The debate surrounding the abolition of corroboration has not been of a quality demanded by the magnitude of the forthcoming decision.

Those seeking the abolition argue corroboration is outdated, archaic, out of step with every country in the world and that it denies victims' access to justice.

Abolition, we are told, will increase convictions. Indeed proponents tell us corroboration represents a barrier to justice.

Can we start by reminding ourselves what the functions of our courts are? They are to determine guilt or innocence following an allegation by an "alleged" victim of criminal conduct, which results in the finger of suspicion identifying a possible culprit who becomes the accused and then faces trial. The purpose of the trial is to determine the guilt or innocence and to do so according to a set of fair rules.

Those seeking to abolish corroboration argue for change using emotion and anecdote. The trial is there to determine if the accuser is a victim. There can be no presumption that those making an allegation are either telling the truth or are reliable. This is decided impartially on the evidence tested at the trial. 

It is completely wrong to use vocabulary suggesting corroboration denies victims the opportunity to see those responsible brought to justice.

Justice favours neither the alleged victim nor the accused. Not every allegation made is truthful and not every accused is guilty. Not every piece of evidence is reliable. Witnesses sometimes tell the truth; they sometimes tell lies.

In Scotland, we have prevented convictions based only upon confessions or based solely on the testimony of a sole witness. We seek some other evidence which points to the truth and reliability of this evidence. We do not require two eyewitnesses; we do not require every piece of evidence to be corroborated. Corroboration applies only to the essential crucial facts in the case.

For witnesses who may be nervous or otherwise criticised as unreliable and whose performance in the witness box is unconvincing, corroboration can point to the truth of their evidence.

Corroboration does not deny justice, it delivers justice. How else are we to decide upon the truth of reliability of witness testimony? Are we to measure it by how people look in the witness box?

The proposed changes are argued for by reference to conviction rates in domestic abuse and rape cases, yet the law on corroboration is to be changed for every type of case.

The background to these proposed reforms comes from the decision in the Cadder case where the Supreme Court not unsurprisingly found our law was not archaic because of corroboration but rather it was unjust and unfair to allow the police to detain an accused for questioning and deny him access to legal advice.

The Supreme Court did not make new law; they applied the existing ECHR law which, in common with most civilised countries, provided that those to be questioned should have access to a lawyer.

Few people will find it difficult to understand that providing an accused person with the right to legal advice is a requirement of fairness in any judicial process. Extracting confessions, extracting evidence by questioning in circumstances where the police can deny access to legal advice is difficult to reconcile with fairness or justice.
Such practices were good for conviction rates but bad for justice.

Surely the purpose of our legal system is not to increase convictions but to reach a just and fair conclusion as to guilt or innocence.

What is crucial is how we deal with consideration of such important questions. Is it by emotive and ill-informed debate in circumstances where those in power have not only the will but the crude weapon of political majority?

Or do we refer that matter to the body which already exists to consider changes in our system - the Scottish Law Commission. That would be wise, and dare I say, just.

Solicitor advocate Peter Watson is senior partner and head of litigation at Glasgow law firm Levy & McRae