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Please don’t take us back to the dark ages, Kenny

Published: 28th October 2012

LAST weekend I was invited by the Police Federation to debate Justice Secretary Kenny MacKaskill on his proposed abolition of corroboration.

Corroboration is the rule where no one can be convicted of a criminal offence unless there are two separate and independent sources of evidence.

Unlike some lawyers I do not think Kenny is the devil incarnate’. The number of under-16s carrying knives has fallen by 75 per cent, police officers on the streets are at their highest level and recorded crime is at 37-year low since the SNP came to office — an outstanding record. Which is why I am concerned that Kenny now seeks to impose the abolition proposed by Scotland’s second most senior judge Lord Carloway in his review of our legal system.

At the SNP conference, Kenny said “There is a split in the Judiciary. It’s hardly unprecedented for there to be a divide in legal opinions amongst learned friends.” Actually it’s more than just a split. Every single one of Scotland’s 33 Judges (not exactly bleeding heart liberals) are against eminent Judge Lord Carloway’s proposal.

They believe that abolition would make for lazy policing and reduced convictions.

Then there’s also opposition from the Scottish Police Federation (not exactly soft on crime) representing over 18,500 police officers who warn of increased miscarriages of justice.

Anyone arguing against abolition is shouted down as being pro-rapist, stifling a genuine debate. But when one of the country’s most eminent QCs, Derek Ogg, speaks out, there’s a problem. He says: “Contrary to myths being peddled, it is not difficult to find corroboration in rape cases. Forensic sciences, evidence of distress and DNA, are more advanced than ever. Corroboration is not only a safeguard against a man being wrongly convicted on the say so of one other person but it also bolsters and supports the credibility of a victim who initially appears unconvincing to a jury.”

For some reason Kenny dismisses such views, saying: “This is not just about the legal profession, it’s also about victims of crime, especially women who have suffered injustice behind closed doors”.

But following an attack, an “eloquent, middle class” rapist could simply dial 999 before his victim, claiming he was assaulted. Post-abolition, police would have to charge the victim-turning trials into a lottery of beauty parades as to which person sounds and looks better. In England where there is no corroboration, convictions for rape are no better than in Scotland. Of course rape is prosecuted in the High Court, but this ignores the fact that abolition would apply also to the remaining 99 per cent of trials, the mundane minor kind decided by a single judge without a jury.

Without corroboration a false accusation by a convincing liar — whether a stalker, neighbour, policeman or road-rager — could destroy your life and lose you your job, if not liberty.

Our system of justice is not dictated by a demand for vengeance by victims, but on the need for evidence to convict the guilty. If corroboration is abolished, innocent people will be wrongly convicted and guilty men will walk free.

Such miscarriages of justice are why we abolished hanging.

Kenny, don’t turn the clock back to a justice system that would not have been worthy of the 18th century Scotland.

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