Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland: Scots law 'is not serving women in this country'
Scotland's top law officer discusses corroboration during Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association lecture
Scots law is “not serving women in this country”, the Lord Advocate has claimed, in his first public comments since plans to abolish the requirement for corroboration were shelved.
Frank Mulholland QC told an audience of young lawyers he stood by his calls for the centuries-old requirement in criminal trials to be scrapped, albeit acknowledged “it’s a matter for the Scottish Government”.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson announced in April it was “neither appropriate nor feasible” for ministers to keep the proposal in its Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.
However, Matheson said the Scottish Government “still believes that there is a case to be made” for its abolition and would consider whether to return to it after Holyrood elections next year.
The decision came after an expert review group led by former High Court judge Lord Bonomy recommended the requirement be retained when it comes to hearsay as well as confession evidence.
No proceedings were taken in over 200 cases of alleged rape last year – despite there being a “very credible complainer” in many cases – as a result of insufficient evidence, namely corroboration, according to Mulholland.
“If I took a decision in over 200 cases of murder not to take proceedings because of insufficient evidence there would be an outcry,” he told an audience gathered in Edinburgh.
“So why is it that the most serious thing that can happen to a woman in Scotland, namely that she’s raped, sometimes violently, sometimes lack of consent with no violence, in over 200 cases we are having to put a pen through them because of the requirement for corroboration.
“I know of no other country, no other country, in which there is a requirement for corroboration.”
The proposal had sparked concern within the legal profession at the time that a key safeguard in Scots law would be removed.
However, the Crown Office, Police Scotland and advocates for rape victims all came out in favour of scrapping the rule.
Mulholland’s comments came in a Q&A after he delivered last week’s Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association annual lecture on human rights.
The Lord Advocate said that a combination of delayed disclosure together with an accused making no comment during police interviews following the Cadder ruling made corroboration more difficult.
“That means, as a result of the law not recognising behavioural norms for women who are raped, that you cannot take these cases up,” he added.
“That is a real, real problem that the parliament is going to have to wrestle with and I have made this point to the Justice Committee. I do not think that Scots law is serving women in this country.”
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