Tobin case changing laws


Rights of accused under review in wake of Tobin case

ROBBIE DINWOODIE, CHIEF SCOTTISH POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT

21 Dec 2010
The ancient right of Scots to be judged purely on the evidence before them in court rather than their past could be about to go the way of other defences such as double jeopardy.

Parliament is considering an end to double jeopardy, the rule that someone acquitted of an offence cannot then be charged again of the same offence.

Now there is to be a fresh look at two other rights of the accused in the wake of the case of serial killer Peter Tobin.

Currently a Scottish jury must not know whether someone on trial has previous convictions but at the trial in England of serial killer Tobin the jury was told about his previous conviction in Scotland for the murder of Vicky Hamilton.

There are also strict rules in Scots Law requiring two witnesses to corroborate prosecution evidence, but this can be relaxed under the so-called Moorov doctrine allowing cross-corroboration of evidence in different cases to show a pattern of behaviour, and that too could now be formalised in law or extended.

The Scottish Law Commission is publishing a discussion paper asking whether the blanket ban on revealing past convictions should stay, and whether the rules on corroboration should be formally reformed.

Patrick Layden QC, the lead commissioner on the project, said: “The rules of criminal evidence should help ensure that innocent people are not convicted but they should not stand in the way of convicting the guilty. All relevant evidence should be admissible, unless there is some good reason for excluding it. Sometimes evidence of previous convictions would be highly relevant, but the prosecution is not allowed to refer to it.

“We ask whether this blanket rule remains appropriate, or whether it should be possible, in some cases, to refer to the accused’s record in proving the present charge.”

SNP MSP and Justice Committee member Stewart Maxwell asked the Lord Advocate to review the situation following last year’s Tobin case. Tobin’s conviction for the murder of Vicky Hamilton was introduced as evidence, helping to explain the crime scene and establishing a pattern of behaviour which led to Tobin’s conviction for the murder of Dinah McNicol. In Scotland a jury would not have known that Mr Tobin had prior convictions for murder.

The SNP has already introduced legislation which would reform the law of double jeopardy allowing someone to be retried for a serious crime they had been cleared of if new evidence emerged.

Mr Maxwell said: “The trial and conviction of Peter Tobin in England last year for the murder of Dinah McNicol exposes the problems of the law in Scotland.

“In recent cases like Peter Tobin or Angus Sinclair, these killers have a clear modus operandi that could be valuable to a jury. In Scotland, Peter Tobin’s previous convictions would not have been known to the jury – despite them directly relating to the case.”

Original article

I am all for them changing the laws. Criminals change and grow. Criminals learn the laws and use them to their advantage. Laws should protect society and should not be kept if they are being used and abused by predators.

Peter Tobin






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