Scottish Government
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Human cost of corroboration

Law reform essential to protect victims.

Organisations like Scottish Women’s Aid are demonstrating the human cost of the law on corroboration, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said today.

Speaking at the charity’s annual conference, taking place in their 40th anniversary year, he said that they had brought home the devastation that the law can wreak on real people’s lives.

Giving the opening address at the “Journey to Justice” conference, he said that law reform was essential to protect victims and that a culture change is needed to tackle domestic abuse.

He highlighted actions which have been taken by the Scottish Government to help secure justice for victims of domestic abuse, including:

  • introducing an offence of threatening and abusive behaviour with a maximum penalty of five years in prison;
  • the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act, which contains a new offence criminalising the breach of an interdict – granting a power of arrest where domestic abuse is involved
  • The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act extends automatic entitlement to certain special measures for giving evidence in court to those making allegations of sexual abuse, human trafficking, stalking and domestic abuse.

Lily Greenan, Manager of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “A key concern for Women’s Aid in Scotland is ensuring that policy makers put the safety of women, children and young people at the heart of the system. There is good practice in the risk assessment and policing of domestic abuse cases, but we must not be complacent. We hope that this conference will generate meaningful discussion and insights on further improving the justice system to ensure effective responses for victims of domestic abuse.”

Mr MacAskill said that one of the major reforms which would make a difference for all victims, not just those of domestic violence, was the proposed abolition of the corroboration requirement.

He said: “I am grateful for the constructive and positive contributions made by organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid. In the midst of what has been an intense and often dry and dispassionate legal debate, you have brought home the human impact of this law and the devastation that it can wreak on real people who feel that the system is either not listening or does not care. I have listened and this Government does care.

“We have an inescapable duty to provide an effective justice system for all citizens, not just those whose cases happen to meet complex corroboration rules that even judges find confusing. If we cannot protect the vulnerable, then our society has failed.

“We all know that abolition of the corroboration requirement will not by itself improve the conviction rates for domestic abuse. There is much that needs to be done across the board. But we can at the very, very least ensure that every case where there is strong evidence can make it to court. That is simply not happening at the moment across whole categories of crime. It can, of course, be difficult to prove offences committed in private, where a perpetrator may wait until there are no witnesses and seeks to prey upon the most vulnerable.

“But this simply makes it more pressing for us to change our law to ensure that there is no longer an artificial barrier to justice, constraining us in ways unfathomable to every other country with legal systems similar to ours.”

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