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Corroboration rule given stay of execution

23 April 2014

The bill that includes the abolition of the corroboration rule in Scottish criminal trials has been shelved pending completion of a review of additional safeguards, the Scottish Government announced today.

Ministers have accepted a proposal from opposition parties that will enable stage 2 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill to take place after Lord Bonomy’s review group has reported on its recommendations in spring 2015.

The review was announced by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill during the stage 1 consideration of the bill, in the face of criticisms that there would be insufficient safeguards against miscarriages of justice on a simple abolition of the rule, but he resisted opposition demands to remove the abolition clause from the bill until the results of the review were known. The provision survived a special vote at stage 1 by 64-61, following a bad tempered debate in the Parliament chamber.

In a parliamentary reply today, Mr MacAskill stated: “The Scottish Government remains firmly committed to all aspects of the Criminal Justice Bill, including our proposals to abolish the requirement for corroboration – which as I have said time and again, is a barrier to justice for too many victims of crimes which are committed behind closed doors, such as rape and domestic abuse.

“When we announced the creation of Lord Bonomy’s review group in February, there were calls – including from the Law Society and Faculty of Advocates – for us to remove the corroboration reform from the bill and to bring forward a separate bill later in the session once Lord Bonomy had reported. That was not acceptable as it is one of the key reforms in the bill and is vital to improving the criminal justice system for vulnerable victims.

“However, we have also made clear our willingness to listen to constructive proposals in relation to this key legislation. That is why we gave careful consideration to – and in the spirit of co-operation have accepted – the suggestion from opposition members that stage 2 should commence after Lord Bonomy’s review has been completed.

“As the majority of the bill’s provisions were already due for implementation in 2015-16, today’s move will have minimal impact on the overall timetable for this legislation, while allowing detailed and full scrutiny of the bill in its entirety and enabling any changes agreed in light of Lord Bonomy’s recommendations to be included. Most importantly, I now hope it will enable the whole Parliament to get behind the progressive reforms in the bill including the modernising of police powers, enhancement of the rights of people in police custody and removal of the corroboration requirement.”

Welcoming the announcement, James Wolffe QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said: "The abolition of corroboration would fundamentally alter our criminal justice system. The Government was right to recognise that the implications of that proposal required further examination. It has rightly now recognised that Parliament should not be asked to consider this aspect of the bill further until Lord Bonomy’s review is complete. The Faculty looks forward to participating fully in that work.”

For the Law Society of Scotland, Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Criminal Law Committee commented: “This is very good news. The Scottish Government is to be commended to listening and responding positively to the many groups, including the Law Society, who have expressed such concern over  the approach which was being taken. It makes complete sense for the Justice Committee to be able to consider how the bill would work as a whole, including any recommendations that the Bonomy review group brings forward, prior to its second stage reading.

“We have consistently called for a full review of the law of corroboration. I hope this will present the opportunity for Lord Bonomy to fully examine the interconnections of the corroboration requirement with all other aspects of the criminal justice system, which have not so far been examined, within the context of the bill as a whole. That will help ensure we continue to have a criminal justice system that we can be proud of and which respects the rights of the accused and the complainer.”

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