Nicola Sturgeon has said it is time to look at whether Scotland retains its controversial not proven verdict, as part of efforts to tackle the “shamefully low” conviction rates for rape and sexual assault.
The SNP leader, who trained as a lawyer, revealed she personally had changed her mind on the issue.
It comes in the wake of calls to scrap the verdict – one of three available in trials in Scotland – by Rape Crisis Scotland.
The organisation launched a campaign in 2018 along with the woman known as Miss M, who successfully sued the man cleared of raping her for damages in the civil courts.
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.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has also said his party “fully committed” to abolishing the verdict
Sturgeon said: “I do think it is time to look at the not proven verdict.”
Recalling when she studied law at Glasgow University, she said it had been “imprinted on my brain” that the “three totemic things” that make Scots law distinctive were the not proven verdict, the need for corroboration in trials with evidence coming from more than one source, and that there are 15 people needed to make up a jury.
In the past she said “maybe I have had a bit of a lawyers’ view” of the not proven verdict.
But she added: “The conviction rate for rape and sexual assault is shamefully low. And I think there is mounting evidence and increasingly strong arguments that the not proven verdict is a part of that.
“So I think it is something that it is time to look at.”
A Scottish Labour members bill seeking to remove the verdict was put forward in 2016 but voted down by 80 to 28.
Ross said: “Under pressure from the Scottish Conservatives, the SNP finally seem to be willing to listen on the not proven verdict.
“After 14 years in power, we don’t need some more warm words from Nicola Sturgeon. We need the SNP to fully u-turn and commit to abolishing this verdict.
“This is one of a raft of important measures in our Victims Law which will overhaul Scotland’s justice system and, as the name states, put the rights’ of victims at the centre of it.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said: “Having an ambiguous third option as a possible verdict in criminal trials is confusing for juries and unfair on both complainers and the accused.
“Importantly, this verdict is disproportionately used in rape trials where often the victim faces a torrid time in court. That needs to end.”