Call to scrap third trial verdict
A LABOUR MSP today claimed a majority of Scots had no confidence in the "not proven" verdict.
Backbencher Michael McMahon is planning to introduce a private member’s Bill in the Scottish Parliament to scrap the current three-verdict system.
And he claimed many MSPs across the party divide were supportive of at least reviewing the status quo. Mr McMahon, MSP for Hamilton North and Bellshill, said the "not proven" verdict satisfied no-one.
He said: "Regardless of what people believe in respect of any one case, the fact is a ‘not proven’ verdict always generates a lot of discussion.
"The vast majority of the public do not have confidence in the ‘not proven’ verdict. If you are the individual acquitted, there is a stigma attached to it and you are forever under suspicion.
"It’s as if the jury thought you might have done it but not quite enough to convict you. And victims or their families never feel justice has been done.
"Some families I have spoken to have said they would much prefer ‘not guilty’ to ‘not proven’. The judicial process leaves them feeling unsatisfied."
Mr McMahon plans to publish a consultation document on his proposed legislation next month and introduce the Bill after the summer.
But he said his plan would return the system to the one which existed in Scotland in the 17th century, with two verdicts - proven and not proven.
The three-verdict system dates back to 1728 when a lawyer insisted a jury go beyond the "not proven" verdict to declare his client was "not guilty". The practice caught on and over the years the "proven" verdict gradually evolved into "guilty".
Mr McMahon said he also wanted to remove the simple majority currently required for a verdict and set a higher threshold for the jury. But he was against the suggestion a second prosecution should be allowed in "not proven" cases if fresh evidence came to light.
"That would leave the question mark hanging even more over the acquitted person."
SNP justice spokesman and Lothians MSP Kenny MacAskill said he backed the scrapping of the three-verdict system. He said: "That’s what the jury is being asked to do - not decide on guilt or innocence, but whether the Crown has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt."
A consultation paper produced by the Scottish Office in 1994 on the issue found about a 60-40 split in favour of the status quo. The Scottish Executive said the issue was not a priority for ministers.
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