Justice committee rejects bill on abolition of ‘not proven’ verdict

A bill which would both abolish Scotland’s “not proven” verdict and change the majority required in jury trials for a conviction has failed to receive the backing of Holyrood’s Justice Committee.

A clear majority of the committee supported the intention to abolish not proven verdicts, but the committee was unable to support plans to increase from eight to 10 the majority required for jury trial convictions.

The general principles of the bill, introduced by Michael McMahon MSP, have therefore not been endorsed by the committee, says a parliamentary report published today.

Justice Committee convener Christine Grahame MSP said: “Michael McMahon’s bill has shone a light on the ambiguities of the not proven verdict, and raised serious questions as to whether the verdict serves any useful purpose.

“Not proven is often deeply unsatisfactory for victims and no better for those acquitted on it.

“Like most members of the committee, I believe the not proven verdict is on borrowed time, but changes to majority verdict requirement raise complex questions that should be considered alongside other reforms, currently under consideration by Lord Bonomy.”

Last month Rape Crisis Scotland said abolition would result in a “clearer and less confusing jury decision making process” while Scottish Women’s Aid said the “not proven” verdict “serves no useful purpose”.

But Justice Secretary Michael Matheson warned against causing an imbalance in the system by abolishing the verdict.

Mr Matheson warned of causing an imbalance in the system by changing the verdict system alone.

He said: “I’m not unsympathetic to reform in this area - that’s why we’re undertaking the research.

“But I’m very mindful of the fundamental nature that these areas play within our criminal justice system and prior to undertaking any changes in this area I think it is prudent and responsible to make sure we’re clear about the evidence base that would provide for any changes in this area.

“That’s why I think the research is the area that we should undertake before we reform this area of the criminal justice system.”

He added it could take more than the two years suggested by Lord Bonomy, in his post-corroboration safeguards review, to conclude research on juries’ decision making processes – something the Scottish government has not yet commissioned.

Mr McMahon introduced the bill over two years ago but it has suffered delays as the Parliament deliberated over abolishing corroboration.

He previously said: “The time is right to discuss this, to look at it and to make the changes that I think not only should parliamentarians want to bring about but I believe the people of Scotland want to see changed.

“That’s the evidence that I’ve accrued from the various consultations I have conducted and the evidence is there to suggest that the time is now right for us to take away this anomaly within the system and get the system in a place where people can have more confidence in it because they can trust the verdicts much more than is currently the case.”

He added there is a “stigma attached to the not proven verdict”.

“I think a ‘not proven’ verdict actually suggests that there may have been some evidence that they had done it, but there was not enough evidence to convict,” he said.

“I don’t believe that is what a trial is there to achieve. It’s there to look at the evidence and arrive at a conclusion on guilt or not.”