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Studies into Scotland's justice system

21/11/2007

A series of studies have been commissioned aimed at ensuring an appropriate balance between the rights of the accused and the ability of the Crown to prosecute in the public interest.

The Scottish Law Commission is to consider the law relating to:

  • Judicial rulings that can bring a solemn case to an end without the verdict of a jury, and rights of appeal against such
  • The principle of double jeopardy, and whether there should be exceptions to it
  • Admissibility of evidence of bad character or of previous convictions, and of similar fact evidence
  • The Moorov doctrine
  • And to make any appropriate recommendations for reform

The Scottish Law Commission has been asked to report to the Scottish Government on judicial rulings and appeal rights by Summer 2008, and on double jeopardy as early as practicable in 2009. The remaining phases of the study will follow later.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said:

"Fairness for both the victim and the accused is at the heart of any good justice system. But so too is public confidence. Questions around Crown appeal rights, double jeopardy and previous convictions, though not new, were raised again after the trial for the World's End murders in September. Good government is about listening to those public and political concerns with a cool head. We made clear that we would reflect seriously and thoroughly on the balance between the rights of the accused and the ability of the Crown to prosecute in the public interest.

"That's why I believe we need the expertise of the Scottish Law Commission, with their strong track record of independent analysis and reform of Scots Law, to take on this work. I have asked the Commission to consider all the questions in their broad context and in relation to the law of criminal procedure and evidence in general. "It is no threat to our justice system to reappraise historic principles such as double jeopardy. It is to ensure that our law remains fit for purpose in the modern age.

"This is a big and complex task. As with all potential changes to the law this will not, and indeed should not, happen overnight. However, I am keen that we see the benefits of the Commission's thinking as it develops. I have asked the Commission to press ahead with this work, especially on judicial rulings and double jeopardy, which I would hope to incorporate into appropriate legislation at an early opportunity."

The Scottish Law Commission was set up by the Law Commissions Act 1965. Its task is to recommend reforms to improve, simplify and update the law of Scotland. It offers the Scottish Government independent advice on law reform, and this often involves examining whole areas of law and making recommendations to improve them.