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Death Knell for "A vital safeguard in Scottish Law"

Section 57 of the proposed Criminal Justice Bill 2014 provides for the abolition of corroboration in Scottish Criminal Law. 

On 27th February 2014, the reality of this prospect moved one step closer following the stage one vote of 64-61 in favour of the proposal.

The Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill, has persistently argued that, although corroboration has existed for centuries, that is its greatest weakness.  All this was in a world without CCTV, satellite monitoring, speed cameras and the advances of forensic science.  

Whilst no one can argue at the success of the Scottish Parliament leading the way with the public smoking ban, many feel that this is a leap too far.

In many ways, the impact of such a change in relation to regulatory offences, for example in the fishing industry, would be minimal.  The legal profession are, however, fairly united in opposing the erosion of a key cornerstone of Scottish justice.  

The fact that there were 57 abstentions from the vote on 27th February tells us something of the uncertainty that this Bill is causing.  It appears that only one serving High Court Judge is supportive of the Government’s proposal, whilst the former Lord President, Lord Hamilton, and Lord Cullen, who contributed so much to public safety after Piper Alpha, have both openly spoken out against the removal of corroboration. 

Lord McCluskey too, another former High Court Judge, recently commented within “The Scotsman” that the rule of corroboration was an essential protection against fabricated evidence, whether of the complainer or of the police/authorities - and, as he put it, both can happen. 

Somewhat unusually, Mr MacAskill has agreed to form an independent reference group with the appointment of a Senior Scottish Judge to consider all matters but such a report seems unlikely to halt the progress of the Bill, regardless of its findings.

The matter still has further to run but, despite all the advances in technology and science as highlighted by the Justice Minister, great care must be taken on removal of corroboration.

The reputation of Scots Law has long been upheld as an example of justice and fairness and time will tell whether that is eroded or strengthened by this Bill, as and when it enters the Statute Books. 

For more information, please contact Martin Sinclair.

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