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Abolishing corroboration risks increase in miscarriages of justice

21 June 2013 | tagged News release

Removing the need for corroboration in criminal cases will lead to a greater risk of miscarriages of justice, the Law Society of Scotland has warned.

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill published today, 21 June, is set to abolish the requirement for corroboration in criminal cases.

Raymond McMenamin, of the Law Society's Criminal Law Committee, said: "We all want a criminal justice system that is modern, fair and effective and are pleased to see that the Bill will introduce safeguards concerning vulnerable suspects, that child suspects under 16 will not able to waive their right to legal representation, the introduction of police bail, and the reduction of the maximum detention period without charge to 12 hours.

"However we believe that removing the requirement for corroborated evidence, without including sufficiently strong safeguards in the Bill, could simply result in a contest between two competing statements on oath and, as a result, bring increased risk of miscarriages of justice.

"The requirement for corroborated evidence is not an antiquated, outmoded legal notion, but is a fundamental principle of our justice system. It's clear that the concerns expressed by the Society and others about juries have been recognised as the Bill proposes a move to a weighted majority from a simple majority, but we don't believe this is sufficient to remove the risks created by abolishing corroboration. We would also question why a two-thirds majority has been chosen, when there has been no research into juries and no evidence produced to show that this change would lessen the risk of miscarriages of justice following the removal of corroboration."

The Law Society's response to Lord Carloway's 2011 review stated that the requirement for corroboration should not be considered in isolation and at the same time called for a wider review of the law of evidence and criminal procedure which would ensure compliance with article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to a fair trial.

Peter Lockhart, who also sits on the Law Society's Criminal Law Committee, said: "Safeguards incorporated in other jurisdictions where there is no requirement for corroboration, such as weighted majority verdicts and rules about admissibility of eye witness identification and the possibility of withdrawal of unreliable evidence by a judge from a jury, have not existed in Scottish criminal procedure precisely because of the requirement for corroboration. We appreciate that the prosecution will still need to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction, but we would want to have assurances that removing the need for corroboration will not lead to a deficiency in either the quality or sufficiency of evidence presented in court.

"We will consider the Bill in full and look forward to a continued dialogue on improving and modernising our criminal justice system."

ENDS                         

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Val McEwan on 0131 226 8881 / 07825 206468 or Julia Brown on 0131 476 8204

Email: valeriemcewan@lawscot.org.uk/ juliabrown@lawscot.org.uk

21 June 2013

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