Scotland’s not proven verdict is to be scrapped, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.
The First Minister announced the move as she set out her Programme for Government on Tuesday.
Sturgeon explained that a measure to abolish the controversial verdict will be included in a new Criminal Justice Bill.
Currently, a three-verdict system is in place in Scotland, with the ‘not proven’ verdict available in all criminal cases.
It essentially serves the same effect as a not guilty verdict in that the accused is acquitted and generally cannot be tried again.
Campaigners have called for the verdict to be abolished, having argued that it is used disproportionately in rape cases.
A consultation on the future of not proven was launched in December last year, with a majority of the respondents found in favour of dropping it.
At the Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon explained that the move to abolish the verdict would be of “truly historic significance” in Scotland.
“We will introduce a Criminal Justice Bill. Amongst other measures, this Bill will provide for the abolition of the not proven verdict,” she told MSPs.
“If approved by Parliament, this will be a change of truly historic significance in Scotland and one firmly intended to improve access to justice for victims of crime.
“This Bill will also deliver statutory protection for the anonymity of complainers in sexual offence cases.
“In the coming year, we will also consult on specific draft laws to give effect to the recommendations in Helena Kennedy’s report on tackling misogynistic behaviours.
“We intend to introduce a Misogyny and Criminal Justice Bill later in this Parliament.”
As part of the Government’s plans, legislation will also be brought in focused on the handling of complaints made against the police and misconduct.
She added: “We will also introduce a Police Complaints and Misconduct Handling Bill to improve the way in which complaints about the police are managed and investigated and a Legal Services Regulation Reform Bill to improve the accountability and transparency of the legal complaints system.”
The move to abolish the not proven verdict was welcomed by Rape Crisis Scotland.
“Good news! The Scottish Government have listened to calls for reform and committed to introducing anonymity for victims of sexual crimes and removing the Not Proven verdict,” they tweeted.
“We want to pay tribute to survivors and particularly to @missmjustice, who has worked tirelessly over the last 4 years on our joint campaign to End Not Proven.
“The impact of survivors’ voices in making the case for the removal of Not Proven cannot be overestimated.
“Moving to a 2-verdict system will mean a clearer, fairer process for jurors and for survivors, eliminating the lack of certainty and ambiguity of Not Proven and providing a greater sense of closure.
“Guaranteed anonymity for complainers in sexual offence cases is a huge step forward in widening access to justice and ensuring greater protection for survivors.
“We’re proud to have campaigned alongside survivors on these issues to ensure a safer, fairer and more accessible experience of the criminal justice system for those report sexual crimes.”
Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Jamie Greene insisted that the onus is now on the First Minister to not break the pledge to abolish the verdict.
“The Scottish Conservatives have been demanding the abolition of the outdated not proven verdict for a considerable time – and it forms a central pillar of our Victims Law proposals,” he said.
“So I welcome the First Minister’s overdue conversion to our cause. Now the onus is on her to waste no further time and not break this pledge, like she did with her police funding promise last year.
“Women’s rights groups have long been opposed to not proven too, because it is disproportionately used as a verdict in rape cases.
“Getting rid of not proven is just one step the SNP Government must take to rebalance our justice system in favour of victims of crime rather than criminals.”