Corroboration has failed Scotland, says justice secretary

The need for evidence in criminal trials to come from two sources has "failed Scotland", Scotland's justice secretary has said.

Kenny MacAskill's comments came as he defended plans to drop the centuries-old requirement for corroboration.

The Tories said the legal profession overwhelmingly opposed the change, calling for the move to be dropped.

However, Mr MacAskill said it was long overdue and would improve access to justice.

Meanwhile, the convener of the Scottish Parliament's justice committee, SNP member Christine Grahame, raised questions over the quality of a government-commissioned review on corroboration, carried out by senior judge Lord Carloway.

Proposals to drop the general requirement for corroboration are part of a series of reforms contained in the Scottish government's Criminal Justice Bill.

In particular, supporters said the change may improve conviction rates for sexual offences.

But the Conservatives, which brought a debate on the issue to parliament, said corroboration was at the heart of the Scottish justice system, was used on a daily basis, and provided a safeguard against miscarriages of justice.

Tory MSP Annabel Goldie, a former solicitor, said: "Corroboration finds itself in the dock - charged with being an irrelevance, an anachronism and an impediment to convictions."

She added: "The Scottish government is proposing to abolish corroboration on an analysis which is flawed, reasoning which is opaque, logic which is incoherent and a conclusion which is plain wrong.

"In my opinion corroboration is innocent - it requires reform - but the charges against it have not been proved."

Mr MacAskill said he was open to considering whether further safeguards would be needed, but argued corroboration was a barrier to obtaining justice for the victims of crimes committed in private or where there were no other witnesses.

"Put simply, the requirement for corroboration has failed Scotland," he said.

The justice secretary told MSPs: "Each and every one in this chamber as an elected member will have had people who came to them in their surgeries who did not get justice.

"We've had to wipe away the tears, we've had to give our sympathy, we've had to empathise with them and say there was no corroboration, there could be no prosecution - justice was not delivered."

The Conservatives said those who opposed the move included the Senators of the College of Justice, the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, as well as the Scottish Police Federation and Scottish Human Rights Commission.

Ms Grahame, whose committee is scrutinising the justice bill, rejected the government's claim that the Lord Carloway review was "thorough", while urging MSPs to think carefully about the proposals.

"Let's not consider the proposal to abolish corroboration with our politician's hats on - let's behave like responsible legislators," she said.

"What Scotland needs, whatever the outcome of the bill, should be because it improves justice for complainer and accused - not because it's politically popular.

Labour's Elaine Murray said the justice committee should be allowed to do its work in examining the bill, but added: "There's actually no evidence that removing corroboration will actually result in more successful prosecutions."

And echoing Tory concerns, Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes, said: "I don't defend corroboration because of tradition - I defend it because it protects against miscarriages of justice, false accusations, wrongful convictions and the erosion, I believe, of the presumption of innocence.

"You cannot remove this pillar of our justice system without making the whole structure unstable."

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