A piece in today’s Sunday Telegraph. The Sturgeon wants to send more innocent men to prison, predictably, being the toxic feminist that she is. Shame on the Tories for jumping on this anti-male bandwagon.
The Tories and Greens have pledged to abolish the unique Scottish verdict, which has been described as ‘archaic’ and ‘unfair’
It is time to look at whether Scotland retains its controversial ‘not proven’ verdict, Nicola Sturgeon has said, as part of efforts to tackle the “shamefully low” conviction rates for rape and sexual assault.
The verdict, which is unique to the Scottish justice system, is one of three possible verdicts alongside guilty and not guilty, with the accused being acquitted and innocent in the eyes of the law under ‘not proven’ as they would be if found not guilty.
Both the Scottish Tories and Greens have pledged to abolish the “archaic” and “unfair” verdict as the Scottish election campaign gets well underway, with the Conservatives demanding that Ms Sturgeon fully commit to abolishing the verdict after 14 years in power.
Latest figures show that fewer than half – 47 per cent – of attempted rape and rape trials in Scotland result in a conviction, while more than one in five result in a ‘not proven’ verdict.
Research in 2019 also found that the availability of the verdict may push more jurors towards acquittal before they have even discussed the evidence.
Not proven is seen by some as offering additional protection to the accused by ensuring they will not be convicted if the jury has any doubts, while critics argue that it is confusing for juries and can stigmatise an accused person by appearing not to clear them.
Nicola Sturgeon, who trained as a lawyer, revealed she has personally changed her mind on the issue.
Speaking to PA Scotland, the First Minister said: “I do think it is time to look at the not proven verdict.”
Recalling when she studied law at Glasgow University, she said it had been “imprinted on my brain” that the “three totemic things” that make Scots law distinctive were the not proven verdict, the need for corroboration in trials with evidence coming from more than one source, and that there are 15 people needed to make up a jury.
But she added: “The conviction rate for rape and sexual assault is shamefully low. And I think there is mounting evidence and increasingly strong arguments that the not proven verdict is a part of that.”
Ms Sturgeon’s intervention comes amid increasing calls to scrap the verdict from campaigners and other political parties.
Rape Crisis Scotland launched a campaign in 2018 along with the woman known as Miss M, who successfully sued the man cleared of raping her for damages in the civil courts, and have urged all parties to back abolishing ‘not proven’ in their Holyrood 2021 election asks.
Meanwhile, Scots Tory leader Douglas Ross highlighted a “disproportionate number of not proven verdicts in rape cases” which he said “certainly doesn’t deliver for the victim and it still leaves the accused with an uncertain verdict”.
In response to Ms Sturgeon’s comments, Mr Ross demanded that the SNP “fully u-turn” and “commit to abolishing” the verdict rather than offering “more warm words” after 14 years in power.
Also pledging to abolish the verdict, Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater described it as an “ambiguous third option” which is “unfair on both complainers and the accused” and is “disproportionately used in rape trials” where the “victim faces a torrid time in court”.
MSPs previously voted in February 2016 to reject an earlier bid to abolish the not proven verdict from Scotland’s courts.
A recent review into how Scotland’s justice system treats rape cases has also made a series of recommendations, including the setting up of a specialist court to deal with serious sexual offences.
Among the panel’s other proposals are for juries to be given “plain language directions” with a pilot programme looking at how jurors can be told about rape myths and stereotypes.
The right for the complainer not to be identified should also be expressly set out in legislation rather than relying on the current convention, the group recommended, and complainers should have access to publicly funded, independent legal representation to oppose applications asking questions about their previous sexual history.
At the proposed specialist court, cases would be presided over by a combination of High Court judges and sheriffs who had received trauma-informed training in the presentation of evidence of vulnerable witnesses.
Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Victim Support Scotland and the Crown Office were all involved with the review, and evidence was also taken from judges, the court service, lawyers and police.
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