Yesterday (23rd January 2013) Lady Paton delivered the opinion of the court, which included Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and Lady Cosgrove, in an appeal against conviction by Mr Salvatore Sivero.
The case is a fine example of the importance of what, to the lawyer asking the question, might be an innocuous enquiry, but which can fundamentally change the outcome of a case.
The case concerns the long-standing rule that an accused person’s previous convictions should not be before the judge or jury deciding on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Despite frequent calls by newspapers for the law to be changed to allow previous convictions to be disclosed, and despite erosion of the safeguard over recent years the principle remains intact.
Why not disclose previous convictions? After all, if Joe Bloggs stands in the dock accused of stealing a car, and he already has 25 convictions for doing so, then surely a jury should know this, as he is more likely to have been guilty of a car theft than John Smith, who has no convictions for anything?
That, as far as it goes, is true. However, it does not amount to evidence that Mr Bloggs stole a car at 7.20 am on 24th January 2013 from a car park in Dingwall, for example. Indeed the knowledge that Mr Bloggs was a car thief would almost certainly lead the jury to convict him of the offence in Dingwall, even where the actual evidence might only be circumstantial or indeed worse. Continue reading