Abolition of 'not proven' verdict among proposals in legal consultation

Justice: The consultation will be on doing away with the 'not proven' verdict.

A consultation on abolishing the "not proven" verdict in Scots law has been launched by the Scottish Government.

The move comes after the review of the legal system by Lord Carloway, who also recommended that the requirement for corroboration be abolished in criminal proceedings.

A previous consultation on the proposals saw the majority of legal professionals opposed to removing the requirement for corroboration.

In an announcement on Wednesday, the government said the consultation would also be looking at increasing the majority of jurors needed to secure a conviction from eight of 15 to nine or ten.

The consultation will also look at increasing the trial judge’s ability to rule that there is no case to answer.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "When we consulted on Lord Carloway's findings, we made clear that we were open to considering whether any additional changes to the justice system would be required in the light of his recommendation that the requirement for corroboration should be abolished.

"It is clear from the consultation responses we have received that the great majority of respondents think that it is necessary to consider additional safeguards, and they have highlighted, in particular, the question of jury majorities and the 'not proven' verdict.

"That is why I have decided that a further consultation on these additional safeguards to the legal system is needed, to ensure that Scotland can continue to have a legal system that is rightly regarded as one of the best in the world. I agree with Lord Carloway's recommendation that the requirement for corroboration should be abolished. The rule stems from another age, its usage has become confused and that it can bar prosecutions that would in any other legal system seem entirely appropriate."

He added: "I am confident that in a system without a requirement for corroboration we would continue to see police and prosecutors striving to find the best evidence that can practically be made available to the court. I trust Scottish judges and juries would continue to apply good judgement and would only convict on the basis of clear evidence."

Bill McVicar, convener of the Law Society's criminal law committee, said it was vital for new safeguards to be built into the system to limit the risk of miscarriages of justice.

He said: "We are pleased to see that the majority verdict weighting is being considered but believe that there needs to be further research into juries and how they reach verdicts, as currently we have no real insight as to how they do so.

"We still believe, however, that if the requirement for corroboration is to be abolished, it should only be after there has been a wider review into the Scottish criminal justice system in order to ensure compliance with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

"No evidence to demonstrate that the abolition of corroboration will not result in miscarriages of justice has been produced.

"In the absence of such evidence, the society believes that the abolition of the requirement for corroboration without other safeguards will simply result in a contest between two competing statements on oath and therefore have the potential to result in miscarriages of justice."

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