The acquittal of Ewen Macdonald on Tuesday has reignited debate over whether we should adopt the “Scottish Verdict” as part of our criminal justice system.
I’m not a fan of Scottish innovations generally, particularly the kilt or the bagpipe. The sound of a highland bagpipe band can be most stirring, but when played badly the bagpipe is positively damaging to the health of those it is inflicted upon. If I am ever to face trial for murder, as Ewen Macdonald did, it will be because I went on a stabbing frenzy after enduring the searing noise of a lone bagpiping busker.
But the Scottish jury system deserves some consideration. Under Scottish law the jury has the power to deliver a “not proven” verdict, which is an acquittal but one which recognises that the jury were not convinced of the accused’s innocence.
Personally, I’d be in favour of giving juries more discretion to deliver verdicts that better fit their perception of the accused. However, I don’t see why we should have to limit ourselves to three verdicts like the Scottish do: guilty, not guilty and not proven. We can do better than that.
Let’s look at some possible additions to the current two options available to juries.
Guilty as sin
Criteria: Under this verdict, the accused is so utterly, absurdly guilty that his or her continuing maintenance of innocence is an affront to all decent people.
Effect: The effect of this verdict is that no appeal is allowed, and the accused’s lawyer is also to be tarred and feathered in a public place for allowing this insult to the justice system to continue in such a grotesque manner.
Criteria: Maybe the evidence isn’t quite all there, but we all know the bastard did it. Quite possibly the evidence is actually weak, but the guy’s body language shows he did it. Plus, the guy won’t even take the stand to testify in his own defence, which everyone knows means he’s a guilty son of a bitch, and don’t give me any of those legal niceties about the right to silence.
Effect: Like a guilty verdict, but journalists, writers and former All Blacks will be permitted to make hay writing books about the case, and proclaiming the guilt or innocence of the person concerned.
Guilty because I don’t like him/her
Criteria: For nailing someone the jury dislikes for no rational reason, such as the colour of their skin, their sexual preference, or their religion. For use when the evidence is weak but the accused must be punished for some offence they have caused to the jury.
Effect: Like the Quite Guilty verdict, except that the accused is automatically entitled to one retrial in front of a more civilised group of jurors.
Not guilty but a villainous piece of work
Criteria: Where the evidence doesn’t warrant a conviction, but where the jury aren’t convinced the accused is innocent of the crime, because the accused is such a nasty character.
Effect: The same as an acquittal, except that the accused is to be taken to a public place, stripped down, and flogged before the news media.
Not guilty but there’s a stink about this chap that I don’t like and I won’t have him in my club
Criteria: Similar to Not Guilty but a Villainous Piece of Work, except that the accused is not quite as repulsive or loathsome.
Effect: Like an acquittal, but the accused is barred from joining any golf clubs, church choirs, sports teams, or Rotary clubs for five years from the date of the verdict. The acquitted subject is also to be spoken about in whispers whenever the accused is amongst friends and work colleagues.
Not guilty and a pillar of the community
Criteria: Where the accused is white, middle-aged and wealthy.
Effect: An acquittal. The acquitted person writes a book detailing his experiences in prison awaiting trial, the most harrowing of which involved having to use 2-ply toiletpaper.
Not guilty due to being innocent, but with reservations
Criteria: For use where it’s clear that the accused didn’t commit the crime, but where some moral flaw on the part of the accused (e.g. he/she is an ACT MP or likes UB40) prevents the jury from being overly sympathetic.
Effect: An acquittal and a declaration that the accused is innocent, but the accused still leaves the court with his/her head hanging in shame.
Not guilty due to being innocent, should never have been tried, has been the victim of a monstrous witch-hunt by the police and Crown, and is just like Jesus
Criteria: For use whenever a celebrity is on trial.
Effect: An acquittal, except that the accused must accept as many hugs, marriage proposals and autograph requests as the jury may demand.