Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Corroboration - Who Decides?

Chris Marshall in the Scotsman has written a good piece about the 'corroboration' dilemma in Scots law and how the issue is unlikely to go away any time soon. He also makes some good points about other problems with our justice system. Well worth a read (click here).

Corroboration, in case you don't know, is basically where TWO pieces of evidence are required to get a prosecution. It's supposed to be a safeguard against mistakes and, well, it seems to work pretty well for the most part.

As an example, if someone robs a bank, CCTV showing his face plus a gun with his fingerprints on it could be considered the two pieces of corroborating evidence required to prove he did it and secure a conviction.

It makes sense. Corroboration forces essential checks and balances to be applied to every case, lest an innocent person be convicted by mistake.

So what's not to like about corroboration?

Well, corroboration is a double-edged sword. It can also apply to two police officers sticking to the same story in their evidence in order to get someone 'done'.

It's a serious problem when police concoct the same story in order to 'back each other up' - a thing they do every day in life.

Police insult our intelligence when they claim this doesn't happen. While I'm at it, they also insult our intelligence when they say they are merely reporters for the Procurator Fiscal when everyone with a brain in their head knows police arrest people purely based on their own opinion of who they think the bad guy is - then try to cobble together evidence afterwards to make it fit. Struggling to find evidence? No problem. Two police officers will simply 'back each other up', to provide the corroboration needed to get the prosecution.

I'm reminded of the time I referred to a young Police Scotland officer as "that wee deaf laddie" because when his colleague said something to me that she should not have said and I challenged her, her police colleague ("the wee deaf laddie") said to me "I didn't hear her say that".  Frustratingly, I was talking to them alone at the time and the secret recorder I always carry with me when I speak to police had been switched to OFF instead of ON by mistake (aarghhh) so it would have been my word against two police officers. Since they had already made it quite clear that they would corroborate each other I didn't even bother taking it further, no point.

Anyway, getting rid of corroboration would certainly reduce bent coppers backing each other up. But at what cost? Would it then only need ONE bent coppers story to convict you? That's even worse surely?

Bottom line is that the question of corroboration and its place in Scottish justice is an extremely complicated one and there is no easy answer.

The debate will rage on and the only thing we, the public, can hope for is that we will be consulted before a decision is made. We need to be given the necessary information and arguments for and against from each side in order that we can make an informed decision on this important piece of law.

My real concern though is that this will be decided, not by the public, but by lawyers in the justice system who have a vested interest in the resulting decision.