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Double Jeopardy Bill wins Justice Committee support

26 January 2011

The bill to modify the long-established rule of Scots law that no-one should be tried twice for the same crime – the "double jeopardy" principle – has been supported by the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee.

In its stage 1 report published today, the MSPs unanimously support the general principles of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Bill introduced by the Scottish Government.

The committee agrees the proposed exceptions to the general rule against double jeopardy as set out in the bill, including where they go beyond what was recommended by the Scottish Law Commission in its 2009 report on double jeopardy, on which the Bill is based. It agrees there should be an exception where, in relation to a particularly serious offence, new evidence of guilt emerges after the original trial – and that this should apply retrospectively. However, it suggests that the bill might be widened in that, rather than having a list of qualifying offences, consideration should be given to extending the exception to apply to cases originally prosecuted on indictment, or tried in the High Court.

The committee supports the other exceptions set out in the bill. These would apply in cases where evidence later emerges indicating that an acquitted person has admitted to committing the offence, or where the original trial was “tainted”, for example, by the intimidation of a witness.

Committee convener Bill Aitken MSP said: “The rule against double jeopardy has long been an important principle of Scots law in protecting the citizen against unjust treatment from the state. The Justice Committee strongly supports enshrining this rule in statute.

“We also believe it is right to make a number of carefully limited exceptions to this rule. The committee supports the bill in allowing those who may have escaped punishment in the past, in certain circumstances and with the appropriate safeguards, to face renewed prosecution for those crimes.”

Click here to view the committee's report.

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