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Corroboration change could be "quite dangerous": Lord Hope

5 November 2013

The proposed abolition of the corroboration rule in Scots criminal law could be "quite dangerous", according to the former Deputy President of the UK Supreme Court.

Lord Hope of Craighead, who retired earlier this year, said in an interview with Holyrood magazine that he had concerns over the possibility of a conviction based on a confession alone.

A former Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General before he was appointed as a judge in the House of Lords and the the UK Supreme Court, Lord Hope said the law of corroboration had developed initially as a barrier against people being taken to court on a confession which had been extracted by torture.

He commented: "This is in the early 18th century when things were very, very different, and people reacted against this, and I’d be very sad to see that kind of protection go."

The Scottish Government insists that the rule is anachronistic and prevents convictions being reached in rape and domestic abuse cases, where there may be no sources of evidence apart from the complainer.

Its abolition was recommended by the report delivered by Lord Carloway, but is opposes by moist other judges and practising lawyers. It is supported by women's support groups and also Police Scotland, although some fear that it could make it easier for people to bring false accusations against police and other public servants.

Lord Hope acknowledged that sexual assault cases could be a "real problem", but commented: "I would have thought a more selective way of dealing with the problem would be wiser than what I understand to be the solution that is being proposed just now."

He explained: “I just express concern that the proposal seems very far-reaching and, potentially, quite dangerous if you have a situation where somebody is at risk of being convicted on his own confession, which I would have thought was absolutely fundamentally wrong in Scots law.”

The Criminal Justice Bill is currently before Holyrood's Justice Committee.

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