The proposal to remove corroboration - the need for two separate sources to support crucial evidence in a case - has proved highly divisive, more so than Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill can have envisaged.

The pro-reform camp fields an impressive line-up including, in addition to Mr MacAskill, the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Carloway, who proposed the change, the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, women's rights campaigners, the Scottish Police Federation and the Association of Police Superintendents.

Those who consider it a bad idea, however, include almost the entire Scottish legal profession and judiciary.

The proponents of change speak passionately about the way corroboration can impede justice, particularly in cases of rape and sexual assault that typically take place without witnesses. Those who oppose abolition, on the other hand, believe it could make conviction less likely as cases could come to court without the weight of persuasive evidence they might have had previously, and that it might also have the serious unintended consequence of making miscarriages of justice more likely.

The rejoinder from reformers is that the Lord Advocate would still require supporting evidence besides the word of an accuser before bringing a case. They add that Scotland is alone in Europe in requiring corroboration and that in other countries, safeguards for the accused are in place to prevent injustices occurring.

Mr MacAskill is impatient about the impasse. He is still fully in favour of abolition; for the avoidance of doubt he called corroboration "a bad law" and gave a list of reasons why it should go. He clearly believes that it should be possible to abolish corroboration with the support of lawyers and judges if more time is given to establish the right safeguards, hence his offer to do a deal with parliament.

However, his latest intervention - proposing to suspend this section of a wider Bill to allow an expert group to give further thought to safeguards before the change comes into force - is a retreat. It is a recognition that there are substantive concerns about the consequences of abolishing corroboration that have not yet been addressed.

Mr MacAskill deserves credit for not trying to push ahead without the support of lawyers and judges but his actions yesterday were in part about trying to save face by avoiding the collapse of his plans altogether. Passing the law but not enacting part of it will do nothing to boost public confidence in it.

If adequate safeguards to reassure the sceptics have not been identified so far, what makes the Justice Secretary think they will be now? Difficult questions about a crucially important legal change should be settled before it is secured, not afterwards.

Opponents will fear the SNP majority in parliament could be used to enact the reform even if, after the expert group has reported, there is still substantial disquiet about it.

The Justice Secretary has done what he feels he must to save what he sees as a crucial reform. All it has done, however, is to ramp up the controversy.