THERE has been a groundswell of opinion for the abolition of the not proven verdict (“High time to abolish the not proven verdict”, Agenda, The Herald, July 26) which, however, has long enjoyed the confidence of the judiciary, the wider legal profession and, broadly speaking, the general public.

The change of sentiment may relate to a perceived low rate of conviction in relation to sexual offences. That certainly appears to be driving a similar impetus to abolish the requirement for corroborated evidence in criminal trials. Hard cases, they say, make bad law.

However, the not proven verdict is currently an essential protection in a system in which a simple majority of eight out of 15 jurors is sufficient for conviction and, possibly, for the lengthy deprivation of a person’s liberty. That will be even more the case if the requirement for corroboration is abolished. However, the abolitionist proposal will probably include proposals to raise the conviction requirement to a higher proportion, possibly 10 or even 12 out of 15. There can be no serious case for the abolition of the not proven verdict without that additional reform. Therefore there are three related decisions to be made: whether to abolish or retain the not proven verdict, whether to abolish or retain the requirement for corroboration and whether and to what extent to change the majority required for conviction.

There is, however, a certain logic in the not proven verdict. There appear to be broadly three states of mind in which a jury might find itself at the conclusion of a criminal trial. Perhaps the accused has clearly committed the crime and the only possible verdict is guilty. Perhaps the accused has clearly not committed the crime and the only possible verdict is not guilty. Perhaps the accused may well have committed, or even probably committed, the crime, in which case the appropriate verdict is not proven. The present system in Scotland provides a fitting verdict for each of these conclusions. Whether or not an acquitted person meets with any informal but not illegal, adverse consequences of a not proven verdict, or, indeed, of any other matters disclosed at the trial, seems to be an issue which is beyond the scope of legislation.

Perhaps, to decide these issues, we have to ask ourselves which is worse: to see a guilty person go free as might be seen to be more likely if the not proven verdict and the requirement for corroboration are retained or to see an innocent person convicted as might be seen to be more likely if the not proven verdict and the requirement for corroboration are abolished. One thing that is certain is that the legal process will not get it right every time.

Michael Sheridan, Glasgow.


READING Shona Robison's defence of the Gender Recognition Bill, as quoted by David Bol ("The debate over Gender Recognition Bill will ‘get worse before it gets better’", The Herald, July 23), she wilfully ignores the problem of unintended consequences. Just to say that the bill "does not make changes to how toilets and changing rooms operate" is no defence. The likely consequences pointed out by Joanna Cherry and JK Rowling and many others are consequences of the bill, even if unintended. What a politician describes as an unintended consequence is really an unthought-out consequence, but it can be a very damaging consequence nevertheless which someone with the old-fashioned virtue of common sense would have seen and averted.

Our Holyrood parliamentary committee system is meant to allow such consequences to be foreseen and the bill amended at early stages. However our current Government does not like any form of opposition, especially within its own ranks, so the system doesn't work. Look at all the decisions taken in haste, for publicity value, which later turn out to be disastrous. The two ferries, famously long overdue, are unintended consequences of decisions on dual fuel – taken because it sounded good but not properly thought through. Beware.

Peter Gray, Aberdeen.


I AGREE with Norman McNab and William Loneskie (Letters, July 28) when they write that we can't rely on renewables to power Britain.

I keep hearing adverts that more than a million homes in the UK are powered 100 per cent by renewables. Not on July 27, yesterday at the time of writing, they weren't. Energy output from wind farms spread all over our land and sea collapsed, reaching a low of 232 MW (megawatts) by 11.35am. This is out of an on-paper rating of 19,932 MW.

Geoff Moore, Alness.


MARK Smith ("Down with Rabbie! And up with Walter!", The Herald, July 28) seems to be in two minds about whether the best way to promote the reputation of one great Scottish writer is to denigrate that of another. It is probably worth pointing out that Sir Walter Scott, who revered Burns, would have been among the very first to disagree with the sentiment.

As Scott once acknowledged in his own words: "Long life to thy fame and peace to thy soul, Rob Burns. When I want to express a sentiment which I feel strongly, I find the phrase in Shakespeare or thee."

David Gray, Glasgow.

• MARK Smith, with his references to Robert Burns and Walter Scott, brought to my mind the painting by Charles Martin Hardie entitled The Meeting of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott at Sciennes Hill House, the house of Professor Adam Fergusson. Scott was then 15 years old and, with all the other young people at the gathering, remained silent and observant. It is thought by many that the event depicted by Hardie provided considerable inspiration for Scott as he later pursued his literary career.

That Scott held Burns in high esteem can be seen in his own words: "[ Burns’s] person was strong and robust; his manners rustic, not clownish, a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity which received part of its effect perhaps from knowledge of his extraordinary talents."

Yes, the Abbotsford caretaker was on the mark when he said to Mr Smith that "Scotland is big enough for two great writers". We should celebrate both of them rather than seek to attempt to show that one is greater than the other.

Ian W Thomson, Lenzie.