MSPs bid to prevent corroboration being axed

Kenny MacAskill: Justice Secretary pushing for scrapping of corroboration. Picture: Julie Bull

Kenny MacAskill: Justice Secretary pushing for scrapping of corroboration. Picture: Julie Bull

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OPPOSITION parties will today try to torpedo Kenny MacAskill’s bid to abolish the historic requirement for corroboration in Scottish prosecutions.

An amendment by Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell will call for the change to be pulled from the Criminal Justice Bill during today’s stage one vote.

The vote is likely to be one of the closest the SNP has faced since securing a majority government, but the bid is still expected to fail.

Lawyers and the majority of judges oppose the abolition, fearing it will raise the possibility of miscarriages of justice.

But police and campaign groups back the Scottish Government, and Mr MacAskill says he is standing up for victims.

Mr MacAskill said: “The bill includes the proposal to abolish the corroboration requirement and remove a legal barrier which stands in the way of too many cases going forward to court; cases that would proceed elsewhere.

“No other comparable criminal justice system, including all the 47 states that are signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights operate a general requirement for corroboration.

“This means that Scotland’s legal system, as it stands, is denying access to justice to possibly thousands of victims a year.”

The amendment “calls on the Scottish Government to lodge an amendment at stage two to remove the provisions abolishing the general requirement for corroboration”.

Ms Mitchell said: “Such is the extent of the concern about the consequences of this proposal, opposition MSPs have put their differences aside to support the amendment. I hope at least some SNP members are capable of doing the same thing.

“Abolishing corroboration would be a grave mistake which will certainly result in miscarriages of justice and will, crucially, jeopardise the right of an accused person to a fair trial.”

Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrats and Green MSPs are expected to back the amendment.

John Finnie and Margo MacDonald, both formerly SNP and now independent MSPs, also support it. Parliament’s other independent MSP, Jean Urquhart, said she was still undecided yesterday, but was “disinclined” to back the amendment.

Mr Finnie and SNP MSP Christine Grahame were both on the justice committee which gave the justice secretary a bloody nose by saying the “case had not been made”.

As the law stands, key elements of a prosecution case have to be backed by two independent pieces of evidence.

Campaigners say this is an unfair hurdle to rape and domestic abuse cases in particular – which are rarely witnessed.

Opponents say corroboration is a safeguard against miscarriages of justice, and that countries without it have alternatives.

Mr MacAskill asked Lord Bonomy to lead a review looking at alternative safeguards, but this is set to conclude only after corroboration has been scrapped.

Last night, the Law Society of Scotland urged MSPs to vote against the abolition, spokesman Ian Cruickshank saying: “We would urge MSPs to recognise the serious concerns expressed by the Law Society and many others, and support the majority recommendation of the Justice Committee to remove the proposal from the bill.

“We all want Scotland’s criminal justice system to be one which is properly balanced and gives due weight to the interests of those facing criminal charges, to the victims of crime and wider society.”

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Judge warns against SNP’s corroboration changes

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