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MacAskill offers corroboration delay - but no change of mind

15 January 2014

abolition of corroboration in criminal cases, to enable further consideration to be given to other safeguards against wrongful conviction before it takes effect.

However he insisted that he was committed to seeing that abolition took effect. 

Mr MacAskill was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee, which is considering the proposed abolition as part of its scrutiny of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.

He said he was "open to any additional safeguards", including any the committee suggested as part of its scrutiny of the bill.

But in a move which has prompted some lawyers to question his understanding of the principle, he added that "no case will be brought without additional supporting evidence".

He argued that corroboration was developed "in a world when we didn't have CCTV, we didn't have forensic science" and now "the world has changed". Disagreement over what corroboration was, including within the legal profession, he maintained, showed "there is something fundamentally wrong".

Committee member Alison McInnes (Liberal Democrat) likened abolition to other "controversial" SNP measures such as the Act covering offensive behaviour at football matches, and the single Scottish police force, and accused the Justice Secretary of being "deaf" to criticism.

The Government believes the move will lead to more rape, sexual offence and domestic abuse cases being brought to court.

Following the evidence session, a spokesperson insisted that the further review would not cover the questin of whether abolition should go ahead at all.

“A further review of whether the corroboration rule should be abolished would take us no further, particularly as there have already been three consultations on this issue", he said.

“What the Cabinet Secretary has stated, as he has done so in the past, is his openness to listen to and work with stakeholders on building further safeguards into our reforms. Such a commitment is not new. He told Parliament of his willingness to consider all constructive suggestions."

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland's Criminal Law Committee, said: "Whilst the Cabinet Secretary has announced what is a welcome concession, our view remains that corroboration, given its centrality in criminal proceedings, should be looked at comprehensively before legislation is passed that abolishes it.

"We will of course play the fullest part that we can in any review, whether of corroboration itself or of additional safeguards if corroboration is abolished."

  • Lord McCluskey, the former Court of Session and High Court judge, has added his voice to the senior legal figures opposing abolition of the corroboration rule. Writing in today's Scotsman, he argues that the rule is an essential protection against fabricated evidence, whether of the complainer or of the police – and both can happen.


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