Sunday, 27 April 2008

Jury consultation expected

A report on the BBC News website yesterday states that the Scottish Government plans to carry out a public consultation on the jury system this summer, and that the Justice Secretary has indicated that he is open to a substantial reduction in the size of Scottish criminal juries. (Thanks to Fiona Leverick for drawing this to my attention: see also reports in the Scotsman and the Herald.)

Apparently The Firm magazine – who interviewed Mr MacAskill – “is campaigning to reduce the size of a jury in Scotland from 15 members to 11”, having noted that jury remuneration costs £4 million per year.

There is no doubt that the size of the Scottish criminal jury is large by international standards. But the other unusual feature of Scottish juries is the simple majority verdict, which it would be difficult to justify retaining if its size were reduced (indeed, it is probably difficult to justify regardless of the size of the jury). We could, with a smaller jury, find ourselves requiring fewer votes in favour of conviction than any other jury system, at the same time as allowing significant dissent to be ignored. Mr MacAskill referred to juries of as few as seven members in some jurisdictions, but would it really be appropriate to convict someone of murder on the basis of convincing only four members of the public and over the objections of another three?

And if simple majority verdicts go, the cost savings are not so obvious, because it would then be necessary to entertain the possibility of retrials where juries fail to reach verdicts, with all the extra costs involved thereby. (Alternatively, we could just enter final verdicts of acquittal where juries fail to reach verdicts, but it is doubtful that such a proposal would command much support.)

The consultation is awaited with interest. And on the subject of juries, see this recently reported exchange from a voir dire during jury selection in Ashland, Wisconsin. It’s a small town, apparently:

[Court]: Any of you have relatives employed in a law enforcement related capacity? Ms. Eaton, do you have a relative employed in the law enforcement related capacity?

[Juror] Eaton: The judge.

[Court]: I like – I like to consider myself part of law enforcement or I may be disowned. You are related to me how?

[Juror] Eaton: Your mother.

1 comment:

Anne Reed said...

Thanks for the link! My first one from Scotland I believe.