Legal reforms risk 'disastrous' consequences for wrongly convicted says Law Society
Legal reforms currently going through the Scottish Parliament risk undermining confidence in the Scottish justice system and could have disastrous consequences for those wrongly convicted of crimes, the Law Society of Scotland warned today.
The proposals are contained in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill currently before MSPs, which would permit the High Court to refuse to quash a conviction or sentence where a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.
The Bill purports to improve the current situation, whereby the High Court can refuse to consider a reference by the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission (the statutory criminal case review body) if it deems that it is not in the "interests of justice". However, the Bill is unlikely to make any real improvements, as although the High Court would now have to consider the case, it could still decide not to quash the conviction or sentence on the basis that it is not in the "interests of justice to do so".
After giving oral evidence on the sentencing and appeal sections of the Bill at the Scottish Parliament today, Murray Macara QC, from the Law Society's Criminal Law Committee, said:
"We do not believe that it can ever be in the 'interests of justice' for the High Court to allow a conviction based on a miscarriage of justice to stand.
"Such an approach could undermine the credibility of the court and confidence in the Scottish criminal justice system, in which the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission plays a respected and important role.
"We think this is especially worrying considering other proposals in the Bill to remove the requirement for corroboration. We are concerned that by removing the requirement for corroborated evidence, without including sufficiently strong safeguards in the Bill, could simply result in a contest between two competing statements on oath and, as a result, bring increased risk of miscarriages of justice.
"The Bill could not only lead to greater instances of miscarriages of justice but also make those convictions harder to quash.
"It could be disastrous for those wrongly convicted under the Scottish criminal justice system."
The Law Society of Scotland will provide oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee on part 2 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which proposes to remove the requirement for corroboration, on Tuesday 26 November.
ENDS 19 November 2013
Note to editors
The Law Society's response to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill is published on the website.
The Society has also responded to the Scottish Government consultation paper, Reforming Scots Criminal Law and Practice: Carloway Report, in October 2012, Reforming Scots Criminal Law and Practice: Additional safeguards following the removal of requirement for corroboration, in March 2013, and Reforming Scots Criminal Law and Practice: Reform of Sheriff and Jury Procedure (the Bowen Report) in March 2013.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Please contact Julia Brown on 0131 476 8204 or Val McEwan on 0131 226 8884.
19 November 2013