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MacAskill puts plan to scrap corroboration in criminal trials on hold

MOVES to scrap the historic need for corroboration in Scottish criminal trials have been put on hold as Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill fights to save a key part of flagship legislation.

Faced with continuing scepticism and hostility at Holyrood's Justice Committee, Mr MacAskill made an eleventh-hour offer to suspend this section of a wider Bill to allow an expert group to give further consultation to safeguards before the change comes into force.

Ian Cruickshank, of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "While this is a welcome concession our view remains that corroboration, given its centrality in criminal proceedings, should be looked at comprehensively before legislation is passed that abolishes it."

For centuries no Scot has faced conviction unless there are two independent witnesses or sources of evidence, but the Government wants to change this.

The arguments for the change are that no other comparable jurisdiction in the world retains such a strict rule, that the requirement hampers prosecution of sexual assaults, that quality of evidence should be more important that quantity, and that forensic science has progressed.

Mr MacAskill said: "We have to get rid of corroboration but have to ensure that the new change does not come in until such a time as we get right the new landscape for the prosecution and the judiciary. Matters can come back before the committee and before Parliament."

Labour's Graeme Pearson, the former head of the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, insisted it was "cavalier" to reform corroboration law. He said: "I have looked and there are 62 people in England and Wales whose cases were found to have been miscarriages of justice, some after many years of imprisonment. Scotland has nothing like that."

For the Conservatives, Margaret Mitchell said: "All it means is the Government would use its majority to force through a decision that is causing great concern."

LibDem spokeswoman Alison McInnes said a full independent review was needed.

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