Ex-high court judge slams corroboration scrap plan

A RETIRED high court judge has launched a fresh attack on plans to scrap the need for corroboration in criminal trials.

Lord McCluskey sent an 18-page letter to the Justice Committee outlining his concerns. Picture: TSPL

Lord McCluskey - an outspoken critic of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s proposal - sent an 18-page letter to Holyrood’s Justice Committee outlining his concerns.

He warns that removing the need for evidence from two sources will put too much faith in “flawed police practices”.

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He wrote: “It is not my intention to criticise the police. They have a difficult task and generally perform it well. However, it is clearly unwise to discard the slow, considered judgment of centuries of judges and others and instead place our faith in the competence and reliability of what we know from ongoing experience to be flawed police practices.

“All our history - like that of other countries - shows that, in the administration of justice, it is infinitely preferable to rely on an independent, skilled judiciary, conducting its work transparently and with reasoned judgments and appeal reviews, rather than to put our faith in the competence and reliability of police forces that are significantly less transparent and accountable and have been shown to put other considerations before the pure interests of justice.

“The Justice Secretary has not been successful in demonstrating that his judgment is to be preferred to that of generations of judges.”

He told the committee in January that there were “serious errors” in evidence given to MSPs.

But warnings from critics were not enough to stop SNP members pushing through the controversial plan in a vote on February 27.

Mr MacAskill relied on the party’s majority to ensure the proposal remains in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill by just three votes.

He argues that failure to push ahead with the decision would be denying justice to victims.

He took the controversial step of setting up an expert group led by former high court judge Lord Bonomy to further consider the change before it is actually put in place.

The plan to remove the provision is welcomed by police, victims’ groups and prosecutors, with some arguing its removal will make it easier to take cases of sexual assault and domestic abuse to court.

But Lord McCluskey argues: “One continued important aspect of the failures by ministers to understand or express the law on corroboration is that it is reflected in what appears to be the practical everyday failure of the police to understand the law or apply it properly in practice.”

The Scottish Government said Lord McCluskey’s views are not new.

A spokesman said: “We believe the removal of corroboration is long overdue and we are not alone. Lord Carloway’s review, police, prosecutors and victim support groups have all stressed that corroboration is a barrier to justice for victims in too many cases - cases which could be prosecuted under any other jurisdiction.

“The Justice Secretary has recently announced that Lord Bonomy, backed by a team of prestigious individuals from Scotland’s criminal justice system and representatives on victims and human rights, are carrying out a robust exploration of any additional safeguards which may be required once the corroboration requirement is abolished.

“We are confident that their knowledge and experience will be invaluable and we look forward to receiving their recommendations.”