Committee Divided By Criminal Trials Bill Plans

9 February 2016, 07:24

A Bill that would abolish Scotland's not proven verdict and change the majority required for jury trial convictions has failed to receive backing from MSPs.

Proposals in the Criminal Verdicts (Scotland) Bill divided Holyrood's Justice Committee, with a clear majority supporting the removal of the not proven verdict in criminal trials.

The committee heard evidence that while there is no legal difference between a not guilty and not proven verdict, the latter could carry a stigma for an accused person as well as fail to provide the necessary closure for victims.

A majority of MSPs said they were unable to endorse the general principles of Labour MSP Michael McMahon's member's bill because they did not support the proposal to increase the majority required in jury trials for a conviction from eight to 10.

The committee concluded this should be considered alongside other reforms recommended by former High Court judge Lord Bonomy, who led an expert group considering what safeguards would need to be put in place if plans to abolish the corroboration requirement in Scotland's criminal justice system went ahead.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has removed the controversial corroboration proposal from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill but stated the Scottish Government ''still believes that there is a case to be made'' for its abolition.

Mr Matheson told the committee he was ''not unsympathetic'' with the aims of Mr McMahon's Bill but that it should be considered alongside the work the Scottish Government is doing to take forward Lord Bonomy's recommendations.

One of these was for further research into jury reasoning and decision-making ``to ensure that changes to several unique aspects of the Scottish jury system are only made on a fully informed basis''.

Committee convener Christine Grahame said: "Michael McMahon's Bill has shone a light on the ambiguities of the not proven verdict and raised serious questions as to whether the verdict serves any useful purpose.

"Not proven is often deeply unsatisfactory for victims and no better for those acquitted on it.

"Like most members of the committee, I believe the not proven verdict is on borrowed time, but changes to majority verdict requirement raise complex questions that should be considered alongside other reforms, currently under consideration by Lord Bonomy.''

In its parliamentary report, the committee said it hoped that research on juries announced by the Scottish Government in the wake of Lord Bonomy's review would proceed soon.