Justice Committee refuses to back criminal jury reform bid amid claim not proven verdict on 'borrowed time'
Justice Committee fail to endorse bill abolishing not proven verdict and reforming jury majorities
Holyrood’s Justice Committee has rejected a bill which would abolish Scotland’s not proven verdict and change the majority required in jury trials for a conviction.
Convener Christine Grahame claimed the not proven verdict is on “borrowed time” after a clear majority on the committee supported the intention to remove it, opting instead for a two-verdict system.
However, MSPs were unable to endorse the Criminal Verdicts (Scotland) Bill - introduced by Labour MSP Michael McMahon - given their refusal to support a change in the number of jurors required to reach a guilty verdict.
The committee said reform of jury majorities, which McMahon wished to extend from a simple majority to two-thirds, should instead be covered by government commissioned research into how juries reach decisions.
Former High Court judge Lord Bonomy last year called for research into jury reasoning and decision-making as part of his review on safeguards in the event of the corroboration requirement being scrapped. This work would then be used to inform any changes to jury size, majority and verdicts, argued his report.
SNP MSP Grahame said: “Michael McMahon’s bill has shone a light on the ambiguities of the not proven verdict, and raised serious questions as to whether the verdict serves any useful purpose.
“Not proven is often deeply unsatisfactory for victims and no better for those acquitted on it.
“Like most members of the committee, I believe the not proven verdict is on borrowed time, but changes to majority verdict requirement raise complex questions that should be considered alongside other reforms, currently under consideration by Lord Bonomy.”
Only one per cent of all criminal court outcomes in 2013-14 involved the case against the accused being found not proven, according to figures obtained by the committee.
In the case of acquittals following trials for rape or attempted rape, though, the not proven verdict was used in 35 per cent of cases compared to 17 per cent in general.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson had previously dismissed calls to overhaul Scotland’s three-verdict system until a clearer evidence base is established.
Academic research into how juries reach decisions in criminal trials within the UK has been largely limited amid concerns about protecting the secrecy of deliberations.
The Scottish Government has committed to carrying out research following Lord Bonomy’s review, though Matheson has raised the prospect it could take more than two years to deliver findings. The committee said it hopes the research on juries announced by ministers will “proceed soon”.
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