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Law Society warns against 'borrowing safeguards' from other jurisdictions

28 November 2014 | tagged News release

The Law Society has warned against borrowing safeguards from other jurisdictions to replace the requirement for corroboration if it is to be abolished.

In its response to the Bonomy Review’s post-corroboration safeguards consultation, the Law Society praised the work done by Lord Bonomy’s reference group and academic expert group, but maintained that a full review of the law of corroboration would have been a better route to examine how the requirement for corroboration interconnects with all other aspects of the criminal justice system.

Colin Dunipace, a member of the Law Society’s Council and its criminal law committee, said: “We are keen to participate in the development of a criminal justice system in Scotland which is properly balanced and which gives due weight to the interests of those facing criminal charges, to the victims of crime and to wider society.

“Lord Bonomy and those involved in the review groups have produced a very thorough piece of work. However the requirement for corroboration is a cornerstone of Scotland’s criminal justice procedure and to try to replace it without full consideration of potential knock on effects could have serious consequences. The post-corroboration safeguards considered in the review would, if implemented, result in widespread change to our criminal justice system, far removed from what we have at present and we think more time is needed for further scrutiny.

“The introduction of any new safeguards would have to ensure that the integrity of Scots criminal law is not compromised, and we cannot simply borrow safeguards - such as a statutory code of practice to govern police evidence gathering or powers of judges to remove a case from a jury - from other jurisdictions without proper regard as to how the Scottish system has developed and currently operates.”

In its Bonomy Review consultation response, the Law Society said that dock identification of people accused of a crime should not be admissible in the majority of cases, but there should be proper pre-trial identification procedures. It also believes that confession evidence and hearsay evidence, in so far as it can be admitted, should always be corroborated.

The Law Society would support reducing juries from 15 to 12 people, adding that this could bring significant savings to the public purse and help reduce pressure on the number of people required to sit on criminal trial juries. It also supports a move away from a simple majority to find a guilty verdict and that if a jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict, 10 of 12 votes should be required for a verdict of guilty, with anything short of this resulting in an acquittal.

Dunipace said: “The requirement for corroborated evidence, a simple majority jury and the three verdicts are so heavily interlinked that if the requirement for corroboration is removed, it will be  essential that  the size of majorities in our juries and what it means for our three-verdict system are also fully considered. We look forward to reading Lord Bonomy’s report when it comes out in spring next year.”

To read the Law Society’s full response to the Post-corroboration Safeguards Review please see the website.

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