Juries in Scottish criminal trials
Being selected for to serve on a jury Scottish criminal case can be a daunting experience for members of the public.
With this in mind, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS), the body which has day to day responsibility for the operation of the legal system, has produced some short, information films for prospective jurors.
A link to these films can be found below:
It should be recalled from Chapter 1 of Introductory Scots Law that jury or solemn trials take place in the Sheriff Court and High Court of Justiciary. Such trials deal with more serious types of crime. In a solemn trial, the jury is master of the facts and will determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. If the jury decides that the accused is indeed guilty, it is for the judge (the master of the law) to determine the appropriate punishment.
Overall, however, the vast majority of cases dealt with by the Scottish criminal courts are summary cases (non-jury trials). In such trials, the judge is both master of the facts and master of the law.
In practice, civil jury trials tend to be much more rare in practice than their criminal counterparts. A civil jury will consist of 12 individuals. Before 2017, civil jury trials were exclusively the preserve of the Court of Session. They tended to be used in some personal injury claims and defamation actions (see Thomas Sheridan v News Group Newspapers Ltd 2006).
Civil juries were abolished in the Sheriff Court in 1980. Now, with the creation of the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court (as per the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014), it is possible to have a civil jury trial before this body.
In May 2017, the first jury trial before the All Scotland Personal Injury Court took place:
In May 2019, Gordon Jackson QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, stated that he wished to see reform of the Scottish criminal jury system. Primarily, Mr Jackson wishes to see the abolition of the current practice whereby an accused can be convicted by a majority decision of the jury i.e. eight jurors in favour of conviction while the other seven are for an acquittal verdict. It seems perverse to Mr Jackson that someone can receive a very long prison sentence in Scotland for say the offence of homicide on the basis of a simple majority of jurors.
You can read more about Mr Jackson’s thoughts about the jury system (and also about the not proven verdict) by accessing the link below:
Copyright Seán J Crossan, 25 February and 29 May 2019