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Bar Council speaks out against remote juries

By Jemma Slingo >>

(25 May 2021)

The Bar Council has opposed government plans to legalise remote juries, saying it would render jurors spectators rather than participants in the justice process.

In a briefing on the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the representative body said it does not support legislation allowing for remote juries. ‘The Bar Council echoes the comments made by the lord chief justice that remote juries would make the jury spectators rather than participants in a trial. For these reasons, it is our belief that this measure should not become law without thorough research, evaluation and consideration of the impact on the administration of justice and justice outcomes.’

The council added that it is ‘unnecessary’ to legalise remote juries now, when in-person trials are underway. ‘At the height of the pandemic, when remote proceedings were almost the only way of ensuring the justice system could continue to hear cases, such a measure may have been more understandable.

‘The situation was addressed in other ways, so the measure now seems unnecessary. If such a measure were required in future, it could and should be introduced then at a point at which the need for such a fundamental change to the jury trial process could be properly considered by parliament in the particular circumstances of a new emergency,’ it said. 

An investigation by the Gazette last month revealed a dearth of information about the type of people who serve on juries, prompting experts to warn that the government is not doing enough to monitor ‘seismic’ changes in the justice system.

In its wide-ranging briefing, the Bar Council said it supports remote observation and recording of court and tribunal proceedings where necessary. However, it warned that remote observation could lead to a rise in the number of unauthorised recordings appearing on social media. ‘Although the recording or transmission of remote proceedings is and remains an offence, unless the court closely controls and restricts remote access, this law will be unenforceable,’ it said.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)