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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018

Lack of witnesses in sexual offence cases

In this paper I shall be analysising how the courts have interpreted the problem of the lack of witnesses in sexual offence cases as in Scotland no person can be convicted of a criminal offence if only one witness exists, the courts have interpreted this in such a way that in certain cases this wouldn’t be a problem in certain sexual offences for example if a person is charged with two sexual offences that are similar to each other and if sufficient evidence exists, I will ascertain these various types of situations explaining each using various case law and examples if appropriate, this will draw neatly to a conclusion where I will summarise what I have explained.

Evidence of a single witness

One of the problems of sexual offences is there may be a lack of witnesses to corroborate what a person may be charged with as in Scots law the problem being that a person cannot be convicted of a criminal offence on the evidence of just one witness Morton v HMA 1938 in this case the accused morton was charged with indecent assault, the victim identified the accused at an identity parade at the police station as well as identifying him in court, there was a woman looking out of her window from the adjacent flats who saw the victim being assaulted and saw the accused running from the scene however she did not see his face so was therefore not able to identify him, on returning home the brother of the victim described how she was in a distressed state but other than these pieces of evidence there was nothing else to tie the accused to the assault, he was charged and sentenced, Morton appealed and was successful his sentence was quashed for the charge Lord Justice Clark Aitchison stated “No person can be convicted of a crime…unless there is evidence of at least two witnesses implicating the person accused with the commission of the crime or offence with which he is charged” this is because the only credible witness was that of the victim, the other witness could not identify the accused so the sentence had to be quashed. Had the accused been charged with another sexual offence against another woman this would not have been the case even if there had been only one witness per offence

Distress as Corroboration

If a third party sees or discovers someone in a distressed condition after the incident this is classed as circumstantial evidence,

Moorov Doctrine

Another means of addressing the practical problem of the lack of witnesses to sxual offences is found in the moorov doctrine, which is named after the case of Moorov v HM Advocate 1930[1] in Morrov v HMA 1930 the accused was charged with 19 different sexual offences on his female workers over a period of 4 years the only witness to these charges was that of the victim however even though this was the only single piece of evidence the appeal court held that the evidence of the individual employees could corroborate other similar allegations, provided that the evidence was such as to indicate that the various incidents were connected: in the words of Lord Justice-General Clyde (at 73), “as subordinates in some particular and ascertained unity of intent, project, campaign or adventure”[2] The Moorov doctrine applies in situations where an accused is charged with two or more crimes but only one witness implicates him for each separate crime. In such circumstances, and if certain criteria are met, the application of the Moorov doctrine can permit mutual corroboration between the crimes.

there are three key factors to consider when deciding if the morrov doctrine will be applicable these are time, character or circumstance

Character this is the offence with which the accused is charged with, they ought to be substantially similar to each other however it should be noted that they need not be identical

[1] J Chalmers , Evidence (Law Essentials 2nd Edition) pg 26

[2] J Chalmers , Evidence (Law Essentials 2nd Edition) pg 26

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