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“Not Proven” Verdict under Threat 2004-11-22

Posted by clype in Intolerance, Scotland.

The “not proven” alternative to Scottish trial verdicts of ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ could be scrapped under plans being drawn up by a New Labour in Scotland MSP.

[Picture of Mike Mcmahon]Michael McMahon hopes to bring a member’s bill to the Scottish Parliament early next year to end the three-verdict system, which he says leaves neither side in criminal trials satisfied.

The “not proven” option is not available to juries south of the Border.

Mr.McMahon, the Hamilton North and Bellshill MSP, said many colleagues were supportive of at least reviewing the issue through the bill consultation process.

However, The Scottish Executive gave a cool response to the plan yesterday, insisting it was not a priority for ministers.

In theory, the “not proven” verdict allows juries who feel there has been insufficient evidence to make the prosecution’s case, indicate that they are nonetheless unprepared completely to exonerate an accused.

But it has exactly the same effect in law as a finding of “not guilty” — acquitting the accused.

Many legal experts argue that what Sir Walter Scott famously dubbed ‘that bastard verdict’ fails to clear a person’s name.

Victims of crime also have campaigned to scrap the not proven option, claiming it is a ‘cop-out’ that can take the pressure off jurors to pass a definitive verdict.

Mr.McMahon told BBC Television’s “The Politics Show” yesterday:

‘Whichever way you look at it, it’s an unsatisfactory conclusion to any court case. If it’s in relation to sectarianism, murder, whatever the offence might be, I think juries should be asked to come to a definitive conclusion’.

‘The distinct Scottish judicial system is something of which the country is rightly proud, yet it contains an anomaly which all too often brings the system into disrepute. There have been too many occasions on which victims or their families have been left aggrieved at a not proven outcome, which prevents closure from being achieved.

‘Equally, there have been times when accused persons have been left with a cloud of suspicion lingering over them by this verdict’.

The father of Lanarkshire woman Amanda Duffy, who saw a man acquitted of murdering his daughter in 1992 on a not proven verdict, said Mr.McMahon’s bill could bring Scotland ‘into line with the rest of the world’. Joe Duffy said:

‘It’s both unjust and unnecessary. Why do you need two verdicts which basically mean the same thing. It’s an anomaly that should not be there, and should be removed’.

But leading Scottish defence lawyer Derek Ogg QC claimed the verdict was well understood by juries and that it should be retained. He said:

‘In some cases they aren’t sure where the truth lies, so decide to return a not proven verdict — it has not been proven beyond a standard of reasonable doubt’.

Kenny Macaskill, the SNP’s justice spokesman, welcomed a debate on the issue, but said the historic role of juries was to decide whether the Crown’s case had been proven or not proven. He said:

Kenny Macaskill
‘I support a fundamental review because this can cause difficulties.

‘But I think any rush to abolish this particular verdict might not necessarily deliver what people want.

‘There’s a logical argument which says we should perhaps return to proven and not proven, rather than guilty or not guilty’.

A Justice Department spokesman said:

‘This is not on the Executive’s list of immediate priorities. We will be interested to see what support the bill attracts’.

Mr.McMahon needs to gather 18 signatures from MSPs in support of his bill to allow it to go before the parliament.

The Amanda Duffy Case:



1. Rebekah Lynch - 2006-11-13

hi i would just like to say that the not proven verdict should be not use in court because more criminals are going out to the streets like for the Amanda Duffy case the man was given not proven but after that he addmitted that he killed her saying to a man ” You think she was the last your next patrick” he knew that he could not be retrail. So many people went after so he had to move out of Scotland so he not be killed by Amanda’s mum and dad ect. Now he is a threat to the community aswell as other not proven criminals.

Rebekah Lynch (age 14 )

2. Yvonne - 2006-11-25

Rebekah, sorry but you are wrong. Just suppose a person was guilty of a crime. The police arrest the person and then go to court for a trial. (a) If the police have enough evidence and it is presented properly then GUILTY is the result. (b) If the evidence is improperly presented, then the person is found NOT GUILTY and set free. (c) If the evidence is presented properly but gathered improperly, then the person is acquitted on a technicality and set free under the banner NOT GUILTY. (d) If there is not enough evidence, of if the evidence is circumstantial, the jury may have reasonable doubt and the person is set free under the banner NOT GUILTY.

In all cases where the person was acquitted and set free, the person has CLEARED HIS NAME — NOT GUILTY. Even if they actually did do the crime! The ONLY difference in Scot’s Law is that the verdict NOT PROVEN is not the same as clearing a name, it is not proof of innocence.

If I was in a jury where we felt the person was guilty but that there was insufficient evidence, or the evidence was flawed in some way, I would be much happier to return a NOT PROVEN verdict than an INNOCENT one.

The case you cited illustrates what I mean — the man was found GUILTY BUT NOT PROVEN and was free to commit another crime. what difference would it having him found INNOCENT have made?

3. Carolynn Allan - 2006-11-27

They should scrap “not proven” and bring Scots’ Law into line with other countries. The Duffy Jury should have been forced to acquit, returning the Not Guilty verdict. The Duffy family have suffered because “Not Proven” seems to them to be like “Guilty But Set Free” to kill again.

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