A consultation that could usher in a series of radical reforms to the justice system in Scotland, including scrapping the need for corroborating evidence in criminal prosecutions, was launched today.
The launch comes after Lord Carloway last year delivered more than 70 recommendations on how to improve the criminal justice system in Scotland, denouncing the historic need for corroboration, which requires there to be more than one piece of evidence bearing witness to a crime, as “archaic”.
Limiting the period of arrest prior to being charged to a maximum of 12 hours, establishing a right to legal advice immediately upon being taken into custody and improved protection and rights for children and vulnerable adults subject to questioning also featured among the senior judge’s feedback which followed the UK Supreme Court’s Cadder Ruling prohibiting police from interviewing suspects without granting access to a solicitor.
A three-month consultation on the proposed reforms is now underway amid backing from the Scottish Government for a “monumental” change in the prominence placed upon corroborating evidence.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “As much as the UK Supreme Court’s Cadder decision caused upheaval – to which we reacted quickly – it also provided the opportunity to re-evaluate our criminal justice system in more detail. The review carried out last year by Lord Carloway is not only weighty and authoritative, but far-reaching and radical.
“Lord Carloway’s report provides a clear and coherent package of reforms to modernise the Scottish Criminal Justice System which I believe will resonate well into the future in the same way as the Thomson Committee’s work of the 1970s still resonates today. Some of his proposals, such as the removal of the requirement for corroboration, are monumental and will overhaul many years of legal practice.
“Many of the Carloway recommendations, particularly around access to a lawyer, arrest and appeals, have already met with broad agreement in principle, though the consultation asks key questions around points of detail.”
Carloway, who published his year-long review of criminal justice last November, argued corroboration represented “an archaic rule that has no place in a modern legal system where judges and juries should be free to consider all relevant evidence and to answer the single question of whether they are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused person committed the offence libelled”.
MacAskill added: “On corroboration, the consultation paper agrees that the requirement should be abolished. It reflects that the rationale for the rule stems from another age, that its usage has become confused and that it can bar prosecutions that would in any other legal system seem entirely appropriate. The focus of our consultation is on deciding how to best achieve abolition and what, if any, additional measures require to be taken as a consequence.
“Throughout Lord Carloway’s report, there is a clear focus upon the overall quality of evidence above the application of outdated and technical rules. I am confident that in a system without a corroboration requirement we would continue to see police and prosecutors striving to find the best evidence that can practically be made available. Scottish judges and juries would continue to apply good judgement and would only convict on the basis of clear evidence.
“We all agree that our justice system as a whole needs to be fair and balanced. Lord Carloway has said that removing the requirement for corroboration does not upset that balance, but for those that do then the consultation provides a platform to tell us what they say needs to be done to redress this.
“The changes proposed by Lord Carloway are far-reaching and radical. There may be more prosecutions in serious cases. There may be a need for weekend courts. In the current climate, we cannot ignore the financial implications of the proposed changes and detailed modelling work will be required. However, our focus is firmly upon the best structure for our legal system and modernising it for the future.
“This is a balanced package of measures that will put Scotland at the forefront of human rights protections for suspects and accused, while at the same time ensuring victims are not denied justice by outdated and highly technical rules of evidence.”