Corroboration in rape trials faces scrutiny from campaigners

A group to support survivors of sexual assault ‘Speak Out Survivors’ has recently launched a campaign to reform the role of corroboration in Scots law.

They have spent the last six months raising awareness of the challenges those that have suffered sexual assault face in the criminal justice system and have received a mostly positive response to the campaign so far.

Corroboration has long been debated in legal and political communities. Only a few years ago, the Scottish Government considered the removal of this evidential requirement; however, the plan was abandoned following the determination that it was still an essential requirement under certain circumstances.

What is Corroboration?

Corroboration is the requirement in Scots law to have two forms of evidence that deliver the same conclusion before a case can go to trial. The requirement has long been debated as a barrier to a conviction in sexual assault cases.

The group claims that the requirement is “clearly incompatible” with providing justice.

The group was formed by Emily Bryson, who has herself experienced rape and sexual abuse. Bryson stated that the “ancient law” prevents prosecutors in Scotland from “taking appropriate action”.

Bryson’s alleged abuser was not convicted because of lack of corroboration, and she said it was “devastating” to find out the man who had abused her as a child could not be convicted. She wrote in The Scotsman:

“The sense of injustice I felt was overwhelming – not only had my abuser escaped any consequences for his actions but no-one had even bothered to explain to me what the requirements for corroboration actually were.”

Corroboration is designed to prevent an accused person facing conviction on the word of one person alone. However, it has been criticised for failing to protect victims of sexual crimes for many years. In 2015, SNP ministers proposed abolishing the need for corroboration, but it was dropped after Lord Barony recommended it was required under certain circumstances. A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There was no political or legal consensus for the removal of the corroboration requirement.

“Any future consideration of corroboration reform needs to await the findings of research into juries, which we expect to be complete by autumn 2019.

“Since the review reported, we have taken forward a wide range of measures to improve how the justice system deals with allegations of sexual offending and to improve support for victims.”

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