11 May 2009

Fluffing jury sums...

Someone’s figures are well off the mark. But who? The Scotsman brings news this morning that our verbally fencing (typically with himself) Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill has heeded the remonstrating tone of his consultation respondees, and will not be altering the numbers properly constituting a Scottish criminal jury. Fifteen good souls and true it shall remain, for the foreseeable future.

Eyeing the detail of the Scotsman’s coverage, however, I was struck by the reported instances of jury trials in Scotland. Quoth the East Coast Times:

“The number of jury trials in Scotland has increased steadily in recent years, from 2,750 in 2005/6 to 3,234 in 2007/8. About 50,000 citizens each year are asked to sit on a jury."

I’ve been unable, through a brisk trawl of the t’internet, to discern quite where the Scotsman found these numbers. There is, at least, some internal consistency in them. Fifty thousand divided by fifteen would add up to around 3333 trials a year. If one adds the incidences of civil jury trial in Scotland, where twelve jurors are employed, typically if rareishly, to decide defamation or personal injury cases à la Tommy Sheridan¸ this might be plausible. However, it is profoundly at odds with the only long run of consistent figures which the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service generate annually, which I previously collated here. The stability in those figures, matched with the fact that one might hope that the Fiscal would be in a position to know how many cases were tried in different courts, might lead us to favour these numbers. However, there are important qualifiers about those which I neglected to emphasise sufficiently previously. More confusingly, the Scottish Government seems to have its own number. Casting an eye through the Government consultation which has lead the august Kenny to retain fifteen-person juries, the alleged figures shrink even more. Section 2.2. of “The Modern Scottish Jury in Criminal Trials” document, published by the Scottish Government in 2008 suggests that:

"Approximately 575 sheriff and jury cases take place each year in the Sheriff Court; and some 460 jury cases a year in the High Court."

That would add up to a total of 1035, some 2199 less than the Scotsman thinks occurred in 2007/08, or 4563 less than the Crown Office have published as prosecuted in that forum. If the Scotsman figure about the approximate number of jurors called annually is correct, the Scottish Government would have us believe that approximately 48 people sit on each case, something of an inflation. Of course, I am conscious that what is generating this statistical dissonance may be variable definitions across publications. Who is counting what? None of the publications is terribly helpfully in weaselling out the truth. The Scottish Government publication references no other source for their number. Neither does the Scotsman. Nor are definitional qualifications made. The highest listed figures – those of the Crown Office – use the form “prosecutions were completed”. This points us to an unknown variable in the Crown Office statistics, namely, guilty pleas and the rate of contested trials. On this point, one can’t scrutinise their figures closely. As such, the number of trials actually decided by juries may be far lower than the number suggested by the locus of prosecution.

While I'd be disposed to suggest that the Crown Office figures are more likely to represent the broad truth, on account of their stability and the likelihood that they are in the know, the absence of qualifiers about how many of these trials were contested leaves us none the wiser about how many trials by jury were actually enacted. This does nothing, however, to decrease the salience of my previous point that in Scotland, juries are not sacred, but exceptional. The old nag lackadaisically clopped out of the stable of sanctity yonks ago. Either way, even if we include guilty pleas, both the Scotsman and the Government cannot be correct. Someone’s fluffed their sums.

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