Jury service lies at the core of the Scottish criminal justice system. The principle that the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined by fellow citizens, drawn from across classes, cultures and occupations, is fundamental to our sense of justice. This Government seeks to uphold this principle: it is deeply entrenched in our tradition and values.
At the same time, the jury system - the demands we place on jurors, the way we support and recompense them, and the way we administer the service - can and should be open to review.
It is now many years since we had such a review. The Thomson Committee examined certain aspects of the jury system in 1975; and the then Scottish Office examined other features in 1994, focusing on jury verdicts. Following each of these exercises, certain reforms were made.
But with the passage of time have come new pressures on the jury system. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of criminal trials requiring juries. At the same time, people in all walks of life are increasingly mobile and hard to reach for jury service. Within a small jurisdiction such as ours the pressure on the available juror 'pool' can be severe.
Against this background, I want to take your views on options for changes to the jury system within criminal justice. The system works well enough, but could it work better? Is it as effective, and cost-effective, as it could be? Do the rules around jury service make for representative juries in today's world? Is the burden of jury duty distributed fairly? Is it time to reconsider some of the fundamentals, including the size of the Scottish jury?
This paper presents some firm proposals for change but also explores a number of issues on which this Government has at present no settled view. We want to listen to what consultees tell us before we weigh all the evidence and reach a decision. In some cases, changes would require primary legislation to take effect; in others, reforms would be purely administrative.
I cherish many of the distinctive features of our criminal justice system and believe that changes should be made with care and only when backed by compelling evidence. But that should not stop us asking questions and striving to improve what is already good.
I encourage you to respond to this paper and to the questions it poses.
KENNY MACASKILL MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Justice