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MacAskill embarks on further corroboration paper

19 December 2012

Scottish ministers remain committed to abolishing the corroboration rule in Scots law, but are launching a further consultation process on related safegurards in view of the weight of opposition from the legal profession.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill today launched a further paper with proposals for "additional" safeguards including:

  • increasing to nine or 10 the jury majority required to return a verdict;
  • widening the trial judge’s power to rule that there is no case to answer, where the judge considers, on an application by the accused, that on the basis of the evidence led, no reasonable jury could convict; and
  • possible abolition of the “not proven” verdict.

Responses to the previous consultation on the reforms proposed by Lord Carloway in his review, also published today, show majority support for most of the recommendations.

However, while third sector organisations such as Rape Crisis and Victim Support were in favour of abolishing the requirement for corroboration, a large majority of respondents felt that safeguards should be put in place if corroboration was abolished.

Mr MacAskill said: “I agree with Lord Carloway’s recommendation that the requirement for corroboration should be abolished. The rule stems from another age, its usage has become confused and it can bar prosecutions that would in any other legal system seem entirely appropriate.

“I am confident that in a system without a requirement for corroboration we would continue to see police and prosecutors striving to find the best evidence that can practically be made available to the court. I trust Scottish judges and juries would continue to apply good judgement and would only convict on the basis of clear evidence.”

The Justice Secretary recognised that the great majority of respondents believed it necessary to consider additional safeguards, adding: “That is why I have decided that a further consultation on these additional safeguards to the legal system is needed, to ensure that Scotland can continue to have a legal system that is rightly regarded as one of the best in the world."

Sheriff and jury

A separate consultation on sheriff and jury reform is also published today. The paper seeks views on implementation of Sheriff Principal Bowen's key proposals, and also includes draft bill provisions. It is intended that these provisions will be introduced to Parliament in the upcoming Criminal Justice Bill along with Lord Carloway’s recommendations.

The Bowen reforms seek to improve efficiency in the sheriff and jury court by moving to a system where there is earlier and improved communication between the parties involved, active judicial case management including through a "compulsory business meeting", generally prior to service of the indictment, and greater control by the court on the programming of cases.

The response deadline for both papers is 15 March 2013.

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