Lord Advocate: Corroboration '˜could yet be scrapped'

The country's most senior prosecutor has signalled the centuries-old principle of corroboration could yet be scrapped as part of a wide-ranging reform of the legal system.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe said Scotlands unique corroboration principle could be revisited in a bid to raise success rate in rape prosecutions. PICTURE: GREG MACVEAN
Lord Advocate James Wolffe said Scotlands unique corroboration principle could be revisited in a bid to raise success rate in rape prosecutions. PICTURE: GREG MACVEAN

In an interview with The Scotsman, Lord Advocate James Wolffe said the issue would be re-visited as part of a “package of measures” being considered to improve the criminal justice system.

Mr Wolffe was previously dean of the Faculty of Advocates which was implacably opposed to Scottish Government proposals to remove corroboration as a way of increasing conviction rates in rape cases.

Corroboration is the legal principle which requires two independent pieces of ­evidence for a case to come to court.

The Scottish Government backed down in early 2015 to allow more time for the consideration of a report by Lord Bonomy which looked at legal safeguards.

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Lord Bonomy’s recommendations included a requirement that ­police film all interviews with suspects and that the practice of dock identification – when the accused is identified as the perpetrator in court – be ended.

Mr Wolffe said the Scottish Government would come back with a new set of proposals which were likely to be “much more ambitious” than what was previously suggested.

He said: “Lord Bonomy has reported and the government is doing some further work. Once that work’s been done, there’s potential for the issue to come back. It wouldn’t be right for me to commit the government on a particular position.

“The issue has not gone away. I think the question we will return to is, in light of all the work Lord Bonomy has done, there’s a package of measures that would improve the criminal justice system.”

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Mr Wolffe said the new proposals were likely to be “much more ambitious”, involving a number of changes to the legal system.

“Inevitably, as a prosecutor I’m very conscious of the role corroboration plays in the system and the impact it has on decision making in individual cases,” he said.

“That, inevitably, is part of the context in which I could see us coming back to look again to see whether the system has the right checks and balances.”

Rape typically has one of the lowest conviction rates of any crime in Scotland.

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In 2015-16, the conviction rate for rape and attempted rape was 48 per cent, compared with 85 per cent for all crimes. Mr Wolffe said that figure still represented a “significant proportion” of cases resulting in a conviction.

“The key point is that these are sensitive, difficult and challenging cases to prosecute,” he said.

“Through the work that’s been done by the national sex crimes unit and the whole prosecution service, victims should have confidence that we take these cases seriously. Where it’s the right thing to do, cases will be prosecuted vigorously.”

Gordon Jackson, the current dean of the Faculty of Advocates who replaced Mr Wolffe in the position, said any move to scrap corroboration would still be a “mistake”.

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He said: “I still think it would be a mistake to abolish corroboration, but an even bigger mistake to do it in isolation.

“If that change is to be made, it will require, as I think the Scottish Government now knows, a number of other changes.

“Certainly, any such proposal will need to be very carefully considered.”

But Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, said corroboration continued to be a “significant barrier to justice” for victims.

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She said: “Corroboration is unique to Scotland and it disproportionately impacts on rape cases because they often happen in private and it can be really difficult to corroborate not only lack of consent, but that accused didn’t believe the victim was consenting.

“It’s a really high test and we think it’s a significant barrier to justice.”