News In Focus
Society invites opposing interests to corroboration talks
Groups supporting and opposing the proposed abolition of the corroboration rule in Scots law have been invited by the Law Society of Scotland to come together to discuss the issue, in an attempt to find solutions that will avert an increased risk of miscarriages of justice.
The Scottish Government’s controversial proposal was recommended by the current Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Carloway, following his review of criminal evidence and procedure, but is opposed by his judicial colleagues as likely to lead to more miscarriages of justice if not combined with additional procedural safeguards. It is also strongly opposed by most of the legal profession, together with the Police Federation, but is supported by Crown Office together with victims’ and women’s organisations, who believe the present rule prevents cases from coming to court that could be found proved through one credible witness.
The Society’s move came on the day its evidence on the subject was heard by Holyrood’s Justice Committee as part of its examination of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. Speaking afterwards, Raymond McMenamin of the Society’s Criminal Law Committee said:
“The need for corroboration has been an essential component of Scotland’s justice system for centuries. That alone is no reason to keep it; however the consequences of the current proposals for its abolition could be hugely damaging.
“It is not too late to reconsider the proposals in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. We are calling for a further review of corroboration to examine fully if it has a place in today’s justice system. While we view corroboration as an essential safeguard in the present system, we want to discuss the wider issues which need to be addressed before it can be removed in total or retained in limited circumstances as in other jurisdictions.”
The call follows the evidence last week of the Lord Justice General, Lord Gill, who suggested it would be a good move to take the current proposals on corroboration out of the bill and examine the subject separately; and a recent magazine interview by one of his predecessors, Lord Hope, in which he suggested it would be preferable to look at a more selective remedy to deal with sexual offence cases, for which the present rule causes the greatest difficulty.
Mr McMenamin added: “Nobody doubts that there are improvements that can and should be made to our criminal justice system, but this bill considers corroboration in isolation, which means we are in danger of moving to a system of justice in which safeguards against wrongful conviction will be minimal, even primitive.
“The wholesale abolition of such an important safeguard is far too simplistic an approach when we have no clear idea of the long term consequences and there has been no proper research into viable alternatives. The sole proposal to increase slightly the required majority for a jury for a guilty verdict appears to have been plucked out the air and will only affect jury trials – there is nothing to replace it in summary cases heard and decided by a sheriff or justice of the peace and which comprise the vast majority of Scottish criminal trials.”
Those invited to the Society’s discussions include the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, Victim Support Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates. It is proposed that meetings take place early in 2014.