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Two-verdict Justice System

– in the Scottish Parliament on 13th November 2019.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

2. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether moving towards a two-verdict justice system of “proven” and “not proven” would be an improvement on the present system. (S5O-03746)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Understanding the impact of the three-verdict system was one of the key purposes of the Government commissioning the recently published jury research. Now that we have those findings, the Scottish Government will engage in extensive discussions with interested parties across the country about what they may mean for future criminal justice reforms in this area. Those discussions will include the question whether we should move to a two-verdict system and, if so, what those two verdicts should be.

I have a genuinely open mind on what, if any, further changes may be required, and I will not prejudge the outcome of those conversations.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the task of a jury is not to uncover an ultimate truth, but to pass opinion on a presentation of evidence, and that therefore it is much more logical to end up with a position of proven or not proven, rather than not guilty?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I will leave the debates on legal philosophy and jurisprudence to the colleagues on my right, the

Solicitor General for Scotland, and my extreme left, the Lord Advocate—I mean “extreme left” in terms of his location; I am not making a comment on anyone’s politics. [

Laughter

.]

It is really important that we view the discussion around the research and potential changes to the jury system through the prism of what is in the best interests of justice. On a qualitative basis—and on a quantitative basis, too, I think—it is certainly clear from the research that there was an element of confusion among some jurors about the three-verdict system. We saw examples of jurors saying that they thought that somebody could be retried after a not-proven verdict, and so on.

I understand that there is passionate debate among those who wish to see the three-verdict system reformed into a two-verdict system, as well as debate about what those two verdicts should be. I will not prejudge the outcome of that debate. The first of the engagement conversations, which will include a range of stakeholders, will take place later this month, and I will then update Parliament on what I think is the way forward.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

The cabinet secretary may have answered my question right at the end of his last answer. When the Scottish jury research report that he mentioned came out, he said that he would engage with legal professionals and the wider public. Will he provide a quick update on that engagement?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I am happy to do that. My officials have begun the initial planning discussions with Rape Crisis Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland, and they will contact more organisations in the coming weeks. The first of those engagement sessions will be held in Glasgow next month—I am sorry; I meant next month in my response to John Mason. In order to get as wide a view as possible, I consider it important that a number of those events be held outwith the central belt.

It is essential that all of us with an interest in the issue engage in a manner that is sensitive to the issues that are being discussed. I would welcome views from any Opposition members, or, indeed, from members of my own party, who have an interest. It is really important that we engage with all sides of the debate. The Government will look to do that, and I am very pleased that a range of stakeholders—from the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland to Rape Crisis Scotland and many others—is keen to engage in the question of what the next stage of the reform should be.