Time to ‘look at’ not proven verdict in courts, Sturgeon says

Scotland's not proven verdict could be scrapped in the next parliament with Conservatives and Greens pledging to get rid of it.

Nicola Sturgeon said it is time to ‘look at’ whether Scotland should retain the not proven verdict. Jane Barlow/PA via PA Wire
Nicola Sturgeon said it is time to ‘look at’ whether Scotland should retain the not proven verdict.

Nicola Sturgeon has said it is time to look at whether Scotland retains its controversial not proven verdict, as part of efforts to tackle the “shamefully low” conviction rates for rape and sexual assault.

The SNP leader, who trained as a lawyer, revealed she personally had changed her mind on the issue.

It comes in the wake of calls to scrap the verdict – one of three available in trials in Scotland – by Rape Crisis Scotland.

The organisation launched a campaign in 2018 along with the woman known as Miss M,  who successfully sued the man cleared of raping her for damages in the civil courts.

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Scotland is the only part of the UK where juries can return three verdicts at the end of a trial – guilty, not guilty or not proven.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has also said his party “fully committed” to abolishing the verdict

Sturgeon said: “I do think it is time to look at the not proven verdict.”

Recalling when she studied law at Glasgow University, she said it had been “imprinted on my brain” that the “three totemic things” that make Scots law distinctive were the not proven verdict, the need for corroboration in trials with evidence coming from more than one source, and that there are 15 people needed to make up a jury.

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In the past she said “maybe I have had a bit of a lawyers’ view” of the not proven verdict.

But she added: “The conviction rate for rape and sexual assault is shamefully low. And I think there is mounting evidence and increasingly strong arguments that the not proven verdict is a part of that.

“So I think it is something that it is time to look at.”

A Scottish Labour members bill seeking to remove the verdict was put forward in 2016 but voted down by 80 to 28.

Ross said: “Under pressure from the Scottish Conservatives, the SNP finally seem to be willing to listen on the not proven verdict.

“After 14 years in power, we don’t need some more warm words from Nicola Sturgeon. We need the SNP to fully u-turn and commit to abolishing this verdict.

“This is one of a raft of important measures in our Victims Law which will overhaul Scotland’s justice system and, as the name states, put the rights’ of victims at the centre of it.”

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Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said: “Having an ambiguous third option as a possible verdict in criminal trials is confusing for juries and unfair on both complainers and the accused.

“Importantly, this verdict is disproportionately used in rape trials where often the victim faces a torrid time in court. That needs to end.”

Holyrood to pay tribute to Prince Philip as parliament recalled

All parties have temporarily suspended their campaigning for next month's election following the Duke of Edinburgh's death.

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Flags outside Holyrood have been flying at half-mast as a mark of respect.

The Scottish Parliament will sit today after being recalled for only the sixth time in its history to show respect to the Duke of Edinburgh.

Holyrood’s presiding officer, Ken Macintosh, announced on Friday that MSPs would be able to return to parliament to pay tribute to Philip with a motion of condolence from 11am on Monday.

All of the parties at Holyrood have also temporarily suspended their campaigning for the Holyrood election.

On Friday, Macintosh said: “I have this afternoon decided that the Parliament should be recalled to show our respect to the Duke of Edinburgh following today’s sad announcement.

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“His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, lived a life dedicated to duty and public service and his support for this institution was clear.

“This is why I have taken the decision to recall in order that we may take the time to pause, remember and pay tribute to his work.”

The meeting will start with a minute’s silence before considering a Motion of Condolence with a statement from party leaders.

The Parliament has previously been recalled on January 4 to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic and for the death of first minister Donald Dewar, the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, for a ministerial statement on the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, and on December 30 last year for a Brexit debate.

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Scotland’s political parties had earlier suspended campaigning for the May election after Philip’s death.

A notice announcing the death was briefly posted on the gates of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, on Friday afternoon.

Flags were lowered to half mast there, as well as at the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government and local authority buildings.

Sturgeon: Westminster will not stand in the way of Indyref2

SNP leader does not believe Boris Johnson will prevent a second referendum if her party wins a majority at Holyrood.

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SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon believes UK Government discussions on independence have moved on.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon does not believe Boris Johnson will prevent a second Scottish independence referendum if the SNP wins a majority at next month’s Holyrood election.

The Prime Minister has so far rejected calls to give the go-ahead for a referendum, but Sturgeon said she believes UK Government discussions have moved on.

She told the Guardian: “If people in Scotland vote for a party saying, ‘when the time is right, there should be an independence referendum’, you cannot stand in the way of that, and I don’t think that is what will happen.”

Sturgeon said she believes discussions within the UK government had “moved away from ‘we can stop a referendum’ to ‘when would it happen, and on what basis would it happen?’”

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She said: “People will always challenge that because of what the supposed position of the UK government is,” adding that she is “pretty confident” the SNP’s plan B of a referendum Bill at Scottish Parliament will not be needed.

In an 11-point plan earlier this year, her party said it would announce a referendum through legislation at Holyrood if there is an SNP majority but the UK Government refused to grant a Section 30 order, effectively daring Westminster to challenge it in the courts.

Sturgeon said her “strong preference and intention” is to hold another referendum in the first half of the parliament, up to 2023, but she will be “guided by the realities of Covid”.

She also addressed comments from her predecessor as first minister, Alex Salmond, in his role as leader of the Alba Party, that peaceful protests and legal action could also be used in pursuit of independence, saying they could put off potential independence supporters.

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Sturgeon told the newspaper: “If you’re somebody that voted no in 2014 and … because of Brexit or other things, are now open-minded to independence – and I know an awful lot of these people – and you hear somebody say they think they can bulldoze their way to independence in spite of public opinion, I would think, ‘maybe I don’t want to engage in this any more’.”

Coronavirus: Some high school pupils return to class full-time

Pupils in Aberdeen, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, Moray, Shetland and the Western Isles are back to in-person learning.

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Secondary school pupils in some council areas are back to full-time in-person learning.

High school pupils in some local authority areas are returning to the classroom full-time on Monday.

Pupils in Aberdeen, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, Moray, Shetland and the Western Isles are back to in-person learning.

They will no longer have to adhere to strick two metre social distancing rules but other mitigations have been strengthened.

Face masks must be worn in all areas – classrooms, corridors and communal areas. This applies to S1-S3 pupils – not just those in the senior phase of their school education (S4-S6) – unless medically exempt.

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Furthermore, twice-weekly lateral flow tests are available for all secondary school pupils.

The majoirty of schools in Scotland are still on their Easter break and most pupils will return full time from next Monday. April 19.

Pupils in Edinburgh and Midlothian council areas will return the following day, on April 20.

Only those who are shielding will have to wait longer until they can resume face-to-face lessons.

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Scotland’s primary pupils returned to class full-time in stages during February and March, while most high-school students were seeing teachers in-person on a part-time basis.

This year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled, with results being awarded instead through coursework and assessment.

MacIntyre: I’m not missing Masters next year ‘for anything’

The 24-year-old from Oban secured a place in next year's tournament after finishing in the top 12 at Augusta.

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Robert MacIntyre will be back at the Masters next year after impressive debut performance.

Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre was thrilled to secure a place in next year’s Masters after making a hugely impressive debut at Augusta National.

With the top 12 and ties guaranteed an invite for 2022, MacIntyre was in danger of missing out until he birdied the 18th in a closing 72 to finish in a six-way tie for 12th.

“This is a place you want to be competing every year,” the left-hander from Oban said. “My first time this year and I obviously put up a decent fight, but once you come here, you don’t want to miss another one.

“I’m not missing next year for anything. I’ve played some great golf over the last week and I feel like my game suits this golf course.

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“The way I play golf suits the way this golf course wants you to play golf. I’m just over the moon to finish the way I finished.

“If someone had given me tied for 12th for a start, I’d have taken it, but then once I started getting into the battle, I could see how people were making scores.

“Obviously got off to a poor start today, but I battled back the way I normally do. Disappointing bogeys on 16 and 17, but huge birdieing the last.

“This moment right now is everything I’ve ever dreamed of, and it’s what I play golf for.

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“I’ve got to take the positives. I’ve played great for my first year and tried to manage my way around a golf course that I’ve never seen – I’ve only played it on computer games with my pals.”

Warrant issued for man who racially abused Humza Yousaf

Stuart Smith, 63, has repeatedly failed to return to Glasgow Sheriff Court for sentencing.

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Targeted: Humza Yousaf was racially abused online.

A man convicted of racially abusing justice secretary Humza Yousaf has been issued with a warrant for his arrest.

Stuart Smith, 63, claimed the SNP MSP supported “Muslim killers” and raised money for their families.

The message was sent on November 14, 2015 – the day after the Paris terror attack and was in response to a screenshot of Mr Yousaf’s “#PrayForParis” tweet.

Smith said Mr Yousaf had a “good Scots name”, adding: “I am sure he is 90% backing Muslim killers. Be having a whip round for terrorist families soon.”

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Smith was found guilty in November following a trial at Glasgow Sheriff Court of behaving in a threatening or abusive manner aggravated by religious prejudice.

But, he failed to attend several sentencing hearings claiming to be suffering from ill health.

Sheriff Sean Murphy QC told his lawyer Iain McCelland on the last occasion that he should attend Monday’s hearing or a warrant would be issued.

Mr McCelland told the court that he had emailed Smith, of Gretna in Dumfries and Galloway, as well as sent him written correspondence.

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Sheriff Murphy said: “He was warned to be here last time, warrant to apprehend.”


Scottish economy grows but bank warns of rising inflation

New figures from the Royal Bank of Scotland shows economic activity lags behind most parts of the UK.

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Scotland’s economy grew last month for the first time since September

Scotland’s economy grew last month for the first time since September although economic activity lags behind most parts of the United Kingdom, new figures suggest.

After six months of declining, the Scottish economy registered a significant increase in its combined manufacturing and service sector output in March, the Royal Bank of Scotland said.

But the bank warned there are signs of inflation, with companies charging more because of increased costs caused by supply shortages, Brexit and coronavirus.

The Royal Bank of Scotland Business Activity Index measure of manufacturing and service sector output rose from 44.1 in February to 54.3 in March.

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According to the regional Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) measure, Scotland’s business activity growth was ninth out of the 12 English regions and countries in the UK, exceeding the East Midlands, the South West and Northern Ireland but below the UK-wide average.

Highlighting signs of inflationary pressures, the report found Scottish companies increased prices at the quickest pace for almost two years – since May 2019.

This follows 10 consecutive monthly increases in average business costs, with company bosses reporting higher prices at suppliers and for raw material, with Brexit and Covid-19 cited as the main drivers of inflation.

The latest increase in “input prices” was the steepest since August 2018, according to the bank, with goods producers recording a much quicker upturn in costs than services firms.

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Cost burdens also rose across the UK as a whole in March, with the rate of inflation lower in Scotland than the UK average.

Further job losses were also recorded in March as staffing levels at Scottish firms dropped, according to the report.

It suggests the latest fall has been due to staff who have left because of the pandemic not being replaced, alongside additional lay-offs and redundancies, although the “rate of job shedding” was the slowest since February last year.

Malcolm Buchanan, the Scotland board chairman at the Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “The end of the first quarter saw a return to growth for the Scottish private sector economy.

“Output rose for the first time in six months, and solidly, while inflows of new work neared stability as looser lockdown measures provided a boost to many firms.

“Supply chain issues, shortages, Brexit and the pandemic were all attributed to greater inflationary pressures, however, highlighting that the recovery may well bring with it higher prices due to ongoing logistical constraints.

“Nonetheless, business confidence hit a fresh record high in March, with companies confident of a robust economic recovery as measures ease.”

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The report found business confidence grew for the fifth consecutive month – the highest since 2012 – with anecdotal evidence linking the optimism to the planned easing of restrictions amid the ongoing vaccine rollout, hopes of improved client demand and a solid economic recovery.

Ex-Scotland and Edinburgh coach dies with Covid aged 54

Tributes have been paid to former Italy captain Massimo Cuttitta after he passed away in Rome on Sunday.

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Massimo Cuttitta has died with Covid-19 at the age of 54.

Tributes have been paid to former Scotland rugby coach Massimo Cuttitta, who has died with Covid-19 at the age of 54.

The ex-Italy captain passed away in Rome after contracting the virus.

Scottish Rugby said it was deeply saddened to hear about the death of Cuttitta, who was a scrum coach for six years at Murrayfield from 2009.

The governing body tweeted: “Our thoughts are with his family and friends in rugby at this time.”

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Cuttitta was recently hospitalised with Covid-19 and died on Sunday.

He had also spent part of his career at Edinburgh, helping the club develop its players.

In a tweet, Edinburgh Rugby described Cuttitta as “one of the nicest, most genuine people you’re likely to meet”.

Cuttitta played 70 times for Italy between 1990 and 2000 and captained the Azzurri on 22 occasions.

Compston teams up with Live Aid founder to support students

The pair will share stories from their careers to date at the live online event.

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Compston: Teaming up with Midge Ure.

Line Of Duty star Martin Compston and musician Midge Ure are teaming up for an event to support students driven into hardship by the coronavirus pandemic.

The pair will share stories from their careers to date at the live online event, including speaking about Compston’s portrayal of Ure in the Backstage at Live Aid episode of Sky Arts comedy drama Urban Myths.

On booking, those attending will have the opportunity to put forward a question for the duo.

The event on April 26 is being organised by the GCU Foundation in support of Glasgow Caledonian University’s Common Good Campaign.

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The campaign is raising financial and in-kind support to help students with no access to income or family support, as well as providing guidance, support and mentorship for final year students and new graduates.

Funds raised will help ease financial hardship through student bursaries and provide internship opportunities to boost employability.

Compston and Ure are both honorary graduates of the university.

Speaking ahead of the event, Compston said: “I am looking forward to being back at Glasgow Caledonian University virtually.

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“Midge is just such a likeable guy it’ll be great to chat to him about how our careers have crossed paths, and even better that by doing so we can help to make a difference to students who are struggling right now.”

Ure added: “It’s been a tough time for students. Many have lost jobs, and for many more thinking about what the future holds can feel overwhelming at this time.

“So I am delighted to join forces with Martin to help raise awareness for the campaign that is providing financial assistance as well as practical support for students and new graduates.”

The university’s principal and vice-chancellor Professor Pamela Gillies said “It’s fantastic that Midge and Martin are supporting GCU’s Common Good Campaign to help our students who’ve been hardest hit by the pandemic.

“They are both superstars who are down to earth, great fun and who have real empathy for our students at this time.”

The event runs from 6pm to 7.15pm and tickets are available now at gcu.ac.uk/martinandmidge with a suggested donation of £20, or what you can, in support of the Common Good Campaign.

Annual ‘toadageddon’ sees volunteers rescue thousands of toads

The toads have needed a bit of a helping hand crossing busy roads in Edinburgh.

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Thousands of toads have been rescued by ‘toad patrols’ over the last few weeks during their annual journey to their breeding ponds.

More than 2500 toads have been rescued by volunteers across Edinburgh and the Lothians during their migration.

The Lothian Amphibian and Reptile Group (LARG), which has been running the patrols for the last 12 years, said this includes between 500 and 700 female toads. This means an extra one million toad eggs in ponds – a considerable achievement in the task to protect the species which has seen numbers plummet over the years due to habitat loss.

In the UK the toad population has declined by 70% in the last 30 years, according to research from Save The Frog.

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Each year the toads wake from winter hibernation and head en masse to ponds which may have been used for generations, but it often involves risking their lives crossing busy roads.

In order to help them out, park rangers at Holyrood in Edinburgh have shut the road between the bottom of Arthur’s Seat to Dunsapie Loch over the last few weeks to keep out cars and discourage cyclists.

Rangers from Historic Environment Scotland also put metal covers over roadside drains to stop the toads from falling in and drowning.

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Rescue: A number of paramedics and nurses have helped out this year.

This year, a number of paramedics and nurses in Edinburgh joined the nightly toad patrols after seeing an increase of toads crossing the busy bus lanes at Edinburgh Royal infirmary.

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Although a recent cold snap has most likely meant an end to the seasonal migration, LARG is still able to help toads if there are any future public sightings.

If you do see any while out in the Lothians, email Lothianarg@outlook.com to pass on the information.


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