Not Proven: An Update
We welcome the independent analysis, released yesterday by the Scottish Government (read it here), on the response to the consultation on The Not Proven Verdict and Related Reforms, and particularly the clear majority support for the removal of the Not Proven verdict.
For most people who have experienced sexual crimes in Scotland the justice system in its current state is, quite simply, not working. The conviction rate for rape and attempted rape remains stubbornly low, the lowest of any crime type, and it has been this way for over a decade. We need action, and we need it now.
We know that the Not Proven verdict is disproportionately handed down in cases of sexual violence. This, combined with the evidence we have from mock jury trials about the reluctance of juries to convict in cases of rape even where there is considerable evidence, raises real questions about the use of the verdict as an ‘easy out’ for jurors. Though this verdict is simply another acquittal, the lack of understanding and ambiguity of the verdict leaves the public – and therefore jurors – confused at a point where clarity could not be more important.
Survivors have told us repeatedly that the reality of receiving a Not Proven verdict can be devastating, with the uncertainty leaving many without any sense of closure. We are encouraged to see that responses to this consultation support the removal of the Not Proven verdict, and we pay tribute to the efforts of Miss M and all the survivors who have campaigned with us to bring this issue and its impact to the attention of decision makers.
In addition to the Not Proven verdict there remains many barriers to justice for people reporting sexual crimes. We are deeply concerned to see the potential for another barrier to be introduced by changes to the jury majority. Given existing conviction rates and everything we know about juries’ reluctance to convict in cases of rape, alongside the deeply held problematic societal attitudes held around sexual violence, this would be disastrous. Any introduction of a qualified jury majority, rather than a simple majority, would serve to create another major barrier to justice for survivors.
This consultation presents an opportunity for decision makers to take bold action and we urge the Scottish Government to follow through with their commitment to improving survivors access to, and experiences of, the criminal justice system.
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