The agreement at stage one of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill has been welcomed as a major step forward for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
The decision to back the Scottish Government’s plans in principle sees the end of corroboration – a major hurdle in securing convictions in cases of sexual assault or domestic abuse when there are often no witnesses – move a step closer.
The decision of many Labour politicians to vote against the bill after so many of them had previously backed it in public was branded as extremely disappointing as Labour appeared to put politics before principle.
Commenting, SNP MSP Sandra White said:
“The step forward Scotland has taken today on addressing our appalling rate of conviction when it comes to sexual offences is a welcome one.
“The status quo is no longer an option and today’s vote marks a major step forwards for victims of sexual offences.
“However I am extremely disappointed with the decision of all too many Labour politicians to abandon their previous support for abolishing corroboration – appearing to put politics before principle.
“The overwhelming evidence from organisations like Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Victims Support Scotland is that change is needed.
“I hope that as this bill progresses, Labour MSPs will see the wisdom of returning to their previous positions and once again back the Scottish Government’s plans.”
Below is a list of Labour politicians have backed the end to the requirement for corroboration on repeated occasions:
James Kelly MSP, debate on the Carloway Report, 1 December 2011:
“Labour has previously made its position clear on rape cases, in relation to which we feel that corroboration should be abolished. The most recent statistics on rape cases show that of 884 cases reported to the police, only 41, or less than 5 per cent, secured a conviction. I am sure that there is agreement across the chamber that that level of success in securing convictions is unacceptable, particularly for the victims of rape.”
Mary Fee MSP, Parliamentary Debate on the SG consultation on Carloway, 25 September 2012:
“I agree with Lord Carloway that corroboration should be abolished. Corroboration is an ancient and archaic law that is preventing justice from being served in some of the most heinous crimes, such as rape and serious assault. Judges and juries should be free to consider all the relevant evidence, and to say whether they are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused person committed the offence. Abolition of this outdated rule will bring Scots law up to date and into line with the law of many other countries, on how to approach evidence..”
Johann Lamont MSP, Scottish Labour website, 17 November 2011:
“Abolishing corroboration in all criminal cases is a profound and fundamental change to Scots law, but Lord Carloway has made a strong and compelling case for change that deserves further debate and careful consideration.”
Johann Lamont MSP, The Sun website, 18 November 2011:
“We must ask ourselves whether the current law serves the interests of justice for victims. This is particularly so in crimes of rape and serious sexual assault, where the inherent nature of these crimes means corroboration is so often not possible.”
Malcolm Chisholm, Parliamentary Debate on the SG consultation on Carloway, 25 September 2012:
“Professor Raitt made two other relevant and interesting points. The first was that the criterion should be ‘a sufficiency of evidence’, which is quite separate and not dependent on corroboration. Also, looking into the history, she argued that corroboration has become ‘eroded over the decades’, that its application is often ‘artificial and technical’ and that its integrity is now ‘discredited’. I found her evidence to be persuasive, and it backed up what I had already read and heard about for a long time from Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland.”
Graeme Pearson, Parliamentary Debate on the SG consultation on Carloway, 25 September 2012:
“Corroboration was, and is still seen by many as, an essential safeguard. Initially, I shared that view. My experience in my previous working life indicated that, although it was operationally inconvenient, the need for corroborative evidence ensured that prosecutors pursued an investigation with a view to providing not only a sufficiency of evidence but a level of confidence in the integrity of the evidence provided. However, Lord Carloway provided evidence to the Justice Committee explaining his thinking in detail, and I was impressed with his explanation of the nature of evidence in terms of its quality rather than the quantity provided. I was persuaded by his arguments in principle.”