Senior judge to lead probe into corroboration plan

Kenny MacAskill is still fully committed to getting rid of corroboration. Picture: GettyKenny MacAskill is still fully committed to getting rid of corroboration. Picture: Getty
Kenny MacAskill is still fully committed to getting rid of corroboration. Picture: Getty
A SENIOR judge is to lead a probe into the impact of controversial plans to ditch the ancient principle of corroboration in Scots Law.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said the group will look at other areas of the law where changes may be needed in light of the revamp.

But last night the Law Society said the Scottish Government olive branch did not go far enough and renewed calls for the reform to be ditched.

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Corroboration is the need for evidence in criminal trials to come from two sources and has been a requirement in Scots law for centuries.

Opponents have warned that the reform could lead to miscarriages of justice and have demanded safeguards are put in place, including details of what supporting evidence would be needed.

In a letter to Holyrood’s justice committee, Mr MacAskill said he was still “fully committed” to getting rid of corroboration but added: “There is time for further work to be undertaken.

“I have recently approached a highly respected senior judge to lead an independent reference group in considering other areas of criminal law where reforms may be recommended in light of the proposed abolition of the corroboration requirement.”

He is liaising with Scotland’s top judge, the Lord President Lord Gill, while the group’s remit is finalised.

But he pledged that corroboration would not be scrapped before any changes in the law, recommended by the judge-led group, were introduced.

Holyrood’s justice committee is scheduled to publish a report on the Criminal Justice Bill, which includes plans to scrap corroboration, later this week.

The Scottish Government has insisted that corroboration is thwarting rape and serious sexual assault cases, among others, from being taken to court because there are usually only the attacker and victim present. Critics have warned that conviction rates for these offences will not go up as a result of the change.

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Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s criminal law committee, said the body had voiced “very serious concerns” about the proposed abolition of corroboration.

He said: “The approach suggested by the Cabinet secretary is neither the desired nor expected route for any primary legislation. To leave the detail to subsequent subordinate legislation is not the correct approach to this most controversial and fundamental change to the rules of evidence governing our criminal law.

“If the Scottish Government remains intent on abolishing the requirement for corroboration, this should take place only after there has been a full review, so that the interconnections of the corroboration requirement with all other aspects of the criminal justice system, which have not so far been examined, can be properly explored.”

The Law Society wants to see the proposed abolition of corroboration taken out of the Criminal Justice Bill, with a “stat-utory review panel” then set up into the proposed change, before reintroducing it in a new bill.

Lord Gill told MSPs on the justice committee that corroboration was “a hallmark of Scottish law” that should remain.

Scotland’s top law officer, the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, has been pushing for the change. Prosecutors say that in the past two years more than 2,800 cases of domestic abuse had been unable to proceed to court because of a lack of admissible evidence.