Scotland’s not proven verdict ‘long past its sell-by date’

Campaigners have called for the verdict to be scrapped.

Scotland’s not proven verdict ‘long past its sell-by date’ iStock

Scotland’s not proven verdict is “long past its sell-by date” and serves no legitimate purpose, ministers have heard.

In a debate at Holyrood on Wednesday, the Scottish Conservatives called for the verdict to be scrapped.

The party had called for the three-verdict system to be dropped in its Scottish Parliament election manifesto in May.

Earlier this week, a consultation was launched by the Scottish Government on the future of the verdict.

In April, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also said that it is time to look at the verdict.

Campaigners say that it is disproportionately used in rape cases and can be just as distressing for the complainer as a not guilty verdict.

Speaking during the debate, Scottish Conservative MSP Russell Findlay said that the arguments against the verdict had “barely changed” in almost 200 years.

“In 1846, the British Parliament voted to repeal the Corn Laws, the Liberty Bell cracked while being rung for George Washington’s birthday, and the planet of Neptune was discovered,” he told MSPs.

“It was also the year in which the debate about Scotland’s not proven verdict began in earnest.

“Lord Cockburn, a former Solicitor General, wrote that not proven was ‘incompatible with the presumption of innocence and also stigmatised an accused’.

“He added, and I quote, that ‘it tempts jurymen not to look steadily at the evidence, and to give it its correct result, but to speculate about the possibility of soothing their consciousness or their feelings by neither convicting nor acquitting, but steering between the two’.

“While his lordship’s language may sound dated, the essential arguments against not proven have barely changed in the hundred and seventy five years since.”

Findlay added: “I’m firmly of the view that not proven… is long past its sell-by date. It not only serves no legitimate purpose, but actually corrodes public faith in justice.

“It is commendable that my party and my colleague Jamie Greene are leading this debate and seeking to abolish not proven as part of a broader range of measures in our proposed Victims Law.

“Entrusting jurors with the clearly understood two-verdict choice between guilty and not guilty would bring Scotland into line with virtually every other comparable criminal justice system around the world.”

Justice secretary Keith Brown indicated that the consultation will seek the views of a broad range of stakeholders.

He said: “The opinions of legal professionals and those most directly impacted by this verdict should be listened to.

“And of course, the right place to do that listening is in a full consultation exercise, which is exactly what we are doing.

“And of course, it’s not just the views of the legal sector we should be listening to.

“We will continue to take the open and consultative approach that we have used to date seeking to capture the views of a broad range of stakeholders.”

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