Scottish Government justice reforms “will make it more difficult to get a conviction” in sex crimes, the Lord Advocate has warned.

Dorothy Bain KC told Holyrood’s Justice Committee she had particular concerns over the proposal to switch from a simple majority verdict to a two-thirds verdict.

Currently, a simple majority is required for a guilty verdict in a Scottish court, which means eight out of 15 jurors.

But while the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill seeks to reduce the number of jurors in criminal trials from 15 to 12, the number of jurors needed for a guilty verdict would remain at eight.

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Other measures in the proposed legislation - introduced amid concerns over the low levels of convictions for rapes and other sexual offences - would be the scrapping of Scotland’s unique and often controversial not proven verdict.

“I consider that the changes that are proposed will make it more difficult to get a conviction in the type of cases that we're talking about here today,” she said.

The law officer said the two-thirds majority could ultimately undermine confidence in justice.

Ms Bain added: “I think that my concern, indeed, the Crown Office's concern is that the proposals only legislate for a guilty verdict to acquire the identified two-thirds majority and no similar requirement is imposed in relation to the return of a not guilty verdict.

“In other jurisdictions that operate a qualified majority or requirement for unanimity this applies to returning both guilty and not guilty verdicts and the provisions in Scotland then would be unique in requiring only a majority for guilty verdicts.”

She said there could be a “potentially unsatisfactory situation” where seven members of a jury return a verdict of guilty, while five opt for not guilty.

“But in the absence of a requirement for a majority of not guilty to be returned, a not guilty verdict would result, although the minority of the jury reached this verdict.

“So I suggest that this situation is more than undesirable than the existing difficulties caused by the not proven verdict, and would be unsatisfactory for both the accused and the complainer.”

Ms Bain said the Crown hoped parliament would consider “whether majority should remain for both guilty and not guilty verdicts and whether there should be a provision for retrial.”

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The senior law officer went on to warn it could “erode public confidence in the justice system to go ahead with the two-thirds majority proposal without the sort of safeguards the Crown is asking for”.

She told the committee: “Given our concerns and to ensure consistency with other jurisdictions that require unanimity or a qualified majority, there should be provision for the Crown to seek the authority of the court for a retrial where a majority is not reached.”

Ms Bain insisted it would be “appropriate” for the Crown to seek to re-raise proceedings in such cases, though she stressed this would not be an automatic right, saying “careful consideration” would be given.

She also said giving “far better support” to victims, so they are better prepared when they come to court, could help increase convictions.

The Lord Advocate added: “If you have a better prepared victim, if they are ready for court, if they are prepared for the court process and they have the confidence to deal with it, and the confidence in the system… that to my mind would be one of the biggest and most significant improvements in what we do.

“I think that would really help.”

Lord Matthews, a Senator of the College of Justice, told the MSPs that Scotland’s two acquittal verdicts had “always been seen as the sort of counterbalance to the simple majority.”

“Whether that's right logically, is debatable, but nonetheless, some people will go for not proven as opposed to not guilty and where they don't have the choice of that it becomes a stark choice between two verdicts.”

He added: “Therefore if you have a simple majority in that, let's say one vote swing either way, it may be difficult to say that this case has been proved beyond reasonable doubt, when so many people out of that jury has found that there is a reasonable doubt and are not satisfied.”