Criminal justice reform must not undermine the right to a fair trial
Proposals to reform Scotland's criminal justice system must not undermine the fundamental right to a fair trial, according to the Law Society of Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill introduced in the Scottish Parliament today, 26 April 2023, proposes a pilot of judge only trials in sexual offence cases and the abolition of the not proven verdict.
Murray Etherington, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The right to a fair trial is a cornerstone of the Scottish criminal Justice system. Even on a pilot basis, judge only trials will put that fundamental right in jeopardy with no discernible benefits.
“By its very definition, a jury is a better reflection of Scottish society than a single judge can possibly be. Juries act as an essential and effective safeguard against the potential for unconscious biases to unfairly influence trial outcomes.
“Undermining the foundations of the Scottish justice system to increase conviction rates is a dangerous approach which will create a serious risk of injustice.
“We support the overall aim of the legislation to deliver a more person-centred approach to practices within the Scottish criminal justice system, but fundamental changes such as the introduction of judge only trials and the abolition of the not proven verdict must not be made at the expense of the right to a fair and just trial.
“We will closely scrutinise the Bill and comment more fully as it progresses.”
The Law Society of Scotland has stated its opposition to plans to abolish the not proven verdict in Scottish criminal cases, arguing that the change risks an increase in miscarriages of justice.