Jurors must face interviews, declarations of interest says QC Paul McBride PROPOSALS put forward by top QC Paul McBride in the wake of the not proven verdict in the case of a Hearts fan who was cleared of assaulting Celtic manager Neil Lennon would see jurors being required to declare their interests, face interviews and sit tests before being selected for jury service.
The ideas put forward by the well respected QC have been broadly welcomed by legal insiders who view the proposals as a significant improvement on the current jury system which has little in the way of transparency and has been accused by some of being stacked by prosecutors who prefer desirable outcomes for Crown Office statistics spin
Paul McBride QC interviewed on jury declarations & outcome of Lennon assault case
The Herald reports :
Monday 24 October 2011
JURORS should be made to sit tests before being selected for trials in order to improve the judicial system and bring Scotland into line with other countries, according to a leading QC.
Paul McBride said potential jurors should be interviewed to establish they can “read, write and speak English” and are not “riven with prejudice”.
The only requirement to serve on a jury in Scotland is that a person should be over the age of 18, be registered to vote and have lived in the UK for five years.
Mr McBride believes potential jurors should be forced to disclose their occupation and whether they have been a victim of crime. He said Scotland’s jury system, in which 15 people can reach a decision on a majority of 8-7, made reform even more important.
His intervention follows a jury’s not proven verdict in the case of Hearts fan John Wilson, who was cleared of assaulting Celtic manager Neil Lennon during a match earlier this year. Wilson was accused of a sectarian attack on Lennon, but he was acquitted.
The verdict came despite Wilson admitting in court he had lunged at the Celtic manager and struck him.
Mr McBride said: “The question is, ‘can we improve our jury system?’ and the answer is undoubtedly yes.
“This is an area that lawyers have been discussing for some time. Judges and lawyers undergo a high standard of training. The only area where there is no scrutiny at all on the people who actually make the decision, which is baffling.
“You don’t have to be able to read or write or speak English.
“We have got 15 people deciding whether a person is guilty and we know nothing about them.
“In Scotland, unlike any other country on the planet, a person can be convicted by one vote. Following the Lennon verdict a lot of people, and newspapers were asking about the selection process for juries.
“In every other country there is some kind of jury selection process to determine whether they have got the basic skills and whether they have committed a crime. A lot of trials are conducted by police statements. If a member of the jury can’t read or speak English that’s a bit of a disadvantage.”
During the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial a female juror was threatened with legal action after revealing confidential details of the case on Facebook.
The woman posted information about how jurors voted. It is a criminal offence to reveal a jury’s deliberations.
Mr McBride said: “In America they follow the voir dire system where jurors can be questioned by a judge to determine if they might struggle to be impartial.They might not tell the truth but we should ask the question.
“It is supposed to be a jury of peers but you tend to find that most are unemployed or retired because employed people often get out of jury duty. It is not a jury of peers.
“We were told after the Lennon case, that you must respect the jury’s verdict. Why do we have to respect the verdict by the jury? If a judge makes a controversial decision he is open to criticism on the front pages of a newspaper.”
Mr McBride said both Scottish Labour and the Conservatives had voiced their support for a shake-up of the justice system.
Earlier this year, Elish Angiolini, the former Lord Advocate, called for opening and closing speeches to be introduced to help guide jurors through cases.
She raised concerns over the ability of people who were more used to communication through Facebook to sit through hours of detailed evidence.