Judge to lead review on corroboration reform

Kenny MacAskill Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill wants the current corroboration law abolished

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Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has asked a senior judge to lead a review group into the safeguards needed when corroboration is abolished.

The independent group will examine the impact of removing the centuries-old requirement for two corroborating pieces of evidence to prove guilt.

The abolition of corroboration is included in the Scottish government's Criminal Justice Bill.

Opponents said it could lead to rises in miscarriages of justice.

Supporters said the removal of corroboration was necessary to modernise the justice system and the move could also help widen access to justice for victims.

They stressed the benefits of the reform, particularly in cases of rape and domestic violence where corroborating evidence could be difficult to obtain.

Mr MacAskill previously told Holyrood's Justice Committee that if the bill passed he would ensure further consideration was given to other safeguards before abolition took effect.

'Committed to reform'

In a letter to the committee, he wrote: "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.

"I am currently agreeing the details of the remit for this group and we are taking the lord president's views into account in that process.

"My intention would be for the government to then bring forward secondary legislation in light of any recommendations made."

He said the corroboration reform would not start until the secondary legislation had been approved by the Scottish Parliament.

This would not cause "significant delay" to the reform, he said.

Mr MacAskill said the details of the judge's remit were being agreed and would be announced in the coming days.

The letter drew a lukewarm response from the Law Society of Scotland who urged the government to undertake a full examination of what effect the abolition would have with other aspects of the criminal justice system.

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland's Criminal Law Committee, said: "Our firm view is that the only way to proceed would be to delete section 57 (which abolishes the requirement for corroboration) from the bill.

"The cabinet secretary should then create a statutory review panel to conduct the review, and in the light of the review's report, introduce a bill to give effect to it."

Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said Mr MacAskill's moved "reeks of desperation".

She said: "Nothing has changed here - he still wants to push through the ill thought-out and damaging proposals to abolish corroboration."

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes said Mr MacAskill was "stumbling in the dark".

She said: "His position is illogical and dangerous. The justice secretary has conceded that there are risks that come with the abolition of corroboration, yet he asks us to agree to his plans anyway without knowing what safeguards there will be."

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