A FORMER solicitor-general has urged SNP MSPs to break ranks with the party leadership and overturn the decision to abolish corroboration in criminal trials.
Lord McCluskey, who was one of Scotland’s most senior prosecutors, fears the slim majority for abolishing the age-old requirement for more than one source of evidence was achieved through tight party discipline, inexperience and a desire to avoid an internal party split in the run-up to the independence referendum.
He compared the Scottish Parliament to a teenager rushing to solve a problem without the necessary expertise in a pamphlet for the Conservative Party entitled Justice Matters.
Lord McCluskey said: “Everybody knows that many MSPs had real doubts about abolishing corroboration when the bill was before parliament, but in the run-up to the independence referendum no member of the SNP was allowed to step out of line. So some of them bit their lips and voted for a change they did not support. Even then, it attracted the smallest of majorities.
“This is no way to effect a fundamental change in a rule that has been considered, revised and modified over many, many years in real-life cases by impartial judges trying to hold the balance between the competing risks of injustice.”
He added: “As for the Scottish Parliament, no doubt as it matures (it is still a teenager) it will gradually discover that the rush to legislate does not solve all problems: dangerous dogs do not cease to be dangerous because you pass a statute about them.
“The other lesson that the Scottish Parliament has to learn is that the Scottish committees for pre-legislative scrutiny are not as effective as was hoped when the system was created.
“The lack of expertise among MSPs is well-known. The committees reflect that shortcoming. And even when the scrutiny by some individual members is searching and well informed, the rule of the government whips in this unicameral Parliament too often ensures that the government can ignore well-founded criticisms.”
Conservative justice spokes-woman Margaret Mitchell said there should be a rethink on corroboration.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Having listened to a range of views on corroboration during stage one of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, we established the independent post-corroboration safeguards review, led by Lord Bonomy, and agreed that stage two of the Bill would take place after the review is completed.
“The review group combines academic excellence with practical experience, and is made up of 18 respected individuals drawn from the full spectrum of relevant groups, including victims’ and human rights bodies, judges and legal practitioners, scholars and the police.”