NICOLA Sturgeon has defended the Scottish Government’s plans for juryless rape trials but has said she could table amendments to the legislation she signed off as first minister, now being pushed through parliament by her successor. 

In one of her first public interventions since both her resignation and the arrest of her husband, Peter Murrell, the ex-leader admits that the period since leaving office “hasn’t unfolded exactly as I anticipated.”

Mr Murrell, the former chief executive of SNP party was questioned for over 11 hours by detectives as part of their probe into the party’s finances and funding. He was eventually released without charge, pending further investigation. 

READ MORE: Wider support for independence saving SNP from 'cataclysmic' collapse

Writing in the Guardian, Ms Sturgeon also says she had underestimated how bitter and divided Scotland’s politics has become. 

“Back in February, one of the reasons I gave for my decision to stand down as first minister was a concern about the part I might be playing, however unwittingly, in the polarisation of our politics.

“Polarised, often highly toxic, public discourse is not a uniquely Scottish phenomenon. And by no stretch of the imagination was I the sole or even primary cause of it in Scotland.

"But I had come to feel that the duration of my time in the trenches of frontline politics was making it harder for me to broker the common ground necessary to advance difficult or controversial policy changes.”

She says that two months on, “I think that, if anything, I underestimated the depth of the problem.”

Ms Strugeon adds that it is “depressingly striking in today’s politics just how quickly people adopt fixed and immoveable positions” and that the proposed pilot of judge-only rape trials is a case in point.

Last week, bar associations in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Airdrie, Falkirk and Paisley all said their members will boycott the pilot announced at the end of last month as part of the new Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Given that the test trial can only go ahead with the consent of the accused, it could mean ministers struggle to carry out any evaluation.

READ MORE: Juryless rape trial pilot plan in chaos as more lawyers join boycott

Ms Sturgeon, who was first minister when the Scottish Cabinet signed off on the legislation, says that while she supports it she also recognises “that the arguments for and against are finely balanced.”

The ex-SNP leader claims that the time-limited pilot “could help address the deficit of justice in rape cases without compromising the right to a fair trial of those accused.” 

That has been disputed by a number of lawyers, who say the very fact that it is a pilot could cause problems. 

In her article, Ms Sturgeon argues that the prevalence of rape myths and Scotland’s paltry rape conviction rate - just 51 per cent compared to 91% for offences overall  - means there is a “strong case for change.”

“But the counter-arguments are far from frivolous,” she acknowledges. 

“It has long been accepted that for the most serious crimes, the sacrosanct right to a fair trial means trial before a jury of peers.

“Judges may be just as vulnerable to ‘rape myths’ as juries – and as there is only one of them rather than a whole panel of jurors with mixed views, the impact may be greater.

“Even if this proposal did help solve the problem, would it be at the expense of the fundamental rights of those accused of crime? And is a pilot that involves scrutiny of conviction rates consistent with the independence of the judiciary?”

“All these points, for and against, must be considered and addressed,” Ms Sturgeon adds. “We should proceed on the strength of evidence and reasoned argument and, where necessary, make amendments to the bill as it stands.

“It is surely at the end of that process – not before it has even started – that a judgment should be made on whether or not it is possible to design a pilot that might help tackle the denial of justice for many rape victims, without compromising the rights of those accused of such crimes.

“I hope we may yet proceed on that basis. It will require the government, as well as critics of the bill, to be prepared to keep an open mind. 

“To that end, I was heartened to hear the Justice Secretary talk of the need for ‘sober and serious debate and scrutiny’. She has said her door is open and should be taken at her word.

“As the backbencher that I now am – albeit one who supports the bill – I am open to discussion on all aspects of it (it proposes much more than judge-only trials), and to supporting or tabling amendments that help allay concerns.”

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: Peter Murrell arrest was ‘gut-wrenching’

The proposals in the new legislation came about following the report of a review group, led by Lady Dorrian, one of the country’s most senior judges. 

They called for a “fully evaluated pilot scheme to support an evidence-based approach.”

Earlier this month, retired judge, Lord Uist described the proposals as “constitutionally repugnant” and “a serious attack upon the independence of the judiciary.”

He also questioned whether the pilot was within Holyrood's legislative competence, as he said it would likely breach the right to a fair trial as set out under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). 

He said that because evidence was being gathered during the pilot to judge its effectiveness, politicians were “treating the courts as forensic laboratories in which to experiment with their policies.”

“Never before has the work of a court been subjected to review by the executive in this manner,” he added.

Scottish Conservative Chairman Craig Hoy accused Ms Sturgeon of "shamelessly trying to rewrite history."

“During her entire tenure as first minister she constantly pushed for another divisive independence referendum, against the majority of Scots who had no wish to be pitted against each other all over again.

“Over her eight years in charge, she never made any attempt to govern in the interests of the whole country.

“Her remarks about underestimating the scale of the problem of polarisation demonstrate an incredible lack of self-awareness. Nicola Sturgeon was the person who only last year said she 'detested' her opponents .

“The former first minister has also displayed that typical SNP attitude of blaming someone or something else when they disagree with an opposing attitude. In this case, polarisation is used as the excuse for not listening to senior lawyers' deep concerns about juryless trials.

“Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy is one of polarised politics and Humza Yousaf is continuing in the same vein by focusing on breaking up the United Kingdom rather than the real priorities of Scotland.”