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Abuse survivor demands reform to convict more sex offenders

Emily Bryson, of Speak Out Survivors, says current corroboration requirements are ‘clearly incompatible’ with the delivery of justice.

Survivors of sexual abuse say reform is needed to the requirement for corroboration (Jane Barlow/PA)
Survivors of sexual abuse say reform is needed to the requirement for corroboration (Jane Barlow/PA)

A group set up to support survivors of sexual abuse has launched a campaign to reform the need for corroboration in Scots law.

It has claimed the requirement to have two sources of evidence is “clearly incompatible” with the delivery of justice.

Emily Bryson, who formed the group Speak Out Survivors with others who had suffered rape and sexual abuse, said as it stands the “ancient law” is preventing prosecutors from “taking appropriate action”.

Ms Bryson said it had been “devastating” to be told the man who sexually abused her for four years as a child would not be prosecuted because of a lack of corroboration.

The stated purpose of a criminal justice system is to effectively deliver justice and yet certain aspects of Scots law are clearly incompatible with this objective - there can be no stronger argument for reform than this Emily Bryson

Writing in The Scotsman, she said: “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 requires two separate sources of evidence before a case can go to trial, preventing an accused person from being convicted on the word of one person alone.

But Ms Bryson said: “It was shocking to me that all the evidence available in my case was completely disregarded.

“I’d done everything I possibly could to see my abuser bought to justice but in the end it was the law itself that prevented him from being prosecuted.”

The campaigner spoke out ahead of a meeting with MSPs in Holyrood on Wednesday.

Speak Out Survivors is also due to raise the issue in a meeting with Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf.

SNP ministers had previously proposed abolishing the need for corroboration, although this was dropped in 2015 after review by former high court judge Lord Bonomy recommended it should be retained in some circumstances.

Ms Bryson said: “We cannot accept that our justice system fails the vast majority of victims because of an ancient law that prevents it from taking appropriate action.

“The stated purpose of a criminal justice system is to effectively deliver justice and yet certain aspects of Scots law are clearly incompatible with this objective; there can be no stronger argument for reform than this.”

She said she had been told by both the police and the Crown Office that her abuser would have been prosecuted in England.

Ms Bryson added: “In Scotland last year, 2,255 rapes and attempted rapes were reported to the police. Of those, only 247 were prosecuted.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There was no parliamentary or legal consensus for the removal of the corroboration requirement.

“We asked Lord Bonomy to conduct a review into what additional safeguards may be required if the corroboration rule was removed.

“The review recommended research into jury reasoning and decision-making should be undertaken so that any changes to the jury system are made on a fully informed basis.”

She added: “Any future consideration of corroboration reform needs to await the findings of the jury research, 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.

“The Justice Secretary and Lord Advocate co-chair a new Victims Taskforce to improve the provision of advice and information for victims of crime and their families and the Scottish Government also legislated to introduce statutory jury directions in certain sexual offence cases.”

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