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Criminal justice shake up

The Scottish Government last month published the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, containing a raft of measures designed to modernize and improve efficiency within Scotland’s criminal justice system.

The Bill includes provisions that will abolish the requirement for corroboration in criminal trials and increase the jury majority required for a guilty verdict to two-thirds of jurors.

The Carloway review

The Bill has been in the pipeline for several years, and follows a review of the Scottish criminal justice system carried out by high court judge, Lord Carloway.

Lord Carloway’s report was published in November 2011 and made many recommendations, including:

  • The period between arrest and charge to be limited to 12 hours;
  • Special protection for children and vulnerable adults; and
  • Less restrictive rules around evidence and a removal of the need for corroboration.

Abolishing corroboration

The most controversial of these is the recommendation that corroboration be abolished.

Corroboration, or the need to have each piece of evidence backed up by another piece of evidence, such as a witness or forensic evidence, has been a part of the Scottish justice system for a very long time. It can, however, cause difficulties in the prosecution of crimes such as rape, which has a very low conviction rate.

Abolition plans criticized

The plan to abolish corroboration has been criticized by many legal experts, including judges, academics and practitioners.

“We believe that removing the requirement for corroborated evidence, without including sufficiently strong safeguards in the Bill, could simply result in a contest between two competing statements on oath and, as a result, bring increased risk of miscarriages of justice,” said Raymond McMenamin of the Law Society of Scotland’s criminal law committee.

According to Peter Lockhart, also of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, we need to have “assurances that removing the need for corroboration will not lead to a deficiency in either the quality or sufficiency of evidence presented in court.”

Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill

Despite this, the recently published Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill does contain provisions that will abolish the corroboration rule. As a safeguard, it also includes provisions that will increase the majority required for a guilty verdict to 10 jurors out of 15. Until now a simple majority – 8 out of 15 – was sufficient.

Other measures included in the Bill will:

  • Increase the maximum sentence for handling knives and other offensive weapons from four to five years;
  • Modernise the law around arrest and questioning of suspects;
  • Improve the right to legal advice for individuals taken into police custody;
  • Introduce a statutory aggravation for human trafficking; and
  • Strengthen court powers to impose sentences on those who commit offences while on early release.

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