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Corroboration must go, says UN women's committee

2 August 2013

The "burdensome requirements" of corroboration should be removed from the law, according to a United Nations committee dealing with women's rights.

In its concluding observations on a periodic report submitted by the United Kingdom under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women ("CEDAW") also calls for a review of the limitation period for civil actions based on alleged sexual abuse.

Among a lengthy list of conclusions and recommendations, CEDAW comments at paras 26 and 27: "The Committee is concerned that, following the findings of the Carloway Review of criminal law and practice in Scotland, the burdensome requirements of corroboration impede the prosecution of rape and other sexual violence cases. The Committee is also concerned that the three-year limitation period for sexual abuse cases for civil law suits in Scotland, including where a child is a victim, unduly limits access to justice for victims.

"The Committee urges the State party to:

(a) Consider implementing the recommendations of the Carloway Review regarding the removal of the corroboration requirement in criminal cases related to sexual offences; and,

(b) Expand the limitation period for civil claims regarding abuse, particularly of girls, so that they can still initiate proceedings when they are adults."

Among other matters, CEDAW also calls for:

  • the full implementation of the Equality Act 2010 and its extension to Northern Ireland; measuring the impact of austerity measures on women's rights;
  • assessment of the impact of the legal aid reforms in England & Wales on the protection of women's rights;
  • continued engagement with the media to eliminate stereotypical imaging of women and their objectification in the media, particularly in advertising, and implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry, including those that seek to give powers to a regulator to intervene in matters of discriminatory reporting;
  • increased efforts in the protection of women, including black and minority women, against all forms of violence, including domestic violence, and so-called honour killings;
  • "concrete targeted measures" to improve the representation of women in Parliament and the judiciary, particularly black and ethnic minority women and women with disabilities;
  • intensified efforts to promote the use of flexible working arrangements and introduce shared parental leave to encourage men to participate equally in child care responsibilities; and
  • preventive measures against potential exploitation of the universal credit system by an abusive male spouse.

Abolition of the rule will take place if the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, currently before Holyrood, is enacted. The bill is supported by women's organisations but opposed by many in the legal profession.

Click here to access the UN document.

  • A sheriff has criticised the proposed abolition of the corroboration rule after acquitting a postman of dangerous driving. Sheriff Jamie Gilchrist QC at Inverness Sheriff Court returned a not guilty verdict because a second witness who gave an account to the police two days after the incident backed up the accused's account, though on the face of it the complainer was a credible and reliable witness.

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