By Bill Heaney
The Government will launch a public consultation on the three-verdict system, which includes Not Proven, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, Keith Brown, told the Scottish Parliament this week.
MSP Neil Gray told him: “The matter is very important for my constituents—the family of Scott French, who died horrificly last year.
“The people who were accused of his murder were, in effect, acquitted with a not proven verdict.
“Given the substantial evidence that was available, the family believes that the verdict left them in limbo and appeared to be an acceptance that there was merit in the charges without the consequences.
“Can the cabinet secretary therefore confirm that the views of victims of crime, particularly those who were returned a not proven verdict, will inform the consultation and ensure that the verdict is scrapped as quickly as possible?”
However, Keith Brown, PICTURED RIGHT, told him: “It is not appropriate for me to comment on individual cases, although I am sorry to hear that his constituents feel that the not proven verdict left them in limbo as he describes.
“I have said in the chamber previously that I recognise that a strong case has been made for the abolition of the not proven verdict.
“Those issues are complex, however, and many stakeholders believe that the third verdict should be retained, or they highlight the interconnectedness of the system.
“It is therefore right that we consider the consultation responses carefully before we weigh all the evidence and reach a decision on those important matters.
“I am happy to confirm that we will continue to take an open and consultative approach, just as a broad range of stakeholders including victims and survivors played an important role in last year’s engagement events on the findings of the independent jury research.
“As part of the wider public consultation, we will seek to capture the views of a broad range of stakeholders including legal professionals, the third sector and those with lived experience of the system.”
Tory MSP Jamie Greene said: “A consultation is all well and good, but the Justice Committee said that the not proven verdict was on borrowed time back in 2016—five years ago.
“Can the cabinet secretary offer some comfort to those who feel that the not proven verdict is intrinsically unfair that this session of Parliament will finally deal with it through legislation and not kick it into the long grass?
“It is time that we resolved this centuries-old controversy in the Scottish legal system.”
Keith Brown replied: “I suppose that Jamie Greene highlights the difference between opposition and government.
“Of course, the Opposition can demand those things, but the Government has a responsibility to take on board the views of stakeholders and to ensure that, should legislation follow from that process, it is sustainable and well founded.
“It is right that we take on the views of the legal profession; indeed, many of the people on the member’s own back benches and across the chamber have reservations about the abolition of the verdict as well, and it is right that we hear those views. That is the sensible way in which to proceed.”
Some of Scotland’s leading lawyers at the High Court in Edinburgh.