Letter: Royal Commission's plan to abolish the right to trial by jury will multiply miscarriages of justice

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The Independent Online
Sir: Responding to a question about the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice (RCCJ) proposals to restrict the defendant's right to elect for trial by jury in England and Wales (BBC Nine O'Clock News, 6 July), the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, commented favourably on the Scottish criminal justice system, where defendants have no such self-elected right.

It might be appropriate to underline that in Scotland the decision on whether or not a case should be tried under solemn procedure (ie, with a jury) rests formally with legally qualified prosecution service staff. Under the RCCJ proposals this function, it seems, is to pass in England and Wales to lay magistrates.

The alternative, non-jury trial venue for the Scottish defendant is most likely to be the Sheriff summary court. Here the case will be heard by a legally qualified Sheriff, whose sentencing powers in respect of imprisonment are significantly less than those of the English lay magistrates, whose courts provide the alternative to jury trial for defendants south of the border.

Scotland has never sanctioned convictions on the basis of uncorroborated confessions. While the RCCJ has recommended a tightening up of the rules surrounding unsupported confession evidence in England and Wales, it would appear that such confessions could still be the sole basis of conviction.

Many might be left wondering whether what the commission has prescribed is blended Scotch . . . with just a wee bit too much water.

Yours faithfully,

FRANK R. LEISHMAN

STEPHEN P. SAVAGE

Institute of Police and Criminological Studies

University of Portsmouth

Southsea, Hampshire

7 July

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