Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Double jeopardy rule under review

high court in edinburgh
Double Jeopardy is an 800-year-old principle of Scots law

The law that prevents a person being tried twice for the same offence in Scotland is to be studied by experts.

The Scottish Law Commission (SLC) has published a paper on the 800-year-old principle of double jeopardy.

The commission, which provides the Scottish Government with independent advice on legal reforms, will study whether there should be exceptions.

The Tories have called for the rule to be scrapped - as it was in England in 2005 - if fresh evidence emerges.

Patrick Layden QC, the lead commissioner on the project, said double jeopardy should be looked at carefully to see whether exceptions to it were justified.

He said: "The rule that prevents a person from being tried twice for the same offence has been recognised in Scotland and across the world as a fundamental protection for the citizen against the state, but we should look at it carefully to see whether modern conditions justify exceptions to it."

Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken said: "Before the last elections, Scottish Conservatives proposed that in cases where new or compelling evidence becomes available, a retrial should be allowed at the discretion of the lord advocate and the Scottish Court of Criminal Appeal."

As with all potential changes to the law this will not, and indeed should not, happen overnight
Kenny MacAskill
Justice Secretary

He added: "In recent years, forensic technology has advanced to such an extent that material not formally usable as evidence could now be pivotal."

Paul Martin, Labour's community safety spokesman, said: "In this new era of criminal detection, with DNA and other scientific evidence available, it's right that this issue is explored fully."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he was looking forward to seeing the final recommendations which the SLC would present to the Scottish Government once it had completed its consultation.

He added: "Depending on the outcome of the SLC's deliberations, we would intend to legislate on these matters at an early opportunity.

"This is a big and complex task.

"As with all potential changes to the law this will not, and indeed should not, happen overnight.

"However, I am keen that we see the benefits of the commission's thinking."

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