Requirement for Corroboration

Historically, corroboration was required in a range of circumstances.  The circumstances in which it was required have reduced significantly in the last 30 years.  In some cases, it was not permissible to convict without corroboration.  In other cases, a warning as to the dangers of conviction without corroboration was to be given by the Judge to the jury. Corroboration related to certain types of evidence in respect of which it was assumed the jury may give too much weight.

Historically, certain types of evidence required corroboration.  The categories of evidence that require clear corroboration have been narrowed in recent years.  Corroboration is required in respect of certain types of evidence which is assumed to be relatively weak.  In particular, it has been assumed that juries might be willing to act on it and convict without appreciating its weakness.

Warning Required if None

Certain types of evidence were insufficient unless corroborated. Other types of evidence were admissible but required a warning to the jury in respect of the danger of prosecuting without corroboration.

A warning is required in relation to the conviction on the uncorroborated evidence of

  • an accomplice
  • person in the witness program and
  • an uncorroborated confession.

Formerly, it was a requirement that there be corroboration in a charge of rape or other sexual offence.  The Criminal Law Rape (Amendment) Act provided that a Judge had the discretion whether or not to give a warning in relation to convicting without corroboration in sexual offences.  The provision was originally enacted in 1981 and was amended in 1990.

A warning may be given at the discretion of the trial judge in relation to children’s evidence complaints in the trial of sexual offences.  In the latter cases, the rules required a mandatory warning or in some cases, mandatory corroboration was itself required.

Nature of Corroboration

Corroboration is some independent evidence connecting the accused with the crime.  It must confirm by way of some particular material evidence that the crime has been committed and that it was committed by the accused.  It may be direct evidence, or it may be circumstantial evidence.

The essence of corroboration is that it is independent of that which it corroborates. It may take any form including verbal evidence, documentary evidence and in some cases hearsay.  It may include fingerprint, DNA or equivalent evidence.

In some cases, it may be appropriate for the Judge to warn the jury to exercise caution before acting on the unsupported evidence of a witness.  It is a matter for the Judge to decide how strong the warnings should be and in what terms they should be given.  No particular form of words is required.

Prompt Consistent Statements

Generally, a person is precluded from giving evidence of prior consistent statements.  There is an exception, which developed in the context of the requirement for corroboration in cases of sexual offences.  Where a complaint is made, promptly after the alleged assault, etc., this is admissible.

The complaint must have been made as speedily as could be as reasonably expected and on a voluntary basis.  It should not be the result of inducement or exhortation.  It should be made clear to the jury that such evidence is not evidence of the facts on which the complaint is based but is to show that the victim’s conduct is consistent with present testimony.  It does not amount to corroboration but supports consistency.

Accomplice Evidence

Uncorroborated accomplice evidence has historically been treated with suspicion.  There may be a risk that one party is motivated to give false evidence for his benefit to the detriment of the co-accused.

There is no rule of law to the effect that the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice must be rejected.  The Judge must bear in mind that it is dangerous to convict on evidence of an accomplice unless it is corroborated.  If having borne that in mind and giving due weight to the warning, the evidence is still clearly acceptable to the extent that the danger is not present in the particular case, the tribunal whether the Judge or jury may act on the accomplice evidence.

A judge should caution the jury regarding the risks of conviction on the basis of uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice.  Where there is no jury, the Judge is required to act, be cautious in acting on uncorroborated accomplice evidence.

Risks with Accompliice Evidence

Corroboration is something that tends to implicate the accused in the commission of the offence.  It must be independent of the evidence, which it corroborates.  The corroboration may be direct or circumstantial.   Accordingly evidence, which in itself is not corroborative may together with other circumstances, be corroborative.

Where accomplice evidence is accompanied by promises of leniency and possible clemency, there is a very high risk that the evidence will be suspect.  Regard must be had to the motivations and circumstances.  If the accomplice has particular motivation to lie, this will undermine the credibility of his evidence.

The Court of Criminal Appeal has overturned cases where witnesses with criminal records have been offered immunity in return for giving evidence on the basis that the evidence is insufficient.  This was on the basis that the evidence was insufficiently credible to allow a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.

In the present context, an accomplice is a person who is liable to be prosecuted as a co-accused or an accessory for his participation in the crimes charged.

Accomplice Evidence Issues

It is for the Judge to determine whether there is evidence sufficient to be considered by a jury to implicate a particular witness as a participant or an accomplice for the purpose of the crime.

The terms of the warning are within the discretion of the Judge.  There is no prescribed form of warning.  It should point out to the jury that it is dangerous to convict on the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice but they are free to do so if satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt.

The State has operated an informal witness security programme arising principally out of gangland and drug-related crime.  The evidence of a protected witness may be unreliable apart from the issue of accomplice evidence.  The Courts are likely to require a warning be given by evidence in the same manner as accomplice evidence.

The Criminal Justice Act, allows a witness to give evidence by video link.  They also allowed that the possibility of pre-trial statements being admissible where the witness fails or refuses to give evidence at the trial.


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