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Scrapping of ancient legal rule 'will not damage justice'

SCOTLAND'S first national domestic abuse prosecutor said the country's unique legal system is "already robust enough" to safeguard against miscarriages of justice if corroboration is abandoned.

Anne Marie Hicks, the Glasgow lawyer who took on the role of National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse last year, said the burden of proof would remain with prosecutors after she addressed the ­Scottish Women's Aid conference in Edinburgh.

Sex crimes including rape - which has a 7% conviction rate - and wider domestic abuse offences are notoriously difficult to prosecute as they often happen "behind closed doors".

One in 10 domestic abuse cases reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service are dropped due to a lack of corroborating evidence. Proponents believe removing the ancient rule - which means evidence must come from more than one source - will lift the conviction rate.

Ms Hicks said the Scots law system has proven safeguards in place that would ensure fairness for both victim and accused should corroboration be dropped.

She said: "The Crown are still going to have to get evidence and satisfy a judge and jury."

Ms Hicks echoed comments by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who was also speaking at the annual conference, that scrapping corroboration in criminal trials will not in itself improve conviction rates for domestic abuse.

Mr MacAskill insisted the controversial change would help provide "an effective justice system for all ­citizens". But the proposal has been met with fierce opposition from within the legal profession.

Chief superintendent John Thomson, lead officer at Police Scotland's Licensing and Violence Reduction Division, who was also at the conference, said that 20% of core patrol officers' workload is related to domestic abuse cases.

Mr Thomson said: "The removal of corroboration as we know it would not diminish the police response."

Lily Greenan, manager of Scottish Women's Aid, said abandoning the requirement, which is peculiar to Scottish law, is "part of what will help".

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