The age-old requirement for corroborating evidence in criminal trials could be abolished as part of changes to the justice system.
The majority required for a guilty verdict would also be increased to two-thirds under the new Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill.
The Bill, if passed, also raises the maximum sentence for handling knives and offensive weapons from four to five years.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “I have made clear a number of times that I believe that the requirement for corroboration should be abolished as it can represent a barrier to justice.
“It is an outdated rule which can deny victims the opportunity to see those responsible for serious crimes being brought to justice.
“Removing the need for corroboration represents a move towards focusing on the quality of evidence rather than quantity.”
But this view is not shared by the Law Society of Scotland which describes corroboration as a “fundamental principle” of the justice system. Removing it will lead to a greater risk of miscarriages of justice, it said.
Raymond McMenamin, from the society’s criminal law committee, said: “We believe that removing the requirement for corroborated evidence, without including sufficiently strong safeguards in the Bill, could simply result in a contest between two competing statements on oath and, as a result, bring increased risk of miscarriages of justice.
“The requirement for corroborated evidence is not an antiquated, outmoded legal notion but is a fundamental principle of our justice system.
“It’s clear that the concerns expressed by the society and others about juries have been recognised as the Bill proposes a move to a weighted majority from a simple majority, but we don’t believe this is sufficient to remove the risks created by abolishing corroboration.”
Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell, who practised as an advocate depute for several years in Scotland’s High Court, also warned against the changes.
“If the SNP proceed with these proposals, it will confirm that they are not fit to have the stewardship of Scottish criminal law,” the former party leader said.
“This is populism at its worst. Corroboration is an essential component of the presumption of innocence and a necessary bulwark against false accusation and injustice.
“As the power of the state increases, the protection of the rights of the citizen has become even more important.”