Sunday, September 16, 2007

Juries to be told of previous convictions in shake up of criminal justice system

A change on the cards perhaps as the Sunday Herald reports that Ministers are looking into allowing juries to be told of an accused's previous convictions - if such plans may hold up under ECHR legislation of course.

The Sunday Herald reports :

Move to scrap block on juries

By Paul Hutcheon

SCOTTISH MINISTERS are examining a change in the law to allow juries to be made aware of an accused's past convictions, as part of a far-reaching shake-up of the criminal justice system.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill believes the measure could be part of legislation next year if it is deemed compatible with the European convention on human rights. He will float the idea at a cross-party summit on justice issues he hopes to chair in the next few weeks.

MacAskill's plan follows the collapse last week of the World's End murder trial, after a judge threw out the case against serial sex killer Angus Sinclair.

Lord Clarke ruled there was insufficient evidence and acquitted Sinclair, a convicted paedophile and murderer.

The case prompted Elish Angiolini, the lord advocate, to express her "disappointment" at the fact the case did not reach a jury. Various MSPs have also called for criminal justice reforms to be introduced in the wake of the trial.

MacAskill, the SNP justice secretary, plans to hold a cross-party meeting on possible changes the system, with a view to introducing legislation next year.

Top of his list is giving the Crown a right of appeal against acquittal in solemn proceedings, a tool that would give prosecutors the right to request a review of a judge's decision.

Currently, as was demonstrated in the World's End trial, the Crown cannot lodge an appeal if a judge acquits an accused.

"The Crown right of appeal is an anomaly and it should be considered," he said.

MacAskill also wants the summit to discuss removing the "double jeopardy" rule in certain circumstances, which would allow an accused to be tried for the same offence twice. He has pointedly refused to rule out a law change on double jeopardy that would relate to past cases such as World's End murders.

More controversially, the justice secretary also believes a change in the law that would allow juries to be made aware of an accused's past convictions should also be discussed at the talks.

Juries are only told about an accused's past crimes in limited circumstances, the extension of which MacAskill believes is worthy of discussion. "That's the third aspect we think has to be looked at. It divides down parties and professions, but we are happy to look at it."

Ministers are committed to reviewing arrangements for removing judges and sheriffs from post. Legislation to modernise Scotland's judiciary, drafted by the outgoing administration, was recently backed in parliament by Alex Salmond .

Meanwhile, the Scottish Tories have called for ministers to consider making the head of the prosecution service independent of government, while turning the post of lord advocate into an advisory position.

Scottish Labour said it was happy to support a review of juries being made aware of previous convictions, but urged "extreme caution".

No comments: