Jury Service in Scotland

Edinburgh Sheriff Court called me up for jury service. This is an important responsibility, but because you are not allowed to discuss the trial as a juror there’s no information out on the internets about what happens and no guidance about how you should come to a decision. I turned up and was surprised to find the viewing seats were full. Scotland has a (large) jury of 15 but the pool they are picked from on the day was about 50, I didn’t work out why there needs to be a large pool to pick from since we are already picked from the electoral register at random. We shuffled in and I was surprised we were amongst the accused, the claimant and both their families. Fiscal and lawyer and clerk muttered in hushed tones to each other in turn and wandered in and out the room. We were dismissed and told to come back later. We came back for more of the same and were dismissed again.

After some lunch we reconvened and were told he had decided to plead guilty to some of the accusations and the crown had accepted the plea and this was the reason for the delays. The Procurator Fiscal read out to the judge who the accused was, a gent who lived with a woman and acted as father to her children over about 15 years. She read out his various sexual abuse acts in technical detail to the Sheriff all of which was very uncomfortable to sit through. A woman stormed out shouting “burn in hell”. The claimant ran out in tears. The accused had originally said he didn’t remember any of the incidents and suffered from blackouts after drinking. To some of the questions he had given no response. If he had continued to insist on his innocence and I don’t know what the correct way to make a decision would have been. The circumstances seemed to point to guilt but how could I say which of the particular incidents with no evidence and no witnesses except the claimant did or didn’t happen without letting prejudices (fat skinhead paedophile) get in the way?

The Sheriff called for reports from social services for guidance in sentencing, she said he may get a prison sentence for these serious crimes. I wonder if the claimant will find justice to be served and I wonder if the accused will get help for his problem, I suspect neither is possible. Justice is hard to get right and I’m a bit relieved not to have had to make such a decision without any guidance.

2 Replies to “Jury Service in Scotland”

  1. Jonathan,

    I’ve been unlucky enough to have been selected for Jury service twice, basically, you listen to the evidence presented, listen to the people giving the evidence, listen to the Judge’s advice, and direction and then you go into a room, and let your conscience decide.

    What’s the most reasonable scenario? Which bits of evidence do I discard because I just didn’t believe the witness? Did the stories I heard actually make sense?

    “Justice” from your perspective isn’t in seeing the person convicted, no matter how grievous the crime, nor is it seeing the person walk free, it’s in making the decision that you feel most comfortable with based solely upon the evidence you hear.

    You’ll go into the jury room with 14 other people, and you’ll hear discussion of the case, you’ll hear things said about the witnesses/defendants that you didn’t hear given in evidence, you have to ignore them, I distinctly remember one case where the Judge or the Prosecutor asked the question “Does any member of the Jury know any of the defendants or anything about the case?” at which point you’re supposed to declare your interest and leave the Jury, and as soon as we got into the Jury room a couple of the people openly declared that they knew of the defendants and that they were “a right bad lot”.

    I also remember coming out of that trial, after it had finished, and the woman in front of me told me that if she’d known that the defendants had no previous convictions (as they did, and they were found guilty) she’d have voted Not Guilty, crazy!

    Also, I’ve seen a case where the injured parties were just as guilty as the people being prosecuted, they just happened to come off worst in a mass-brawl, it wasn’t for me to judge that the defendants were “less guilty” because the other party wasn’t in front of the court too.

    I haven’t regretted any of the cases I’ve been involved in, I’ve considered them several times since then, and never come to any other conclusion.

    I’m confident that Justice was served in each case.

  2. Legally, they need a minimum of 30 potential jurors present before they can proceed to the ballot to decide the jury. In practice the number of potential jurors they call in is usually significantly more than this to avoid various problems.

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