KENNY MacAskill has thrown down the gauntlet to lawyers by urging them to back plans to end the requirement for corroboration in criminal cases or risk leaving Scotland's justice system stuck in the last century.

The Justice Secretary told the final day of the SNP conference in Perth yesterday that one in 10 domestic abuse cases reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is dropped due to a lack of corroborating evidence.

He said this means the system is denying justice to thousands of people, including rape and domestic victims, adding: "It's time to get Scottish criminal law into the 21st century."

Mr MacAskill's Government is pressing ahead with moves to end the centuries-old need for evidence in criminal trials to come from two sources following a review of the justice system by leading judge Lord Carloway.

It says the change would increase conviction rates in rape cases, but it has been opposed by the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates.

Mr MacAskill told delegates he also had to listen to the pleas of Victim Support Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women's Aid and take in the views of Police Scotland and the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents.

He said they were not involved in legal debate, but worked on the frontline mopping "up the blood" and then wiping away "the tears from victims who have suffered behind closed doors".

Mr MacAskill added: "They can console and they can comfort but they cannot currently provide access to justice. Justice there must be, and corroboration it must go."

Crown Office figures show 2803 out of 27,101 reported domestic abuse charges last year were dropped for lack of corroboration. A further 2674 cases, out of 26,859, were dropped the previous year.

Mr MacAskill said: "Those who suffer rape and other serious sexual assault are denied justice by it. But, it's not just the victims of those horrendous sexual crimes but many others, whether children or the elderly. Crimes committed without an eyewitness.

"And, of course, there is domestic abuse. Of the latest shameful statistics on domestic abuse, 10% of crimes reported to the Crown couldn't be prosecuted because of the lack of corroboration. Those were only the ones the police reported. Many others didn't even make it to the fiscal's office as they knew the Crown couldn't pursue them."

He said women, children and vulnerable elderly people were suffering because the legal system was failing to protect them.

"Suffering in silence behind closed doors means we can be silent no more," he told conference delegates. "The inability to meet the requirement for corroboration - a requirement not needed in any other jurisdiction - results in the inability to prosecute offences and the denial of justice for too many."

He added: "This is about justice in our communities not a debate between learned legal friends."

Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell MSP said: "Kenny MacAskill has attempted to portray opposition to his plans to scrap corroboration as the vested interests of the legal profession against the rights of victims.

"However, this is very much a gross distortion of the issues at stake.

"Corroboration, in practice, is at the very heart of the Scottish criminal justice system."

A spokesman for the Law Society of Scotland said it appreciated Mr MacAskill's decision to listen to their views.

He added: "The requirement for corroborated evidence is not an antiquated outdated legal notion, it is a fundamental principle of Scotland's criminal justice system.

"Removing the requirement for corroborated evidence, without sufficiently strong safeguards, could increase the risk of miscarriages of justice."