Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has given the strongest indication yet of his determination to press ahead with abolition of the rule of corroboration in criminal cases, and has insisted the rights of victims must come first.

Lord Carloway's proposal to delete the centuries-old rule which says evidence must be backed up by two sources has come under attack from all corners of the legal world.

Judges, advocates and solicitors have opposed the move on the grounds that it could lead to miscarriages of justice.

According to supporters the major shift in procedure could raise conviction rates for crimes such as rape and domestic violence, where the vast majority of victims are women.

In his conference speech in Perth, Mr MacAskill said there is a split in the judiciary over Lord Carloway's proposals.

"Other judges have disagreed with his opinion," he said. "It's hardly unprecedented for there to be a divide in legal opinions amongst learned friends.

"I'll give significant weight to their opinion. It divides the police as well as the judicial family with ACPOS [the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland] being for abolition and the SPF [the Scottish Police Federation] against.

"But this is not just about the legal profession or law enforcement agencies. It's also about those who are victims of crime – especially women who have suffered injustice in private and behind closed doors.

"Therefore, when we weigh up the evidence for or against the law of corroboration we'll take into account not just the views of the judiciary but those of Victim Support Scotland, Rape Crisis and countless other organisations representing the voices of victims."

Mr MacAskill addressed youth crime in his speech and outlined falls in knife offences, a 37-year low in recorded crime, and record clear-up rates.

An endorsement of independence by actor Paul Brannigan, who starred in the film Angel's Share, was screened to delegates in the warm-up to his address.

The Justice Secretary attended a special screening of the film with Brannigan at Polmont Young Offenders Institution, where the actor was once jailed.

He said: "He spoke about how he had spent two years incarcerated there, that he had made a decision to turn his life around, and he had. It was humbling to be there.

"The Angels' Share is an outstanding movie. Set in Scotland, it has its dark side and its violent moments. But it's arguably a template for what can be done. It shows that, given a chance, people can change. Good can triumph over evil. Hope can triumph over adversity."

Mr MacAskill added: "We are diverting people from crime, ploughing the proceeds of crime back into communities – £46million seized from criminals has been invested in community projects, benefiting over 600,000 young people."

He said the police in Scotland appreciated the different approach of the Government, with no onslaught on their conditions and no privatisation, which was why he had been asked to address the conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers of England and Wales next week.

"I don't care if they are patrician or plebeian, I will treat them with the respect and courtesy that those who serve their communities are entitled to," he added, in an obvious swipe at recent events at Downing Street.

He added: "In an independent Scotland we can show them how policing can really be done."

The Justice Secretary also pledged that Scotland's police would continue to support English forces during riots or major events if independence goes ahead.