The subject of Government legal advice has come to prominence lately, principally through the startling revelation that until last month the Scottish ministers had not considered it worth obtaining expert opinion on Scotland’s entitlement to EU membership in the event of a “yes” vote to independence.

It is also relevant in the context of the proposed reforms to criminal evidence and procedure in the wake of the Carloway report. Over the past month the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and Lord Carloway’s own judicial colleagues have lined up alongside a very weighty paper from JUSTICE, and other submissions, to present a formidable combination of reasons why it would be unwise to proceed with the proposed abolition of the corroboration rule in criminal trials – at least until a thorough investigation has taken place into the likely implications and necessary safeguards. (There are a variety of opinions on, and some opposition to, other aspects of the currently proposed reforms, as our lead feature explores, but the coincidence of views is particularly striking in relation to corroboration.)

The Government can of course point to Lord Carloway’s report itself on the other side of the scales, along with the backing of the law officers and certain victim support organisations who believe that the obstacles to achieving convictions, particularly in relation to domestic violence and sexual offences, justify such radical action. However the report, while an impressive attempt to present a coherent strategy, was produced with limited resources under considerable pressure of time, and in relation to corroboration bases its conclusions on Crown Office research, the methodology as well as the conclusions of which has since been called into question.

As much time has now passed since publication of the Carloway report as Lord Carloway had in which to complete his task, and it would be foolish to ignore the body of considered opinion that has built up, explaining where the report has its weaknesses. Otherwise we risk ending up with another type situation, where practice based on ill-thought-out legislation was eventually ruled incompatible with the European Convention, undermining a large number of prosecutions and convictions.

Another undercurrent of comment has been whether it is sound policy to appoint the law officers from the ranks of the prosecution service. The profession normally stands behind our in-house members when their professional integrity and independence is questioned, and the law officers should be no exception. There may be times, however, when a broader collective background and range of experience would help their opinions command more universal respect.