Leading lawyer Donald Findlay has hailed the controversial not proven verdict a “great asset” – saying the move to scrap it is a mistake driven by political spin.
But his remarks have been criticised by the dad of tragic schoolgirl Grace Handling, who watched the man who supplied her with deadly ecstasy walk free from court after being defended by the veteran QC.
Findlay, who has secured acquittals in some of the country’s most high-profile cases, was previously reported to be in support of a move to a simple “yes or no” system after wading into the debate on whether to abolish the third option – only open to jurors in Scotland.
But the 70-year-old has now described the verdict as an “invaluable addition” to Scots law, saying: “The not proven verdict is being politicised and far too many politicians have jumped on that particular bandwagon, including shortly before the last election.”
FM Nicola Sturgeon has committed to a consultation later this year on scrapping the verdict as part of efforts to tackle the “shamefully low” conviction rates for rape and sexual assault.
Last month, Findlay discussed the topic with website Hey Legal, leading to suggestion he was in favour of the move.
But this week he told the platform: “I think when we look at it and people understand the significance of the not proven verdict it is in fact one of the great assets to the Scottish criminal justice system and to do away with it, I believe, would be to our detriment.”
Callum Owens, 20, was cleared last year of killing 13-year-old Grace Handling, from Irvine, Ayrshire, on a not proven verdict at the High Court in Glasgow, after admitting he supplied her with ecstasy in June 2018.
Grace’s dad Stewart listened in court to what he described as an “assassination” of his daughter’s character by Findlay, who told the jury: “This was nobody’s choice bar Grace’s.”
He said: “Findlay’s comments are what you would expect from a defence lawyer who wants as many options as possible to keep his clients out of jail. But there will always be a question mark over them when not proven is concerned in my eyes.”
He added: “To use Grace’s past mistakes, as a child, to justify Owens’ criminal behaviour was devastating.
“Grace was a child and vulnerable and not in a position to make correct decisions about what she wanted to do.”
Don’t miss the latest news from around Scotland and beyond. Sign up to our daily newsletterhere.