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MacAskill: Corroboration reform must stay

The Justice Secretary has refused to back down from controversial plans to scrap corroboration in criminal trials.

Kenny MacAskill told MSPs they would be denying justice to victims if they fail to support the removal of the centuries-old legal rule which requires evidence to come from more than one source.

He spoke out as politicians prepared to vote on the general principles of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill at Holyrood.

He has already tried to win over opposition members by setting up an expert group led by former High Court judge Lord Bonomy to further consider the key change before it is put in place.

"The corroboration reform must stay in the Bill," he said.

"Commencement must wait until Lord Bonomy reports, but there must be no further unnecessary delay.

"The reform must go forward now in this legislation.

"If you vote to take this provision out of the Bill, you are voting to continue this injustice for so many in Scotland."

The plan to remove the provision is welcomed by police, victims' groups and prosecutors, with some arguing its removal will make it easier to take cases of sexual assault and domestic abuse to court.

But Labour, Tory, Lib Dem and Green politicians all want the SNP to halt the plan.

Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell led calls at Holyrood to force a re-think.

Mr MacAskill's position has caused a "storm of controversy", she told Parliament.

"He has consistently tried to misrepresent and polarise this as a debate with victims on one side and the legal profession on the other," she said.

"This is not only a complete distortion but it also insults all those who oppose this move."

As well as criticising the removal of the provision from law, opponents are unhappy that they are being asked to support it in principle before the impact has been fully scrutinised.

Ms Mitchell said: "He is asking the Scottish Parliament to pass bad law and to vote to abolish corroboration before we know what system is going to replace it on the promise of that review, about which little is known, that this may fix the issue. The integrity of the Parliament is at stake here."

She put forward an amendment to the Bill calling for the removal of the part which would scrap corroboration.

The wider Bill looks at a range of other changes to the criminal justice system.

It gives police a new single power of arrest, tackles people-trafficking, enhances suspects' rights to a solicitor and aims to protect the rights of children and vulnerable people.

The Bill also increases the maximum term for handling offensive weapons.

But corroboration has generated most of the focus among politicians.

Mr MacAskill said: "I have listened to and acted on the concerns raised.

"I now ask Parliament to listen to the voice of those representing some of the most vulnerable people in our society and to support the general principles of this Bill in its entirety."

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland Criminal Law Committee, said: "Abolishing the requirement for corroboration, without sufficient safeguards, presents a serious risk to Scotland's criminal justice system.

"The age-old cornerstone of our proud and respected system is to be removed at a point in time when its replacement has yet to be fashioned.

"It is in everyone's interest that we have a criminal justice system which is properly balanced and gives due weight to the interests of those facing criminal charges, victims and wider society.

"To remove an essential safeguard against the risk of miscarriages of justice without first carrying out a full review and leave the detail to subsequent subordinate legislation is not the correct approach to this controversial and fundamental change to the rules of evidence governing our criminal law."

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