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25/09/13 16:53

Corroboration “barrier to justice”

Requirement “has failed Scotland”.

The requirement for corroboration in criminal trials has failed Scotland and must be abolished to protect victims, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said today.

Speaking in Parliament, he said that the corroboration requirement can prevent strong cases which could be prosecuted in other jurisdictions from being taken forward. Scotland is the only country in the world which has been identified as having the requirement.

Proposals to remove the requirement for corroboration, put forward in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, are supported by Police Scotland, the Crown Office and a range of victims’ organisations.

The Victims Organisations Collaboration Forum Scotland, which represents 12 victims’ organisations, including Rape Crisis Scotland, Victim Support Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid, today wrote to the justice committee reaffirming their support for the proposals, stating that corroboration represents an unfair and unnecessary barrier to justice for many victims of crime.

Lord Carloway – Scotland’s second most senior judge- who carried out a review of criminal law and practice, could find no other criminal justice system which had a general requirement for corroboration. He concluded that the requirement is outdated and unjust.

And at the justice committee yesterday, Lord Carloway said that the requirement was “archaic” and was “holding the criminal justice system back”.

He found there was no evidence to suggest it prevents miscarriages of justice and that the requirement to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt is sufficient protection of the accused.

During today’s debate on the issue, Mr MacAskill said: “Put simply, the requirement for corroboration has failed Scotland. It was formulated in a different age – before DNA, before CCTV.

“Corroboration in our legal system is a barrier to obtaining justice for the victims of crimes committed in private or where no-one else was there.

“Abolition is not and can never be a panacea for resolving the problems in addressing sexual crime. But at the very, very least, it will allow crimes committed in private, where the victim has suffered in silence, or behind closed doors, to be brought to court. That can only be a step forward.”

He added: “The Criminal Justice Bill reflects our position following extensive consultation and discussion. However, we will continue to listen to other views, both in this debate and during the evidence sessions, to ensure that the right balance is struck between the rights of suspects, and those of victims and witnesses.

Lord Carloway’s recommendation to abolish the corroboration requirement was only made after undertaking a very detailed review. The terms of reference for the review on corroboration meant that it was open to Lord Carloway to recommend its retention or other changes. I consider he made a compelling case in his report on how he reached that recommendation.”

Research conducted for the Carloway Review looked at 141 cases reported to the National Sex Crimes Unit over six months in 2010 where no action was taken. It found that 95 of those cases – 67 per cent - would have had a reasonable prospect of conviction without the corroboration test.
The Government have listened to the views of those with concerns about the impact of removing the requirement for corroboration. The Bill will change the jury majority for conviction from a simple majority of 8 to two-thirds (10 of 15). This additional safeguard is intended to maintain an appropriate balance between protection for accused persons, protection for victims and witnesses, and public protection.