Corroboration: To scrap or not to scrap?

Picture: BBC News
Picture: BBC News

THE heated debate surrounding scrapping corroboration will continue as MSPs now prepare for stage two of the controversial issue included in the Criminal Justice Bill.

Many of those in the legal sphere are vehemently against any changes to the law, saying it would lead to more miscarriages of justice for those accused.

However, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill remains determined to push the changes through.

This was despite opposition parties being broadly in favour of Section 57; an amendment to the bill that was proposed by Scottish Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell which would have seen any abolition of corroboration removed from the Criminal Justice Bill.

In spite of this, stage one required the SNP to use their majority to its full extent as it only passed by three votes.

Mr MacAskill was quick to highlight during the debate that 170 rape allegations in the past two years did not proceed due to insufficient evidence.

It was stated how 2,210 domestic abuse cases could not be prosecuted due to corroboration.

He also alluded to Lord Carloway’s review on criminal law in 2010 which found 268 serious cases were dropped after initial court appearances due to the current laws.

National Help-Line Manager at Rape Crisis Scotland, Sandie Barton, hopes the Scottish Government will stick to their guns when the subsequent stages of the bill are debated.

She said: “The scrapping of laws surrounding corroboration is one of the measures needed to improve justice for rape survivors.

“There are other counts such as the ‘not proven’ and ‘three verdicts’ that are problematic, but no other country in the world has corroboration.

“But corroboration is most certainly a barrier that must be removed.”

Conversely, Ms Barton believes that without change, victims of cases of this nature will continue to miss out on the protection they need and the justice they deserve.

She added: “Legal types may say that it will lead to more miscarriages of justice, but there are miscarriages of justice taking place every day because of corroboration.

“Simply, those in the legal sphere don’t like change coming from out-with the legal system.

“Scrapping corroboration would give people more hope and more would come forward.

“Statistics from our local centres show that many people still don’t come forward.

“In Glasgow for example, you are more likely to be raped than robbed and although statistics show one in five people report being raped, that is just a drop in the ocean.”

It seems reform is needed for cases where victims are vulnerable and although those in the legal environment are widely thought of as being against reform, many important legal players have contrasting opinions.

Already the Crown Office, Police Scotland, Lord Advocate Frank Mullholland and Lord Carloway have come out in support of scrapping corroboration.

However, what is apparent is that those who do oppose scrapping the law want to ensure other safeguards are in place before any decision is made.

A spokesperson for the Law Society of Scotland say they want added protection in place were corroboration to be scrapped: “Although Scotland is the only country with corroboration, other countries have different systems in place to compensate and ensure there are no miscarriages of justice.

“The proposals in the bill are to abolish corroboration completely when it is central to how our legal system works.

“We have called for a review of corroboration but what we don’t want to see is it abolished without other safeguards being put in place to protect the justice of the accused.”

One of the safeguards that has been touted includes raising the number of jurors needed for a majority from eight to nine, to ensure those that stand accused have extra protection.

However, many in the legal profession say that to compensate, the majority would have to really be raised to 12.

The Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Murdo Fraser, also stated that other systems without corroboration, such as England, have not seen increased convictions for sexual crimes compared to Scotland but have seen more miscarriages of justice across the system as a whole.

That aside, it appears the future may prove problematic for Mr MacAskill.

He faces continuing opposition from all sides of the chamber.

They want Lord Bonomy to publish his review on potential new safeguards against miscarriages of justice before voting on the future of corroboration law.

The more worrying fact for the Justice Secretary may be criticism directed at him by fellow SNP MSP Christine Grahame, who said his personal style of argument was “very seriously misjudged.”

Both sides seem to have good intentions but the main worry for many inside and outside the political sphere is that this decision should not be in any way framed politically.

Kenny MacAskill has already been accused of politicising rape and sexual abuse during his speech after he referred to Labour as ‘selling out victims of crime’ and that his opponents were part of a Unionist conspiracy.

 

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