Tuesday, November 05, 2013

What now for Crown Office plan to skew justice in prosecutors favour, as senior judge Lord Hope brands removal of corroboration “potentially dangerous”

Lord Hope – removal of corroboration is potentially dangerous LORD HOPE, who previously served as Lord Justice General of Scotland and Lord President of the Court of Session, and until June was deputy president of the UK Supreme Court has criticised plans by the Scottish Government to remove the long held safeguard of corroboration in criminal trials, where evidence is needed from two separate sources for a conviction.

In an interview for Holyrood Magazine, Lord Hope described the proposal contained in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, to abolish corroboration, as “potentially dangerous”.

The drive to remove corroboration primarily comes from the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) who are hungry for increasing their statistics of successful prosecutions, whether the accused is actually guilty of a crime or not.

Speaking further to Holyrood Magazine, Lord Hope went on say : "I just express concern that the proposal seems very far-reaching and, potentially, quite dangerous if you have a situation where somebody is at risk of being convicted on his own confession which I would have thought was absolutely fundamentally wrong in Scots law.

"It may be that the number of cases that go to trial now on confessions are comparatively few, but we developed our law of corroboration initially as a barrier against people being taken to court on a confession which had been extracted by torture.

"This is in the early 18th century when things were very, very different, and people reacted against this, and I'd be very sad to see that kind of protection go."

The Crown Office led campaign to remove corroboration was eagerly joined in its infancy by Justice Secretary MacAskill, who was apparently persuaded by senior COPFS officials that the change would give the Scottish Government glowing conviction rates to announce and help bolster the SNP’s record on justice issues.

MacAskill then commissioned Lord Carloway, the current Lord Justice Clerk to write a report agreeing with the removal of corroboration. This report, is known as the Carloway Review Report & Recommendations 2011

Meanwhile, the changes to corroboration have been opposed by just about anyone with a clear legal head, many solicitors, advocates, QCs and many in the judiciary who signed their own joint response against the Carloway proposals in an earlier announcement made by the Judiciary of Scotland,here :

Judges respond to public consultation on Carloway Report

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.

Speaking to Scottish Law Reporter earlier today, one senior solicitor castigated the planned law changes, saying : “MacAskill’s plan to remove corroboration is a cave-in to assist the Lord Advocate and various ‘usual suspect’ pressure groups along with Police Scotland, all of whom have an interest in skewing prosecutions in their favour regardless of the evidence.”

Criticising the current debate on the law change, he continued : “The public debate on corroboration has itself been skewed by campaign groups who attack, even personally harass anyone or any profession criticising their motives.”

“What is now needed is that the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament realise the vested interests of those involved in this appalling law change, and throw it out in the interests of justice & a fair trial, before we end up with a situation where the Lord Advocate simply needs to proclaim someone guilty and sentence them without even the need of a trial.”

The full Carloway Review can be read online here: Carloway Review Report & Recommendations 2011 along with the Executive Summary and Lord Carloway's statement

It should be noted Scottish Law Reporter supports the retention of corroboration, and has reported on the issue in previous coverage HERE

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