A Dundee woman’s call to end not proven verdicts in Scottish courts has split opinion.
Earlier this month, the Tele reported that a 24-year-old woman, who can’t be named for legal reasons, had been left distraught when a charge against a man accused of raping her was found not proven after a trial – despite her claiming she had recorded the assault taking place.
She is campaigning to have not proven verdicts – when an accused person in Scottish courts cannot be proved to be guilty of a crime, but the jury isn’t satisfied that they are not guilty – removed as a possible outcome for cases.
A poll run by the Tele showed online readers were split almost exactly down the middle. Of the 97 people who responded to our poll, 49 said the verdict should be scrapped and 48 believed it should stay.
People on the street who spoke to the Tele were largely in favour of scrapping the verdict.
Support practitioner Jodie O’Dell, 27, from Arbroath, said: “It does a lot of harm to them as they don’t get justice.
“A victim’s life is changed forever by sexual assault crimes but those accused of such crimes walk away with verdicts like this and it’s not right.”
Sylvia Anderson, 61, from Woodside in Dundee, a volunteer with a community health team, said: “The verdict is an easy cop-out for the court.
“Jurors have to make a definitive decision when it comes to people being guilty or not.
“The justice system isn’t doing its job by using this grey area. It is a black or white decision.”
Retired cleansing department worker Thomas Pagan, 75, of Rosebery Street, said: “The verdict does nothing for either party.
“It’s too much of a grey area and neither the accused nor victims is given peace of mind.”
The Dundee case coincides with a national campaign, End Not Proven, being led by Rape Crisis Scotland and a woman referred to as Miss M – who won £80,000 after successfully suing a man who had been cleared of raping her with a not proven verdict.
Dundee and Angus Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (WRASAC) is working with the national campaign to abolish not proven verdicts. The centre’s acting manager Helen Hampton said: “For women survivors, we know how unsettling the experience can be to come forward about their assault.
“Women will feel indescribable shame and blame themselves after being assaulted.
“When women experience a not proven verdict in their cases, it brings forward all the unsettling feelings that happened due to their assault.
“They feel like they have no resolution. They are left in limbo and as if they received no justice at all for what happened to them.
“It’s not an ending for them and that is why they look towards civil action so they may get closure.
“But there are tough implications with those cases as women lose their anonymity.
“It’s really about the survivors looking to have someone held responsible, not the possible financial gain.”
However, some academics feel wider reform of the justice system is needed.
Dr Lee John Curley, psychology teaching associate at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “I would not scrap the not proven verdict. I would rather get rid of the guilty and not guilty verdicts and replace them with a proven and not proven system.
“A conviction in court shows that the evidence has proven you’re guilty, not that you’re truly guilty, and I believe a proven and not proven verdict system would reflect this legal mindset more accurately.”