Scotland’s justice system is being “failed” by the centuries-old need for corroboration which is blocking rape and domestic abuse cases from reaching court, justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said today.
Opposition parties have raised concerns over proposals to scrap the unique feature of Scots law which requires evidence in trials to come from two sources. Its abolition will increase the risk of miscarriages of justice, they warn.
Mr MacAskill told MSPs he would back “additional safeguards” to appease concerns, but corroboration is set to be axed as part of Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through parliament.
One of Scotland’s most senior judges, Lord Carloway, faced a grilling from MSPs this week after calling for the change in a review of the justice system.
Mr MacAskill told MSPs: “It stops our courts from hearing cases that would be held elsewhere.”
The Carloway review looked at 141 sexual offence cases that were dropped in the latter half of 2010 and found two-thirds would probably have led to convictions without the need for corroboration.
“The requirement for corroboration has failed Scotland,” Mr MacAskill said. “It was formulated in a different age before DNA or CCTV – times have changed.
“Corroboration in our legal system is a barrier to obtaining justice for the victims of crime committed in private or where no-one else was there.
“In a modern society, it is not acceptable for victims to be left to be left to suffer in silence, for justice not to be delivered.”
Abolition will not be a “panacea” but will see more cases brought to court, he said. He insisted the “burden of proof” will remain for prosecutors with greater emphasis on the overall quality of evidence.
Jury majorities will also be raised from a majority to two-thirds, meaning that 10 out of 15 jurors must find the accused guilty to secure a conviction.
The Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates and Scottish Police Federation are among bodies opposing the change, amid warnings that abolition of corroboration would lead to a greater risk of miscarriages of justice.
The Tories at Holyrood today warned that there are severe concerns that the controversial plans would result in more people being convicted of a crime on the basis of a sole witness or single piece of evidence.
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “Corroboration in practice is at the very heart of the Scottish criminal justice system.
“It is very much in general use on a daily basis, where it provides a safeguard against miscarriages of justice and all the misery that results from this for complainers and accused alike.
“The SNP has attempted to portray opposition to this as the vested interests of the legal profession against the rights of victims. This is a gross distortion of the issues at stake.
“A significant number of organisations are opposed to this, and their comments represent a clear indication of the strength of feeling against the abolition of corroboration.
“It is totally unacceptable that a decision of this magnitude is crammed in with the justice committee’s scrutiny of the Criminal Justice Bill.”