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Double Jeopardy reforms

Key changes to a centuries old principle of Scots law which prevents a person being tried twice for the same offence are now in force.

The double jeopardy principle dates back more than 800 years, but questions have been raised in recent years about whether it needed to be modernised for the 21st Century.

Following a consultation with Scotland’s legal profession, the public, victims and their families last year, formal steps were taken by Ministers to make the legislative changes required and a Bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament earlier this year.

The rule will not be removed – double jeopardy is a fundamental principle of Scots law which provides essential protection against the state repeatedly pursuing an individual for the same act. However, exceptions will now apply.

The key elements of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act are:

– Restating and clarifying the ancient law on double jeopardy, removing the anomalies and uncertainties identified by the Scottish Law Commission in its 2009 Report on double jeopardy.
– Allowing a second trial in very serious cases where, after an acquittal, compelling new evidence emerges to substantially strengthen the case against the accused.
– Allowing a second trial where the original trial was ‘tainted’, e.g. by intimidation.
– Allowing a second trial where, after an acquittal, evidence becomes available that the acquitted person has admitted committing the offence.
– To permit the prosecution of a person on a more serious charge where the victim has died after the original trial.
– Any changes to the double jeopardy law will be retrospective and apply to old cases.