By Cara Sulieman
THE SCOTTISH Government is considering a move to allow a violent criminal’s past to be used as evidence in trials against them.
It comes after the jury on Peter Tobin’s trial in England heard about his previous murder convictions.
And now Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has asked the Scottish Law Commission to look into whether this would work north of the border.
Stewart Maxwell, SNP MSP, has written to both Mr MacAskill and the Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini, urging them to allow the change to go ahead.
But he warned that the law – dubbed Tobin’s Law – would have to be used with caution.
Mr Maxwell said: “For a limited number of serious offences like murder, attempted murder, rape or serious assault there must be a case for allowing this kind of evidence.
“Safeguards such as a pre-trial hearing with a judge to determine if the evidence is relevant are essential.
“In recent cases like Peter Tobin or Angus Sinclair, these killers have a clear modus operandi that could be valuable to a jury.”
When Tobin was tried for the murder of Dinah McNicol in Chelmsford Crown Court last month, the jury were told he was already serving life for Vicky Hamilton’s brutal killing.
It took the jury just 13 minutes to find Tobin guilty.
“Consider advice carefully”
Mr MacAskill has confirmed that he is looking into the possibility of a change in the law, and has asked for advice on the matter.
He said: “I have asked the Scottish Law Commission to look into this and report back on whether previous convictions or evidence of bad character should be admissible.
“We will consider that detailed advice carefully before coming to a decision on whether a change should be considered.”
But it has raised concerns with some lawyers, who believe that the law should stay the way it is.
Donald Findlay QC said the change would be a “devastating blow”.
He added: “It would mean someone being tried for who they are presented as being, rather than simply on what the evidence against them is.”
The news comes on the back of proposals to end the ‘double jeopardy’ rule which stops someone from being tried twice for the same crime.
Both these changes, if made, would apply to serial rapist and murderer Angus Sinclair who was tried for the World’s End murders in 2007 – but the case collapsed.