19:14, November 12 55 0 theguardian.com

2018-11-12 19:14:07
Call for abolition of 'not proven' verdict in Scottish law

A woman who won a landmark civil action after the criminal case against the man she accused of raping her on a university freshers’ week night out was found not proven is calling for the abolition of the controversial Scottish verdict that acquits an accused person but stops short of finding them not guilty.

The former student, known as Miss M, is calling for the not proven verdict to be scrapped, in collaboration with a renowned feminist tattoo artist who has provided artwork for the campaign.

Last month, a sheriff in Edinburgh found that Stephen Coxen, 23, from Bury, Greater Manchester, raped the then student at St Andrews University while she was too drunk to consent, after they met at a nightclub during freshers’ week in 2013.

Coxen was prosecuted for the rape in 2015 but a high court jury found the charges against him not proven.

Launching the campaign on Tuesday morning, Miss M said: “The not proven verdict is very confusing for juries, especially in rape and sexual assault cases where they are also trying to understand about issues like consent and the effect of alcohol. When juries are already reluctant to convict in these cases, having the option of not proven contributes to wrongful acquittals.”

Backing the call is the tattoo artist Fidjit, herself a survivor of sexual violence, whose distinctive black and white designs have won an international following. Her “drowning girl” motif is worn by more than 1,000 women who have chosen to represent their experiences of sexual or domestic violence or mental ill-health in tattoo form as a means of empowerment.

Miss M described her own distress after Coxen received a not proven verdict. “It leaves you asking even more questions. But I do think there is momentum building now to get rid of it. People are interested that I was given not proven but continued my fight for justice.”

Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, which is supporting Miss M’s campaign, said: “The conviction rate for rape and attempted rape in Scotland is lower than for any other crime. The not proven verdict is used disproportionately in these cases. Many rape complainers tell of how devastating it has been to get this verdict, after going through the ordeal of giving evidence in a criminal trial.

“We have a real concern that this verdict may be contributing to guilty men walking free following being tried for rape. Alongside Miss M, we calling for an end to this verdict and a move to a two-verdict system of guilty and not guilty.”

In 2016-17, only 39% of Scottish rape and attempted rape cases resulted in convictions – the lowest rate for any type of crime. Nearly 30% of acquittals in rape and attempted rape cases are found not proven, compared with 17% for all crimes and offences.

Not proven is one of three options available to a jury or court along with guilty and not guilty. It leaves the accused innocent in the eyes of the law and its supporters say it offers an extra safeguard for defendants.

But critics argue it is confusing for juries and the public and that, although the legal implications of not proven are the same as with a not guilty verdict, it can stigmatise an accused person.

Women’s rights campaigners believe juries rely too much on not proven verdicts in rape cases because they sometimes blame women for what happened or believe they share responsibility for sexual encounters.

The Scottish government last year commissioned a detailed study of jury decision-making, including a consideration of Scots law’s unusual three-verdict system, while Holyrood’s justice committee has warned that the verdict is “on borrowed time”.

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