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SNP rebels oppose controversial plans for juryless rape trials

INTERNAL SNP rebels will vote against plans for juryless rape trials on Tuesday, The Scottish Sun can reveal.

Several MSPs will abstain or vote directly against the proposals, which will be voted on in Holyrood in phase 1.

SNP MP Fergus Ewing is expected to vote on the bill

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SNP MP Fergus Ewing is expected to vote on the billPhoto credit: Alamy

This is likely to include veteran SNP MP Fergus Ewing and other allies of defeated frontrunner Kate Forbes.

Government sources are confident they have sufficient numbers to pass the law. However, it could face greater resistance in the final parliamentary phase, when the amendments are debated and voted on.

The Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform Act proposes to abolish the “not proven” verdict, as well as a pilot project for judge-only trials for serious sexual offenses.

The bill was criticized by the legal profession, which threatened to boycott the experiment, and senior judges also warned that the proposals could breach fair trial rules.

One rebel said: “I don’t think the government has spoken out enough on this.”

Another added: “I expect it will pass, but without unanimous support.

“It will send a message to the government that there are issues with it that it needs to address in phase 2.”

Given the potential backlash that has been building since it was first published in February, ministers promised changes to the bill earlier this week.

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This could lead to laypeople being brought in to form a panel for the pilot, and other government sources suggest a possible panel of three judges instead of one judge.

And the pilot would not take place until late 2028, after the next Holyrood elections in 2026.

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The proposals to upend centuries-old legal traditions came after an investigation by Lady Dorrian – one of Scotland’s most senior judges – into the way the courts handle sexual offense cases.

Victims of sex crimes told MSPs earlier this year that Scotland’s justice system had ‘abused’ and ‘humiliated’ them as they fought for justice and faced their attackers in court, but also raised concerns about jury-less trials.

They said possible bias among judges and the lack of competing views and opinions could frustrate justice.

In a response to Holyrood’s criminal justice committee, the Scottish Government said a trial without a jury should still go ahead.

They said: “Juries play a key role in the Scottish justice system, but there is compelling evidence that myths about rape can influence the decisions jurors make in sex offense cases.”

This poses a risk to the administration of justice, which could in turn undermine public confidence in juries.

“We believe it is important that we investigate the use of juries in rape cases and seek to better understand their impact: a time-limited pilot project will allow us to do this.”