the pool of potential jurors and enabling public funds to be better targeted at assisting those jurors who experience hardship as a result of their service.

"We also plan to reduce to 2 years, the exemption period for those who attend court but are not subsequently balloted to sit on a jury. This recognises the distinction between this group and those who are actually selected to serve as a juror for a criminal trial."

The jury in Scottish criminal trials is distinguished from systems elsewhere in the world by its size (using a panel of 15) and by its mandate to return verdicts by simple majority.

The most serious criminal cases are heard under 'solemn' procedure, involving around 575 'sheriff and jury' trials and some 460 jury cases in the High Court each year. A small number of civil trials at the Court of Session involve juries but these are not under consultation.

The annual cost of running Scotland's jury system is around £4 million. Of the 150,000 people called for jury service each year only around 10 per cent are selected by ballot to serve as a trial juror - in part due to the need to select juries fairly and randomly from a broadly representative group of citizens but also due to the uncertainty of trials proceeding as the accused can plead guilty at any time. It also means many attend as potential jurors, at some personal inconvenience, only to discover that they are not required.

Currently anyone who attends court for jury service, whether selected from the ballot or not, is excused from being called again for five years. The Scottish Government will retain the 5 year excusal period for those who actually serve on a jury while reducing that to 2 years for those who attend court but are not actually balloted to serve on the jury.

Those working in the justice system, including judges, solicitors, prosecutors and police, are barred from jury service while other professions such as members of the armed forces, MPs, MSPs, doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, vets and the clergy, have the right to opt out.

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