PROSECUTORS at Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) have begun their campaign to lobby Scottish Ministers & the Scottish Parliament to remove one of the checks & balances against miscarriages of justice in Scots law, that of Corroboration, which currently guarantees that the presentation of important evidence presented in a criminal prosecution is required to be supported by two independent sources.
However, critics point to the fact that Scotland’s prosecutors are generally regarded as very poor in court, with the prosecution service as a whole regarded by legal insiders as more disposed to gaining a conviction at any cost (including the use of ‘dodgy’ evidence) rather than serving the interests of justice.
Coincidentally, the reasons talked about by the Solicitor General, Lesley Thomson who is backing the removal of Corroboration in a media release issued by the Crown Office earlier this week relate mostly to domestic abuse & rape, two of the areas the Crown Office consistently fail when cases come to court.
One legal observer commenting on the Crown Office campaign said : “This lobbying campaign by the Crown Office to remove the requirement of corroboration amounts to something like, ‘our prosecution teams are rubbish so we will have to change the law to secure more convictions’. It’s almost the same line as in the double jeopardy change.”
Writing in the Scotsman late last year, Maggie Scott QC, spoke of the dangers of removing corroboration from the Scots legal system, in an article which can be read here : Maggie Scott: Corroboration – a second opinion and in testimony to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, featured on BBC Democracy Live here : Holyrood Justice Committee hears abolition of Corroboration may lead to increased miscarriages of justice
Maggie Scott QC told the Justice Committee she was "really confident" the aboliton of corroboration would lead to miscarriages of justice if other safeguards were not put in place.
Ms Scott said "corroboration is a rule which works and assists in terms of the fact finding process" and "if there is nothing else in place, I'm really confident, I'm afraid, there are going to be miscarriages of justice, because we don't have any other kind of quality control over the evidence."
Ms Scott continued that "removing corroboration, in my view, is not going to assist in respect of conviction rates."
However, Ms Scott said there was a problem with conviction rates, in particular in relation to rape cases in Scotland, and suggested a more "imaginative" approach with possible research of juries to find out why they were not convicting.
Crown Office Press Release on campaign to remove corroboration :
Removing the requirement for corroboration in Scots law could help to protect the rights of victims of domestic abuse, the Solicitor General said today.
Speaking at the Domestic Abuse in Scotland conference, Lesley Thomson QC said prosecutors have a robust prosecution policy – but corroboration often proves a real obstacle in bringing domestic abuse cases to court. Corroboration is one of the areas of Scots law highlighted for potential reform by Lord Carloway’s recent review of criminal law and practice.
The Solicitor General said: “A woman may have been assaulted approximately 30 times before she contacts the police – we recognise that there are huge barriers to women seeking assistance in such cases. We know that the pattern of violence used in this insidious type of abuse is controlled and controlling and the abuser will often wait until he is alone with his victim, or perhaps when the only witnesses are her young children. It cannot be acceptable in a modern legal system that in order to bring criminal proceedings in cases which typically occur in private we are left in the hands of fortune as to whether or not there happens to be corroboration. It is of course right that those accused of committing crimes are entitled to a fair and just trial. But victims and witnesses have rights too – rights which are just as important.”
Solicitor General continued : “It is necessary that such rights are protected by an effective system for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of crime. In such a system, prosecutions with evidence of a perfectly good quality to convince a sheriff or jury of an accused’s guilt should not founder on the basis of an antiquated technical requirement, heralding from centuries before a woman could vote, own property or give evidence in criminal proceedings.”