Nicola Sturgeon pledges to look at scrapping 'not proven' verdict

Scotland’s not proven verdict could be scrapped after Nicola Sturgeon agreed the option should be reconsidered, while Conservatives and Greens lined up to pledge they would remove it as an option for juries in the next parliamentary term.

Nicola Sturgeon on the campaign trail

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was time the verdict was “looked at” in the light of the “shamefully low” conviction rate for rape and sexual assault cases, while the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Greens said they want to see it abolished.

Rape Crisis Scotland has been campaigning to see the verdict option removed from the justice system. along with the woman known as Miss M, who successfully sued the man cleared of raping her for damages in the civil courts.

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The group says "not proven" is used disproportionately in rape cases and according to its statistics, in 2016/17, only 39 per cent of rape and attempted rape cases resulted in convictions, the lowest rate for any type of crime, with nearly 30 per cent of acquittals being not proven, compared with 17 per cent for all crimes and offences.

Scotland's not proven verdict could be scrapped.

Scotland has three possible verdicts in criminal cases – guilty, not guilty and not proven – but in practice the ‘not proven’ outcome is an acquittal, with the same outcome as not guilty.

MSPs previously voted in February 2016 to reject a Labour bid to abolish the not proven verdict and at the time the SNP government voiced concerns about a provision which would require two thirds of a jury to support any verdict.

Ms Sturgeon now appears to have shifted her stance, and said she had recently changed her mind on the issue.

She said as a lawyer there had been "three totemic things" which were “imprinted on her brain” which made Scots law distinctive, including the not proven verdict, the need for corroboration in trials with evidence coming from more than one source, and that 15 people were needed to make up a jury.

She said she had “maybe had a bit of a lawyers' view" of the not proven verdict but added: "The conviction rate for rape and sexual assault is shamefully low.

"And I think there is mounting evidence and increasingly strong arguments that the 'not proven' verdict is a part of that.

"So I think it is something that it is time to look at."

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has already said that ending the three-verdict system would be a “key pledge” in his party’s election manifesto.

“Under pressure from the Scottish Conservatives, the SNP finally seem to be willing to listen on the not proven verdict,” he said. "This verdict has no place in a modern justice system. We know from victims of crime that it causes both confusion and distress.

“After 14 years in power, we don’t need some more warm words from Nicola Sturgeon. We need the SNP to fully u-turn and commit to abolishing this verdict.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said it was time to end the “archaic anomaly”.

“Having an ambiguous third option as a possible verdict in criminal trials is confusing for juries and unfair on both complainers and the accused. Importantly, this verdict is disproportionately used in rape trials where often the victim faces a torrid time in court. That needs to end."

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