Top Glasgow lawyer condemns Scottish Government’s plans to reform rape trials
Lawyer Aamer Anwar (Image by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The Scottish Government has come under intense scrutiny as it considers plans to reform rape trials by “arrogantly” ignoring the views of the legal profession.
The bill, introduced as ‘The Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill’ is set to create a pilot of rape trials without a jury to see how these affect conviction rates.
Reports have stated that ministers have argued the lower rate of conviction for rape and attempted rape (51 per cent) as compared to conviction for other crimes (91 per cent) is due to “rape myths” among jurors, who cast doubts on the testimony of the accusers.
However, the plans are being met with widespread condemnation, especially from those in the legal profession. According to reports, a near unanimous boycott of the pilot is likely to occur.
Top Glasgow-based lawyer Aamer Anwar, is one such individual who has supported the decision to boycott.
Writing in the Scottish Daily Express, Anwar explains, “The reality is entirely different, there has been little or no consultation other than with selected victim’s groups, as for the ‘ink drying’ it wasn’t so long ago that Nicola’s government attempted to abolish jury trials. Just one week into ‘Lockdown’ the Scottish Parliament was being asked by her then Justice Minister Humza Yousaf to abolish juries as a solution to the backlog of criminal cases.
He adds, “If the Scottish government wants us to shut us up because of the views of one senior judge [Lady Dorrian], what about the rest of them? Lord Hope, one of Scotland’s most respected legal figures, who served as deputy president of the UK Supreme Court, has asked whether judges will be removed from juryless rape courts if they failed to deliver high enough conviction rates. Lord Uist, another highly experienced legal figure, went much further accusing the government of ‘treating the courts as forensic laboratories in which to experiment with their policies’”.
He concludes, “No law book can give our judges the lived experience of a jury of 15 ordinary men and women coming together, from diverse backgrounds, delivering justice irrespective of education, wealth or status. Fifteen heads will always be much better than one ‘case hardened’ judge selected from the most socially exclusive profession in the United Kingdom.”
A 2019 study commissioned by the Scottish Government and carried out by the University of Glasgow based on mock trials, has been heavily relied upon as evidence for the changes and the Bill.
An analysis of the 32 mock trials arranged by the researchers pointed towards “considerable evidence of the expression of problematic attitudes towards rape complainers”.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said, “Piloting judge-only rape trials was a recommendation of a review carried out by Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, to improve how the justice system treats rape victims.
“We have worked closely with the legal sector and will continue to do so during the development and evaluation of the pilot.
“There is overwhelming evidence both from within Scotland and beyond that jurors are subject to preconceptions about rape that can impact the verdicts they reach – which is not the case in other serious crime trials.
“Over 80 per cent of criminal trials in Scotland are already conducted without a jury.
“Judge-only trials for serious offences including rape already take place in many other jurisdictions such as the Netherlands and France.”