Begone bastard!

English: Sir Walter Scott statue by Sir John S...

English: Sir Walter Scott statue by Sir John Steell on the Scott Monument, Edinburgh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michael McMahon MSP has launched a consultation on his proposed Reform of Criminal Verdicts (Scotland) Bill which proposes abolishing the peculiarly Scottish “not proven” verdict in criminal trials – famously described by Sir Walter Scott as “that bastard verdict”.  It also proposes increasing the majority required to return a conviction from 8/15 to 10/15.

The consultation is open until October and invites the views of all and sundry.  To be fair, Mr. McMahon appears open to the proposition that the system be reformed by moving to a proven/not proven choice.

That, it would seem to me would be the better solution, as it more accurately describes the task of the jury.  Juries are not mindreaders, psychologists or gods.  They cannot know what foul deeds occurred at whose hand, nor weigh a man’s soul, nor pierce his heart.  They are selected at random to fulfil one duty, which is to weigh the evidence and to determine whether the charge is proven (or not).

To ask 15 ordinary men and women to make a choice between “guilty” and “not guilty” is just silly.

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2 Responses to Begone bastard!

  1. Moving to a proven/not proven system would far better suit the way in which the criminal justice system operates. It is, as you noted in your post, the task the jury to say whether they consider the Crown to have discharged its duty and proved its case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. The current three verdicts are, in my humble opinion, unnecessary and really in need of a change. Why do we really need two verdicts of acquittal when both acquittal verdicts mean the same in law?

    I’m not sure Mr McMahon’s position that moving to a two verdict system would increase the number of convictions is all that arguable. I would find it odd that someone who would have previously opted for “not proven” to suddenly decide to convict. There could be some arguments for raising the number required for a guilty verdict. Have the crown really proved its case beyond reasonable doubt if nearly half the individuals on the jury are not convinced? Of course, if we were to increase the number required for a conviction I’m sure the Crown and our ‘Justice’ Secretary would be jumping at the bit to change something in order to “rebalance the scales”. However, that really is a debate for another time.

  2. William Traynor says:

    Are the proven/ not proven verdicts not actually the historical options in Scots Law?

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