Former solicitor general launches new attack on plans to scrap corroboration



Lord McCluskey

Lord McCluskey, the former solicitor general, has launched another attack on the Scottish government’s plans to get rid of corroboration.

He said it places the traditions of Scots law in “serious peril” and has urged SNP MSPs to rebel against the party leadership and overturn the decision to abolish corroboration in criminal trials.

The former prosecutor has expressed fear that the decision resulted from party discipline, inexperience and a desire to avoid an internal split in the run up to last year’s referendum.

Lord McCluskey’s comments are included in a pamphlet published this week by the Scottish Conservatives which looks at the nation’s justice system and includes essays by lawyers, academics and others outside the party.

In his piece, Lord McCluskey argues that the SNP’s MSPs were against the plans but toed the party line because of the “feverish” mood in the run up to the referendum.

He writes: “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.

“If the impartial, carefully considered judgment of the judiciary is to be discarded by a political vote on party lines in the feverish run-up to a constitutional referendum, then the proudest traditions of Scots law are in serious peril.”

He adds: “As for the Scottish parliament, no doubt as it matures (it is still a teenager) it will gradually discover that the rush to legislate does not solve all problems: dangerous dogs do not cease to be dangerous because you pass a statute about them.”

Margaret Mitchell, the Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman said: “This is a very thoughtful contribution which highlights the problem of the SNP’s rush to abolish corroboration.

“It made a significant decision in a bid to address one particular set of crimes but ignoring risks of miscarriage of justice for others.

“It’s clear there should be a rethink on this — experts and the legal profession demand it.The legislation was rushed through, and could jeopardise people’s right to a fair trial.”

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Scottish Conservative MSP Liz Smith, who co-ordinated the publishing of the documents, said: “The essays address some of the most challenging issues in justice, specifically the need to ensure that access to justice is both fair and affordable, that criminals properly serve the sentence they are handed down by the judge, that victims are provided with the support they deserve, and that people feel safe in their own communities.”

A Scottish government spokesman 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.””