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09/10/19 10:20

Jury Research Launch Event

Wednesday 9 October, 2019

Good morning.

It is my pleasure to welcome you to this event to launch the Scottish Jury Research Report which was published earlier today.

I am aware how eagerly anticipated the findings of this research are. So I don’t intend to take up much of your time this morning in order that you hear shortly from the research team who conducted this impressive study.

Although I won’t speak in great detail about the research itself, it would be remiss of me not to highlight just how ground-breaking this work has been before setting out the next steps this Government will take now that the research has been published.

As many of you here today will recall, one of the recommendations of Lord Bonomy’s Post Corroboration Safeguards Review was that any changes to the unique aspects of the Scottish jury system should only be made on a fully informed basis by first undertaking research into jury reasoning and decision making.

That’s why we commissioned this research, as it was clear that we were lacking a substantive evidence base on how those specifically Scottish elements – the three verdicts, simple majority and jury size - all interact.

It was for this reason that the Scottish Government commissioned Ipsos MORI to carry out this seminal piece of work. I would like to specifically thank Rachel Ormston and Lorraine Murray of Ipsos MORI and the internationally renowned legal academics Professor James Chalmers and Professor Fiona Leverick from the University of Glasgow and Professor Vanessa Munro from the University of Warwick, who worked in collaboration to carry out this independent research project.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the researchers for their dedication and hard work which has resulted in a fascinating and thorough report.

I would also like to thank all of those who have supported the research. I know that there are many of you here today who have informed this work during its development and progress – including members of the post corroboration safeguards review group, the jury research advisory group and Lord Bonomy himself - whose dedication extended to taking a starring role as judge in the video trial simulations!

The important research that has been published today could not have been produced without your efforts.

The research team used their legal and analytical expertise to produce a report that is the largest and most realistic of its kind ever undertaken in the UK.

It is the first mock jury research project to consider the unique nature of the Scottish jury system with 15 jurors, three verdicts and a simple majority.

It used high-quality filmed trials produced by a Scottish film company using professional actors, presided over by Lord Bonomy. The scripts for these trials were reviewed by Scottish legal practitioners to ensure their realism. I have had a preview of these video clips and I was really impressed to see just how realistic they were. I understand that you will get to see part of one of these films in the presentation this morning and I hope you will be similarly impressed.

Almost 1,000 people were involved in this project, with 863 actually taking part in these mock juries and having their deliberations recorded and analysed. I am grateful to all the members of the public who were willing to give up their free time to take part.

It was clear to me from reading the report, how seriously they took their role, even though it was a case simulation and not a real trial. This does not just add credibility to the research itself but also provides a reassuring indication of how diligently our citizens approach their civic role on real juries.

Once you have read this research I hope you agree that it enables us all to be better informed about how the three elements of our system interact.

This research will be used to inform discussion and consideration around potential changes to our system in the future if that was considered appropriate. But it also raises important questions about what can be done to support juror understanding of legal issues. I am sure the research team will touch on that as part of their presentation.

It is also worth noting that one of the earlier parts of this research project was an evidence review of the methods of conveying information to jurors. Directions to juries and judicial training are of course a matter for the Judicial Institute and the Lord President and I hope that the evidence review and the findings of these mock juries are also helpful to them in considering such matters.

This brings me to one of the three elements of our jury system that I think it is right to highlight now that this research has been published – the not proven verdict. This verdict has been subject to much debate over the decades and, I think it is fair to say, some controversy.

But in all the legal debate surrounding it we must never forget that such parts of our criminal justice system are not just for the legal professionals to debate and discuss.

How our system operates in practice has a significant and long lasting effect on people’s lives, particularly those accused or a victim of a crime. I believe this should be at the centre of our thoughts when considering whether to make any further changes.

As a Government we were particularly keen that this research included not only how the three elements of our system interact, but also specifically considered what jurors’ understandings of the not proven verdict are and why jurors might choose this verdict over another.

The research project specifically addresses those questions. I am sure the research team will go into the detail of the main findings in that regard. But I was struck from the findings about some of the discussions that these mock juries had on the not proven verdict. There does seem to be inconsistent views on the meaning of this verdict and I think it is fair to say some misunderstandings about whether it has a different effect to a not guilty verdict.

The research has just been published and I want to ensure that we consider all its findings carefully, and do not rush to action in any direction. However, I am clear that now we have the evidence from this research project we will engage in serious discussions around its implications and whether we should move from a three verdict system to a two verdict system. I will not in any way pre-judge the outcome of those discussions, I will keep an open mind.

That brings to me to the vital question - what’s next? It is important to note that this report does not make policy recommendations. Instead it outlines a series of findings to help inform future decisions that we may take regarding our criminal justice system.

Now that we have this further, and in my view vital evidence base, it is important that we hear the views of stakeholders on the findings of the research. There is a great deal of knowledge and expertise in this room and across the country and it’s important that we take the time to engage with the legal profession, justice organisations, and the third sector to ensure that we are fully aware of any implications they feel it may have for criminal justice reform.

We are organising events around the country in collaboration with the third sector and legal sector to ensure that we hear as broad a range of views as possible. My officials will ensure that today’s attendees are aware of these sessions. If you know of anyone else who would like to be kept informed or attend please do encourage them to contact the team at the email address that is on the slide behind me and on your agendas for today.

I want this engagement to cover all the main findings of the report and seek views on what this may mean for potential future changes and other related reforms.

But as I have just mentioned, I think considering our three verdicts has to be a central part of those discussions and I will ensure that this work progresses as quickly as possible.

I also look forward to the opinions of those who have been involved with the criminal justice system, including the accused and victims.

It is important to emphasise that consideration of the outcome of the jury research is just one part of our work to make further improvements to our justice system.

As a government we are committed to integrity and fairness of the trial process and overall justice system.

As many of you will be aware, the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, is leading a group reviewing the management of sexual offence cases and how they can be better conducted through the courts. We will need to consider the outcome of all this work to potentially create a really progressive and forward thinking set of criminal justice reforms.

I consider we are at a major juncture on how we want our future criminal justice system to operate so that we can be sure it meets the needs of the people most affected by it.

And I can provide reassurance that looking to make our system as clear, compassionate and trauma informed as possible does not need in any way to undermine the fundamental principle of a fair trial. We will consider the unique Scottish criminal justice system in the round and the need to ensure appropriate safeguards are always in place.

But we should not be complacent, while we can and should have confidence in the current system, I think it is right to be open to considering reforms even to elements of our system that have existed for many decades or even centuries.  

Of course people will have differing views about what reforms would most benefit our criminal justice system – these issues are not easy. However, one thing that we can all agree on is that these decisions must and should be based upon robust evidence. There is no doubt that the quality of these discussions will be substantially improved by the publication of the jury research today.