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Moorov rule holds where same complainer corroborated on only one incident

8 February 2019

The Moorov doctrine of mutual corroboration can support a conviction libelling four incidents spoken to by the same complainer, where only one of these was independently corroborated, the Criminal Appeal Court has held.

Lords Menzies, Glennie and Turnbull gave the ruling in allowing a Crown appeal against a decision of the Sheriff Appeal Court in the case of Ricky Taylor, convicted in Aberdeen Sheriff Court under s 5 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.

The charge libelled that "on various occasions" between October and November 2017 the accused intentionally engaged in sexual activity in the presence of the complainer, S, in that he repeatedly exposed his penis at the window of his home and masturbated.

Evidence was led from S that on four separate occasions when she had gone outside her house for a cigarette, the accused had stood close to his window, naked or naked from the waist down, and masturbated, sometimes calling or tapping on the window to attract her attention. Her partner, R, who had also seen this behaviour on the fourth occasion, spoke to that.

The sheriff found that there had been a course of conduct of which R's evidence was sufficient support for each incident spoken to by S. The Sheriff Appeal Court allowed the accused's appeal against conviction in relation to the first three incidents, holding that while they were different manifestations of a single course of conduct, "each episode in our view was in fact a separate incident which required to be corroborated of itself".

Delivering the opinion of the High Court, Lord Glennie said that even where separate incidents were libelled in a single composite charge, there was no reason to doubt that if the separate incidents showed "similarities in time, place and character of commission such that they can properly be said to form part of a single course of criminal conduct persisted in by the accused, corroboration may be provided by the principle of mutual corroboration... In so far as the Sheriff Appeal Court took the view that simply because the separate incidents of criminal behaviour in this case were libelled in one single composite charge, therefore there was no room for the application of the Moorov principle, we disagree".

Dealing with arguments for the accused, he stated: "true it is that the 'classic' Moorov case tends to involve two or more complainers each speaking to actions of the accused perpetrated against them; and, indeed, the doctrine of mutual corroboration arose out of the perceived difficulty in finding corroboration in a case where the accused perpetrated separate criminal acts against individuals in circumstances where there were no other witnesses or likely sources of corroborating evidence. But there can in fact be no justification for limiting the application of the principle to cases where there is more than one complainer. After all, a succession of criminal acts directed against the same complainer is as redolent (perhaps more so) of a single course of criminal conduct persisted in by the accused as those same acts would be if directed against a number of different individuals. The point is that evidence concerning one incident may corroborate evidence concerning another incident, even against the same complainer, provided that there is relevant evidence from more than one source".

Further, "it cannot matter whether the corroborating evidence is given by another complainer or by some other individual who observed and is able to speak to the relevant events".

Lord Glennie concluded: "In the present case all four incidents were spoken to by Ms SLD. The last incident was also spoken to by Mr R. His evidence serves two separate purposes. First, it provides direct corroboration of the fourth incident... Accordingly, if the four incidents had not been so closely connected as to attract the application of the Moorov principle, Mr R’s evidence, combined with that of Ms SLD, would have been enough to have secured a conviction on that fourth incident. But secondly, Mr R’s evidence was separate and independent evidence concerning the [fourth incident]. Leave aside for the moment the fact that Ms SLD also spoke to this fourth incident; Mr R’s evidence about what happened [then] was sufficient, applying the principle of mutual corroboration, to corroborate Ms SLD’s evidence concerning the first three incidents."

Click here to view the opinion of the court.

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