A campaign to axe the 'not proven' verdict from Scottish courts has got backing amid concerns it lets rapists off the hook.

The 17th Century verdict has been found to cause confusion among 21st Century jurors who do not understand what it means, or the difference between 'not guilty' and 'not proven'.

It was coined 'the bastard verdict' by Sir Walter Scott and Scotland is the only country in Europe to have a third verdict.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said it will be reviewed as the conviction rate for rape and sexual assault is "shamefully low".

A Scottish Government study found in 2019 deemed it caused 'inconsistency and confusion' among jurors, and Rape Crisis Scotland believe 30per cent of acquittals in rape trials were 'not proven' - compared to 17 per cent for all crimes.

Rape victim Miss M, whose attacker at St Andrews University was acquitted by 'not proven' has lobbied for change, saying it lacks 'certainty'.

She was raped in 2013, and the jury returned a not proven verdict at a trial, so she took her case to the civil court and was awarded £80,000.

Miss M Said: “Scotland is the only European nation to have a third verdict in criminal cases, ‘not proven'.

“The certainty we apply to guilty and not guilty does not apply to 'not proven'.

"People don’t understand what 'not proven' is.

"There’s no definition to what it means."

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The Nats have said they will review the 'not proven' verdict while the Scottish Tories are committed to scrapping it.

Miss M added: "It’s great to see the conversation had at this level.

"Hopefully they follow through.”

The Scottish Government study said: “Where the not proven verdict was discussed, there was inconsistency in understanding of its meaning and confusion over its effect.

"In particular, jurors were not always clear how it differed (if at all) from a not guilty verdict.

"More jurors thought that a verdict of not proven should be returned when jurors need to compromise to reach a verdict than believed a not guilty verdict should be used in that situation. "

Latest figures show that 47 per cent of cases in Scotland for attempted rape and rape get a conviction.

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In England and Wales, the year to March 2020 saw rape convictions at 68 per cent, though comparison is partially inaccurate due to the difference in criteria and approach at collecting data.

But top QC Thomas Ross said difficulties were posed with prosecuting rapes as often there were no witnesses.

Mr Ross said: “I think most practising lawyers would say that it’s the not guilty verdict that should be withdrawn.

"The question a jury is being asked is whether something has been proved beyond reasonable doubt, so that’s the one they should answer.

“It would then be for the judge to declare the defendant guilty or not.”

He added that there was a danger in politicians setting out to raise conviction rates.
"A conviction should be proved beyond all reasonable doubt.

“The reason that there are lower conviction rates in rape cases is logical.

"A lot of time it will be just the one witness, the complainant.

"It’s not pleasant.

"The reality is it can come down to one person’s word against another.”

Rape Crisis Scotland published a statement online which said: “The not proven verdict has the exact same impact as a not guilty verdict, and can be just as distressing for the complainer as a not guilty verdict.

“There is some evidence that juries can be reluctant to convict in rape cases, and that preconceived notions of how someone should react to rape may impact on their decision making.

"There are real worries that the existence of the not proven verdict gives juries in rape trials an easy out.”