Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross clash in election debate
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Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf unveiled the party’s justice policies which involved the creation of a victims’ commissioner and consultation on scrapping the not proven verdict in court cases. Scotland is the only part of the UK where juries can return three verdicts at the end of a trial – guilty, not guilty or not proven.
A number of political parties including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have voiced their opposition to the verdict, making the policy one that looks destined to pass Holyrood, regardless of the parliamentary status.
The victims’ commissioner would also be created to “challenge” the Scottish Government and legal authorities on behalf of victims.
Mr Yousaf also pledged that Scottish independence would not be a “distraction” from the fallout of the pandemic.
In a speech today, Mr Yousaf said: “Once the Covid crisis is over, we believe people in Scotland must have the right to decide their own future and whether they wish to become an independent country.
“Independence is not a distraction from recovery, it is essential for the long-term recovery people in Scotland deserve and need.
“It will equip our country and our Parliament with the powers to build the better Scotland we know is possible.”
On justice reforms, he stressed: “We will work with all parties and with relevant stakeholders to take forward reform of Scotland’s justice system.
“The SNP Government is on your side and on the side of our communities.
“We will use all of our experience to do whatever we can to keep Scotland safe and continue to cut crime and help victims.”
But the Scottish Conservatives claimed the pledges were “empty promises” and claimed the SNP were “glossing over their failings” after 14 years running the Scottish Government.
Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative Justice spokesman, added: “The SNP’s record of empty promises and inaction on putting victims first speaks for itself.
“Now their big solution to fixing our broken justice system is a recycled policy from the SNP’s 2019 Programme for Government and a u-turn on a Victims Commissioner role that they previously rubbished as a waste of funds.
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“Only after pressure from the Scottish Conservatives is the SNP now considering a u-turn on the not proven verdict, which statistics show has a disproportionate impact on victims of sexual assault.
“The only time the SNP recognise soft-touch justice is in an election campaign. They’ve let victims of crime downtime and time again.”
Neil Bibby, Scottish Labour justice spokesperson, who previously put forward a pledge in 2011 for a dedicated Victims Commissioner, said: “The SNP has been in power for 14 years and in that time countless victims of crime and their families have been let down.
“So while this is a welcome step in the right direction, the question has to be asked why has it taken so long for the SNP to take victims seriously?
“Scottish Labour is committed to strengthening the Victims’ Code and taking action to promote the wellbeing of victims and their families.”
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