Alex Salmond yesterday stood by his Justice Secretary after criticism of Kenny MacAskill’s climbdown on corroboration.
The First Minister defended him as opposition MSPs angrily attacked his handling of his controversial proposal to abolish the need for corroboration in criminal trials in Scotland.
Mr Salmond was questioned on the issue in Holyrood the day after Mr MacAskill announced that he had shelved plans to end the historic requirement of Scots Law. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill is being put on hold until after a special group set up to look at whether additional safeguards are needed has produced its report.
At First Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Johann Lamont claimed that when “valid concerns” about the abolition of corroboration were raised by both the legal profession and a Holyrood committee, these were “dismissed” by the Justice Secretary. She said: “Given Kenny MacAskill’s approach and expressed hostility to those who raised genuine concerns about what he was doing, does the First Minister really believe it is possible for this Parliament to reach that critical consensus on corroboration with Kenny
MacAskill as Cabinet secretary?”
Supporters of the change say removing the need for corroboration – which requires evidence to come from more than one source before someone is convicted – will make it easier to take cases of sexual assault and domestic abuse to court.
But eminent figures in the legal establishment argued that it would increase the likelihood of miscarriages of justice. Mr Salmond defended Mr MacAskill’s record as Justice Secretary. He said: “I’ll tell you why I have got confidence in this Justice Secretary, because we have 1,000 extra police on the streets and in communities of Scotland thanks to this Justice Secretary.
“Recorded crime in Scotland is down 35 per cent thanks to this Justice Secretary, violent crime is down by almost a half and crimes of handling offensive weapons are down 60 per cent, and above all, people’s fear of crime in Scotland is dropping for the first time.”
Conservative leader Ruth Davidson joined Ms Lamont in questioning the Justice Secretary’s record, including the decision to free Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
“We have been here before,” she said. “The First Minister has been forced to stand there and defend his Justice Secretary’s handling of Megrahi. He’s been forced to defend his Justice Secretary’s handling of the single police force. He’s now being forced to defend his Justice Secretary on corroboration.”