‘Choose law, not politics’


The place of corroboration in Scots Law has again been called into question. Former Solicitor General Lord McCluskey has urged SNP MSPs to overturn their decision to abolish corroboration in criminal trials.

Lord McCluskey, who served as Solicitor General between 1974 and 1979, has urged SNP politicians to put “the proudest traditions of Scots law” ahead of party politics. He claims that many SNP MPs opposed Kenny MacAskill’s plans to abolish corroboration but “bit their lips” ahead of last year’s independence referendum.

What is corroboration?

The rule of corroboration simply states that all accusations must be corroborated. In other words, there must be two separate sources of evidence before an accusation be leveled at the accused.

While there are a few exceptions to the rule — the Road Traffic Offenders Act, for example — corroboration was for a long time thought to be an immutable part of the Scottish legal system.

As a rule corroboration has popped up in countless moral and legal systems across the world for it acts as a safeguard against personal vendetta. It ensures that no one’s liberty or life can be threatened by the word of one individual.

Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill described corroboration as a “barrier to justice for too many victims of crimes which are committed behind closed doors”.

Last year, the Scottish Parliament voted to remove corroboration in criminal trials.

A new objection

While the vote to abolish corroboration was successful, it passed with a razor-thin majority. Lord McCluskey fears that many votes were guided by strict party discipline and a desire to maintain party unity in the months before the Scottish independence referendum.

Such a decision, says Lord McCluskey, should not be based on party politics. He said:

“Ever­ybody knows that many MSPs had real doubts about abolishing corroboration when the bill was before parliament, but in the run-up to the independence referendum no member of the SNP was allowed to step out of line. So some of them bit their lips and voted for a change they did not support. Even then, it attracted the smallest of majorities.

“This is no way to effect a fundamental change in a rule that has been considered, rev­ised and modified over many, many years in real-life cases by impartial judges trying to hold the balance between the competing risks of injustice.”

He went on to attack the committees for pre-legislative scrutiny, claiming that they lacked expertise, experience and were overly influenced by party ideology.

An uncertain future

Lord McCluskey went on to urge SNP MSPs to break ranks with party leadership and overturn their decision to abolish corroboration.

It is unlikely that Lord McCluskey’s message will be heeded by many in Holyrood.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said:

“Having listened to a range of views on corroboration during stage one of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, we established the independent post-corroboration safeguards review, led by Lord Bonomy, and agreed that stage two of the Bill would take place after the review is completed.

“The review group combines academic excellence with practical experience, and is made up of 18 respected individuals drawn from the full spectrum of relevant groups, including victims’ and human rights bodies, judges and legal practitioners, scholars and the police.”

However, considering the sustained opposition from the legal fraternity, it remains to be seen what role corroboration will play in the future of Scots law.

Do you believe abolishing corroboration will damage the justice system in Scotland? Let us know with the hashtag #ScotCorrob.