Scottish Conservatives bring forward vote on abolishing Not Proven

The Scottish Conservatives will bring forward a vote on abolishing the Not Proven verdict in the Scottish Parliament today (Wednesday).

The following day (Thursday), the party will also launch a consultation for their Victims Law, a series of reforms to the justice system which includes the abolition of the Not Proven verdict.

The vote on Wednesday will seek a consensus across the Scottish Parliament that the "outdated" acquittal verdict should be removed.

The Scottish Conservatives have said that every day that the SNP delay abolishing the verdict, "more victims may be denied justice".

Women’s rights campaigners have called for the abolition of Not Proven, stating that it “contributes to guilty people walking free”, and that rape victims are “unfairly left without justice”.


Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Jamie Greene MSP, said: “The outdated Not Proven verdict should be removed and we are holding a vote to lead the Scottish Parliament towards its abolition.

“Year after year, we hear stories of victims bravely coming forward to report horrific crimes such as rape and sexual assault - but they’re let down by the use of the Not Proven verdict.

"We called for this verdict to go last year and, while it's welcome that the SNP have since moved position, they are moving far too slowly on removing this verdict.

"Every day that the SNP delay, more victims may be denied justice. 

"This verdict’s day in court is long overdue, and we hope to achieve its removal by bringing forward a vote in the Scottish Parliament.

"Abolishing the Not Proven verdict is just one part of our Victims Law proposal, which is a series of detailed and straightforward reforms to improve the Scottish justice system by stacking it in favour of victims, not criminals."


In Scotland, guilty, not guilty and not proven are the three verdicts that can be issued in the outcome of a criminal trial. This is different to most common law jurisdictions which have two verdicts: guilty and not guilty. (Scottish Government, Scottish Jury Research: Findings from a Large Scale Mock Jury Study, 9 October 2019, Page IV, link).

The not proven verdict is an acquittal verdict, like not guilty, but a jury study found the verdict is often misunderstood. Despite the verdict having exactly the same legal consequences as not guilty, there were inconsistencies of understanding not proven’s meaning and confusion over the verdict’s effect. The idea that the verdict meant the accused was guilty but that guilt could not be proven arose frequently during the mock jury study. (Scottish Government, Scottish Jury Research: Findings from a Large Scale Mock Jury Study, 9 October 2019, Page 40, link).

The origin of the not proven verdict has been described as a ‘historical accident’. When giving evidence to the Criminal Justice Committee, Professor James Chalmers said: ‘The starting point has to be that the not proven verdict is a historical accident; it is not a verdict that we designed. It is an unprincipled and unacceptable feature of the system, and it ought to go.’ The verdict originates in the 17th Century when juries ceased to declare the guilt or innocence of the accused and instead moved to ‘special verdicts’ whether allegations were proven or not proven. By the 19th century lawyers came to the view that special verdicts were no longer relevant but not proven continued to be used regardless. (Criminal Justice Committee, Official Report, 22 September 2021, link; Scottish Government, Scottish Jury Research: Findings from a Large Scale Mock Jury Study, 9 October 2019, Page 41, link).

The latest statistics from the Scottish Government show that the not proven verdict is used in 20% of acquittals in all criminal trials. The latest criminal proceedings statistics show that the not proven verdict was used in 1,039 cases that proceeded to court in 2019-20. In total there were 5,094 acquittal verdicts in cases, with 4,055 of those being not guilty verdicts. (Scottish Government, Criminal Proceedings 2019-20, 18 May 2021, Table 2(a), link).

However, these same statistics show the not proven verdict is disproportionately used in rape and attempted rape cases. In 2019-20, the not proven verdict was used as an acquittal verdict 74 times in rape and attempted rape cases. This makes up 44% of acquittal verdicts issued in the 300 cases that proceeded to court in Scotland in 2019-20. (Scottish Government, Criminal Proceedings 2019-20, 18 May 2021, Table 2(a), link).

Several women’s rights groups support removing the not proven verdict from Scots Law. Women’s rights group Rape Crisis Scotland have launched the ‘End Not Proven’ campaign as they say the verdict ‘gives juries in rape trials an easy out and contributes to guilty people walking free’. Scottish Women’s Aid said that ‘not proven is not justice’ and Scottish Women’s Rights Centre wrote that ‘campaigns like the End Not Proven have emphasised the urgent changes needed to improve the experience of survivors going through this process [of a sexual offence trial]’. Campaigner Miss M, who herself was a victim of rape, said: ‘The not proven verdict means that those who are raped are unfairly left without justice’. (Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, Scottish Women’s Rights Centre comment on the acquittal in Alex Salmond’s sexual assault trial, 23 March 2020, link; Twitter, Scottish Women’s Aid, 13 November 2018, link; Rape Crisis Scotland, End Not Proven, Accessed 6 December 2021, link).

The Scottish Conservative motion reads as follows: Ending the Not Proven Verdict—That the Parliament believes that the current three verdict judicial system in Scotland’s criminal courts is not fit for purpose, as it frequently does not deliver justice for the victims of many heinous crimes, including gender-based violence, rape and domestic abuse, and therefore calls for the removal of the not proven verdict.

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