Guilty or Not Guilty: for the majority of the English-speaking world these words are synonymous with the two verdicts at a trial. Not so in Scotland. Scotland prides herself on her idiosyncrasies – in food, drink, and inclement weather – and also in the form of a verdict unknown elsewhere: ‘not proven’.
In Scotland, this third verdict has been used since the late 17th century as a form of acquittal, alongside ‘not guilty’. A stranger to this arcane tradition would be forgiven for assuming a legal distinction between these two verdicts. Perhaps a ‘not proven’ verdict opens up future avenues for the prosecution, or impacts the appeals process? It does not. There is no legal difference. Acquittal is acquittal. So why do the two forms exist?
Over time the ‘not proven’ verdict has ‘evolved’ so that a jury can convey to the judge that they doubt the person’s innocence, but lack sufficient evidence to convict them.