Scotland's tough trial rules face watering down

SCOTLAND'S tough standard of corroboration in criminal trials might be diluted as a result of a far-reaching review following the UK Supreme Court's judgment that established the right of a suspect to legal advice before being interviewed by police.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill commissioned High Court judge Lord Carloway to review the implications of the "Cadder decision" across the whole landscape of criminal law and procedure.

The review includes a reassessment of the criminal law of evidence, in particular the requirement for corroboration - under which two sources of evidence are needed to support each essential fact in a prosecution - and the suspect's right to silence.

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Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, Lord Carloway acknowledged that corroboration was up for discussion.

He said: "Is corroboration in the melting pot? Yes - I'm not aware of any other country in Europe that has such a strict concept of corroboration as we have had.

"If we conclude the concept should be adjusted we will have to set out a new test for sufficiency of evidence."

But Robert Black, professor emeritus of Scots law at Edinburgh University, cautioned against such a move.

He said he was not certain that there was a link between the changes required by the UK Supreme Court that increased the rights of a suspect and the case for decreasing the evidential requirements of investigators and prosecutors.

"Corroboration is bog- standard Roman law and was invented to put objective tests between the word of a victim and the word of the accused," he said. "I'm not convinced it is helpful that so many people suggest Scots law is far out of line in this regard.

"It can as easily be argued it is the Anglo-American systems that are out of line."

The review was triggered by the ruling of the UK's highest court over the rights of suspects to legal representation. It found that the Scottish system allowing people to be held for six hours without access to a lawyer was aimed at making it more likely they might "incriminate" themselves under police questioning and breached European Human Rights laws.

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The ruling was prompted after an appeal by Peter Cadder, 20, who was convicted at Glasgow Sheriff Court of two assaults and breach of the peace last year in part as a result of his answers in an interview without counsel.

David Strang, the chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police who will be a member of the Carloway review's 11-strong reference group, said: "Any decision to alter this principle (of corroboration] would only come after careful consideration by the review and on the advice of our police and criminal justice partners and all interested parties, balancing the interests of justice with the rights of an accused person."