Judges report opposes removal of corroboration safeguards for criminal trials in Scotland. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s plans to ram through controversial and highly questionable changes to Scotland’s criminal justice system have taken a hit after it was made known Scotland’s High Court judges have strongly come out against the Scottish Government’s plans to abolish the long held requirement of corroboration in Scottish criminal prosecutions.
The opposition of Scotland’s judges to the major plank of the Carloway Review Report & Recommendations 2011 have been welcomed by many, who see the SNP’s decision to remove the well understood safeguard of corroboration as little more than a politically motivated plan to allow Scotland’s institutionally corrupt Crown Office to secure more convictions based on miserly requirements of uncorroborated evidence.
The Judiciary of Scotland made the following announcement :
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.
Yesterday’s announcement from the Judiciary of Scotland has certainly angered the Crown Office, who have today been privately briefing against the judge’s decision to oppose the removal of corroboration. Several law journalists have reported in alleging that Crown Office spin doctors have launched personal attacks on some of the High Court judges, even calling into question their remit to give a public opinion on what one Crown Office insider called the Justice Secretary’s plans to remove corroboration, come what may.
Scottish Law Reporter supports the retention of corroboration, and has reported on the issue in previous coverage HERE
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."
Lord Carloway Lord Carloway is Scotland's second top judge after taking on the role of Lord Justice Clerk this year
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.