Clause 168 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would allow the court to require or permit a person to take part in “eligible criminal proceedings” through a live audio link or a live video link. This includes permitting live link directions in respect to jurors. This would however need to have “all members of the jury to take part through a live video link while present at the same place”. The Law Society and the Bar Council have released a joint statement in relation to the proposed introduction of remote juries.
The Law Society’s concerns
The Law Society has raised concerns about remote juries potentially viewing trials via video link. These concerns include the fact that members of the jury taking part in court proceedings through video link may:
- jeopardise the security of court proceedings,
- alienate participants,
- prove more expensive than in-person hearing
- require new technology and IT systems.
The defendant’s right to a fair trial
The Law Society has also raised concerns about the impact that remote juries will have on how they interpret body language and facial expressions which could in turn impact on access to justice and a defendant’s right to a fair trial.
The Government Factsheet on the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill states that the Government would ensure a fair trial through the full supervision of the jury by the Judge. Indeed, jurors would have to be in the same location, and therefore could not be in places where they are likely to jeopardise the security or integrity of court proceedings. This seems to reflect the mock remote jury trial that justice piloted during the pandemic. Despite this, there is not yet enough data to consider whether this would actually safeguard proceedings and the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
Issues with technology
In turn, in the Government’s Policy Paper on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill the Government state that they “believe the technology is of sufficient quality and have seen how valuable it can be during the pandemic, both in and outside of the criminal justice system”. Despite this there have been many issues with the use of technology by the courts throughout the pandemic such as major IT issues across the court system or individual trials being called off due to technical issues.
This also does not solve many of the Law Society’s other concerns. Indeed, Penelope Gibbs of the charity Transform Justice, has also questioned the proposals and has stated that “effective participation (in court hearings) is harmed not just by poor technology but by the nature of video communication itself”. This relates back to whether or not the jury’s interpretation of evidence via video link would return the same result as it would if they were in court in person.
There appears to be many concerns, such as those raised by the Law Society, that remote juries could jeopardise the integrity of the criminal court system for these proposals to go ahead. Indeed, the Law Society has also reiterated their concern about the justice system being properly funded, stating that it would be far better for the government to provide better facilities for trials to take place in one room.