SCOTTISH Secretary Alistair Carmichael has warned that the controversial abolition of corroboration in criminal trials could lead to a sharp increase in miscarriages of justice and tarnish Scotland’s legal system.
In a rare intervention in Scotland’s devolved criminal justice system, the cabinet minister warned that high-profile cases of people being wrongly convicted in English courts – such as the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four – could be repeated north of the Border.
Carmichael – himself a former prosecutor – issued the warning after MSPs narrowly voted to get rid of the need for evidence from two sources in Scottish criminal trials.
The Liberal Democrat minister also accused SNP ministers of the “excesses” of New Labour in power as he claimed the Nationalist government was refusing to listen to critics.
Carmichael suggested the SNP’s use of its majority at Holyrood to force through the abolition of corroboration could also lead to the end of civil liberties such as the right of suspects to remain silent.
He said: “The question is that if you abolish corroboration and are still not getting convictions in cases of rape and sexual assault, what next? Do you end the right to silence.
“It shows the mindset of Alex Salmond’s government and how different it is from the days of 2011 when the First Minister said he had a majority, but not a monopoly of wisdom. Now Mr Salmond is not listening to anybody.”
Carmichael also claimed the abolition of corroboration would not lead to an increase in conviction rates in rape cases. He said: “I have been involved in the prosecution in a number of cases where you didn’t always get a conviction.
“That was not because of corroboration, it was more to do with attitudes to cases such as rape and sexual assault.
“Once you get rid of corroboration you will never get it back again and we should think back to cases in the English criminal justice system, where there were miscarriages.
“After the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, we said this sort of thing couldn’t happen in Scotland because our system requires corroboration.
“But if you remove the need for corroboration, you will inevitably see more miscarriages of justice and these cases will become a feature of the system. Remember that corroboration doesn’t mean you have to have two eyewitnesses, it just means that you need a second piece of evidence that lends support to the first piece.
“Now the SNP government reminds us of the excesses of New Labour and has a mindset of not listening.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have no evidence the absence of a general rule of corroboration has led to an issue with increased miscarriages of justice in any other jurisdiction.
“This is a long overdue reform to a system which is preventing hundreds, potentially thousands, of cases from getting to court.”