The jury is a long-standing and valuable feature of the Scottish criminal justice system. The Scottish Government has considered a number of possible reforms to the rules about jury service to help ensure it continues to be able to perform its important role in the future.
In September 2008, the Government published a consultation paper discussing these proposals. In January 2009 it published an analysis of the responses.
The steps the Scottish Government proposed were set out in a publication. In arriving at these proposals the issue of substitute jurors was given particular consideration by an inter-agency working group, which published a separate report.
As of 10 January 2011, the Scottish Government implemented the following key reforms to the jury system in Scotland:
- Abolition of the upper age limit for persons undertaking jury service in a criminal trial - the Scottish Government recognises the valuable contribution that the over-65s can make to jury deliberations. The change will have the added benefit of increasing the pool of potential jurors. (The upper age limit for those jurors serving on civil trials remains unchanged at 65 years of age.)
- Whilst the Scottish Government recognises the contribution that older people can make as jurors, it is also aware that some may not want or feel able to serve on a jury. For this reason, those aged 71 and over will have a right of excusal, which can be exercised right up until the day of trial. Those within this age group, who are cited but do not want to serve, should contact the clerk of court to inform them that they are exercising this right.
- Changes have been made to the process for those applying for excusal as of right. These changes will help the courts operate more effectively and allow individuals to exercise their right at the earliest possible stage.
- Other changes have increased the flexibility available to court managers to allocate available jurors among courts in a sheriffdom. This will mean that the burden of juror service is spread more evenly, and that potential jurors are less likely to have their time wasted by being cited to a trial which does not take place.
- The excusal period for those who attended court on citation for jury service but who did not, subsequently, serve on a jury has been reduced from 5 to 2 years. This change will help to increase the pool of potential jurors whilst ensuring those who do serve on a jury still have the right to be excused for 5 years following service.