Championing real justice reform

Historic moves underway to reform double jeopardy laws Scottish Government announce consultation on key changes to Scots legal system

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill today (Sunday, March 21, 2010) announced a consultation on plans to reform the centuries-old law which prevents a person being tried twice for the same offence in Scotland.

The 'double jeopardy' principle was first introduced over 800 years ago but questions have been raised in recent years - and most recently following the trial for the World's End murders - about whether the law now needs to be updated for the 21st Century.

Mr MacAskill believes there is a strong case for modernising the current law and will now consult Scotland's legal profession, the public, victims and their families, and those with an interest.

It is not proposed to remove the rule - double jeopardy is a fundamental principle of Scots law which provides essential protection against the state repeatedly pursuing an individual for the same act.

Ministers want to examine whether exceptions should be introduced where new evidence comes to light and this is the main focus of the consultation paper.

It is also proposed to amend the law to permit a new trial in cases where the original trial was tainted by corruption or threats or where an accused admits carrying out the offence after being acquitted.

Mr MacAskill said:

"The double jeopardy law was brought in over 800 years ago, but we now live in a very different world and I firmly believe the law needs to be modernised to ensure that it is fit for the 21st century.

"My own view is that in this day and age, it should not be possible to walk free from court and subsequently boast with impunity about your guilt.   If new evidence emerges which shows the original ruling was fundamentally flawed, it should be possible to have a second trial. And trials which are tainted by threats or corruption should be re-run.

"Prosecutors should not have their hands tied if there is new evidence or if someone admits to carrying out an offence years down the line. I believe any future changes should also be retrospective so that they extend to old cases.

"There is a clear direction of travel here, a growing consensus that reform is needed and we are minded to legislate at the earliest opportunity.

"However, with such a complex and important issue, it is absolutely imperative that we take the time to get it right to ensure that any law does not fall short of what is desired. This consultation is therefore an important stage of this journey and will allow us to get the views of those on the front line, as well as those with a general interest.

"From the legal profession, to victims, their families, and others, we want to gain as many views as possible before deciding our next steps and I would encourage all those with an interest to respond to this consultation."

ENDS

Notes:

The public consultation will run from 22 March to 14 June.  The main questions which the Scottish Government seeks responses on are:

o       Whether consultees agree that there should be a new evidence exception

o       The test to be applied in assessing new evidence

o       What offences a new evidence exception should cover

o       Whether a new evidence exception should apply retrospectively.

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