Abolition of corroboration removed from Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill

22 Apr

The Faculty of Advocates has welcomed the decision by the Scottish Government that it will not proceed during the current Parliament with the proposal to end the requirement for corroboration in criminal trials.

The announcement by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson followed the publication of the Bonomy Report on the safeguards that would be needed to avoid potential miscarriages of justice if corroboration were abolished.

A number of the safeguards recommended by the Bonomy Review Group were included in the Faculty's response to the consultation process and James Wolffe QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, had earlier called on the Government to "take the right" course and drop the corroboration proposal from the Criminal Justice Bill.

In an introduction to the review group's final report Lord Bonomy said: "It has to be acknowledged that while corroboration may be seen by many to be the safeguard par excellence for accused against miscarriage of justice, the technical barrier it presents to prosecution may deny justice in some deserving cases.

"That may simply be the price that has to be paid to avoid miscarriages of justice. On the other hand, if safeguards can be devised which will minimise the risk of miscarriage and at the same time allow such cases to be litigated, so much the better."

Included in safeguards proposed by Bonomy and supported by the Faculty, are video-recording of all police interviews, the end of reliance on dock identification, the retention of corroboration for for hearsay and confession evidence and the end of the simple 8-7 majority verdict in criminal trials.

Bonomy took the view that a move to increase the majority to 10 out of 15 would be acceptable pending further research.

In his statement, Mr Matheson highlighted the important reasoning behind the proposal to remove the corroboration requirement, notably tackling domestic abuse and sexual crime, and said there was still a case for reform to the law.

He acknowledged however that currently there was no consensus across the board on the removal of the corroboration requirement.

He said the Bonomy Report report contained a significant number of recommendations designed to strengthen safeguards should the requirement for corroboration be abolished.

"The Scottish Government believes further consideration of the numerous and complex safeguards suggested by the Group is needed and, as such, will be removing the proposals from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.

"The issues that Lord Bonomy has raised are of crucial importance, and I want to make sure we take the time to consider them fully. The Scottish Government will look at Lord Bonomy's detailed recommendations as a package, alongside consideration of measures to improve access to justice for victims including the corroboration requirement itself.

"We all recognise the added difficulties of prosecuting crimes committed in private, and we all share the belief that victims of crime deserve access to justice. Despite this, it has not been possible to build a consensus around the corroboration rule at this time.

"On that basis, it is clear to me that proceeding with the removal of the corroboration requirement in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill would be neither appropriate nor feasible.

"Our justice system must provide the appropriate balance, so that the rights of suspects, victims and witnesses all get the protections they deserve. It must, as far as possible, be fair to all.

"The original motivation behind examining the general requirement for corroboration was to improve access to justice for victims of crimes committed in private, including domestic abuse, rape and sexual offences, and this Government's absolute dedication to protecting vulnerable people has not changed. That is why I want to take a holistic approach and look at these issues in the round."

The full report can be viewed at ../downloads/news/20150422_bonomyreport.pdf