Time to ditch not proven verdict

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Rape Crisis Scotland and the victim of a sexual assault have said the verdict is overused in rape cases

13th November 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

A campaign has been launched for the not proven verdict to be ended.

Rape Crisis Scotland and Miss M, the woman at the centre of a recent civil rape case, have called for the verdict to be scrapped due to its disproportionate use in sexual assault cases.

Following a not proven verdict in a criminal trial in 2015, Miss M successfully sued Stephen Coxen in the civil courts, in what was the first civil damages action for rape following an unsuccessful criminal prosecution in almost 100 years.

Scotland is unique in that it has three verdicts that can be issued by the court – guilty, not guilty or not proven. The campaign is arguing that not guilty and not proven have the same impact – they are both acquittals, and there are no legal consequences for the accused if they receive a not proven verdict. 

“It is not justice that motivated me to start this campaign to end the not proven verdict in Scotland, it was injustice,” said Miss M.

“Scotland is the only European nation to have a third verdict in criminal cases. The certainty we apply to guilty and not guilty does not apply to not proven.

“Clouded with ambiguity, some think not proven means that the sheriff or jury believe the accused is guilty, but don’t have enough evidence, and others aren’t so sure. It goes without saying that this uncertainty exists amongst juries as the general population, the very people who must make a decision and uphold the law. Nevertheless, the legal implications of not proven are the same as not guilty and the accused is acquitted and innocent in the eyes of the law.”

Rape Crisis Scotland has highlighted that in 2016/17 only 39% of rape and attempted rape cases resulted in convictions, the lowest rate for any type of crime. Nearly 30% of acquittals were not proven, compared with 17% for all crimes and offences.

The charity’s Sandy Brindley said: “The conviction rape for rape and attempted rape is lower than for any other crime. The not proven verdict is used disproportionately in these cases.

“Many rape complainers tell of how devastating it has been to get this verdict, after going through the ordeal of giving evidence in a criminal trial. We have a real concern that this verdict may be contributing to guilty men walking free following being tried for rape.”

The campaign is supported by Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid, the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre and Zero Tolerance.

Miss M claimed she was raped after a night out in St Andrews, when she was an 18-year-old student in 2013.

Stephen Coxen denied the charges against him and in November 2015 a jury in a criminal court gave a not proven verdict.

However, last month, in a case understood to be the first of its kind in Scotland, a sheriff in a Personal Injury Court ruled that Coxen had raped the woman and demanded he pay damages.