Blogs from the ‘In Dialogue’ series are attracting a lot of attention. In case you missed this, below is the blog about Lee’s talk: ‘An empirical investigation into the utility of the not proven verdict’.
Sue: What’s this talk all about, Lee?
Lee: This talk is about Scotland’s unique not proven verdict. In Scotland, juries can give one of three verdicts: guilty, not guilty and not proven. The prior verdicts are used in the same way in Scotland as they are used in other countries (such as England and Wales and Northern Ireland). However, the not proven verdict is an additional acquittal verdict (that means the accused can walk free from the court after the trial). The talk is about the origins of the verdict, how the availability of the verdict influences juror outcomes and how legal professionals view the verdict.
Sue: Very interesting Lee. How did you get interested in this topic?
Lee: Ever since my undergraduate degree I have been interested in how individuals make decisions in their life and what biases might influence these decisions. Naturally, from this, I became interested in the criminal justice system and how decision makers within it (such as jurors and judges) make decisions and what factors influence these decisions. My interest relating to the not proven verdict and the Scottish jury system in general started during my PhD. At the time, I had just began combining the psychological literature on juror decision making, when I came across an article on the Scottish jury system and how it differed in relation to how many verdicts were available to jurors (three) and how many jurors sat on a jury (15 rather than 12). From this I became extremely interested in the not proven verdict and dedicated three experimental juror decision making studies of my PhD to the topic; one of which I discuss in the talk. However, since the beginning of my PhD, the not proven verdict has become a factor that the media and the public in Scotland are becoming ever more aware of and interested in. Campaigner’s such as Miss M have critiqued the verdict (and rightfully so) for its overuse in rape and sexual assault cases, leading to a low conviction rate for said offences in Scotland. The Scottish government, and the other leading parties in Scotland, even put in their manifestos at the last election that they would seek public consultation on the topic (to see if the not proven verdict should remain or be abolished).
Sue: So how do you research something like this, and specifically, how do you research it in relation to psychological science?
Lee: There are a number of ways of researching the topic. In this talk I talk about the ways that my team and myself have studied the topic. We have used mock juror studies to assess how jurors understand the verdict, how the availability of the verdict influences conviction rates and what effect the verdict has on other factors, such as how they perceive the accused. What we found was the availability of the not proven verdict decreased the amount of guilty verdicts given, making it more difficult for the prosecution to get a conviction. We have also used surveys to assess how legal professionals view the verdict, what they think should be done with the verdict (keep or abolish), and what suggestions they would have for reform. Interestingly, most legal professionals said that they would favour a system of proven and not proven, rather than the current Scottish verdict system or the Anglo-American verdict system of guilty and not guilty. Have a listen to my talk to find out why. One methodology we have not used, but other researcher such as James Chalmers, Vanessa Munro and Fiona Leverick have used, is interviews. They interviewed complainers (mostly from sexual assault trials) who had a not proven verdict in their trial. They discussed the pitfalls of the verdict; I would recommend reading their paper if you are interested in the subject.
Sue: That’s great, but why are those results important?
Lee: Next move is to conduct more research. My team (Jim Turner, James Munro, and Lara Frumkin as well as Martin Lages) are interested in following up the survey we carried out with lawyers with another juror experiment. We hope to investigate how a proven and not proven verdict system would influence jurors. Thanks to the Faculty of Advocates, Bloody Scotland and The Modern Studies Association of Scotland, we have some very cool mock trials to use for the experiment. We also hope to do some collaborations with members of the Faculty of Business and Law right here at the Open University.
Sue: Thank you, Lee, for your valuable insights, such a fascinating subject.
Please see below the original blog about Lee’s talk and the link to the recorded talk.