Edward Colston statue verdict shows why SNP is wrong about trials without juries – Kenny MacAskill MP

The acquittal of those charged with toppling the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol again showed the benefit of a jury trial and why the Scottish government’s direction of travel is plain wrong.

Protesters throw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter rally (Picture: Ben Birchall/PA)
Protesters throw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter rally (Picture: Ben Birchall/PA)

Would the protestors have been convicted by a judge sitting alone and without a jury? Absolutely. The law was clear, and the facts were admitted.

Their Lord or Ladyship would have felt there was no alternative but to convict. The defences put forward would have been seen as irrelevant and factors to be considered at best in mitigation. A lenient sentence may or may not then have followed, but a conviction would certainly have applied.

Instead, a jury decided that the accused were not guilty. Does that mean that they accepted the legal defences suggested? Who knows, it might have been that they simply liked the cut of the accused jib or just that they felt sorry for them. We’ll never know, and it may even have varied between individual jury members.

But for whatever reason it was, they didn’t want them convicted. I for one am glad of that and sense it reflects a wider view of their actions.

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The jury wasn’t comprised of young Extinction Rebellion activists, instead it was a much more varied representation of Bristol society, and they simply didn’t think they should be found guilty, irrespective of what the law said. That’s a jury’s right. They decide on the facts though the judge decides on matters of law. Thank goodness for that.

But in Scotland, the direction towards trial without jury continues. Would Craig Murray have been convicted by a jury? I very much doubt it. The suggestion of “single judge” rape trials are now to be considered by a Scottish government-led governance group. That entity is to be comprised of “key stakeholder interests”, or professionals no less. What about just letting the public decide as in Bristol?

Significant changes have been made over many years to protect victims in court and also to raise public awareness. Much more can still be done. But the idea of ending jury trials should be abandoned.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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