Scots judges reject bid to scrap ‘archaic’ rule from criminal cases

Lord Carloway: Critical of 'archaic' corroboration rule. Picture: Jane Barlow

Lord Carloway: Critical of 'archaic' corroboration rule. Picture: Jane Barlow

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High Court judges have 
rejected proposals to abolish the centuries-old requirement for corroboration in criminal 
prosecutions.

In a major review of Scots criminal law carried out last year, judge Lord Carloway said the rule – which ensures key evidence is backed by two sources – was “archaic” and no longer had a place in a modern legal system.

But yesterday other judges said they disagreed as they 
released their response to a 
public consultation, launched by the Scottish Government.

The Senators of the College of Justice said corroboration, unique to Scotland, provided a “major safeguard” against 
miscarriages of justice.

Judges also said removing the rule would lead to “decreasing confidence in the legal system” and lower rates of conviction.

They said: “The current 
perception may be that the conviction rate in certain types of crime (for example, sexual offences) is low. It is our 
view that if corroboration were to be abolished, that would lead to decreasing confidence in the legal system, and to lower rates of conviction generally.”

They added: “It is often difficult to assess the facts on the basis of the evidence of one 
witness.

“A witness may be credible and plausible, yet not be telling the truth (or the whole truth).

“The Scottish courts have on many occasions been grateful for the requirement of corroboration, which in our view 
provides a major safeguard against miscarriages of justice.”

Judges expressed concern about police procedure if 
corroboration were removed.

“The abolition of corroboration may result in less diligent police investigation pre-trial: knowing that corroboration is not required, there may be a relaxation in the search for supporting evidence (even though such may well exist),” they said.

In 2010, Lord Carloway was asked to lead a review of Scots law and practice in the wake of a high-profile human rights decision by the UK Supreme Court. The Cadder ruling stopped police questioning suspects 
without legal representation.

In his 400-page review, he wrote that the requirement for evidence to be corroborated had lain at the heart of the criminal justice system “since time immemorial” but was based on 
“medieval” thinking.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The 
proposed abolition of the 
requirement for corroboration was recommended in an independent review by Lord 
Carloway. Lord Carloway’s 
recommendations have been subject to a government 
consultation exercise.

“The consultation specifically sought views on whether any additional safeguards would be required as a result of removing the corroboration rule and we will carefully consider all 
responses.”

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