Scotland’s controversial not proven verdict is set to be abolished and a specialist sexual offences court established under sweeping Government plans to overhaul the justice system.

SNP ministers have tabled legislation at Holyrood they claim will “put victims and witnesses at the heart of the justice system” with the plans also leading to the creation of an independent victims and witnesses commissioner for Scotland to champion the rights of victims and witnesses.

But concerns have been raised over a proposed pilot of juryless trials and changes made to the majority required for juries to reach a decision.

Under the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill, if approved by MSPs, justice agencies will be required to make efforts to reduce re-traumatisation of victims and witnesses, while the Scottish Government said the legislation will address long-standing challenges in the justice system’s approach to serious sexual offences.

Read more: Opinion: High time to abolish the not proven verdict

The legislation will abolish the not proven verdict in all criminal trials, which the Scottish Government claims will lead to a clearer, fairier and more transparent system.

The plans will reduce the number of jurors from 15 to 12 and increase the jury majority required for conviction to at least two-thirds.

But Rape Crisis Scotland has warned the proposed changes to jury marjorities could "reduce the number of rape convictions".

If passed by the Scottish Parliament, the Bill would also establish an independent victims and witnesses commissioner for Scotland.

The Bill also includes significant new measures to meet the needs of survivors of sexual offences, building on the recommendations of Lady Dorrian’s Review Group on improving the management of sexual offence cases.

The plans would enable an automatic lifelong right of anonymity for victims of sexual offences while a specialist sexual offences court will be set up with national jurisdiction to enable complainers to give their best evidence while minimising the potential for re-traumatisation.

Read more: Bid to set up sex crime courts to cut backlog and raise convictions

The Scottish Government plans would also provide an automatic right to state-funded independent legal representation for complainers when applications are made to lead evidence of their sexual history or ‘bad character’ in sexual offence cases.

If approved, a pilot of single judge trials for cases of rape and attempted rape will take place to gather evidence on their effectiveness.

SNP Justice and Home Affairs Secretary, Angela Constance, said: “This Bill will put victims and witnesses at the heart of the justice system.

“It is testament to the efforts of many campaigners who have worked to ensure that the processes of justice better serve victims, witnesses and vulnerable parties.

“This landmark legislation is among the most significant since devolution and will ensure fairness is cemented into the bedrock of Scotland’s modern-day justice system. Building on the experiences of survivors, victims, and their families, these key reforms will make justice services more sensitive to the trauma it can cause.”

Read more: Scotland's controversial 'not proven' verdict 'must be scrapped' as ministers' uncover support

She added: “This government has been clear we must take action to improve the experience of those who suffer sexual abuse.

“The majority are women, who must be supported to have trust and confidence that the processes of justice will serve their needs, allow them to give their best evidence and support them in their recovery.

“By creating an independent Commissioner for Scotland to champion the rights of victims and witnesses we can ensure that they are treated with compassion and their voices are heard.”

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Earlier, the chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland welcomed plans to scrap the not proven verdict, saying she has “no doubt that guilty men are walking free”.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme, Sandy Brindley said the changes were a “really positive development”.

But Rape Crisis Scotland has warned "this is not a perfect Bill", adding that it has "concerns about its proposed changes from jury majority from eight out of 15 to eight out of 12".

It added that "juries are reluctant to convict in rape cases", warning that "any change in jury majority could have a significant impact on convictions".

A statement added: "We are concerned that unless significant and sustained efforts are made to address the impact of rape myths on jury decision making the overall impact of this bill might actually be to reduce the number of rape convictions."

However, advocate Thomas Ross KC took the opposite view, saying jurors should be trusted to carry out the job they have been given.

He told the programme: “I work with prosecutors every day, I don’t hear them saying that they’re concerned about the conviction rate.

“I hear it every time Sandy’s invited to come on one of these programmes.”

Previously, the Law Society has warned there could be an increase in miscarriages of justice if not proven is scrapped as a verdict.

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary, Jamie Greene, said: “There are long overdue measures in this Bill we can support, including the abolition of the not proven verdict, which the Scottish Conservatives have long called for, and anonymity for sexual offence victims.

“However, we share reservations about a move to juryless trials, given that it is a basic tenet of Scots law that those prosecuted for the most serious offences are tried before their peers. 

“It is also disappointing that Humza Yousaf has broken his promise, made as justice secretary, to implement Michelle’s Law which would increase the use of bans on criminals entering the local area of their victim. These measures still fail to give victims a voice during the parole hearing process, all of which feature in my own victims law, which was widely welcomed by victims organisations. 

“This really is a missed opportunity, a Victims Bill in name only. The Scottish Conservatives will fight tooth and nail to strengthen it and make it a law that truly puts victims at the heart of our justice system. If the government fails to deliver, I will not hesitate to legislate change through my members bill.” 

David McKie, partner at Levy and McRae solicitors, said: “The not proven verdict has been a vital cornerstone of the Scottish justice system for centuries.

“It is grounded on a fundamental pillar of the trial process, that the Crown proves its case beyond reasonable doubt.

“I see no reason to abolish the verdict and am concerned at what appears a further erosion of the rights of an accused person in this country.”