Edinburgh, April 1: The Scottish government has dropped plans to suspend jury trials for up to 18 months during the coronavirus lockdown after an outcry from lawyers, Scottish National party MPs and UK cabinet ministers.
Mike Russell, the Scottish constitutional affairs secretary, told MPs the proposals had been withdrawn because of complaints and would start urgent talks with other parties, victims organisations and the legal profession on alternative options, The Guardian reported.
At the start of a debate on emergency legislation to help public services cope with the coronavirus crisis, Russell said new measures would be tabled at Holyrood’s next sitting on April 21 after “intensive and wide-ranging discussions on alternatives”.
Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, confirmed on Tuesday that her government wanted to suspend jury trials to ensure courts were able to hold trials in the most serious cases during the coronavirus lockdown.
The proposals were backed by Lord Carloway, the lord justice general, Scotland’s most senior judge, who said the judicial system would be overwhelmed unless the courts were allowed to carry on with significant cases.
However, the proposals were condemned from across the legal profession and faced significant opposition from other parties at Holyrood, which threatened to break the political consensus on responding to the pandemic.
The bill, which is due to be passed in a single sitting, also includes temporary measures to allow the early release of prisoners to relieve pressure on prisons; allowing councils to evict dementia patients from hospital beds without their consent; and a ban on landlords evicting tenants who cannot afford their rent.
In a further policy reversal, the Scottish government indicated it was amending plans to dramatically relax the rules and deadlines on freedom of information requests after advice from the Scottish information commissioner.