England should adopt Jurat Trials to Ease Backlog

All jurisdictions are facing a similar crisis with legal cases being delayed through the pandemic. Jury trials are, of course, particularly problematic to carry out safely. In England, there was already unacceptable delay before Covid hit such that retiring Oxford circuit judge Peter Ross observed this week that it would be disingenuous to blame it all on Covid and that the government had simply tried to save money. However, the judge stated that the criminal justice system in England had now been paralysed and that the prejudice to victims, witnesses and defendants was enormous.

One way of easing the problem, however, could be for England to follow the example of the Channel Islands in using jurats in place of a jury. Jurats determine fact and sentence. They are elected to the Royal Court of Jersey or Guernsey and sit with the Bailiff or his substitute who rules on legal issues and deals with costs. There remain differences between each Island as to the number of jurats that sit and as to procedure. In fact, in Guernsey, there are no jury trials at all but in Jersey criminal trials in the Royal Court can be before a jury or jurats and must be before jurats where the offence is under statute.

Advocate Timothy has long supported the Channel Islands’ jurat system as something to be proud of and worthy of emulation in the UK- https://www.counselmagazine.co.uk/articles/jurats-something-emulate

Advocate Timothy Hanson commented ‘England could use 3 or more lay magistrates to decide guilt or innocence with a judge to rule upon legal issues, much as we do in the Channel Islands with Jurats sitting with the Bailiff. It could be a convenient way forward in reducing the backlog if having a jury of 12 members of the public is not possible or advisable. But even in the Channel Islands, we are facing some strain in the justice system. This is a remarkable time.’

(For more detailed information on the Jurat system, see Hanson “Jurats as Adjudicators in the Channel Islands and the Importance of Lay Participation” Common Law World Review 39 (2010) 250-282; website link http://uniset.ca/microstates2/je_gg_39CommLWorldRev250.pdf )