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MSPs back bid to kill off criminal trial corroboration by three votes

KENNY MacAskill's flagship legislation to remove the centuries old requirement for corroboration in criminal trials has scraped through by three votes at a rowdy Holyrood.

The Justice Secretary needed the SNP's majority during the Stage One vote last night to ensure the proposal remains in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.

MSPs were censured by the Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick after a comb-ative session which saw Mr MacAskill claim victims would be denied justice if the legal rule requiring evidence to come from more than one source was not removed.

Speaking before the vote, he said: "The corroboration reform must stay in the bill. Commencement must wait until Lord Bonomy reports, but there must be no further unnecessary delay.

"The reform must go forward now in this legislation."

SNP Justice convener Christine Grahame reflected deep divisions within her committee by abstaining. Two former SNP members, who left over the party's Nato stance, divided on the issue, while Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs all voted in favour of the Tory motion seeking to strike out that section of the bill.

But every SNP member present voted with the Government, prompting accusations that Parliament was being "railroaded".

Mr MacAskill argued that Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women's Aid and Victim Support Scotland backed police and prosecutors in supporting the shift to an emphasis on quality of evidence rather than quantity.

SNP MSP Gil Paterson made an impassioned plea in favour of abolition, his voice breaking as he recounted the harrowing case of a woman whose life had been ruined by the failure to prosecute after she was raped. "Do this for Jean and all the other Jeans out there," he said.

But Alison McInnes, of the LibDems, and Patrick Harvie, of the Greens, made strong, principled speeches on why the case had not been made for jettisoning a key issue of civil liberties.

Elaine Murray, summing up for Labour, insisted Labour had "no desire to give the Scottish Govern-ment a kicking" but was acting because this aspect of the legislation was flawed.

Mr MacAskill made a sweeping attack on Labour and the LibDems for backing a Conservative motion on this, likening this alliance to the parties in the Better Together campaign. This increased the temperature in the Chamber, leading to the rebuke by the Presiding Officer.

But while he pointed out repeatedly that scrapping corroboration had been in Labour's 2011 Holyrood election manifesto, oppon-ents pointed to his belated appointment of the working group, led by former High Court Judge Lord Bonomy, to consider safeguards that could be introduced to balance the reform.

Greens co-convener Mr Harvie mocked this as the "tentative implementation of a hypothetical change" and others said it was simply the wrong order in which to do things - voting for the principle of a Bill while a group ironed out potential flaws.

Mr MacAskill insisted: "The corroboration reform must stay in the Bill. Commencement must wait until Lord Bonomy reports, but there must be no further unnecessary delay."

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