The Memo: Scottish justice system faces spring clean with ‘not proven’ verdict set to be scrapped

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Scottish justice system faces spring clean with ‘not proven’ verdict set to be scrapped

Chelsey Stanborough – 2nd May 2023

‘Not proven’ is one of three possible verdicts in a court of law in Scotland (the others being guilty and not guilty). While there is no simple definition, the outcome of a not proven verdict is that the criminal is acquitted and deemed innocent in the eyes of the law. For its proponents, it can be seen as way of providing extra protection to those accused, but critics argue that it can be confusing for juries and the public, stigmatising the accused and removing opportunity for closure for victims. A study in 2019 showed that if the not proven verdict was removed, it may incline jurors to push a more guilty verdict in a balanced case.

Last week, it was announced that the controversial verdict was set be scrapped in Scottish courts as part of broader reforms to its justice system. But what will its removal mean? According to the Law Society of Scotland, they are eager to scrutinize the realities of the change rather than the motive. According to the society’s president, Murray Etherington: “Undermining the foundations of the Scottish justice system to increase conviction rates may create a serious risk of injustice,” after all, Etherington argues, “fundamental changes such as introduction of judge only trials and the abolition of the not proven verdict must not be made at the expense to a fair and just trial.”

Other aspects that the justice system is dusting up on include reducing of the number of jurors from fifteen to twelve (with the threshold of a majority decision remaining eight despite the drop) and the removal of the jury altogether for rape and attempted rape cases, switching to a single judge decision.  In many people’s eyes, reform is needed. While there are many stipulations on the effects, one way the Scottish government are looking to measure its success is through the improving the relatively low convictions rates, particularly for sexual offence cases.