Three verdict system flawed, research reveals
Campaigners have welcomed moves to review Scotland’s three verdict system in a bid to banish not proven as an option for courts.
Scotland’s justice secretary, Humza Yousaf, is considering a consultation on whether the three verdict system hinders justice.
It follows comprehensive research involving 64 mock juries and 1,000 participants which showed that jurors were less likely to favour a guilty verdict when the not proven verdict was available.
The Scottish legal system has is unique in having the three-verdict system and the requirement for corroboration which are thought to impact disproportionately on rape and sexual assault cases, leading to markedly lower prosecution and conviction rates.
As such women’s groups have backed the bid to banish not proven which they say would make the justice system more equitable.
Sandy Brindley, the chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, said: “This research shows a significant level of misunderstanding about the not proven verdict. It’s time for it to go, before more guilty men walk free.”
Campaigners want the Scottish government to take a more detailed investigation into how the victims of sexual violence are treated by the justice system and the requirement of corroboration where two separate sources of evidence are needed before a case can proceed to trial.
Brindley added: “The biggest impact of corroboration is preventing cases getting to court in the first place. At the very least we want to get rid of not proven, but given what we know about low conviction rates and how traumatising the court experience is for victims, it’s time for a more transformative change.”
Yousaf said some of the report's findings on the verdict gave him cause for “concern” and may lead to juries only being given two options in the future.
“Nothing is off the table – every option is up for consideration. Central to those discussions will undoubtedly be whether we should move from a three verdict system to a two verdict system," he said.
“The argument that 'This is how things have been done for decades and centuries so they must be done thus forever more' is not an argument that I think holds weight."
The justice secretary added that if the verdicts are cut from three to two, juries may in future be asked to choose between “proven” and “not proven” rather than “guilty” and “not guilty.”