ANGELA Constance has defended plans for a pilot scheme - where a single judge without a jury presides over rape and attempted rape trials - after criticism from the legal profession.

The new justice secretary said the proposal was included in a review by Lady Dorrian which highlighted lower conviction rates for serious sexual offences than other crimes and said the pilot would "be time-limited".

She said evidence suggested jurors were influenced by "rape myths" such as why the victim did not escape the attacker or report the offence earlier.

READ MORE: Angela Constance: We must take bold action to reform justice system

Ms Constance also argued judges would be required "to produce written reasons for their verdicts" and by doing so would improve transparency and assist victims as well as the accused.

Her comments, made in an article for The Herald's today, come after the Scottish Government last week unveiled a set of major reforms in the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform Bill.

Among the proposals, a specialist sexual offences court would be established, the not proven verdict would be scrapped and the number of jurors would be reduced from 15 to 12.

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"This Bill...proposes action to investigate in a practical way the large disparity in conviction rates in rape compared with other crimes. In 2020-21, 51 per cent of individuals prosecuted for rape and attempted rape were convicted, compared to a conviction rate of 91 per cent for other offences.

"To do that, piloting single judge rape trials was recommended by a cross-sector Review Group led by Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, and we have worked closely with stakeholders including the legal sector on the proposals.

"There is overwhelming evidence that jurors are subject to preconceptions about rape. This includes myths such as victims would seek to escape or resist a rapist, that they would immediately report an offence once it happened and that previous sexual contact between a complainer and an accused means they must have consented."

She added: "The research shows that these preconceptions, which do not apply to other crimes, can be carried into the jury’s deliberations, and can impact the verdicts they reach in these cases.

"A time limited pilot for these cases will gather objective evidence to inform debate. This idea is not a wholly new departure  - more than 80 per cent of all criminal trials in Scotland are already decided by a single judge without a jury.

"Using judges to make decisions in the proposed pilot means we can also require them to produce written reasons for their verdicts, improving transparency and assisting victims as well as the accused."

Lawyers across Scotland have threatening to boycott the pilot.

Murray Etherington, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "The right to a fair trial is a cornerstone of the Scottish criminal Justice system. Even on a pilot basis, judge only trials will put that fundamental right in jeopardy with no discernible benefits."