Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Scottish Justice Comes to an End

We expected the Scottish government to take some far-reaching action to try and cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Many we view as necessary common-sense decisions despite the personal inconvenience it may cause.

However there may well be limits to our acceptance of the government's response. One of those is its attempt to maintain law and order in the country. The Scottish government is pushing through a swathe of emergency powers to help the criminal justice system and which are expected to be approved by Holyrood on Wednesday in a single day.

The bill would prevent landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent; empower Holyrood to allow the release of prison inmates nearing the end of their sentences. No complaints there.

However, there are  plans to suspend jury trials for up to 18 months to cope with the coronavirus crisis which many in the legal profession have criticised as a “knee-jerk reaction instigated by panic and at worst something far more sinister.”

The Scottish Criminal Bar Association, which represents courtroom lawyers, said it was furious that ministers wanted to temporarily suspend jury trials and to dilute rules on evidence and witness statements, to ensure cases could go ahead.
Judges will be allowed to take pre-recorded witness statements - which cannot be challenged under cross-examination - and time limits requiring cases to come to court within 140 or 110 days would be waived.
Unlike with the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland, where a single judge sits without a jury in terror trials, there is no automatic right of appeal allowed under the new bill.
“What is proposed includes attacks on principles that have been built over more than 600 years and are the very cornerstone of not just Scotland’s criminal justice system, but those of almost every advanced liberal democracy in the developed world,” the association said. “These measures are premature, disproportionate and ill advised."

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