A group of rape survivors have urged justice secretary Humza Yousaf to address the issue of corroboration as part of a commitment to listening to the victims of crime.
The women are campaigning to have the centuries-old Scottish legal principle – a requirement for two independent pieces of evidence for a case to come to court – to be scrapped, saying it denied them the chance to have their alleged abusers prosecuted.
They want Mr Yousaf to look at the issue of corroboration as part of a recently announced victims’ taskforce, which is due to meet for the first time next week.
Emma Bryson, 46, set up the group Speak Out Survivors due to the “overwhelming sense of injustice” she felt after the requirement for corroboration allowed the man who allegedly raped her in childhood to avoid prosecution.
Following a meeting with Mr Yousaf last week, she called on the justice secretary to include corroboration in the remit of the new expert group he co-chairs alongside Lord Advocate James Wolffe.
Ms Bryson said: “Speak Out Survivors welcomes Humza Yousaf’s victims’ taskforce initiative, particularly its stated commitment to improve the experience of rape and sexual assault victims within the justice system.
“However, we do so with some reservation. During our meeting Mr Yousaf accepted that the legal requirements of corroboration have a significant impact on the number of rape cases that make it to court. However, when asked if the issue of corroboration would be a matter for consideration by the taskforce he said that it would not.
“The experience of our members makes it clear that corroboration stands as a doorway to the criminal justice system for victims of rape and other serious sexual offences, and it is too often slammed in our faces when the quality of evidence available in such cases is routinely ignored because it does not fall within the narrow legal definitions of corroboration.
“Justice cannot be served by such limitations and if the victims’ taskforce is to be directly informed by victims’ experiences, then it must not ignore the means by which justice is too often denied.”
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:
“I would like to thank Emma Bryson and Rape Crisis Scotland for meeting with me and putting forward a powerful argument for why we need to look at corroboration and other issues that particularly affect rape cases.
“Since Lord Bonomy’s 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 the introduction of statutory jury 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.
“The Victims Taskforce will meet for the first time on 12 December and will look at the issues of sexual offences and rape, with their discussions guided by members, including victim support organisations.
“Any future consideration of corroboration reform needs to await the findings of the research we’ve commissioned into jury reasoning and decision making, which we expect to be complete by autumn 2019, a specific recommendation of Lord Bonomy’s review. However, I will follow the Speak Out Survivors campaign with interest, particularly to whether there may, in future, be a general consensus in favour of reform.”