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MacAskill: judge will review impact of abolishing corroboration

The Justice Secretary has asked a senior judge to lead a group to consider what other reforms may be needed following the planned abolition of corroboration.

Kenny MacAskill agreed to set up the group following concerns over the impact of removing the centuries-old requirement for two corroborating pieces of evidence to prove guilt.

The abolition of corroboration is included in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.

Mr MacAskill previously told Holyrood's Justice Committee that if the Bill passes he would ensure further consideration is given to other safeguards before abolition takes effect.

In a letter to the committee, he wrote: "I have recently approached a highly respected senior judge to lead an independent reference group in considering other areas of criminal law where reforms may be recommended in light of the proposed abolition of the corroboration requirement.

"I am currently agreeing the details of the remit for this group and we are taking the Lord President's views into account in that process.

"My intention would be for the Government to then bring forward secondary legislation in light of any recommendations made.

"If the corroboration reform is passed, it would not be commenced before this secondary legislation has been approved by the Scottish Parliament.

"I think that this can be done without significant delay to the reform, which was always intended to be implemented in the financial year 2015/16."

The Justice Secretary stressed he remains committed to the reform.

Supporters say the removal of corroboration is necessary to modernise the justice system, and could also help widen access to justice for victims, particularly in cases of rape and domestic violence where corroborating evidence can be difficult to obtain.

Those opposed to the reform fear it could have adverse consequences, such as an increase in miscarriages of justice.

The Justice Committee is currently considering its response to the evidence it has gathered during the first stage of the Bill.

Mr MacAskill added: "I remain fully committed to the proposed removal of the corroboration requirement within the Criminal Justice Bill.

"This will set a solid and fair foundation for the way in which cases proceed to court, moving our system to focus on the overall quality of the evidence available.

"As I have said before, we have always been open to considering additional legal safeguards which may be needed when the corroboration requirement is abolished.

"I have therefore approached a highly respected senior judge to lead an independent reference group in considering other areas of criminal law where reforms may be recommended in light of the proposed abolition of the corroboration requirement.

"The details of the remit are being agreed and will be announced in the coming days."

Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: "This move by Kenny MacAskill reeks of desperation.

"Nothing has changed here - he still wants to push through the ill thought-out and damaging proposals to abolish corroboration.

"Again, the Justice Secretary prefers to organise his own review rather than refer the issue to the Scottish Law Commission.

"Corroboration should be taken out of the Bill and time given to consider it within the context of a wider reform of the law of evidence."

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: "This latest intervention sheds little light on the review but does confirm that Kenny MacAskill is stumbling in the dark.

"His position is illogical and dangerous. The Justice Secretary has conceded that there are risks that come with the abolition of corroboration, yet he asks us to agree to his plans anyway without knowing what safeguards there will be.

"Today's letter prompts me to ask if Kenny MacAskill himself knows - or is he just making it up as he goes along?"

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