New Bill Seeks Major Changes to Scotland’s Criminal Justice System

Holyrood was the first stop in the legislative path for the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice (Scotland) Bill. The measure eliminates the “not proven” judgment and suggests a pilot program for rape trials without juries. 

The committee will now review it line by line. Justice Secretary Angela Constance has hailed the measure as “landmark and historic.”

Even though it is still early in the legislative process, the bill has already been reviewed by the criminal justice committee of the Scottish Parliament, which had divided views on several aspects. According to chairperson Audrey Nicoll MSP, committee members support the bill’s goal of making the system more accommodating to victims and witnesses. Nevertheless, they believed that further proof, statistics, and examination were necessary.

While Angela Constance conceded that the measure would need revisions, she said there was “consensus” that it may improve victim and witness experiences.

In Scotland, a criminal prosecution might end with one of three verdicts: proved, not proven, or otherwise. Some think it fails to provide victims closure, that it stigmatizes the guilty, and that it is confusing. A modification to jury numbers is proposed in the bill. A more petite jury of 12 would be needed for a guilty conviction, with a two-thirds majority necessary. There will also be a new court that focuses on instances of rape and attempted rape; a single judge would hear them without a jury.

Even though the law is still in the parliamentary process, the Scottish government has begun enhancing the witness experience. £2 million is being used to build specialized rooms where vulnerable persons, including children, may testify in high-profile criminal prosecutions. 

Lawyers have made their utter hostility to juryless trials known, while victim advocacy organizations highlight the suffering caused by the low conviction rates for sex offenses and the not proven verdicts.