Scotland’s not proven verdict must be scrapped, the Scottish Conservative leader has said.
Douglas Ross said that many people who had “suffered the horror of serious crime” had then gone on to have their “pain compounded” by this verdict – which acquits the accused.
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.
Ross said the controversial not proven verdict “serves no purpose in a modern justice system”.
The Scottish Tories will include a pledge to abolish it in their manifesto for next year’s Holyrood elections.
The move has been backed by the father of murdered teenager Amanda Duffy, who was killed in 1992.
Francis Auld was tried for the murder of the 19-year-old but was acquitted after the jury found the case against him not proven.
Joe Duffy said: “Myself and my family are delighted the Scottish Conservatives are including a proposed change to the three-verdict system in their manifesto and advocating to end the contentious not proven verdict.
“The return of a not proven verdict exacerbates the trauma and loss for victims and their families. It is misunderstood, unnecessary and out of date.
“We sincerely hope there will be cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament for this proposal for the benefit of everyone affected by the criminal justice system.”
Hannah Stakes, whose sexual assault case resulted in a not proven verdict, said she welcomed the Tories’ plan, adding that she “wasted” years of her life pursuing a trial.
She told STV News: “The assault itself was five years ago and I barely remember that, but for the rest of my life I’m going to remember the three years which were a real struggle leading up to the trial.
“All my friends were enjoying their 20s and getting on with other things, I constantly had this huge obstacle ahead of me.
“It doesn’t matter how far I progress in life I’m never going to get over the fact that I wasted three years to stand in a courtroom and see that it had all been essentially for nothing because the legal system is not fit for purpose at the moment.”
A woman known as Miss M, who successfully sued the man cleared of raping her for damages in the civil courts, also welcomed the commitment.
She said: “I began the End Not Proven campaign in collaboration with Rape Crisis Scotland two years ago this week.
“I am pleased to see political parties recognising this issue. I have met with each party and expressed my concerns to the First Minister and hope to see continued support.
“We have the evidence and Scotland’s survivors and their families have spoken out. It’s time to end the use of not proven – a misunderstood acquittal verdict which causes untold damage.”
‘It’s time to end the use of not proven – a misunderstood acquittal verdict which causes untold damage.’Miss M, campaigner
Ross said his party was “fully committed to scrapping not proven”.
Speaking as the Scottish Conservative conference got under way, he added: “Many people who have suffered the horror of serious crime have had their pain compounded by this damaging and confusing verdict.
“Having examined this issue in detail, and having listened to victims, it clearly serves no useful purpose in a modern justice system.
“The time is right for Scotland to give jurors the clear choice between guilty and not guilty.”
‘I have made it very clear that reform of the three-verdict system must be given serious consideration.’Humza Yousaf, Justice Secretary
The Scottish Government said reform of three-verdict system should be given “serious consideration”.
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “The Scottish Government-commissioned independent jury research, published in October 2019, is the largest and most realistic of its kind ever undertaken in the UK and the first mock jury research to consider Scotland’s unique jury system with 15 jurors, three verdicts (including not proven) and a simple majority.
“I have made it very clear that reform of the three-verdict system must be given serious consideration, particularly due to the confusion caused to some jurors by having two acquittal verdicts.
“Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, a broad range of stakeholder events were under way to seek views on all of the findings and any implications for criminal justice reforms.
“This work has now resumed and we will publish a summary of these discussions in due course.
“I note with interest the position of the Scottish Conservatives, I have committed to engaging further with all opposition parties to hear their views on the subject.”