My job as Justice Secretary is to do everything in my power to ensure justice for all and to protect the vulnerable.
I share concerns about the rise in the number of rape cases, as reported by The Herald yesterday. Police and women's charities believe this is partly down to increased reporting, and it is encouraging that victims have more confidence in coming forward.
But many of these cases never make it to court because of the requirement for corroborated evidence in criminal cases. Groups such as Rape Crisis and Women's Aid share that concern. It is one of the reasons I believe we need to abolish the requirement for corroboration. It can prevent strong cases, which could be prosecuted in other jurisdictions, from being taken forward, denying access to justice for victims. While getting rid of this rule will help improve access to justice in all cases, it is in cases of rape, sexual and domestic abuse (the kinds of crimes that, by their nature, often have no other witnesses) that will see the biggest impact.
Research conducted for Lord Carloway's review of criminal law and practice looked at 141 cases reported to the National Sex Crimes Unit over six months in 2010 where no action was taken. It found that 95 of those cases, 67%, would have had a reasonable prospect of conviction without the corroboration test.
The Crown Office estimates that, if the requirement for corroboration were abolished, there would be an increase of 6% in the number of solemn prosecutions and 1% in summary prosecutions. It is not acceptable to me that individuals are being denied justice that would be available elsewhere because of an ancient requirement that Scotland's second most senior judge described as "archaic" and "holding the criminal justice system back".
I have met victims of rape and sexual abuse, some of whom have suffered years of misery, denied the chance to see the perpetrators brought to justice. For these people, the fact that they don't get their day in court can be a further injury that is almost too much to bear. Our proposals are supported by a wide range of victims' and women's organisations across Scotland. Police Scotland and the Crown Office are also supportive.
I know these plans are viewed by some as controversial and there are those who disagree with us. But I also know that we need to do everything we can do protect the victims of some of the most abhorrent crimes in society. Some fear that it will lead to an increase in miscarriages of justice.
There is no evidence that other legal systems without the requirement for corroboration (each one in western Europe and the Commonwealth) have any issue with miscarriages of justice because they do not have a corroboration requirement.
Abolishing the requirement for corroboration does not abolish the requirement for good quality evidence or the need to prove an individual's guilt beyond reasonable doubt. As Police Scotland confirmed last week, it will continue to present the best evidence available. Nor am I under the illusion that abolishing the requirement for corroboration itself is a panacea that will overnight solve the problem of low rape prosecutions. But it is an important step in the right direction.
This, along with the wider action we are taking to tackle sexual crimes, will ensure the criminal justice system serves these victims as well as it can and change attitudes so that crimes such as rape are seen by everyone as the abhorrent crimes they are. We have strengthened the law in the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.
We are giving £3.6m funding to support victims of rape, while Police Scotland has launched a new National Rape Taskforce to further improve the investigation of rape and other sexual crimes. At the very least, abolishing this archaic requirement will allow crimes committed in private, where the victim has suffered in silence, to be brought to court. That can only be a step forward.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.