Scottish Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes saves our civil liberties…again

There may only be five Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs,sadly, but by heavens they have delivered incredible things.

As Justice Spokesperson for the last four years, Alison McInnes has stopped the SNP Government in its tracks several times. She couldn’t stop them centralising the Police, but she could make a fuss when statistics showed that officers were stopping and searching children. She made a fuss when the SNP started using armed patrols on routine duties in peaceful Highland communities. She defended our rights when the SNP tried to remove the requirement for corroboration in our legal system. She explained why this was so important at our Conference in Autumn 2013:

This is a profound change – sweeping aside centuries of well-established Scottish legal practice.

Conference, Scots Law is not safe in the hands of the Scottish National Party.

In Scotland the Crown prosecutes in the public interest. We must guard against any shift towards prosecuting in the victim’s interest. That would be at odds with our fundamental liberal belief in the need for a robust, transparent and independent justice system.

We need to defend the principle of the presumption of innocence and safeguard against false accusation, wrongful conviction and miscarriages of justice.

The SNP’s proposals will mean that someone could be convicted on the basis of the testimony of just one person, even if five of the fifteen jurors believe that they are innocent.

Witnesses can be honest yet mistaken. Their evidence persuasive but wrong.

And, unfortunately, witnesses do sometimes lie to the police and in court- out of earnest to ensure that the accused is convicted, because of the strength of their convictions or through spite.

I am concerned that scrapping corroboration could mean that false accusations could become more common. The Law Society of Scotland warns that trials could be reduced to “a contest between two competing statements on oath”.

Eventually, after protest from many bodies across Scotland, the government agreed to a review – which would report after the legislation had been passed. Alison rightly thought this was ridiculous and didn’t rest until the plans were postponed until the publication of the review.

That review was published today. Alison herself takes up the story (reproduced from her Facebook page with permission):

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice has just announced that he will remove the clauses in the criminal justice bill that would have abolished corroboration.

Lord Bonomy’s review is a complete vindication of all that I have argued on this over the last 2 years. It makes a number of very substantial and complex proposals for additional safeguards against miscarriages of justice that would need to be put in place if the need for corroboration were to be removed.

The Cabinet Secretary accepts that they are so wide ranging that it would not be feasible to introduce them within this session of parliament.

I uniquely argued for and secured the postponement of stage 2 of the bill until Bonomy reported; in light of the report today, I feel that approach was completely justified. If Kenny McAskill had had his way, the criminal justice system would have been much the worse for it.

This is why voters in Scotland need Scottish Liberal Democrats in decent numbers in both parliaments. And fewer SNP MSPs whose cavalier attitude to our most basic freedoms is downright scary.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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