Kenny MacAskill renews calls for abolition of corroboration rule

Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has condemned Scotland's low rape conviction rate as he renewed calls for the abolition of corroboration in Scots Law.

Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill. Picture: Julie Bull
Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill. Picture: Julie Bull

Writing in today’s Scotsman, Mr MacAskill also took a swipe at First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for “casting aside” proposed legislation brought forward to remove the need for corroboration.

Mr MacAskill suggested the requirement for corroboration was denying justice to “tens of thousands” of people.

Corroboration has long been a central tenet of Scots Law and requires a conviction to be based on at least two independent sources of evidence.

When he was justice secretary, Mr MacAskill was behind an attempt to abolish it. Corroboration is particularly controversial when it comes to sexual offences where often the only witness to an attack is the attacker. Mr MacAskill’s call was prompted by figures this week revealing that the percentage of guilty verdict in rape and attempted rape cases making it to court declined from 49 per cent to 39 per cent – the lowest rate in eight years.

Mr MacAskill pointed out that the conviction rate for sexual offences in general was down by 11 per cent – the lowest for five years.

He wrote: “The real horror, though, was pointed out by Rape Crisis Scotland which pointed out there had been 1,878 reports of rape or attempted rape, yet only 98 convictions. That figure’s truly staggering. It’s also no doubt why the organisation stated the law of corroboration needs to be looked at once again.”

Mr MacAskill went on to argue that “the routine requirement for corroboration in Scots Law has to go. It’s a deeply divisive issue in the Scottish legal and political world, but long overdue for removal.” He added: “The routine requirement for corroboration is denying access to justice for tens of thousands.”

He went on to criticise Ms Sturgeon, claiming her administration was responsible for ditching his plans to remove corroboration. Three years ago Mr MacAskill’s successor Michael Matheson announced an about-turn on the plan following a review by Lord Bonomy.

Mr MacAskill wrote: “Ironically, the delay has been caused by the First Minister, who has otherwise improved the rights of women, but then cast aside the proposed legislation to remove corroboration.”

The review by Lord Bonomy, a High Court judge, recommended corroboration should be retained for confessions by the accused.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “There was no parliamentary or legal consensus for the removal of the corroboration rule. Any reform of the corroboration requirement needs to take account of the research we’ve commissioned into jury reasoning and decision making which we expect to be complete by autumn 2019.

“The need for this research was a specific recommendation of Lord Bonomy’s post corroboration additional safeguards review. Since the review reported, we have taken forward a wide range of measures to improve how the justice system deals with allegations of sexual offending and to improve support for victims.

“These include changes to judicial directions for certain sexual offence trials, new national standards to improve forensic medical examinations for victims of sexual offences and funding the high profile Rape Crisis Scotland #ijustfroze campaign to challenge wider public attitudes.”