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The not proven verdict - what does it mean?

Wednesday, 12 July 2023

The controversial not proven verdict will be eliminated as part of Scotland's justice system's extensive reforms. Along with guilty and not guilty, it is one of the three verdicts that can be rendered in a criminal case in Scotland.

What does the verdict mean?

The distinction between the verdict of not proven and that of not guilty is not clear.

The accused is declared legally innocent and is exonerated in the event of a not proven verdict, which has the same legal repercussions as a not-guilty finding.

Critics contend that it confuses juries and the public, can stigmatise an accused person by appearing not to clear them, and fails to offer victims' families closure. Some see it as providing additional protection to the accused.

According to a 2019 study, in delicately balanced trials, eliminating the not proven verdict might encourage more jurors to reach a guilty verdict.

Why are calls for change being made?

Many calls to abolish not proven have been made in recent years, especially by the families of victims who feel wronged by an unfair verdict.

The case of Miss M, a woman who successfully sued a man cleared of raping her, inspired those fighting the decision.

After a judge determined that Stephen Coxen had raped the woman after a night out in St Andrews, Coxen was ordered to pay £80,000 in damages. Later, he declared himself as bankrupt.

Despite Mr. Coxen's denials of the allegations, a jury found the criminal case against him unproven in November 2015.

It was believed that the civil case, which was heard in 2018, was the first of its kind in Scotland.

In December of that year, a consultation began that also considered the size of the jury and the threshold for conviction and corroboration.

The findings, which were made public in July 2022, revealed that of the 194 replies, 62% were in favour of overturning the contentious decision.

The Law Society of Scotland, however, expressed "deep concern" over the plans' potential to lead to further injustices.

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