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Holyrood accused of "huge damage" to Scots law

30 August 2012

The Scottish Parliament has done more harm to Scots law since 1999 than Westminster managed in 300 years, according to a prominent solicitor advocate.

Writing in the Times today, Alistair Bonnington, retired solicitor to BBC Scotland and a former honorary professor of law at Glasgow University,a leading legal commentator says the Parliament's approach "often seems to be to legislate in accordance with the agenda of tabloid newspapers", instead of creating laws for the public benefit.

Mr Bonnington is particularly critical of the treatment of "long-held beliefs on the right to a fair trial", pointing to the ending of the rule against double jeopardy to permit some accused to be tried twice for the same offence, along with the proposals to abolish the corroboration rule in criminal cases and to allow juries to be told about the accused's criminal record. The latter two points, he says, amount to "the destruction of two of the gold standards of Scots criminal law".

He also attacks the creation of statutory criminal offences where a common law crime has already existed for centuries, such as with the anti-stalking legislation and sectarian breaches of the peace.

Describing the damage to the law as a "paradox and a tragedy", he adds: "Sadly it is not going too far to say that Holyrood has done more harm to Scots law than Westminster managed in over 300 years." 

A statement for the Scottish Government said it agreed law reform must be properly considered and researched, adding: "Reform of the law on double jeopardy followed a detailed assessment by the independent Scottish Law Commission and a Government consultation exercise."

It pointed out: "The principle against multiple trials has not been abolished. As in England & Wales and other jurisdictions, a limited exception has been created to allow a new trial only where new evidence with a significant impact emerges following the first trial."

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