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Corroboration and the Changing of Modern Scots Law

February 20th, 2014 by Andreas Xavier in Law. Topics: ,

Scotland has always maintained its own way of doing things, distinct and separate from the southern kingdoms it has been united with for centuries. These differences have persisted in culture, in everyday customs, and most importantly in the legal sector, where Scots Law differs greatly from the legal systems of England and Wales. Based much more firmly on the concepts of Common Law and precedent than the statutory nature of English and Welsh law, Scots Law has also maintained one distinct element that has remained controversial in the modern era: Corroboration.

In a nutshell, Corroboration requires that every piece of evidence submitted in a criminal trial as fact be linked to and supported (hence, corroborated) by a separate piece of evidence – in other words, that evidence in a trial come from more than one source. These facts are generally understood to include the crime itself and the assertion that the accused committed the crime. The practical result is that no matter how compelling a single piece of evidence in a case is, if there is no second supporting piece of evidence, it cannot be used in the prosecution of a crime.

A movement has been swelling to eliminate the rule from Scots Criminal Law, which has been met with resistance and backlash from sitting judges and legal experts.

The Pros and Cons of Corroboration

For those who support corroboration as an aspect of Scots Criminal Law, the rule is seen as the ultimate protection against tyranny, as it prevents evidence from being trumped up via intimidation and requires that the State be able to truly prove a case as opposed to relying on a single witness, who might later change their testimony or claim to have been confused or coerced, or even a single piece of physical or scientific data. Many proponents of the change look at the rash of cases in the United States where convictions that had been based on single pieces of physical evidence are being overturned as new DNA-analysing technologies come into play – often years or even decades after the innocent were convicted and jailed.

However, the opposing view is that Corroboration protects the guilty, and that it hamstrings police and prosecutors who have compelling and obvious evidence that cannot be used effectively because it happens to stem from a single source. There are also concerns being voiced by experienced and respected judges that the change would open up the possibility of convictions being won from a confession alone – a scenario ripe for coercion, intimidation, and simple confusion producing the damning statements.

Committed to Change

Despite the backlash from the legal community, the Scottish government is intent on changing the law and abolishing the centuries-old rule. Pointing out that it is up to the government to make the laws that best serve its citizens and community, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill remains adamant in his plans to draw up the legislation needed to eliminate what some see as a medieval relic of Scots Criminal Law.

While some see the move as at odds with the traditionally Common Law basis of Scots Criminal Law, Scots law in general has been moving towards a more statutory model in recent years, and this could be seen as simply part and parcel of that overall evolution.

About the author

This advice comes from the team at Emergency Lawyers. They are a team of criminal lawyers based in Scotland and are regularly writing to raise awareness of changes to Scotland’s laws. Connect with Emergency Lawyers on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter.


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