LAWYERS have warned that Scottish Government plans to abolish corroboration could see rape convictions fall.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill and Chief Constable Sir Stephen House have both insisted that removing the requirement will make it easier to successfully prosecute rapists.
However, in a submission to the Scottish Government’s Criminal Justice Bill consultation, the Faculty of Advocates suggests it could have the opposite affect.
It said: “Cases may be prosecuted where there is, in fact, no strong likelihood of success, putting complainers through a trial process only to see the accused being acquitted.
“At the same time, if there is no legal requirement for corroboration, there is at least a risk that the police will not investigate with a view to finding corroborative evidence if it exists.
“This could mean that cases which currently result in a conviction will, following the change, result in acquittal – because it may be the corroborative evidence which persuades the jury to believe the complainer’s account.”
However, police have rejected the suggestion they would not look for corroboration.
At present, Scots law requires at least two different and independent sources of evidence to bring a case. That can be particularly difficult in rape cases, which are rarely witnessed.
Under the Scottish Government’s proposals, prosecutors would not need corroboration in order to bring a case. However, Police Scotland insisted it would continue to look for corroborating evidence, and said the key test should be the quality, not quantity, of evidence.
“Police Scotland, through thorough and professional investigation, currently do, and always will, seek to present best evidence to the Crown,” the national force said.
“The quality, not quantity, of evidence presented should act as the cornerstone on which the court and jury determine guilt or otherwise.”
Although the Scottish Police Federation has raised concerns about the abolition of corroboration, the force itself has been consistently supportive.
Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham added: “Police Scotland supports the recommendation that the absolute, quantitative requirement for corroboration should be abolished and believes it is the quality of evidence, not quantity that should be taken into account.”
The Faculty of Advocates has consistently opposed the change, as have the majority of Scotland’s senior judges.
It was Lord Carloway, Scotland’s second highest ranking judge, that proposed the abolition in a review, although many of his colleagues have since disagreed.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The proposals to remove the requirement for corroboration have been widely supported by a range of organisations and charities, including Police Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland, Victim Support Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid.”