Witches of Scotland petition: Parliamentary committee agrees to write to Scottish Government on pardoning witches

The Scottish Parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee has agreed to write to the Scottish Government and petitioners on how to go about seeking a pardon for those accused and killed as witches in Scotland.

A parliamentary committee has agreed to write to the Scottish Government on pardoning those accused of witchcraft in Scotland.

On Wednesday, the committee agreed to take matters forward after considering the petition Witches of Scotland lodged to pardon, apologise and memorialise those killed as witches in Scotland.

The petition was brought by Claire Mitchell QC and writer Zoe Venditozzi as part of the Witches of Scotland campaign – launched on International Women’s Day 2020.

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Reacting to the news, Claire Mitchell QC said: “We are delighted that the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee have engaged so positively with the petition.

"Each of the Committee members expressed a view that they wished to take the matter forward and are now seeking more information from us and from the Scottish Government about the mechanics of pardoning those convicted.

"We have a real opportunity to address a terrible historic miscarriage of justice which allows us to address our past and to remind us never to repeat it.”

To date, there has been no apology, no pardon and no memorial to those who lost their lives in Scotland under the Witchcraft Act of 1563.

Out of the 4,000 people accused under the act, 85% of those were women.

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The Humanist Society Scotland has provided a submission in support of the pardon outlined in the petition.

The organisation urged the committee that when considering those historically convicted of witchcraft they should consider how the Scottish Government’s current work in international development – particularly through the Scottish Malawi partnership – “can better challenge witchcraft based on violence.”

During the consideration of the petition on Wednesday, Tess White MSP said the killing of over 2,000 people under the act should be recognised as ‘horrific.’

MSP Bill Kidd said: “It’s a matter of long-standing concern which still resonates today in some parts of the world but it resonates with people in Scotland on the basis that injustice was done to a large number of people.”

However, Mr Kidd argued that a specific number of cases was needed to consider rather than take on a large number of cases over a large period of time.

Paul Sweeney MSP suggested that a Royal Prerogative of Mercy should be considered instead of referring to the Scottish Criminal Review Cases given the ‘historic nature’ of the issue.

He suggested that the First Minister should write to the Queen to suggest that this is done.

An archaic tradition, the RPM is one of the historic royal prerogatives of the British monarch, by which he or she can grant pardons (informally known as a royal pardon) to convicted people.

Overall, the committee agreed that they should write to both the Scottish Government and the petitioners to explore matters further.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The Committee was sympathetic to the issues raised by this petition.

"MSPs have agreed to explore these further with the petitioner and the Scottish Government and their responses will be considered at a future meeting.”

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