Matheson calls for further research on ‘not proven’ verdict

Michael Matheson

The Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has rebuffed calls for the abolition of the Scottish “not proven” verdict until there is a case for reform.

He told MSPs that while he is not “unsympathetic” to reform, clearer evidence is needed on whether the system should be overhauled.

His comments came as the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee heard evidence on the Criminal Verdicts (Scotland) Bill, a member’s bill brought by Labour’s Michael McMahon MSP, which would remove “not proven”, leaving only “guilty” and “not guilty”.

Rape Crisis Scotland said the move 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”.

Mr McMahon would also like to see the number of jurors required for a guilty verdict to prevail increased from a simple majority to at least two-thirds.

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.”

The Justice Secretary 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 actually introduced the bill over two years ago but it has suffered delays as the Parliament deliberated over abolishing corroboration.

He 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.”