‘Not proven’ verdict to come under scrutiny again in jury study

Professor James Chalmers

Research into how juries reach decisions, including their use of the ‘not proven’ verdict, will be carried out over the next two years.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson confirmed that a team, headed up by Ipsos Mori working in collaboration with Professors James Chalmers and Fiona Leverick (University of Glasgow) and Professor Vanessa Munro (University of Warwick), has been appointed to carry out the study.

This research will consider jury size, decision making processes, majorities needed and the three verdict system, and will gather evidence to inform future reform of the criminal justice system in Scotland.

Mr Matheson said: “This important research is a direct result of Lord Bonomy’s post-corroboration safeguards review in which he recommended that research should be carried out to ensure that any changes to our jury system are made only on a fully informed basis, including the impact having a three verdict system has on decision making.

“The Ipsos Mori team will work in collaboration with three respected academics and will use case simulations rather than real jurors. Their findings will help inform any future decisions that may be taken in relation to potential reforms of our criminal justice system.”

Lorraine Murray, deputy managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland, said: “We are delighted to be undertaking this important and ground-breaking research – the first of its kind in Scotland. With the help of several hundreds of members of the public who will sit on ‘mock juries’, we will be able to provide unique insights into how Scottish juries reach their decisions.”

Professor Chalmers said: “Research with mock juries has been used around the world to inform criminal justice reform, but the Scottish jury is so different from juries in other countries there are limits to what can be learned from all this work. This study will help us understand just what difference the special features of the Scottish jury system make in practice.”

Last year, Douglas Thomson, of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme that preserving the “not proven” verdict while abolishing “not guilty” is logical but may not be desirable due to negative associations with Scotland’s unique third verdict.

He said there is a “fairly solid body of support” that a jury’s role is to determine whether the public prosecutor has proved the case beyond reasonable doubt.

However, Professor Chalmers, said at the time that it is in fact logical to discard “not proven”.

He explained: “All a jury can ever do is ask whether a charge is proven or not, but the presumption of innocence means that when someone does not have a charge proven against them, they are entitled to be declared ‘not guilty’, as is the case throughout the English-speaking world. If the presumption of innocence is taken seriously, the logical conclusion is that ‘not proven’ is the verdict that has to go.”

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