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England may adopt "not proven" verdict

20 April 2006

Scots law's unique "not proven" verdict may be imitated south of the border, the Home Secretary indicated yesterday.

Charles Clarke said that officials in London will study the possibility of introducing the verdict into some English legal proceedings as part of a wider overhaul of English law, in an attempt to limit the money paid in compensation to people who suffer a miscarriage of justice.

However the verdict would not become available to juries in England and Wales. Mr Clarke's suggestion is that the verdict becomes available to the criminal appeal court as a device to strike down a lower court's verdict on procedural grounds, without declaring the defendant innocent.

Mr Clarke said he wants to question the assumption that just becase a conviction is overturned on appeal, there must have been a miscarriage of justice.

The Home Secretary said he is increasingly concerned at the number of convictions that are successfully appealed on technical grounds, rather than the substantial case against the defendant. Campaigners responded that denying compensation to successful appellants could lead to more claims under the Human Rights Convention.

The not proven verdict in Scots law dates back to at least 1728 and has attracted controversy for failing to give a definitive answer. Last year Michael MacMahon, a Labour MSP, introduced a private member's bill to the Scottish Parliament that would remove the not proven option, but the bill did not become law.