SCOTLAND’S not proven verdict can “retraumatise” victims of crime, the Justice Secretary has said, as long awaited reforms have been published.

Angela Constance acknowledged it has taken a “long time” for the legislation on scrapping the controversial third verdict to be introduced at Holyrood.

The Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill will also change the size of criminal juries from 15 to 12, create a new specialist sexual offences court, and allow ministers to carry out a pilot of judge-only rape trials, without a jury.

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We told earlier how Constance disputed claims that the pilot plans, backed by victim support charities, are “authoritarian”.

Debates around Scotland’s third verdict, which has the legal 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.

Constance and First Minister Humza Yousaf met a number of prominent victims of crime, campaigners and organisations at a summit on Wednesday.

The Justice Secretary said: “This bill is about ensuring that the voices and needs of victims are at the heart of our justice system.

The National: FM Humza Yousaf and Justice Secretary Angela Constance meet crime victims in Edinburgh as major justice reform legislation is introduced at Holyrood.FM Humza Yousaf and Justice Secretary Angela Constance meet crime victims in Edinburgh as major justice reform legislation is introduced at Holyrood. (Image: PA)

“There is substantial evidence that the not proven verdict in many instances retraumatises victims and survivors because of its lack of clarity.

“While we are proud of our justice system in Scotland, we do need to make sure that our system reflects the needs of modern-day Scotland and I don’t think it is defensible any longer to have a not proven verdict where there is no statutory definition.”

Constance continued: “It has taken a long time to get to this point. This is landmark legislation.

“This bill has some of the biggest reforms for our justice system in the history of devolution.”

READ MORE: Landmark legislation published to scrap not proven verdict and reduce jury size

The Justice Secretary added that it was a “moment of change” for the Scottish justice system.

“It is imperative that if we are going to meaningfully respond to the needs of victims and witnesses that we have a fair and transparent system and it is simply not good enough to cling on to practices that indeed have been with us for a long time,” she added.

“But it is my job to ensure that the justice system going forward is fit for the future and is based on the very best of standards.

“What we know is not proven verdict is that there is no legal definition, it is not well understood, there is no consistency of view in terms of what the not proven verdict means and doesn’t mean.”

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

Murray Etherington, Law Society president, said: “The right to a fair trial is a cornerstone of the Scottish criminal justice system. Even on a pilot basis, judge-only trials will put that fundamental right in jeopardy with no discernible benefits.

“By its very definition, a jury is a better reflection of Scottish society than a single judge can possibly be. Juries act as an essential and effective safeguard against the potential for unconscious biases to unfairly influence trial outcomes.

“Undermining the foundations of the Scottish justice system to increase conviction rates is a dangerous approach which will create a serious risk of injustice.”