Bill to end court case corroboration

Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill said corroboration could represent a barrier to justice

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Proposals to end the centuries-old requirement for corroboration in court cases have been brought forward by the Scottish government.

Corroboration - the need for evidence in criminal trials to come from two sources - could be abolished by the new Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.

It would also introduce safeguards such as increasing the number of jurors required for a majority guilty verdict.

This would go up from a simple majority of the 15 jurors to two-thirds.

This would mean that if a full jury was offering a majority guilty verdict, the number of jurors required would increase from eight to 10.

Any less than two-thirds would be regarded as a "not guilty" verdict.

This is to avoid retrials due to hung juries.

Scotland's unique "not proven" verdict will be still be available to jurors but it must be reached by a majority.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he recognised the "significant concern" in some quarters about the continuing viability of the not proven verdict but he said further deliberation was required.

In a wide-ranging review of Scots law and practice last year, leading judge Lord Carloway recommended dropping the general requirement for corroboration in court cases.

But the move has been opposed by the legal profession, including judges.

Mr McAskill said: "I have made clear a number of times that I believe that the requirement for corroboration should be abolished as it can represent a barrier to justice.

Analysis

Corroboration is where you have two pieces of evidence, backing each other up, to put before a jury or a sheriff.

In some cases that may be two eye-witnesses speaking to the same event. That is actually one of the reasons police officers in Scotland patrol in pairs rather than singularly, as in England. You can also bring forward forensic evidence which can prove that an event took place.

But there have been difficulties in rape cases because in most serious sexual assaults there are probably only two people present - the accuser and the accused.

That has led, it is argued, to a low level of conviction for rape, and that's why they want to change it.

"It is an outdated rule which can deny victims the opportunity to see those responsible for serious crimes being brought to justice.

"Removing the need for corroboration represents a move towards focusing on the quality of evidence rather than quantity."

However, the Law Society of Scotland described corroboration as a "fundamental principle" of the justice system.

Removing it would lead to a greater risk of miscarriages of justice, it said.

Raymond McMenamin, from the society's criminal law committee, said: "We believe that removing the requirement for corroborated evidence, without including sufficiently strong safeguards in the bill, could simply result in a contest between two competing statements on oath and, as a result, bring increased risk of miscarriages of justice.

"The requirement for corroborated evidence is not an antiquated, outmoded legal notion but is a fundamental principle of our justice system.

"It's clear that the concerns expressed by the society and others about juries have been recognised as the bill proposes a move to a weighted majority from a simple majority, but we don't believe this is sufficient to remove the risks created by abolishing corroboration."

The Bill, if passed, would also raise the maximum sentence for handling knives and offensive weapons from four to five years.

Other measures include changes to the law around arrest and questioning of suspects and strengthening court powers to impose sentences on those who commit offences while on early release.

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