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by Kirsteen Paterson
26 April 2023
Scottish Government to scrap 'not proven' verdict in justice reform push

Justice secretary Angela Constance

Scottish Government to scrap 'not proven' verdict in justice reform push

Scotland's not proven verdict in criminal trials is to be scrapped to create a "fairer" justice system in a sweeping package of reforms.

Justice secretary Angela Constance said the move is "among the most significant since devolution and will ensure fairness is cemented into the bedrock of Scotland's modern-day justice system".

The Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill also aims to cut juror numbers from 15 to 12 and increase the majority needed for conviction to at least two thirds of jurors.

If passed, it will also establish an independent Victims and Witnesses Commissioner to "champion the rights" of those affected by crime and give victims of sexual offences a lifelong right of anonymity. 

A specialist sexual offences court with national jurisdiction will also be created and complainers will gain the right to state-funded legal representation when applications are made to lead evidence of their sexual history of "bad character" in such cases.

It will also enable a pilot of single judge trials for rape and attempted rape cases in order to gather evidence on their effectiveness.

The removal of the not proven verdict will mean Scots law becomes a two verdict system. Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for the reform in her Programme for Government last year.

Critics of the not proven option argue it has lowered conviction rates in sexual offence cases. However, the Law Society of Scotland said it has "deep concern" that the change could lead to an increase in miscarriages of justice.

Constance said: "Building on the experiences of survivors, victims and their families, these key reforms will make justice services more sensitive to the trauma it can cause.

"This government has been clear we must take action to improve the experience of those who suffer sexual abuse. The majority are women, who must be supported to have trust and confidence that the processes of justice will serve their needs, allow them to give their best evidence and support them in their recovery."

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