End Not Proven
End Not Proven is a campaign launched in 2018 by Rape Crisis Scotland and Miss M, the woman at the centre of a civil rape case.
Following a not proven verdict in a criminal trial in 2015, Miss M successfully sued Stephen Coxen in the civil courts, in what was the first civil damages action for rape following an unsuccessful criminal prosecution in almost 100 years.
What is the Not Proven verdict?
Uniquely, Scotland has three verdicts – Guilty, Not Guilty and Not Proven. Not Guilty and Not Proven have the same impact – they are both acquittals, and there are no legal consequences for the accused if they get a Not Proven verdict.
Why should the Not Proven verdict be abolished?
- The Not Proven verdict is used disproportionately in rape cases. In 2019/20, only 43.48% of rape and attempted rape cases resulted in convictions, the lowest rate for any type of crime. Not Proven made up 44% of rape and attempted rape acquittals. compared with 20% for all crimes and offences.
- The Not Proven verdict has the exact same impact as a Not Guilty verdict, and can be just as distressing for the complainer as a Not Guilty verdict.
- There is some evidence that juries can be reluctant to convict in rape cases, and that preconceived notions of how someone should react to rape may impact on their decision making. There are real worries that the existence of the Not Proven verdict gives juries in rape trials an easy out and contributes to guilty people walking free
What impact has the End Not Proven campaign had?
In September 2022, the First Minister announced the introduction of a criminal justice reform bill which - if passed - would abolish the Not Proven verdict. In April 2023, the Scottish Government published the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill which proposes an end to Not Proven. We're proud to have campaigned alongside survivors on these issues to ensure a safer, fairer and more accessible experience of the criminal justice system for those who report sexual crimes.
This development was the result of four years of campaigning: Increased visibility of the third verdict and its impact on rape trials led the Scottish Government to open the consultation on The Not Proven Verdict and Related Reforms. You can read our joint briefing with Miss M on the consultation here. In July 2022, an independent analysis of consultation responses found clear majority support for the removal of the Not Proven verdict. You can read our statement on the analysis here.
While we expect the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Billl to pass, our campaign to End Not Proven continues. Every rape trial that concludes while Not Proven remains has the potential to affect survivors' access to justice.
To those who have received a Not Proven verdict - and to those who may receive it before it is removed - we are here for you. We will continue to fight to improve survivors access to, and experiences of, the criminal justice system. If you need support, our helpline offers confidential short-term, crisis and initial support. We can also put you in touch with local Rape Crisis Centres or other services if you need longer-term support.
What can I do to help?
Email us if you have been affected by the Not Proven verdict - firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear from as many people as possible about your experiences - positive or negative - of this verdict.
Write to your MSP and ask them to support the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill and to the removal of the Not Proven verdict.
What is the impact of the Not Proven verdict?
The following quotes from rape complainers demonstrate the impact of receiving a Not Proven verdict.
“I am Miss M. I am the woman who was raped by Stephen Coxen in 2013 and who has finally received justice after a long, complicated and difficult journey through the criminal and civil justice system. But it is not justice that motivated me to start this campaign to end the not proven verdict in Scotland, it was injustice.
Scotland is the only European nation to have a third verdict in criminal cases, ‘not proven’. The certainty we apply to guilty and not guilty does not apply to not proven. Clouded with ambiguity, some think not proven means that the sheriff or jury believe the accused is guilty, but don’t have enough evidence, and others aren’t so sure. It goes without saying that this uncertainty exists amongst juries as the general population, the very people who must make a decision and uphold the law. Nevertheless, the legal implications of not proven are the same as not guilty and the accused is acquitted and innocent in the eyes of the law. In amongst the uncertainty what we know for sure is that not proven is most commonly used in cases of rape and sexual violence.
I fear - as someone who received a not proven verdict and spent three long years fighting the Scottish legal system subsequently - is that the not proven verdict means that those who are raped are unfairly left without justice and those who rape face no consequence, no sanction for their actions. What message does this send to society?
Reporting rape is never going to be easy, but I shouldn’t have had to fight against the justice system in my pursuit for fairness. It didn’t have to be this difficult.
I am calling on the Scottish Government to give survivors a chance. There is no convincing argument to retain the outdated verdict, it’s time to scrap not proven for good.”
"It has been months since my abuser received a not proven verdict in court. The whole court process took 3 years - and now I feel I am the one left with a sentence.
They don’t prepare you for such an outcome so it takes months, possibly years to digest and understand. Questioning yourself day by day. If I had known or thought this would or could of happened then I would not have reported it and put myself through the strain and anxiety.
Does the jury know that he had the case adjourned twice before the actual trial with lies? Do they know what he put me through other than what was in my statement? No, that will stay and haunt me...
Not proven - not fair - no sense and a waste of the tax payers money!"
"I feel deeply affected by the not proven verdict I received.
"I have signs of PTSD and have bad anxiety from the incident that happened to me over two years ago, I feel like the court case has made me a thousand times worse, I always had faith in the criminal justice system and now I have no belief in it at all.
"The not proven verdict came as a blow and I felt I wasn't believed, the jury was 7/8 and I'm adamant that the 7 were a guilty verdict, I feel very let down by the courts and I just can't seem to understand why it was a not proven, there was forensic evidence.”
"I feel like the jury took the 'easy way out' as they only deliberated for a couple hours. I am all for the not proven verdict to be dropped because I believe if that wasn't an option it would have been a guilty verdict.”
"After three years of fighting the trauma of this attack and a four day trial my cases verdict was ‘not proven.’ It felt horrific, I have never been more let down by anything in my life. After all that pain to be told nothing will be done about it just made me regret reporting it in the first place. This is why more women don’t come forward."
"I’m essentially being believed about what happened but that there will be no consequences. Got the same consequences as a ‘not guilty’ verdict. I feel like I’ve wasted my time. Feeling not protected is a big thing, feels like I have to wait until he does something until the police protect me. He’s getting to live a life of not guilty even though the jury believed it happened but there just wasn’t forensic evidence."
"The not proven verdict makes victims feel they are not believed, I felt I wasn’t believed and I was absolutely devastated when I got that verdict. I really hope that this verdict gets removed as it’s like the abuser gets away with it."
C, Tayside, Scotland
"When I was raped, and I sat in that little room in the police station, trying to get my head around what was actually going on, what had happened, and frankly no words can sum up how I felt at that moment.
Years past, they felt like the longest days of my life, and somehow I turned myself into a warrior to face him in court, cause I didn’t want to show fear, I wanted to be strong, and prove that not all survivors are scared of their attacker. Although it looked as if I was strong on the outside, waving my right to a screen, on the inside I was in pieces. But after giving my evidence, being belittled by counsel, I was proud of myself for standing up to my attacker, and taking a stand for all people in the UK and the world who have been subject to such terror and horrific assaults.
My pride of power was shattered by the not proven verdict. I blamed myself, should I have shown more fear, am I being punished for showing strength?
‘Not Proven’ shouldn’t be an option for a jury, evidence is proof, survivors standing up to their attackers deserve to feel proud of themselves for showing strength, but to them feel as if the jury believe it did happen, but they aren’t 100% so we’ll take an easy route with not proven, that’s when a survivors courage is broken."
"The not proven verdict was given at appeal stage for me after the defendant had previously been found guilty. It's a cop out...leaves no sense of justice. It leaves survivors like me with no closure..a feeling of being disbelieved"
"Not proven is soul destroying it leaves victim feeling let down not believed . It's horrible feeling...I have sunk into depression I've lost all my fight I'm left broken by system that's meant to protect. I believe having a not proven verdict muddies the water leaves the victim without answers in a already not supported court process."
I will never be the same person I was before all of this happened, however I would have been able to rebuild my life a little faster if he was found guilty. I hope this verdict gets taken away and the we start getting the justice the we deserve.
So get rid of the not proven verdict as it's degrading, heartbreaking and they all laugh in our face because in my eyes they got away with their disgusting acts of abuse and as always told me "no one will believe you if you tell" that is exactly how it feels.
When the jury returned a "not proven" verdict I was crushed. My attacker completely twisted what happened and used smoke and mirror tactics to create enough doubt in the minds of the jury that I had consented. I feel sick just thinking about it. He raped another woman and this time was found guilty and sentenced to 6 years imprisonment. But he shouldn't even have been on the streets.
Having witnessed the discussion in the jury room, I strongly support the abolishment of "not proven", which left the issue unresolved and was distressing for many members of the jury, and undoubtedly more so for the complainers.
Second jury member
A majority of one went with a verdict of not proven. The rest of us said guilty. No one on the jury thought he was not guilty. Not one person. The case was devastating and a swift lesson in how little survivors are believed. How easily men are excused. Again, not one juror thought he was innocent. It was clear that it was more important to protect the perpetrator. The jury used not proven to this end. I can only imagine how awful this would have been for the survivors in the case.
Who is supporting this campaign?
The campaign is supported by the following organisations:
- Engender: “Engender is supporting this campaign because we believe that the not proven verdict contributes to the difficulties rape survivors in Scotland have in accessing justice. We are aware of the testimonies of women who have spoken of how distressing it has been getting this verdict in their rape trial, and we stand by them in calling for change. Scotland needs a justice system rape survivors can have confidence in.”
- Scottish Women’s Aid: "We all know that the justice system isn’t the most straightforward of institutions, and some quirks of Scots Law are particularly problematic for victims of sexual and domestic abuse. Not proven is a third verdict that disproportionately impacts survivors of rape, many of whom are also survivors of domestic abuse. A verdict that is often interpreted as ‘we probably believe you, but we don’t have the evidence’ is just another element of a justice system that fails us time after time. Not proven is not justice, and we stand by Miss M and those who want an end to this non-verdict."
- Scottish Women’s Rights Centre: “The SWRC supports RCS and Miss M's campaign to abolish the not proven verdict. In our experience, the not proven verdict can create a significant feeling of injustice for the complainer, particularly where the jury has been split. The ultimate meaning of “not guilty” in the Scottish system means that the Crown has not proven its case. We do not see a need for two verdicts that ultimately have the same meaning and consequences, particularly when the not proven verdict is used disproportionately in sexual violence cases.”
- Zero Tolerance: “Zero Tolerance is proud to back the campaign to end the not proven verdict for sexual assault and rape cases. This verdict is deeply frustrating for survivors as it does not provide closure and furthermore it can result in juries erring to side with the accused. 17% of all acquitted cases result in a not proven verdict. However this rate is almost double in cases of sexual assault and rape - with 30% of all acquittals being not proven rather than not guilty.”
[Pictures: @fidjit on behalf of Miss M]
Speaking Out: The Rape Crisis Scotland Podcast
We took a look at the Not Proven verdict on the first episode of our podcast, with special guests Vanessa Munro, Professor of Law at Warwick University and our Chief Executive, Sandy Brindley.