In the Media

Ending corroboration ?will not lead to wrongful convictions?

PUBLISHED November 30, 2011

The senior judge who led a review of the criminal law yesterday defended his plan to abolish the corroboration rule, one of the most distinctive features of the Scottish justice system.

Lord Carloway told the Justice Committee at the Scottish Parliament that Scotland was the only European jurisdictions to retain the centuries-old principle of corroboration, despite evidence that it resulted in the acquittal of guilty defendants.

David McLetchie, Conservative MSP for Lothian, suggested that the abolition of the rule, which requires evidence from two sources, would result in only in very small rise in the numbers of convictions.

Mr McLetchie suggested that Lord Carloway should not have recommended abolition of the corroboration rule without addressing other idiosyncrasies of the Scottish legal system, notably the use of a simple majority verdict.

Since the publication of the review ten days ago, a number of senior lawyers have suggested that the reform of one but not the other could increase the number of unsafe convictions.

Lord Carloway said majority verdicts were not ?directly connected with what we are doing?. He went on: ?My conclusion was that the abolition of corroboration would not lead to any more miscarriages of justice than there are at present.

?We could find no evidence that in Scotland, there is a lower miscarriage of justice rate than any other country in the civilised world.?

He continued: ?When we looked at corroboration the really critical question for us was: is this something that actually reduces the prospect of a wrongful conviction? It wasn?t.

?We then looked at the other side of the coin to say, is corroboration something which is impeding justice? And the conclusion was ?That is exactly what it is doing.? ?

Research contained in the review showed that of 458 serious cases which were not continued, 268 would have had a reasonable chance of prosecution and conviction, had the corroboration rule not been in place.

Christine Grahame, SNP, the committee convenor, questioned Lord Carloway on the relationship between the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) and the High Court.

In his findings, Lord Carloway said: ?To ensure greater consistency across the appeal process, the High Court, in determining referrals from the SCCRC, should apply the twofold test of whether: (a) there has been a miscarriage of justice; and (b) if so, it is in the interests of justice that the appeal be allowed.?

Ms Grahame suggested that the conclusion meant that ?the sword of Damocles? was hanging over the SCCRC. Lord Carloway denied that.