Hugh McLachlan is Professor Emeritus of Applied Philosophy, Glasgow Caledonian University

TO alter aspects of the Scottish criminal justice system in order to increase the rate of convictions would be misguided. However, on other grounds, we should abandon the use of both the not proven verdict and, more importantly, straight majority verdicts.

Procedures and processes are often justifiable in terms of their inherent features and not solely or primarily by their outcomes. For instance, parliamentary democracy is justified on the grounds of the moral legitimacy which it is said to derive from the consent of those who are subject to it and other laudable inherent features rather than, say, the suggested superiority of its politicians and public policies as compared to those of other sorts of political systems.

Similarly, it is not the purpose of criminal courts to secure convictions but to give those who are accused of committing particular crimes fair and just trials. If the procedures and procedures of the courts are fair and just, we should accept them and their outcomes whatever they might happen to be.

For instance, there was a high rate of convictions in Scotland in the witchcraft trials of the 16th and 17th centuries. That was not in itself a sign that the courts were functioning well. Similarly, that there is a low rate of convictions in, for instance, rape cases is not in itself a sign that the courts are functioning badly.

Those who face criminal trials have a moral right to be tried fairly and justly. They should be presumed to be innocent of any charge that is brought against them unless and until their guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt by appropriate legitimate evidence, processes and procedures.

In criminal trials which run their course, the accused are either acquitted or, if they are found guilty, not acquitted. Logically, there is no room for a distinction between a verdict of not guilty and not proven. To prevent confusion, ambiguity and a possible lingering slur on presumed innocent people, we should abolish.

There are 15 people on a jury in Scotland. A verdict of guilty can be given even if only eight of the 15 jury members consider that the accused person is guilty.

In many jurisdictions now and even more in the past, unanimous decisions were required of juries in order to secure a verdict of guilty.

Whether or not such an exacting standard is necessary, it is very strange to say that someone could have been shown, beyond all reasonable doubt, to be guilty of having committed a particular crime by the case presented in court even if seven out of 15 members of the jury were not convinced by it. If the doubt was not reasonable, why did so many members of the jury have it?

In England, there are 12 members of a jury in criminal trials and someone can be found guilty even if only 10 of them so decide. Whether or not ideal, this, surely, seems nearer to being fair and reasonable than the Scottish procedure.