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by Jack Thomson
05 April 2021
Nicola Sturgeon to consider future of 'not proven' verdict in legal system

Nicola Sturgeon to look at 'not proven' verdict (PA)

Nicola Sturgeon to consider future of 'not proven' verdict in legal system

Nicola Sturgeon has said it is time to consider whether Scotland should retain the "not proven" verdict in its legal system. 

The SNP leader, who trained as a lawyer, said conviction rates for rape and sexual assault were "shamefully low".

Sturgeon has made the comments following calls from Rape Crisis Scotland and opposition parties for the verdict to be scrapped. 

Currently Scotland operates a three verdict system but campaigners want this to be reduced to just guilty or not guilty.

Sturgeon told the Press Association: "I do think it is time to look at the not proven verdict."

Remembering her own studies at the University of Glasgow, she said it had been "imprinted on my brain" that the "not proven" verdict was one of the "totemic" things that make Scots law distinctive. 

She said that in the past she may "have had a bit of a lawyers’ view" of the verdict.

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.

"So I think it is something that it is time to look at."

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said the SNP "finally seemed to be willing to listen" on the controversial verdict. 

He added: "This verdict has no place in a modern justice system. We know from victims of crime that it causes both confusion and distress. 

"After 14 years in power, we don’t need some more warm words from Nicola Sturgeon. We need the SNP to fully U-turn and commit to abolishing this verdict.

"The Scottish Conservatives will continue to campaign for an end to Scotland's three-verdict system. As we stated earlier this week, it will be a key pledge in our manifesto."

Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater added: "Having an ambiguous third option as a possible verdict in criminal trials is confusing for juries and unfair on both complainers and the accused. 

"Importantly, this verdict is disproportionately used in rape trials where often the victim faces a torrid time in court. That needs to end.

"As well as the risk of victims not getting closure, there is also a stigma is attached to the not proven verdict. Anyone being acquitted of a crime would want to hear the words ‘not guilty’ rather than ‘not proven’."

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