The Memo: Juryless rape trials in Scotland receive a resounding ‘no’

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Juryless rape trials in Scotland receive a resounding ‘no’

Chelsey Stanborough – 15 May 2023

A new pilot for juryless trials for rape was recently announced by the Scottish government, and the reaction has not been welcoming. The plan was introduced in the hope of improving low conviction rates, and would involve the accused standing before a single judge instead of jury.

The problem is an undeniable one. In comparison to other major crime statistics, the most recent conviction rates for rape and attempted rapes are on average 40% lower, sitting at 51%. Yet Vice President of the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association Stuart Murray has admitted that at least seven legal bodies have voted against the government’s proposals, voicing fears that it will undermine the judicial system.

According to First Minister Humza Yousaf, there is a weight of evidence that myths and misconceptions around rape can affect a jury. In fact - according to Justice Secretary Angela Constance - 50+ studies undertaken over the last 20 years found that a diverse jury is not sufficient to overcome unfair influences. Yet for Stuart Murray, the Government’s approach to improving rape conviction rates has been approached incorrectly. Other factors such as poor communication from the Crown, lack of police involvement and delays in investigation are problems that need to be addressed. While the Scottish government has highlighted that 80% of trials already take place without a jury, Murray argues that the statistic is a misleading one, as most cases were low-level and less serious than sexual offence cases.

The Aberdeen Bar Association, alongside Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Airdie, Falkirk and Paisley, are just some joining the boycott of the new Government proposals. It is expected that in the coming months, the boycott will become unanimous across all Scottish Bar Associations, and will continue to push against the change in the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill.