Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The troubling side of public opinion: one-quarter of Scottish voters think defendants should be regarded as guilty until proved innocent

Because Wings Over Scotland has theoretically shut up shop, I haven't been keeping an eye on the site, and I was surprised to discover today that there have been a couple of brief updates since I last checked.  One of them is a thoroughly disturbing result from a Panelbase poll commissioned by Wings.  It found that 26% of Scottish voters want the presumption of innocence to be abolished for men accused of rape, with the accusation regarded as true unless the defendant can disprove it.  A further 22% want jury trials to be abolished for rape cases, in order to address what the poll question implies is an abysmally low conviction rate.

What I find curious is that Stuart uses the title "Believing Her", which - unless it's meant ironically - might give the impression of approving of the poll results, something which would be totally at odds with his views on a high-profile court case last year.  He did not believe the complainers in that case, and based on the verdict he was entirely right not to do so.  So would he really be keen on a system that would have required the court and the jury to start with the assumption that those complainers were telling the truth? 

It's sometimes said that false allegations of sexual assault are exceptionally rare - but a) that claim is not uncontested, and b) even if it's right, nobody seriously argues that false complaints are totally non-existent.  Reversing the burden of proof would almost certainly see men go to prison for sex crimes they did not commit - the only question is how many.  There are good reasons for suspecting that the amount of false complaints would skyrocket once people realise that they can easily destroy someone they have a grudge against, and without any particularly high risk of repercussions.

Of course in the real world, no government in a liberal democracy would introduce a presumption of guilt, regardless of public opinion on the matter. However, the fact that so many people hold such an extreme view means that the government could be pushing at an open door if they opt to erode the safeguards for defendants in more limited ways.  This is the end result of an ideology that would have us believe that the role of the courts is to provide a service for complainers by securing a conviction, rather than to test the allegations and establish whether or not they are true. 

In fairness, people who took part in the poll were probably heavily influenced by the claims made in the question wording about the conviction rate for rape and how it is supposedly much worse than for other crimes. That made it very hard for respondents not to say that "something drastic must be done". But there is an alternative point of view - this blogpost (written, I believe, by a Liberal Democrat) compellingly advances the view that an apples and oranges comparison may be creating a very misleading impression of the statistics.

34% of respondents in the Wings poll take a relatively moderate stance by saying that the conviction rate should be boosted by abolishing the Scots law requirement for corroborating evidence.  This wouldn't drive a coach and horses through the principles of justice in quite the same way as a presumption of guilt or the abolition of jury trials.  Nevertheless, my recollection is that corroboration is regarded by legal experts as balancing out other disadvantages that defendants have under Scots law - for example the fact that they can be found guilty of serious crimes on the basis of just eight votes on a fifteen-strong jury.  That is not the case in England, and it may be that we'd need to reconsider the question of a threshold for majority verdicts if the need for corroboration was to be discarded.

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You can catch up with my Scot Goes Popcast interview with iScot editor Ken McDonald HERE (on video) or HERE (audio only). 


  1. Sturgeon The Toom TabardDecember 22, 2021 at 11:59 PM

    The move to make changes to the Scottish legal system is just more of the same - make Scotland look more like England. Make Scotland look less of a seperate and distinct nation from England.

    In Craig Murray's book Murder in Samarkand Murray challenges an Uzbekistan official over the near 100% conviction rate in the Uzbekistan courts. Murray is simply told that unlike the poor UK justice system the far superior Uzbekistan system only accuses guilty people. That is the road we are on in Scotland led by people like Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland.
    If you are accused you are guilty. That used to happen to women who were accused of witchcraft. The modern Brindley/Dorian approach wants to turn it on its head and have men accused by women automatically guilty. No juries allowed.

    With the quality of Justice Secretaries like Yousaf and now Brown the future does not auger well for the Justice system in Scotland and for basic justice.

    1. Sturgeon The Toom TabardDecember 24, 2021 at 10:49 AM

      "But the policy of ' guilt by accusation' continued unabated causing Scots, once proud of their separate law system from England , to feel Scots law was soured, riddled with agents of the British State, and rotten to a QC's peruse."


    2. Sturgeon The Toom TabardDecember 24, 2021 at 11:13 AM

      Bloody spell check - peruke not peruse.

      Peruke being the awful wigs they wear.

  2. Given that so many people still see Salmond as guilty, despite two very clear court cases, one a criminal trial with mostly female jury completely exonerating him, this doesn’t surprise me. Even when someone proves themselves innocent, and the evidence is overwhelming it was a stitch up, with ludicrous charges and blatant lies, there are still people who decide they’re guilty and someone’s life and reputation is still destroyed. Those with huge power can do this to whoever they like.

  3. I wonder what difference, if any, it would make in rape and other sexual assault cases if Donald Finlay QC's suggestion was implemented.

    Finlay believes the anonymity, currently given to the alleged victims in such cases should also be afforded the Accused.

    Thus, if cleared, the Accused preserves his anonymity, but, if found Guilty, then he can be named.

    I cannot help feeling, had Alex Salmond been afforded this anonymity, the mainstream media would have destroyed itself via jigsaw identification - always assuming the Scottish Judiciary would have been willing to hound him as they did Craig Murray.

    1. Is there any particular reason why the defendant shouldn't be anonymous in every case? I've always found it weird that the media can't publish pictures of the accused until they're convicted, but is allowed to give their name as soon as they're charged.

  4. Meanwhile in the land of the doggers and the home of the numpties some of the usual WGD numpties are moaning about a female Alba politiicians clothes and the cost of them. Funny how they never mention the cost of Sturgeons gear. What pathetic numpties they are.

    A new numpty Marc turns up and confidently says there are no political prisoners in the U.K. Aye right Marc. This marced you out as a numpty right away. You will feel right at home on WGD. Sturgeons new Lord Advocate says Scots have no right to a jury trial in Scotland. More political trials and political prisoners to shortly follow in Sturgeons Scotland.

    WGD the home of the numpties supporting an authoritarian crooked government.

    1. The person impersonating me at 10.31 and 10.32am is a tiresome prick - even on Xmas day - what a sad sad person.

    2. Independence for ScotlandDecember 25, 2021 at 11:40 PM

      You are BOTH charlatans. Begone.

    3. Charlatans - I give you Sturgeon and Kavanagh.

      Sturgeon and Kavanagh a couple of phonies just like the phonies impersonating me. There is only one true Independence For Scotland poster and that's me.

    4. Independence for ScotlandDecember 26, 2021 at 4:33 PM

      Tommyrot! Everyone knows there is only ONE Independence for Scotland and I am HE! Beware of the CHARLATANS!