SCOTLAND’S most powerful police officer has backed scrapping corroboration, arguing it will help to bring more rapists and other sex offenders to justice.
The Scottish Government is still consulting on the issue but is “minded” to abolish the historic requirement that two independently incriminating pieces of evidence are needed to bring a case to court, despite fierce criticism from the legal profession.
Steve House, Scotland’s chief constable, said it was unlikely to lead to more miscarriages of justice. And he predicted an increase in guilty pleas, if corroboration is abolished, as Lord Carloway recommended in November last year.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has sought views on safeguards to protect against wrongful convictions, should corroboration be abolished.
They include increasing the number of jurors needed to return a guilty verdict, from eight to nine or ten out of 15, giving judges more powers to throw out weak cases, and scrapping the “not proven” verdict.
Mr House backed those proposals, but his key focus is corroboration. “I support Carloway completely,” he said.
“There needs to be checks and balances, I don’t want innocent people locked up, but the system has worked for a while in England. In terms of sexual crime, the Crown Office researched 458 cases, which they had marked up as no further proceedings due to insufficient evidence.
“The cases were re-examined as if corroboration was not required and the conclusion was that 82 per cent of cases could have proceeded to trial, and 60 per cent were considered to have a reasonable prospect of conviction.”
While scrapping corroboration would mean more cases can be brought, Mr House does not believe it would lead to greater pressure on the court system.
Asked whether the change would result in more people going to prison, he replied: “I would guess that’s a potential and that’s going to create a financial pressure. But it’s wrong if we’ve got a financial system which is preventing guilty people from going to prison.”
On the Scottish Government’s safeguards he said: “I think they’re sensible. I think the judge’s suggestion is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, so I’m happy to put in safeguards.”
His comments were welcomed by the Scottish Government yesterday.
Mr MacAskill said: “I am pleased that the new chief constable of police Scotland is supportive of the removal of corroboration.
“We need to ensure we have a justice system fit for the 21st century and this rule stems from another age.
“However, I am mindful of those, particularly in the legal profession, who have expressed the view that additional safeguards would be needed if corroboration were abolished and that is why we are now consulting on these.”