SUSPECTS who are acquitted of crimes will be able to be retried for the first time in Scotland as a new law changing the 800-year-old principle of “double jeopardy” comes into force today.
The Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act, passed unanimously by Holyrood in March, allows people cleared of offences to be sent back to court if “compelling new evidence” emerges to “substantially strengthen” the case against them.
A retrial could also be ordered where the original trial was tainted or a suspect has admitted the offence.
Justice secretary Kenny Mac Askill asked for a review of the double jeopardy principle in 2007 after convicted murderer Angus Sinclair was cleared of killing Helen Scott and Christine Eadie in the “World’s End” murders after the judge upheld a defence argument of insufficient evidence.
Now the Solicitor General for Scotland Lesley Thomson is to decide which cases could be retried, according to the Crown Office. Although no specific cases have been confirmed, those likely to be coming back to court include the “World’s End” case.
Helen Scott’s father, Morain Scott, 81, was reported as saying he welcomed the move and that he hoped fresh charges would be brought against Sinclair “sooner rather than later”. He added: “I would like to see justice for the girls, for my daughter and for Christine. My hopes have been up so often before that I just try and keep a level head about this.
“A lot of people talk about closure but you never get closure. It was so long ago – you think about would she have been married, would she have had children. That has gone completely now.”
The reform could trigger fresh developments in the Lockerbie case, amid speculation that Libyan al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah, who was found innocent of the atrocity, could be prosecuted again.
Another case which could be re-examined is the 1992 murder of Amanda Duffy. Francis Auld was charged with the murder but walked free after the jury returned a not-proven verdict.
Mr MacAskill said: “This is a victory for common sense. In this day and age, people shouldn’t be able to walk free from court and subsequently boast with impunity about their guilt. If new evidence emerges which shows the original ruling was fundamentally flawed, it should be possible to have a second trial.
“And trials which are tainted by threats or corruption should be re-run. Prosecutors should not have their hands tied, and these legislative changes will ensure that in such cases there will be no escape from justice.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokeswoman, Johann Lamont, said the change was a “victory” for the victims of crime. He said: “When a family loses a loved one there can be no pain greater than knowing that their killer is still on the loose – something that is only compounded when a case is brought to trial and no conviction is secured.
“With the rapid advancement of technology and increasing sophistication of DNA evidence, police and law enforcement officials have more tools at their disposal to investigate past crimes than ever before. It is therefore absolutely right that we reform our laws to bring them into the 21st century.”
A Crown Office spokeswoman said: “It is too early to say which cases would be considered, nor would we speculate on how any particular cases will be dealt with under the change to the law of double jeopardy in Scotland.”