“The majority of jurors in Scotland and many people working in the justice system don’t even understand what a ‘not proven’ verdict means”, a St Andrews University graduate who successfully sued the man who raped her after her case received the verdict, has said.
The woman, who launched a civil action against her attacker Stephen Coxen and now leads the high-profile End Not Proven campaign run by Rape Crisis Scotland, was speaking just days before the release of a major report this week into Scotland’s controversial jury system.
It is expected to result in a consultation on giving the choice of two verdicts in Scotland, instead of the current guilty, not guilty or not proven.
Not guilty and not proven are both acquittals meaning there are no legal consequences for the accused if they receive a not proven verdict.
The report, a two-year study of Scottish juries by Ipsos Mori with academics from the universities of Glasgow and Warwick, involving evidence from 1,000 jurors, is also expected to lead to discussion on reducing the size of jurors from 15.
Miss M, who was raped in September 2013 and in 2018 was awarded £80,000 following a judgement by Sheriff Robert Weir QC, said: “The amount of people who contact me after I’ve been on television or radio talking about the End Not Proven campaign and tell me they were on juries just two or three weeks ago and never understood what not proven meant.
“I’m talking about teachers, doctors, anyone going on to a jury, who have it in their minds somehow that not proven means the person is guilty but there is not enough evidence to convict them. Even people working with survivors are saying different things.
“It’s not fair for people sitting on the jury, the survivor or the accused. The only options available to jurors should be something we all understand. What is decided affects futures and lives.
“When you go to court in a rape case you’re questioned, your credibility is questioned, what you wore, what you drank. When I was in court it was the most harrowing two weeks of my life.
You think there’s going to be closure but with not proven you’re left thinking ‘is it our fault?’
“But not proven is a second form of acquittal, not different from not guilty.
Miss M added: “Jurors come along with their own ‘rape myths’, not always, but I feel that quite often this influences their decision. It lets people sit on the fence.”
Coxen, 25, from Bury in Greater Manchester, had denied the charges and later declared himself bankrupt following Sheriff Weir’s judgement.
Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) says the not proven verdict is used disproportionately in rape cases. In 2016-17, only 39 per cent of rape and attempted rape cases resulted in convictions, the lowest rate for any type of crime. Nearly 30 per cent of acquittals were not proven, compared with 17 per cent for all crimes and offences.
Sandy Brindley, chief executive of RCS, said: “The not proven verdict needs to go. The rest of the UK has guilty and not guilty. What we have is a system which allows wrongful acquittals and lets guilty men walk free.”
Kate and Joe Duffy whose 19-year-old daughter was murdered in Hamilton in 1992 after a night out campaigned and launched a national petition to have the not proven verdict scrapped after the case against Francis Auld, tried for her murder, resulted in a not proven verdict.
In 2016 Labour’s Michael McMahon put forward a bill to abolish the not proven verdict. MSPs rejected it by 80 votes to 28.
James Kelly, MSP, Scottish Labour justice spokesman, said: “I welcome the debate on the not proven verdict.
"Scottish Labour will carefully consider all views, particularly the views of victims’ organisations.”
Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservatives shadow justice secretary, said: “We remain unconvinced of the argument for change at this time. Any amendments would have to be very carefully considered.”