Top QC Paul McBride calls for jurors to sit tests to establish their suitability to be on a jury. REFORM of the current system of juror selection is a must if their verdicts are to be respected, says top Scots QC Paul McBride who believes jurors should be made to sit tests to establish their suitability for sitting on juries in Scotland’s courts. Mr McBride’s remarks come after the puzzling verdict in the Neil Lennon assault case, where a Hearts fan was acquitted of a sectarian assault after the jury removed the reference to making a sectarian remark from the charge relating to breach of the peace, and returned a not proven verdict for ‘aggravated by religious prejudice charge’.
Currently, the only requirements for people to serve on a jury in a Scottish Court are that they be over 18, be registered to vote and have lived in the UK for at least five years. However, the perception these requirements are somewhat lacking has been considered & debated for some time by leading law figures & observers of the way the courts operate, although many of those attending courts have observed over the years there are significant problems throughout the entire courts system from the judiciary down, not just with how juries are selected.
Scottish Justice in the dock as QC calls for juries to be reformed : Paul McBride QC on Neil Lennon Celtic v Hearts assault verdict (click image to watch video)
Mr McBride, speaking to the Herald newspaper, said he would like to see jurors be required to disclose their employment and whether they have been a victim of crime. The Herald reported : “This is an area that lawyers have been discussing for some time. Judges and lawyers undergo a high standard of training. The only area where there is no scrutiny at all on the people who actually make the decision, which is baffling. “You don’t have to be able to read or write or speak English. “We have got 15 people deciding whether a person is guilty and we know nothing about them.”
Mr McBride continued : “In Scotland, unlike any other country on the planet, a person can be convicted by one vote. Following the Lennon verdict a lot of people, and newspapers were asking about the selection process for juries. In every other country there is some kind of jury selection process to determine whether they have got the basic skills and whether they have committed a crime. A lot of trials are conducted by police statements. If a member of the jury can’t read or speak English that’s a bit of a disadvantage.”
It is noteworthy these calls for jury reform have only re-entered the arena of public debate after a case involving sectarian charges pursued by the Crown Office against a Football fan were found not proven by a jury, while coincidentally, the Scottish Government are pursing legislation in the form of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill which it is claimed, will give the Police more powers to deal with sectarian offences and threatening behaviour. Scottish Law Reporter covers the issue in more detail HERE.
However, legal observers note there are arguably many more problems in the justice system relating to sectarianism than solely with jurors who might not manage a verdict which happens to be favourable to current legislative plans. Earlier this year, Scottish Law Reporter featured coverage on a report which the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee had debated whether to publish or keep secret, academics had established there was evidence to suggest the courts system itself was sectarian due to studies on sentencing statistics involving religious minorities. The report, by Dr Susan Wiltshire of the University of Glasgow can be read online or downloaded here : OFFENDER DEMOGRAPHICS AND SENTENCING PATTERNS IN SCOTLAND AND THE UK and readers can draw their own conclusions.
John Lamont MSP, Scottish Conservative. Asked for comment on Mr McBride’s calls for jury reform, John Lamont MSP, the Scottish Conservative's Justice spokesman said : "Jurors have a vital place within our justice system and it is important that we take the greatest care in choosing them. The idea of having more detailed information to help select juries is worthy of further consideration."
Mr Lamont continued : "However, we must not undermine the principle behind trials by jury. We need to ensure that the privacy and impartiality of juries is maintained as they must always continue to represent all sectors of society if they are to provide a balanced judgement. The right to jury trial ensures that one class of people don't sit in judgment over another. The public must have confidence in an open and representative justice system."