Jury trials - alternatives: evidence briefing

This evidence briefing, commissioned by the Consideration of a Time-Limited Pilot of Single Judge Rape Trials Working Group, aimed to support and inform the working group’s deliberations on the merits and challenges associated with alternatives to jury trials in cases of rape and attempted rape.


  • Research shows further evidence on the negative impact of rape myths and misconceptions on the complainer, but also raises concerns about perceived fairness by legal professionals when using single judge trials.
  • Overall, there is a lack of empirical research comparing modes of trial for rape cases, which makes it difficult to draw any robust conclusions in relation to their impact on the complainer, rights of the accused, public confidence in the justice system and conviction rates.
  • That said, there are some tentative indications that the complainer experience may be improved by a single judge trial model, but it might be more dependent on wider court procedures and approaches to (cross) examination than the mode of trial itself.
  • Providing a written reason of verdict is seen as a clear advantage of single judge trials, both for the complainer and accused.
  • Studies suggest that considering the rights of the accused should include agreeing on the justifications/criteria for single judge trials, establishing clear procedures to ensure consistency and transparency and addressing (implicit) bias and diversity in the judiciary.
  • Significantly, where single judge trials for serious offences have been adopted, e.g. in countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States, it is by choice of the accused. There were no instances found of jurisdictions introducing alternatives to jury trials specifically for rape cases.
  • There is no clear data on the effect of changing mode of trial on public confidence in justice system, although studies have shown a clear support of the public for the jury system. These studies however, did not ask directly about changing mode of trial in specific cases, such as for rape offences.
  • The evidence is mixed on conviction rates, from lower, to no difference, to higher rates of conviction for cases tried by single judge, although, again, the evidence is limited and not specific to rape cases.
  • Literature discussing mixed panels of professional and lay judges point to the possibility to mitigate concerns about the lack of community engagement and potential bias with one decision-maker, while preserving some of the advantages of a single judge trial such as clearer judicial direction and a reasoned written verdict.
  • Overall, the literature suggest that to understand the impact of a change in mode of trial, it is important to take into account how a new mode of trial interacts with already established procedures in the criminal justice system. To improve the complainer experience additional reflection would be required on pre-trial and cross-examination procedures and training given to legal professionals.
  • Taking into account that the evidence presented is limited and not always specific to sexual offences, it is difficult to make a clear translation to the context of a Scottish pilot for rape offences. A pilot can offer valuable and much needed empirical data and insight on the effects of a change in mode of trial.


Email: Justice_Analysts@gov.scot

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