MORE rape cases will fail at trial if the government abolishes the need for corroboration, Lord McCluskey warns today.
The former solicitor-general and High Court judge hit back after criticism of his views by senior police figures and Rape Crisis Scotland.
In a letter to The Scotsman, he says corroboration is necessary to prevent police wrongdoing and restrain any temptation to “improve” the evidence. And he warns that if corroboration is removed in rape cases, it might result in more cases failing in court. “Is police wrongdoing relevant to corroboration?” he writes.
“Of course it is: the need to find corroboration ‘from an independent and reliable source’ is a real restraint on the temptation to ‘improve’ the evidence, as it is sometimes euphemistically termed.”
And on rape cases, he adds: “If corroboration disappears, the number of rape cases that fail after trial will rise: it is already high in cases where there is corroboration.”
Lord McCluskey is a former favourite of the SNP government, having led reviews on its response to the Leveson commission and the role of the Supreme Court in criminal cases.
But he has been cutting in his criticism of the government’s intention to abolish the need for two independent pieces of evidence.
Writing in The Scotsman last week, he said he wanted to highlight the “weakness and the bias of the advice on which the justice secretary relies” before pointing out that Kenny Mac-Askill, himself a former lawyer, “has no experience of conducting trials in the High Court”.
Corroboration is hard to obtain in sexual offence cases, which are rarely witnessed. But critics of Mr MacAskill’s plans to change the law warn uncorroborated cases will be weaker and less likely to succeed.
Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes MSP, the party’s justice spokeswoman, has said: “He seems to be willing to trade the integrity of our justice system for false hopes over more convictions in difficult sexual offence cases.”
Rape campaigners said they were unconvinced by the argument that abolishing corroboration would lead to a fall in convictions.
Eileen Maitland, information and resource worker at Rape Crisis Scotland, said: “Lord McCluskey’s assertion that the disappearance of corroboration would result in a drop in the number of convictions is stated with confidence, but is unaccompanied by any justification or explanation that might support it (or corroborate it, if you will) as fact.”