MSPs urge SNP not to change laws on evidence

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THE case to abolish the requirement for corroboration has “not been made”, the justice committee has warned the Scottish Government, and should be shelved.

Several MSPs said they were unconvinced the proposed change would “improve access to justice for victims of sexual offences in a meaningful way”.

MSPs unconvinced SNP's plans will improve justice. Picture: Ian Rutherford

MSPs unconvinced SNP's plans will improve justice. Picture: Ian Rutherford

And they all agreed last night that it should not be scrapped before a review, led by Lord Bonomy, of alternative safeguards against miscarriages of justice has been completed.

The critical report is a blow to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, particularly as the committee is led by SNP MSP Christine Grahame, and includes three other SNP members

The report makes clear the majority on the committee believed corroboration should be removed from the wide-ranging Criminal Justice Bill.

The report said: “The majority of committee members are of the view that the case has not been made for abolishing the general requirement for corroboration and recommend that the Scottish Government consider removing the provisions from the bill.”

However, the Scottish Govern- ment – which has faced opposition from judges, lawyers and legal academics – is determined to push the changes through.

Ms Grahame said: “The proposal to abolish the corroboration requirement is a reform which has divided opinion.

“The committee could not reach agreement on whether removing such a significant and integral part of the criminal justice system would improve ‘access to justice’ for victims of sexual offences in a meaningful way or secure more convictions.”

Although the government announced yesterday that Lord Bonomy will lead a review on alternative safeguards against miscarriage of justice, MSPs are concerned they will be asked to vote on corroboration before he can report back.

“Some committee members do not believe, in the event that the requirement for corroboration is removed, that concerns relating to the need for further reform can be explored properly during the passage of the bill and are therefore calling on the Scottish Government to provide much more information on its plans to review additional safeguards before the stage one debate, expected later this month,” Ms Grahame said.

Corroboration requires two independent sources of evidence to back up key aspects of a prosecution case. However, this is seen as a particular hurdle in sexual offence and domestic abuse cases, which are rarely witnessed.

All of Scotland’s judges, with the exception of Lord Carloway, have opposed the abolition.

Margaret Mitchell MSP, Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman, said last night that the abolition “would almost certainly result in a rise in miscarriages of justice”.

However, police, the Crown Office, and justice campaigners, including Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid, back the Scottish Government.

Speaking last night, Mr Mac-Askill said: “We note the recommendations of the committee and we hope its members will welcome today’s announcement on safeguards.”

Bonomy will head group to look at alternative safeguards

Former High Court judge, Lord Bonomy, will lead a group looking at alternative safeguards to corroboration.

They will look at ways of altering Scots law to protect victims against miscarriages of justice.

The Scottish Government has already proposed raising the number of jurors required to deliver a guilty verdict from eight to ten, out of 15.

Lord Bonomy has served as a judge of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

He was appointed as a senator of the College of Justice in 1997. In 2001, he carried out a review of practices and procedures in the High Court of Justiciary which led to significant reforms to High Court practices.

The group will seek a wide range of views on what additional changes might be required.

The Scottish Government said the group will consider whether a formal test for sufficient supporting evidence should be introduced, the use of confession evidence, circumstances where evidence should be excluded, and dock identification.

Their remit will also include submissions of no case to answer at the end of the prosecution case, whether a judge should be able to remove a case on the basis that no reasonable jury could be expected to convict, the directions a judge might give a jury, and changes to summary proceedings.