A woman who won a civil rape case is spearheading a new campaign to end the not proven verdict in Scottish criminal trials.
The woman, known as Miss M, is joined by a host of women’s and anti-violence organisations in calling for the “confusing” verdict to be scrapped.
The End Not Proven campaign argues it is used disproportionately in sexual violence cases and fear it gives juries an “easy out” when reaching their decision.
They say they want to hear the experiences – positive or negative – of people who have been affected by the not proven verdict.
Miss M, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was awarded £80,000 in damages last month against a man who had previously been cleared of raping her.
She sued Stephen Coxen, accusing him of raping her in St Andrews, Fife, after a night out in September 2013.
Coxen, of Bury in Lancashire, denied the charges and in November 2015 a jury acquitted him on a not-proven verdict in a criminal trial.
Following a recent civil case at the Personal Injury Court in the Edinburgh Sheriff Court building, Sheriff Robert Weir QC ruled she had been raped.
Miss M said: “It is not justice that motivated me to start this campaign to end the not proven verdict in Scotland, it was injustice.”
Uniquely, Scotland has three verdicts – guilty, not guilty and not proven. Not guilty and not proven have the same result, both being verdicts of acquittal.
Miss M said the not proven verdict is “clouded with ambiguity”.
“The certainty we apply to guilty and not guilty does not apply to not proven,” she said.
“In amongst the uncertainty, what we know for sure is that not proven is most commonly used in cases of rape and sexual violence.
“I fear – as someone who received a not proven verdict and spent three long years fighting the Scottish legal system subsequently – that the not proven verdict means that those who are raped are unfairly left without justice and those who rape face no consequence, no sanction for their actions.
“What message does this send to society?
“Reporting rape is never going to be easy but I shouldn’t have had to fight against the justice system in my pursuit for fairness. It didn’t have to be this difficult.
“I am calling on the Scottish Government to give survivors a chance. There is no convincing argument to retain the outdated verdict, it’s time to scrap not proven for good.”
Rape Crisis Scotland is launching the End Not Proven campaign alongside Miss M.
They state that in 2016-17, only 39% of rape and attempted rape cases resulted in convictions, the lowest rate for any type of crime.
Nearly 30% of acquittals were not proven, compared with 17% for all crimes and offences.
The campaign is supported by Engender, the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre and Zero Tolerance.
Scottish Women’s Aid, which is also backing the drive, said: “Not proven is a third verdict that disproportionately impacts survivors of rape, many of whom are also survivors of domestic abuse.
“A verdict that is often interpreted as ‘we probably believe you but we don’t have the evidence’ is just another element of a justice system that fails us time after time.
“Not proven is not justice and we stand by Miss M and those who want an end to this non-verdict.”
Some legal experts, however, believe the three-verdict system should be retained.
Brian McConnachie QC told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “Juries understand the fact that there are two acquittal verdicts and the choice between them is simply a way of them indicating to the court which they feel best represents their verdict in the case.
“I don’t think it’s an ‘easy out’ at all. They are told that they are both verdicts of acquittal and therefore if they weren’t finding somebody not proven, if that didn’t exist, they would be finding them not guilty.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Lord Bonomy’s post-corroboration safeguards review recommended that research be undertaken to better understand the dynamics of jury decision-making in Scotland’s jury system.
“Ministers agree with Lord Bonomy that key components of the jury system – including the three verdicts, the simple majority required for conviction and the size of the jury – are inextricably linked.
“Any changes to Scotland’s jury system, including the not proven verdict, would best be made on an informed basis, so ministers will await the findings of the independent jury research before considering further.”