THE introduction of juryless trials for sexual offences is to be considered in England and Wales as part of justice reforms despite huge outcry over a pilot announced in Scotland.

The Law Commission of England and Wales has published a consultation on a series of proposals which it says are aimed at “countering the effects of rape myths and misconceptions on the trial process, treating complainants humanely, and ensuring that defendants receive a fair trial”.

One of the issues examined in the paper is the use of juryless trials, with views being sought on the “mandatory removal of juries from sexual offences trials currently heard in the Crown Court”.

In Scotland, plans for a pilot of juryless trials for rape to see the impact on conviction rates have resulted in a major backlash within the legal profession, with a near unanimous boycott of the pilot by lawyers looming.

READ MORE: Justice Secretary responds to boycott threat for judge-only rape trial pilot

Other proposals suggested for England and Wales include judicial oversight of how a victim’s personal records are accessed and disclosed, including counselling notes and a new framework for restricting the use of evidence of a victim’s sexual behaviour.

The Law Commission, which was asked by the UK Government to examine the use of evidence in sexual offences prosecutions, said: “While progress has been made, evidence shows that the criminal justice process for rape and serious sexual offences is still flawed, and more can be done to ensure sexual offences are tried justly, without traumatising complainants.”

It says that its new consultation paper “sets out proposals aimed at countering the effects of rape myths and misconceptions on the trial process, treating complainants humanely, and ensuring that defendants receive a fair trial”.

It added: “Rape myths are genuine and sincere beliefs that are factually incorrect and often derived from stereotypes.”

Among those threatening to boycott the juryless trials pilot in Scotland is high-profile Glasgow-based lawyer Aamer Anwar.

The National:

Anwar, who is a close friend of First Minister Humza Yousaf, said in an interview in the Daily Express today: “It is all very well having politicians, who have never spent a day in court, wanting a system that reflects the needs of modern-day Scotland.

“But they then arrogantly ignore the views of those who have given a lifetime to working in our courts and if that’s not palatable then why not ask real jurors why they acquit, why cherry pick the views of victims that suits a political agenda.”

In response to his comments a spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Piloting judge-only rape trials was a recommendation of a review carried out by Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, to improve how the justice system treats rape victims.

READ MORE: Aberdeen lawyers reportedly join boycott of juryless rape trials pilot

“We have worked closely with the legal sector and will continue to do so during the development and evaluation of the pilot.

“There is overwhelming evidence both from within Scotland and beyond that jurors are subject to preconceptions about rape that can impact the verdicts they reach – which is not the case in other serious crime trials.

“Over 80% of criminal trials in Scotland are already conducted without a jury.

“Judge-only trials for serious offences including rape already take place in many other jurisdictions such as the Netherlands and France.”