The Law Society of England and Wales has warned that remote juries could:
- Jeopardise the security of court proceedings,
- Alienate participants, and
- Prove more expensive than in-person hearings.
In a joint statement with the Bar Council, the society told MPs that it opposed the introduction of remote juries under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, according to the Law Gazette of England and Wales.
The Law Society concerns are wide-ranging and include:
- The risk of alienating juries and/or witnesses,
- Ensuring security of proceedings (both in terms of the privacy of the process and individuals, and data privacy),
- Additional expense to the taxpayer,
- Requirement for new technology and IT systems, and
- Associated issues arising out of these aspects.
The representative bodies also warned that the impact of the proposal on access to justice was unclear and unproven.
“How jurors interpret body language and facial expressions can be key in a trial, and it is simply not known what impact hearing a trial remotely would have in this area,” they said.
The organisations said the British government should instead provide better facilities to enable criminal trials to take place in one properly equipped room.
Clause 168 of the new bill – which is currently at committee stage – provides for more widespread use of video and audio links in criminal proceedings, including the use of remote juries.
Mock jury trials
Speaking at the Law Society last week, lord chancellor Robert Buckland said he was struck by work carried out by legal think-tank Justice, which conducted mock jury trials last year as part of an experiment to see if it was possible to hold virtual trials that met the principles of fairness, accuracy of evidence and certainty.
“I thought it right in our legislation that we future-proof the system,” Buckland said.
“If we are faced with a challenge like this again – or indeed if technology moved on in a way which meant there was a seamless way in which remote juries could be involved in the process – it would be good to have that underpinned in primary legislation.
“But I accept a lot more work needs to be done,” he added.