IT has become de rigueur to “add abolish the not proven verdict” to one’s manifesto these days, so I thought I would get my two pence worth in. It is mainly rape cases that illustrate the bias of the not proven verdict and the need for reform.
Personally, setting aside the not proven verdict (likely we will still be debating it 300 years hence) for the moment, it is my opinion that jury trials will always prejudice people alleging rape. In these transformational times, let us just reform the system for rape complaints and bring in a wee touch of the inquisitorial systems practised elsewhere.
The current system is torture upon torture for the person raped. It is not fit for purpose and abolishing not proven may not help deliver them justice. The game is rigged! In rape, the most heinous of crimes for the people whose lives are forever altered, the evidence will simply not be there to overcome the not proven standard. Unless of course the victim has been battered senseless with bruises to prove it and they have lost their voice from screaming “no”.
The adjudications will ultimately boil down to which of the two parties is believed most. So why bring out the whole “judged by my peers and court” paraphernalia when we know that our peers are often not equipped with the implications of the verdicts they are being asked to deliver and they most certainly bring to bear all the societal prejudices, lots of them from the misogynistic influences everywhere, and it becomes an opt out to be swayed by the idea of voting for the middle way?
It may seem to the juror in the throes of deliberations that not proven is responsible for causing the least harm, but it is unlikely that they will know the life sentence they inflict on the victim of the crime. We need a better system to serve survivors of rape. Many of them, possibly the vast majority, will be deterred from getting as far as the court room, and that is criminal.
I was intrigued as ever with Andrew Tickell’s piece and relevant bits of legal context (Third verdict a Scottish legal oddity we could live without, April 11). He mentions the often-quoted diary entry of Sir Walter Scott, “that bastard verdict”, but Sir Walter was inflamed enough to call it that through attending the trial the quote originated from. He was convinced by what he observed that the accused reeked of guilt. The rules of the game and the verdict got in the way of justice (I say that word glibly). It was clear, to Scott at least, that the accused got off with only a stain on her character.
If we had an inquisitorial system then we might have had a different outcome. Tony Lenehan, the president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, argues that abolishing not proven means that we will be lowering the bar convicting more people with no evidence to justify it. I say again, how much evidence can be produced in a private crime where it boils down to the accounts of two people? It seems to me that if the evidence is not there, either the legal team have not done their job properly and should be reprimanded in some way or the system is wrong and needs to change.
I am not convinced that abolishing not proven will assist because of the standard of evidence required or the shortcomings inherent in jury deliberations. We must have a different forum for adjudication.
So, by all means, stick “revoke not proven” in your manifestos and continue that saga or do something really useful and find a forum better suited to serve the many women, children and men who have been violated without redress because our criminal system values tradition over functionality.