• STV
  • MySTV

MSPs move step closer to abolishing corroboration in Scots law

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill told MSPs they would be denying justice to victims if they fail to support reform.

Kenny MacAskill: The justice secretary will make a statement in parliament on Wednesday.
© STV

The Scottish Parliament has narrowly backed plans to scrap the centuries-old rule of corroboration in Scottish courts.

MSPs voted by 64 votes to 61 against an amendment to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill that would have removed the controversial rule change.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill had told MSPs they would be denying justice to victims if they fail to support the abolition of corroboration, which requires evidence to come from more than one source.

He has already tried to win over opposition members by setting up an expert group led by former High Court judge Lord Bonomy to further consider the key change before it is put in place.

"The corroboration reform must stay in the Bill," he said.

"If you vote to take this provision out of the Bill, you are voting to continue this injustice for so many in Scotland."

The plan to remove the provision is welcomed by police, victims' groups and prosecutors, with some arguing its removal will make it easier to take cases of sexual assault and domestic abuse to court.

But Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green politicians all called for the SNP to halt the plan.

Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell tabled the amendment to preserve corroboration. She told Parliament the justice secretary's position had caused a "storm of controversy".

"He has consistently tried to misrepresent and polarise this as a debate with victims on one side and the legal profession on the other," she said.

"This is not only a complete distortion but it also insults all those who oppose this move."

As well as criticising the removal of the provision from law, opponents were unhappy that they are being asked to support it in principle before the impact has been fully scrutinised.

Ms Mitchell said: "He is asking the Scottish Parliament to pass bad law and to vote to abolish corroboration before we know what system is going to replace it on the promise of that review, about which little is known, that this may fix the issue. The integrity of the Parliament is at stake here."

She put forward an amendment to the Bill calling for the removal of the part which would scrap corroboration.

The wider Bill looks at a range of other changes to the criminal justice system.

It gives police a new single power of arrest, tackles people-trafficking, enhances suspects' rights to a solicitor and aims to protect the rights of children and vulnerable people.

The Bill also increases the maximum term for handling offensive weapons. But corroboration has generated most of the focus among politicians.

Mr MacAskill said: "I have listened to and acted on the concerns raised. I now ask Parliament to listen to the voice of those representing some of the most vulnerable people in our society and to support the general principles of this Bill in its entirety."

Holyrood's Justice Committee published its report on the first stage of the legislation earlier this month, having taken evidence from dozens of witnesses.

The report stated: "The majority of committee members are of the view that the case has not been made for abolishing the general requirement for corroboration and recommend that the Scottish Government consider removing the provisions from the Bill."

Speaking as convenor of the committee, SNP MSP Christine Grahame said: "While all members have serious concerns about the low prosecution rates, in particular rape and serious sexual offences, we could not reach agreement on whether removing such an integral part of the criminal justice system would improve access to justice...in a meaningful way."

She added: "I know (corroboration) is an issue across this parliament, it splits the Labour Party, it splits the SNP and others. I know that for a fact."

Labour's Graeme Pearson said he welcomed the "very late creation" of Lord Bonomy's reference group but expressed disappointment at the lack of representation of women's aid or rape support groups.

"Lord Bonomy's group should have been tasked much earlier, or reported long before now, in order to provide members of this chamber and the public with robust government proposals in the event of the abolition of the need for corroboration," he said.

"The Cabinet Secretary is asking us effectively to allow him to put his plans out to tender now, and asking members to write a blank cheque, with the promise that they will receive the goods some time in the future.

"I don't do that at home and I don't do it on behalf of victims.

"In light of the one-year delay he anticipates before any empowerment for the abolition of corroboration, it would be prudent for the Cabinet Secretary to remove this section of the Bill - allowing him to bring back a comprehensive and considered proposal at the conclusion of Lord Bonomy's work, and allowing the remaining significant issues in this Bill to go forward."

Sandy Brindley, national co-ordinator for Rape Crisis Scotland, welcomed the decision. She said: "Removing this barrier and looking instead at the quality of the evidence in the case is common sense and why every other justice system in the world has abandoned this rule."

But Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland Criminal Law Committee, said abolishing corroboration posed "a serious risk to Scotland's criminal justice system".He said: "To remove an essential safeguard against the risk of miscarriages of justice without first carrying out a full review and leave the detail to subsequent subordinate legislation is not the correct approach to this controversial and fundamental change to the rules of evidence governing our criminal law."

Liberal Democrat MP Menzies Campbell QC said: "This is a sorry day for the integrity of the criminal law of Scotland."

The wider Bill looks at a range of other changes to the criminal justice system.

It gives police a new single power of arrest, tackles people trafficking, enhances suspects' rights to a solicitor and aims to protect the rights of children and vulnerable people.

The Bill also increases the maximum term for handling offensive weapons.

The overall legislation was backed by 64 votes to five, with 57 abstentions.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check. That e-mail's already in our system. Please try again.
ShowHide
Forgot password?
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long. Did you enter your details correctly?
If you've forgotten your details then use the 'Forgot password?' link.
Need to reset your password?

We'll send a link to reset your password to

We've sent you details on how to reset your password

Please check your email and follow the instructions.

Forgotten your email address?

Have you forgotten the email address that you previously joined with? Don't worry, by emailing enquiries@stv.tv we can help.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This must be at least 6 characters long.
ShowHide
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long.
You must be over 16 to join STV.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date
We need this to check that you live in an STV region.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid postcode
Would you like us to email you about our great shows and services from time to time?
We'll only send emails we think you'll like (see example) based on information you have supplied and shows you have watched on STV Player. For details on emails and advertising, see our STV & You page.
Would you like to receive emails from the Scottish Children's Lottery about draws, instant games and competitions?
We support the Scottish Children's Lottery (SCL), which is managed by our colleagues at STV ELM Ltd. You can find out more about the SCL on its website, including its Privacy Policy.

By continuing you agree to our Terms of Use, and understand our Privacy and Cookie Policies.

Upload Profile Picture

Please make sure your image is under 2mb in size and a valid JPG, PNG or GIF.

Are you sure?

Unfortunately, you'll be unable to access our premium content. We’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind you can rejoin us at any time.

Please verify your STV account

Please verify your STV account using the email we sent you. If you have lost the email, we can send you another one, just click the button below.

Thanks

We've sent you a new verification email.
Please check your email and follow the instructions to verify your account.

Welcome to STV
Thanks for joining us.

Oops!

Sorry, you must be at least 12 years old to place a vote for your Real Hero.

Please review our Voting Terms of Use for more information.

Oops!

Sorry! It seems that you are using a browser that is incompatible with our voting service.

To register your vote please copy the below URL in to your regular mobile browser. We recommend Google Chrome, or Safari.

http://shows.stv.tv/real-heroes/voting

Oops!

Sorry, you seem to have already voted in this category.

Thanks for voting

Now share your vote with friends on your social network

Share on twitter Share on facebook

Cast your vote

Please register or sign in to continue.

Cast your vote

This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date

Cast your vote

Please fill out this form to cast your vote. As you are under 16 years old you will not create an STV account. Why do we need these details?

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check.
Location This field is required.
Parental Consent This field is required.

That's you. All that's left is to click the 'Submit Vote' button below. By doing so, you confirm that you and your parent or guardian have read and accept our Voting Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Cookie policy, and that the details you have entered are correct. We'll look after them as carefully as if they were our own.