Editorial: Not long for ‘not proven’

Editorial: Not long for 'not proven'

The Scottish government’s latest publication on our controversial third verdict – responses to a consultation on its future – reveals that the public and practitioners alike impute to it their own meaning to suit their own ends. Like some intractable theological question, it has bred zealotry in its proponents and bloodlust in its opponents.

A faction of Scots law exceptionalists keep telling us that ‘not proven’ is the logical verdict, seemingly failing to understand that their preferred proven/not proven system is a synonym of guilty/not guilty, given that both entail the same moral consequences.

The idea that moral culpability would not attach to ‘proven’ or ‘not proven’ when they are in the contemplation of a jury debating a charge of murder or rape indicates the kind of wishful thinking to which people who want practice to fit theory and not theory to fit practice are frequently prone.

In contrast, some academics ignore disconfirming evidence about the third verdict’s effects and avail themselves of the fact there is no cost to doing so because the debate is too esoteric for the vast majority of the Scottish public to follow or care about.

Desiring a particular outcome is not wrong, but it would be better if they dispensed with the pretence of neutral rational inquiry and admitted that they were lobbyists for the system envisaged by their ideology.

My own view is that the third verdict should be abolished and that a qualified jury majority should be introduced to bring the phoney war on ‘not proven’ to an end so that we can brace ourselves for the impending real one – against juries themselves.

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