Not proven verdict: Is it in the name of justice?

Shannon McAleer discusses the drawbacks of the not proven verdict.

5 mins read

Scotland judicial system is unlike any other, having a not proven verdict.

When an individual appearing at court is being charged with a criminal offense there are usually two outcomes: guilty or not guilty.

However, when it comes to Scotland there is three: guilty, not guilty, and not proven.

Not proven is when the jury finds the prosecution has not presented enough evidence to convince the jury that the individual is guilty. However, there may not be enough evidence to convince the jury of a not guilty verdict either.

Meaning even if the jury think someone is guilty, if the evidence still gives some doubt, they can enter a not proven verdict.

The problem with this verdict is that the assumed leaves the court room with essentially the same outcome as a not guilty verdict. Acquitted and in the eyes of the law, they are innocent.

This has left a long line of victims and family of victims fighting to remove this verdict from Scots’ law.

In 1995 parents of Amanda Duffy, a 19-year-old who was murdered, filed a petition to have the not proven verdict abolished. The lead suspect in the case got a not proven in trial. The petition was unsuccessful as we still have the verdict today.

In July 2017, the forensic scientist who worked on the Amanda Duffy case, said he believed the suspect had got away with her murder.

In 2016 there was a bid to abolish this verdict once and for all. At the time MSP Michael McMahon introduced a member’s bill. He believed the verdict made it confusing for members of the jury and distressing to victims.

However, this was again unsuccessful with 80 to 28 voting against his proposed bill.

Recently, in 2021 Scottish Conservatives revealed in their crime manifesto that they wanted to remove the not proven verdict. Believing there is no space for this verdict in modern times.

Furthermore, feeling the jury should have a clear undoubted knowledge of guilty and not guilty.

There is also an in issue regarding the accused if they walk away with a not proven verdict. They may be innocent and may never get their name cleared.

However, someone who is guilty may walk away with a not proven verdict meaning the victim never got their justice.

Stephen Coxen was acquitted of the rape of Miss M in 2015 receiving a not proven verdict. However, in 2018 Miss M took him to civil court and won her case with the court believing that Stephen Coxen had raped her.

One thing is clear when the accused is given a not proven verdict: the jury have not been convinced of the individuals innocence or the case would be a clear not guilty.

It could be believed the jury is more swayed to believe the accused is in fact guilty, but the crown has not proven this without reasonable doubt.

The Scottish Government published their findings in “Scottish jury research: findings from a mock jury study” on October 9 2019.  The submitted paper is large, but it clearly states:

Removing the not proven verdict might incline more jurors towards a guilty verdict. This might lead to more guilty verdicts over a large number of trials.

In a criminal trial you are judged by jury of 15. The Scottish Government study suggests that the jury are more likely to submit a guilty verdict if the not proven verdict was removed.

Nothing is clean cut in this debate. The not proven verdict has been deep rooted in the Scottish judicial system for many years. It is not clear if that will change in the near future or if it will change at all.

There is question over who this helps in society, and how many guilty people have walked free. This could be down to the crown not providing enough evidence to convince the jury to provide a guilty verdict.

However, would removing the not proven verdict change this? Would it be within the publics interests to have two verdicts?

Is the not proven verdict in the name of justice?

Featured image credit: Shannon McAleer

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