Witches of Scotland: Women seeking apology for those persecuted under Witchcraft Act invited to Parliament

Women seeking a pardon, public apology and memorial for those persecuted under the Witchcraft Act in Scotland have been invited to speak at the Scottish Parliament.

A petition lodged by Claire Mitchell QC from the Witches of Scotland campaign was considered by the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee on Wednesday.

The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Government to pardon, apologise and create a national monument to memorialise those people in Scotland accused and convicted as witches under the Witchcraft Act of 1563.

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In Scotland, an estimated 3,837 people – 84 per cent of whom were women – were tried as witches under the act.

In September, the committee decided to seek further information on whether the Royal Prerogative of Mercy could be used to achieve a pardon.

However, Claire Mitchell QC said the Royal Prerogative would not be suitable, stating: “We are not looking for a pardon in individual cases by Her Majesty The Queen as the prosecutions were carried out by the Scottish State.”

An application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission was also dismissed as “to pardon individual people would not be competent as there would be no-one who could be considered to have a legitimate interest” given the centuries that have passed since.

The petition seeks for the Scottish Government to legislate to provide a pardon for all those convicted.

Burning a witch at the stake In 17th Century Europe. Wood engraving, Late 19th Century (Photo: Granger/Shutterstock).Burning a witch at the stake In 17th Century Europe. Wood engraving, Late 19th Century (Photo: Granger/Shutterstock).
Burning a witch at the stake In 17th Century Europe. Wood engraving, Late 19th Century (Photo: Granger/Shutterstock).

It draws parallels with the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Act 2018 as it provided “a collective and posthumous pardon”.

The aim is for the Government to provide a public apology to those convicted of witchcraft, making it clear those convictions should not have happened and these people were not witches.

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Natalie Don MSP intends to bring forward a Private Member’s Bill to seek a pardon. Yet Ms Don noted the other two asks of an apology and a monument “will not follow within the scope of the Bill”.

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The committee agreed they would keep the petition open, consider inviting Claire Mitchell to give evidence at the committee “at a future date”.

Committee convener Jackson Carlaw said: "I think we will keep in mind a desire to hear evidence from the petitioner at a future meeting and perhaps clarify with Miss Don when she might be likely to table that Member’s Bill and to invite her to participate in the consideration of the petition.”

Speaking to The Scotsman, Ms Don said she was “more than happy” to talk to the committee about the Bill.

The next steps for the Bill would be to draft a consultation, which Ms Don hopes to do so by mid-February.

This consultation would then last 12 weeks where members of the public and stakeholders could submit any comments and feedback.

Ms Don hopes the consultation responses will be done by this summer and she will then seek cross-party support to start the process of the Bill.

She said: “I’ve got a lot of positive support from my own group and I haven’t quite reached that cross-party support yet.

“Given the ramifications and the impact on stereotypes and misogyny in the modern day, I hope other parties will see that this is a positive thing.”

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