Not proven verdict under threat
• Labour MSP to bring member's bill to parliament.
• May see removal of 'not proven' option to jurors
• Brought about by number of cases where accused walks free
"Whichever way you look at it, it’s an unsatisfactory conclusion to any court case. If it’s in relation to sectarianism, murder, whatever the offence might be, I think juries should be asked to come to a definitive conclusion." - MICHAEL MCMAHON MSP
Story in full THE "not proven" alternative to Scottish trial verdicts of "guilty" and "not guilty" could be scrapped under plans being drawn up by a Labour MSP.
Michael McMahon hopes to bring a member’s bill to the Scottish Parliament early next year to end the three-verdict system, which he says leaves neither side in criminal trials satisfied.
The not proven option is not available to juries south of the Border.
Mr McMahon, the Hamilton North and Bellshill MSP, said many colleagues were supportive of at least reviewing the issue through the bill consultation process. However, the Scottish Executive gave a cool response to the plan yesterday, insisting it was not a priority for ministers.
In theory, the not proven verdict allows juries who feel there has been insufficient evidence to make the prosecution’s case, indicate that they are nonetheless unprepared completely to exonerate an accused.
But it has exactly the same effect in law as a finding of not guilty - acquitting the accused.
Many legal experts argue that what Sir Walter Scott famously dubbed "that bastard verdict" fails to clear a person’s name.
Victims of crime also have campaigned to scrap the not proven option, claiming it is a "cop-out" that can take the pressure off jurors to pass a definitive verdict.
Mr McMahon told BBC Television’s The Politics Show yesterday: "Whichever way you look at it, it’s an unsatisfactory conclusion to any court case. If it’s in relation to sectarianism, murder, whatever the offence might be, I think juries should be asked to come to a definitive conclusion."
He added: "The distinct Scottish judicial system is something of which the country is rightly proud, yet it contains an anomaly which all too often brings the system into disrepute. There have been too many occasions on which victims or their families have been left aggrieved at a not proven outcome, which prevents closure from being achieved.
"Equally, there have been times when accused persons have been left with a cloud of suspicion lingering over them by this verdict."
The father of Lanarkshire woman Amanda Duffy, who saw a man acquitted of murdering his daughter in 1992 on a not proven verdict, said Mr McMahon’s bill could bring Scotland "into line with the rest of the world".
Joe Duffy said: "It’s both unjust and unnecessary. Why do you need two verdicts which basically mean the same thing. It’s an anomaly that should not be there, and should be removed."
But leading Scottish defence lawyer Derek Ogg QC claimed the verdict was well understood by juries and that it should be retained.
He said: "In some cases they aren’t sure where the truth lies, so decide to return a not proven verdict - it has not been proven beyond a standard of reasonable doubt."
Kenny MacAskill, the SNP’s justice spokesman, welcomed a debate on the issue, but said the historic role of juries was to decide whether the Crown’s case had been proven or not proven. He said: "I support a fundamental review because this can cause difficulties.
"But I think any rush to abolish this particular verdict might not necessarily deliver what people want.
"There’s a logical argument which says we should perhaps return to proven and not proven, rather than guilty or not guilty."
A justice department spokesman said: "This is not on the Executive’s list of immediate priorities. We will be interested to see what support the bill attracts."
Mr McMahon needs to gather 18 signatures from MSPs in support of his bill to allow it to go before the parliament.
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