HC Deb 19 July 1978 vol 954 cc530-2
31. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Lord Advocate what discussions he has had with the Law Commission regarding the operation of the "not proven" verdict in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)

I have had no discussions on this subject with the Scottish Law Commission. However, I am in favour of retaining this form of verdict.

Mr. Dempsey

Has my right hon. and learned Friend considered that the "not proven" verdict in Scotland was introduced to give some degree of protection against the contingency of unfair trials arising out of the repressive statute introduced during the reign of Charles II, 1660 to 1685? This is no longer a threat to honest justice in this country. Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that it has been reported recently that 30 persons charged with murder were, in spite of insufficient evidence, found not proven guilty? These people have to live under the cloud of suspicion for the rest of their lives. Is it not time that my right hon. and learned Friend ended this system of lazy justice in Scotland?

The Lord Advocate

I hope that my hon. Friend is not suggesting that acquittal by a court is a sign of injustice. Surely in the very circumstances that he describes it would appear that justice had been done. The suggestion that the verdict of not proven is illogical and is out of date is unfounded. I should have thought that it was eminently logical. One may think that a man has committed a crime, but the requirements of the law have not quite been met. In such circumstances it would seem wrong to give such a person a certificate of innocence. The Bryden Committee on identification procedure recently drew attention to the fact that the "not proven" verdict is a very important safeguard against injustice, for example, through misidentification.

Mr. Rifkind

Will the Lord Advocate accept that the "not proven" verdict is an essential safeguard because in Scotland, unlike in England and Wales, a person can be convicted of the most serious crime on an eight-to-seven vote of the jury? A substantial majority verdict is required south of the border.

The Lord Advocate

On this occasion I agree with the hon. Member without qualification.