SCOTLAND’S adversarial legal system is “time-consuming, complex and expensive” and justice should be quicker, simpler and cheaper, according to the president of the Law Society.
In an interview for The Scotsman’s law pages today, Cameron Ritchie said it is time to examine how courts can best answer the important questions – not get caught up in a “ding-dong battle” that does not always serve the interests of justice.
Mr Ritchie, who worked as a senior procurator fiscal, suggests that a move away from adversarial justice to a more inquisitorial approach could help in specific areas – such as complex cases involving fraud, health and safety or tax issues.
“In some complex cases, juries are being asked to take in masses of information and apply it to very often complex charges,” Mr Ritchie said. “It’s not condescending to say they must find it difficult.
“Real issues can get lost in masses of evidence. It’s incredibly difficult for a jury and it is capable of leading to a miscarriage of justice in either direction. A jury could cut through it [complex charges and evidence] and say ‘guilty’ ”
He suggested giving juries a tighter, more focused role: “There are jury trials in inquisitorial systems, where juries decide a series of [specific] issues. I would prefer this to juries having the whole of the evidence dumped in their lap, being given an exposition according to the law and asked to come back with a verdict. From a procedural point of view, it’s a total lottery. I think we could take things a step further by presenting a jury with a number of very clearly set-out issues.”
Mr Ritchie also questioned the overwhelming use of oral evidence.
He said: “It is a nonsense everything is done orally. We need to start thinking what we are trying to achieve. I don’t pretend to have all the solutions but I’d like to see us not get so tied up in nostalgia for what a wonderful system we have that we forget to progress.
“Courts should be designed to focus on the key questions and how we answer those questions – not get involved in what can be a ding-dong battle.”