A bill which, among other things, seeks to remove the requirement of corroboration in Scottish criminal trials has commenced its journey through the Scottish Parliament.
We have recent evidence that little will be done to amend the bill, following the party whip being used when a decision was made to close Scottish courts by Holyrood’s justice committee, in the face of overwhelming public opposition. Those of us who live in Scotland who wish to be subjected to tit-for-tat justice will herald the new age. Those of us who seek better and fairer trials for those accused of crime must begin the process of mourning the demise of the cornerstone of our system.
Scottish criminal justice does not touch many people’s lives, but when it does it is important that the system in place is not only fair to all parties concerned but involves robust prosecution and an equally robust defence. The system does not work otherwise.
Those of us who think it is right that a citizen can be sent to prison for the rest of their lives on the evidence of one witness can look forward to that sort of justice.
Those of us who think it is fair that the evidence of one police officer can result in a person going to prison will marvel at the modernisation being proposed.
Those of us who think that the Anglicisation of our system is an improvement should compare the statistics of the English Appeal Court and the Scottish Appeal Court.
I am not against progress, nor, indeed, do I suggest that our system is without any faults, but at the stroke of a pen and against the advice of the majority, the Scottish Government seeks to impose its will and tighten its control upon its citizens, while at the same time preaching devolution and independence.
If corroboration is archaic – to use the government’s language – so is turning the constitutional clock back for our little country in the North Atlantic.
We have lost a truly independent prosecution service following the politicisation of the role of Lord Advocate at the inception of the Scottish Government.
We have only one police force in Scotland now and that force is dependent upon the Scottish Government for finance.
The independent defence bar is being irrevocably damaged due to the iniquitous and unnecessary erosion of public funding. One is left to question, then, where a citizen will go in the face of an allegation by a single, skilful but mendacious witness.
Few cases are prosecuted before juries and, as the lion’s share of cases are prosecuted before a single judge, the safeguards that are being proposed in the current Criminal Justice Bill provide no succour.
There are sinister undertones here and, from a practitioner’s perspective, these are dark days for the Scottish criminal justice system.