LANDMARK legislation to scrap Scotland’s not proven verdict and make a number of changes to the justice system has been published.

The Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill will also change the size of criminal juries from 15 to 12.

It aims to address a number of issues around serious sexual offences, creating a new specialist sexual offences court.

Ministers will also have the power to carry out a pilot of rape trials being conducted by a single judge without a jury.

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For jury trials, the majority needed for a guilty verdict will be at least two-thirds.

The legislation will also guarantee an automatic right to state-funded independent legal representation for complainers when applications are made by the defence to lead evidence on their sexual history or "bad character" in sexual offence cases. 

Last year, Nicola Sturgeon committed to abolishing the third verdict in the Scottish legal system.

Discussions around Scotland’s third verdict, which has the effect of acquitting the accused, have been going on for years.

The verdict is unique to Scots law and there is no equivalent in other jurisdictions.

Justice Secretary Angela Constance said: “This Bill will put victims and witnesses at the heart of the justice system.

The National: Constance said the legislation would put victims at witnesses at the 'heart of the justice system'Constance said the legislation would put victims at witnesses at the 'heart of the justice system'

“It is testament to the efforts of many campaigners who have worked to ensure that the processes of justice better serve victims, witnesses and vulnerable parties.

“This landmark legislation is among the most significant since devolution and will ensure fairness is cemented into the bedrock of Scotland’s modern-day justice system.

“Building on the experiences of survivors, victims and their families, these key reforms will make justice services more sensitive to the trauma it can cause.

“This government has been clear we must take action to improve the experience of those who suffer sexual abuse.

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“The majority are women, who must be supported to have trust and confidence that the processes of justice will serve their needs, allow them to give their best evidence and support them in their recovery.”

She also hailed the creation of a new independent commissioner for victims and witnesses.

Earlier, the chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland welcomed plans to scrap the not proven verdict, saying she has “no doubt that guilty men are walking free”.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme, Sandy Brindley said the changes were a “really positive development”.

However, advocate Thomas Ross KC took the opposite view, saying jurors should be trusted to carry out the job they have been given.

He told the programme: “I work with prosecutors every day, I don’t hear them saying that they’re concerned about the conviction rate.

“I hear it every time Sandy’s invited to come on one of these programmes.”

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Previously, the Law Society has warned there could be an increase in miscarriages of justice if not proven is scrapped as a verdict.

According to Rape Crisis, Not Proven is used "disproportionately" in rape cases in Scottish courts.

In 2019/20, only 43.48% of rape and attempted rape cases resulted in convictions, while Not Proven made up 44% of acquittals for rape and attempted rape cases.

This is compared with only 20% of Not Proven verdicts for all crimes and offences.