Lord Hope of Craighead, former deputy president of the UK Supreme Court and Lord Justice General of Scotland until 1996, has raised concerns over plans to abolish a critical safeguard in Scottish law. His fear relates to the proposed removal of corroboration, which could lead to convictions being based on nothing more than a suspect’s confession, the jurist told Holyrood magazine.

Lord Hope acknowledged that some cases could not reach the court because of requirements to submit more than one piece of evidence. Still, the proposed change could prove “quite dangerous,” as it places people at risk of being pronounced guilty on their confession alone. Corroboration was introduced to eliminate this risk and became a cornerstone of Scottish law, making it quite rare to have people tried on a confession. Early in the 18th century, torture was routinely used to extract admission of guilt and it led to a reaction that gave Scots law this fundamental safeguard. Its abolition would be a “very sad” and potentially dangerous thing, Lord Hope said.

He went on to admit that certain cases presented a real problem due to the lack of witnesses other than the victim and the accused. Such cases call for very serious consideration, but this far-reaching proposal is not the way to address the issue. Rather than seeking to abolish a critical protective mechanism in the Scottish criminal justice system, the government should look for a more selective way of solving the problem, Lord Hope added.