Major research into how juries reach decisions has found the size of the jury and the number of verdicts available may all have an effect on the outcome of finely balanced trials.
The study of Scotland’s jury system, in which cases are heard by 15 jurors with a choice of three verdicts returned by a simple majority, suggests that:
• Reducing jury size from 15 to 12, as is the norm in most English language jurisdictions, might lead to more individual jurors switching their position towards the majority view;
• Asking juries to reach a unanimous or near unanimous verdict might tilt more jurors in favour of acquittal;
• Removing the not proven verdict might incline more jurors towards a guilty verdict in finely balanced trials.
It also found inconsistent views on the meaning of not proven and how it differed from not guilty.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I am grateful to everyone who gave up their time for this major piece of research, which is just one part of our work to improve Scotland’s justice system for all.
“We will now engage with legal professionals and the wider public to consider all of the findings. We are organising events around the country and I am keen to hear from a wide range of people, especially those with personal experience of the criminal justice system.
“In particular, we will now engage in serious discussions on all of these findings including whether we should move to a two verdicts system.
“My mind is open and we will not pre-judge the outcome of those conversations.”
The research was undertaken on behalf of the Scottish Government by Ipsos MORI Scotland and researchers from the Universities of Glasgow and Warwick.
Nearly 1000 people took part in the jury research.
This included 863 of these participants being ‘mock jurors’ in one of 64 staged jury deliberations, with each watching a video of either a Scottish rape or assault trial.
The fictional, but realistic, trials were finely balanced, in order to encourage debate about guilt and acquittal, and to maximise the likelihood that jurors would consider the difference between the not guilty and not proven verdicts.
Fiona Leverick, Professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Glasgow, said: “In shining a light on the ways in which jurors understand and use the not proven verdict, this study will help inform ongoing debates about this verdict.
“It also provides insight into areas where jurors may require additional support or guidance to avoid legal misunderstandings.”