A freedom of information request revealed that juries returned the ‘not proved’ verdict in sexual offense trials between 2016-2020.

The third verdict of Scotland was used in such cases:

  • 75 times between 2015-16
  • In 2016-17, 72 times
  • 2017-18: 78 times; and
  • In 2018-19 as well as 2019-20, 113 times.

Over the period of four years, ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’ were more often used than ‘not proved’. The majority solemn cases involving sexual offenses actually led to conviction.

Yesterday’s submission to the Criminal Justice Committee was published by the Faculty of Advocates. It stated that, while there is much vilification of the verdict and it “often presented [by some] as the default verdict in cases involving rape trials,” it was in fact “returned least in all the four years between 2016-2020 in solemn prosecutions for all offenses and – in sexual offences [cases]- it was also the most returned verdict in that same period.”

Thomas Ross QC stated to Scottish Legal News statistics shouldn’t be used as a barometer of “how well justice system performs”, but added that politicians and special interests groups can make broad statements about frequency of certain verdicts. It is in the public interest to verify whether these assertions are true.

He said, “On this occasion it would appear that many of them not are”.

Earlier in the year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated that there was “mounting evidence” that the “not proven” verdict was linked to low conviction rates for rape or sexual assault trials.

Ross noted, however, that conviction rates in England and Wales are lower than elsewhere in the world, where the “not proven” verdict is not available for juries.

Ross stated that the Scottish Conservatives’ and Greens’ claim that the “not proven” verdict was “used in rape cases disproportionately” was not supported by the FOI data.

The criminal silk said that talk of “low conviction rates” and “disproportionate use” of a specific verdict was populist baloney.

He stated that the conviction rate should be equal to the number of cases proven beyond reasonable doubt. No politician has ever offered any evidence that they are not meeting that standard.

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