Law Commission calls for Scots trials to hear of prior convictions
Published: 22nd May 2012 23:35:37
Prosecutors should be able to use previous convictions as evidence in Scottish trials, according to the Scottish Law Commission.
In a report, the commission concluded that Scots law should be changed as evidence of this kind can be highly relevant to guilt or innocence.
England and Wales already have rules in place which allow previous convictions to be taken into account.
The commission said that the current Scots law lacked "logic and coherence".
As the law stands, the prosecution in a criminal case cannot rely on previous convictions to help prove their case against an accused person.
The thinking is that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty - and that might be undermined if past crimes were presented as evidence.
Scottish juries are only told of past crimes after a guilty plea or conviction.
This report, if implemented, will ensure the jury can consider all relevant information”
However, the Scottish Law Commission said that was illogical.
Patrick Layden QC, the lead commissioner on the project, said: "Evidence of how the accused has acted on another occasion is relevant to whether he has acted in a similar way in relation to the offence with which he is charged.
"It does not become irrelevant because he has been convicted on that other occasion. This report, if implemented, will ensure that the jury can consider all relevant information."
The commission also noted that until the late 19th century previous convictions were routinely admitted as evidence.
Its report included a draft Bill which, if implemented, would replace the present law with a new statutory framework for the admission of all relevant evidence in criminal proceedings.
The report is the third of three projects commissioned by the Scottish government in November 2007.
It will be up to ministers to decide whether to go ahead with the change, but the recommendations of the first two projects - on Crown appeals and double jeopardy - have already been passed into law.
SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell, who highlighted the issue of previous convictions following the trial of serial killer Peter Tobin in England in 2010, said: "I am very pleased at the outcome of this inquiry and hope that the government will be able to change the law as soon as possible.
"Victims in Scotland must not be getting less protection than they do in England.
"It makes no sense not to have all the relevant evidence available in the prosecution of serious crimes."
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Law Commission calls for Scots trials to hear of prior convictions. [Online] (Updated 22 May 2012)
Available at: http://www.glasgowwired.co.uk/news.php/1430281-Law-Commission-calls-for-Scots-trials-to-hear-of-prior-convictions [Accessed 22nd May 2013]
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