The Scottish Government has today published the Criminal Justice Bill, which intends to abolish the requirement of corroboration in criminal trials.
A raft of measures to ‘improve the criminal justice system’ have been outlined in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, published today.
The bill takes forward a range of proposals to modernise and improve efficiency within the criminal justice system, responding to reviews by Lord Carloway and Sheriff Principal Bowen. The bill includes provisions that will abolish the requirement for corroboration in criminal trials alongside increases to the jury majority required for a guilty verdict to two-thirds of jurors.
The bill also raises the maximum sentence for handling knives and other offensive weapons from four to five years. This comes on the back of Recorded Crime Figures from earlier this week which show that crimes of handling an offensive weapon are at a 27-year low, down 29 per cent since last year, a reduction of 60 per cent since 2006-07.
Other key measures contained in the bill are:
Modernising the law around arrest and questioning of suspects
Improving the right to legal advice for individuals taken into police custody
Introducing a statutory aggravation for human trafficking
Strengthening court powers to impose sentences on those who commit offences while on early release
Establishing a Police Negotiating Board for Scotland for the negotiation of police officer pay and conditions
Also published today are responses and analysis to a consultation on whether additional safeguards would be needed if the requirement for corroboration is removed.
The consultation asked whether the not proven verdict should be abolished. We have taken on board views that now is not the right time to consider any further change in the light of other significant reforms being proposed. However, we have agreed in principle with the Scottish Law Commission that a review of this verdict should be carried out by them in a future work programme.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “This week’s recorded crime figures show that crime in Scotland is at a 39-year-low. We want to build on this impressive downward trend by ensuring that we have a justice system that is efficient and streamlined and that is what this bill will do.
“Taken together, these reforms aim to strike a balance between strengthening the powers available to police and prosecutors, while protecting the rights of the accused.
“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. It is an outdated rule which can deny victims the opportunity to see those responsible for serious crimes brought to justice.
“Removing the need for corroboration represents a move towards focusing on the quality of evidence rather than quantity.
“We continue to take a zero tolerance approach towards knife crime, and this week’s figures show this is paying off. There will be no let-up in our efforts to rid Scotland’s streets of knives, and increasing the sentencing powers available to prosecutors will provide them with a valuable additional tool.
“This bill is another step forward in the Government’s Making Justice Work programme, which aims to create a justice system fit for to a modern democratic society – one that contributes positively to a flourishing Scotland, helping to create an inclusive and respectful society in which all people and communities live in safety and security, where individual and collective rights are supported and where disputes are resolved fairly and quickly.”
Scottish Law Reporter supports the retention of corroboration, and has reported on the issue in previous coverage HERE
On 3 July 2012, the Scottish Government launched a public consultation seeking views on how best to reform areas of Scottish criminal law and practice. This consultation was based on the recommendations set out in Lord Carloway’s Report on criminal procedure which was published in November 2011.
The Judges of the High Court of Justiciary, other than Lord Carloway, have now submitted their response available online here : Response by the Senators of the College of Justice to SG consultation : Reforming Scots Criminal Law & Practice to proposals in the present consultation paper. While their response provides support for the majority of the Carloway Review proposals, they unanimously agree that the rule of corroboration should not be abolished.
BBC News has reported further on the story, here :
High Court judges have rejected proposals to abolish the centuries-old requirement for corroboration in Scottish criminal prosecutions.
Judge Lord Carloway, who carried out a review of Scots criminal law last year, said the rule ensuring all key evidence was backed by two sources was archaic.
He said it no longer had a place in a modern legal system.
But, in a consultation response, judges said corroboration provided a safeguard against miscarriages of justice.
The Senators of the College of Justice said removing the need for corroboration, which is unique to Scotland's legal system, would lead to "decreasing confidence in the legal system" and to lower conviction rates generally.
They said: "In our view, it is often difficult to assess the true facts on the basis only of the evidence of one witness. A witness may be credible and plausible, yet not be telling the truth (or the whole truth).
"The Scottish courts have on many occasions been grateful for the requirement of corroboration, which in our view provides a major safeguard against miscarriages of justice.
"One particularly anxious area is that of alleged sexual offences, where (without corroboration) the issue becomes one of the complainer's word against the accused's. Our concern is that the abolition of corroboration may result in miscarriages of justice."
The judges also expressed concern about police procedure if the corroboration requirement was removed.
"We are also concerned that the abolition of corroboration may result in less diligent police investigation pre-trial: knowing that corroboration is not required, there may be a relaxation in the search for supporting evidence (even though such may well exist)," they said.
"Furthermore the court or jury, faced with the dangers of one person's word against another's, may be reluctant to convict. In our experience, juries have always found corroborative evidence of great assistance.
"The current perception may be that the conviction rate in certain types of crime (for example, sexual offences) is low. It is our considered view that if corroboration were to be abolished, that would lead to decreasing confidence in the legal system, and to lower rates of conviction generally."
The judges were responding to a Scottish government consultation on the review.
In 2010, Lord Carloway was asked to lead a review of Scots law and practice in the wake of a high-profile human rights decision by the UK Supreme Court, on the Cadder case.
The Cadder ruling put an end to police being able to question suspects without the option of legal representation.
In his 400-page review, Lord Carloway said the requirement for evidence to be corroborated has lain at the heart of the criminal justice system "since time immemorial" but was based on "medieval" thinking.
His 76 recommendations looked at four areas: custody, investigation, evidence and appeals.
Judges supported the majority of the Carloway Review proposals but stopped short of agreeing with the abolition of corroboration.
They also said that if the requirement is removed, additional changes should be made to the criminal justice system.
Consideration may have to be given to changing the current requirement for a verdict of guilty from a minimum of eight jury members out of 15 to the type of majority required in England, of 10 out of a jury of 12, they said.
The judges added: "In our view, if the requirement of corroboration were to be abolished, it would reinforce the case for retaining the 'not proven' verdict to allow a jury a principled third option where they found it impossible to work out which of the complainer or the accused was telling the truth."
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "The proposed abolition of the requirement for corroboration was recommended in an independent review by Lord Carloway. Lord Carloway's recommendations have been subject to a government consultation exercise.
"The consultation specifically sought views on whether any additional safeguards would be required as a result of removing the corroboration rule and we will carefully consider all responses."
Earlier this year, Lord Carloway was appointed the country's second top judge when he took up the role of Lord Justice Clerk.