Scottish election 2021: Tories pledge to end not proven verdict and double maximum sentence for emergency worker attacks

The Scottish Tories have unveiled their criminal justice manifesto pledges ahead of May’s election, including sweeping new legislation that would see the end of the not proven verdict.

Party leader Douglas Ross said the so-called victims law would put those who have suffered a criminal act at the heart of the justice system.

The not proven verdict, unique to the Scottish justice system, has been controversial in recent years and the Tories will look to make trial a straight decision between guilty and not guilty if the law is passed.

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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross pays a visit to the former Loanhead police station while campaigning for the Scottish Parliamentary election. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Mr Ross said the Bill would be the first act of his party in the new parliamentary term and would also include what he calls Suzanne’s law and Michelle’s law.

Named after Suzanne Pilley, who was murdered in 2010, the legislation would mean convicted murderers cannot be released until they reveal the whereabouts of their victim’s remains.

While Michelle’s law, named after 17-year-old Michelle Stewart who was murdered in 2008, the families of victims would be given a greater say over release arrangements.

Ms Stewart’s sister said she supports the legislation.

Mr Ross said: “We are on the side of crime victims whose pain and suffering is often compounded by their experience of the criminal justice process.

“There is so much we can do to improve the prevention and detection of crime, but also how victims and their families can be treated with decency and respect.

“The family of Michelle Stewart are an example to us all. Having suffered such a tragic loss, they have found the strength to campaign to improve the system for others.

“Our victims’ law will give victims and their families a meaningful voice and bring much needed transparency to prosecutions, courts and parole.”

Speaking from a former police station in Loanhead, Midlothian, on Wednesday, Mr Ross outlined a number of other justice policies his party proposes.

They include doubling the maximum sentence for attacks on emergency workers to two years, introducing whole life custody orders, ending automatic early release and enabling all victims of crime to be able to make impact statements.

Mr Ross said: “This is also about reversing damaging SNP cuts to policing in communities such as here in Loanhead where the police station lies empty.

“My wife is a police officer and I am passionate about protecting them and giving them the resources they need to serve the public.

“Time and time again, we hear victims saying the SNP justice system betrays them while pandering to criminals.

“Voting for the SNP will ensure five more years of a Scottish Parliament distracted by demands for another divisive independence referendum.

“Only the Scottish Conservatives have the strength to block the SNP and focus on what really matters to the people of Scotland.”

Mr Ross said the not proven verdict does not give victims the certainty or clarity they need after a court case.

He said: “There is a disproportionate number of not proven verdicts in rape cases and that certainly doesn’t deliver for the victim and it still leaves the accused with an uncertain verdict.

“Guilty or not guilty is clear, not proven is too ambiguous.”

He also said the hate crime legislation recently passed at Holyrood, which the Conservatives have vowed to partially repeal, is “not fit for purpose”.

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