Humza Yousaf facing opposition from SNP rebels over plans for juryless rape trials

A handful of SNP MSPs are expected to either abstain or vote against the proposals

Humza Yousaf is facing opposition from SNP rebels over plans for juryless rape trials.

A handful of SNP MSPs are planning to either abstain or vote against the proposals when they come before Holyrood at stage one today. One rebel said they knew of at least two others who would register their opposition, but added the figure could be as high as six.

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Fergus Ewing, the former SNP minister who is now an outspoken backbench critic, has already said he will not support the legislation.

Fergus Ewing. Picture: PAFergus Ewing. Picture: PA
Fergus Ewing. Picture: PA

It is still expected to pass its first stage in the Scottish Parliament, but any rebellion will signal to ministers that changes may be needed further down the line, when amendments are voted on.

The Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform Bill contains a raft of measures that would usher in major changes to Scotland’s justice system. As well as a pilot of juryless rape trials, it includes proposals to scrap Scotland’s unique “not proven” verdict.

One SNP rebel said the juryless trials pilot was the “most offensive” part of the legislation, adding: “It’s quite extraordinary.” They said the Government could be defeated at stage three unless changes were made. “It will be dead in the water,” they added.

Stuart Munro, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s criminal law committee, said: "We've briefed MSPs with the key information they need to make an informed contribution to this debate. I would urge them to be mindful that it is the people who interact with Scotland's criminal justice system – whether they be complainers, witnesses or accused of a crime – who will bear the brunt if there are any missteps with this legislation.

"This Bill contains a large number of complex and overlapping changes to the criminal justice system. Adopting so much significant change in such a short space of time risks unintended consequences, including most concerningly miscarriages of justice, and means it will be difficult to assess which measures have had an impact.

"Our specific areas of concern with this legislation are well documented. We've seen no evidence that addresses the warnings of experienced legal practitioners over proposals such as juryless trials. A pilot for judge-only trials in rape cases is highly problematic and should be scrapped, so MSPs have capacity to properly scrutinise the other important sections of the Bill."

Angela Constance, the SNP justice secretary, previously said a pilot scheme for juryless rape trials would not go ahead until late 2028.

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In a letter to Holyrood’s justice committee, she said: “Juries play a key role in Scotland’s justice system, but there is a compelling body of evidence that rape myths may influence the decisions that jurors reach in sexual offence cases.

“That is a risk to the administration of justice, which could in turn undermine public confidence in juries. We believe it is important that we examine the use of juries in rape cases and try to better understand the impacts they have – a time-limited pilot enables us to do that.”

Ms Constance said the Government would explore the possibility of a panel system for the pilot scheme, where two lay members sat alongside the judge to decide on rape cases. Conviction rates for rape are significantly lower than for other types of crimes.



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