ANTI-rape campaigners have urged the Scottish Government to scrap the not proven verdict, arguing that guilty people are walking free because of it and claiming it can be as devastating to victims as a not guilty decision.
The call comes in a submission to the government’s second consultation on scrapping corroboration – a historic pillar of Scottish justice, which requires two independent pieces of evidence to bring a case. The current consultation is exploring other safeguards in the legal system.
Critics believe the measures are necessary to prevent wrongful convictions, but Rape Crisis Scotland says the current system leads to wrongful acquittals and should be changed.
Sandy Brindley, national co-ordinator for RCS, said: “We’re concerned it gives juries an easy way out of difficult decisions.
“They are particularly prone to going for not proven in rape cases, particularly ones which do not conform to the stranger rape scenario.”
She added: “The one positive with not proven is you can say to the woman, ‘this does not mean you weren’t believed’.
“But it’s still an acquittal, and the experience is still devastating.
“The bottom line for the survivor is the person who raped them is walking free – not proven is not going to change that.”
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has indicated he is in favour of scrapping corroboration, and is considering other alternative safeguards against wrongful convictions.
One possibility is raising the number of jurors required to return a guilty verdict from eight up to nine or ten, out of 15.
However, the government believes that if that is on the table, then the not proven verdict should be too. John Scott QC, a human rights lawyer, said that, while scrapping corroboration was his biggest concern, abolishing another safeguard in the shape of not proven would increase fears of miscarriages of justice.
He said: “When you are removing a centuries-old safeguard, that is not the time to remove other safeguards.”
He added: “If that verdict was removed there is no evidence to suggest that a guilty verdict would follow instead.”
He warned that RCS’s support for abolishing both safeguards could have unintended consequences for people they represent.
“I can’t imagine Rape Crisis Scotland want to make it easier to convict women of making false allegations of rape,” he said.
“I want safeguards for everyone and that includes people accused of making false allegations.”
RCS supported the abolition of both not proven and corroboration in its response.
The Scottish Government’s consultation on safeguards has finished, but it has yet to announce its findings.
A spokeswoman said: “This consultation closed recently and the responses are currently being independently analysed.
“We will respond in due course.”