Law Report:: No need for corroboration warning: Regina v Cheema. Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) (Lord Taylor of Gosforth, Lord Chief Justice, Mr Justice Buckley and Mr Justice Hidden) 4 October 1993

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There is no rule of law requiring a trial judge to give a full corroboration direction in respect of a co-defendant's evidence. Although the judge should warn the jury that a defendant may have his own purpose to serve in implicating another in evidence, there is no requirement to warn the jury of the danger of convicting on uncorroborated evidence.

The Court of Appeal gave reasons for dismissing on 13 July 1993 the appellant's appeal against conviction of murder and attempted murder.

The appellant, her son and two other men were charged in connection with the death of the appellant's husband. The two men were tried and convicted of murder and attempted murder. The son, who was charged with conspiracy to murder and doing acts tending to pervert the course of justice, was tried with the appellant. They were convicted.

The appellant appealed against conviction on the ground, among others, that the trial judge should have given the jury the full corroboration direction in respect of the son's evidence, warning of the danger of convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice.

Robin Simpson QC and Fergus Mitchell (Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the appellant; Victor Temple QC (CPS) for the Crown,

LORD TAYLOR LCJ, giving the court's judgment, said the exercise of the trial judge's discretion to order a joint trial could not be faulted. The effect of the considerable body of case law cited to the court was to show that in recent years, time and again, the court had reiterated that although a warning in suitable terms as to the danger of a co- accused having an axe to grind was desirable, English law did not recognise a rule requiring a full corroboration direction in respect of a co-defendant's evidence. It might, in terms of pure logic, seem incongruous that a witness should be treated as an accomplice if called for the Crown, but not be so treated if he gave like evidence as a co-defendant. However, there were a number of practical grounds for maintaining the distinction so long as the present rules concerning corroboration were maintained.

First, the burden of proof being on the prosecution, if they called a witness of doubtful reliability, it was necessary that the jury be warned of the danger of convicting on that witness's evidence, if it was uncorroborated. The same consideration did not apply in relation to the evidence of a co-defendant.

Secondly, it would be unfair to defendant A, whose evidence implicated defendant B, for the jury to be given a full corroboration direction. It would devalue A's evidence on his own behalf. That did not apply to a Crown witness since he was not in peril in the particular proceedings. The milder form of warning to the jury, to have in mind that A might have an axe to grind, steered a middle course of fairness as between A and B.

Thirdly, the complication involved in requiring a judge to give full corroboration directions in respect of co-defendants implicating each other, would be likely to confuse and bewilder a jury.

Accordingly what was required when one defendant implicated another in evidence was simply to warn the jury of what might very often be obvious - namely that the defendant witness might have a purpose of his own to serve.

Since the son was not to be treated as an accomplice nor as a witness requiring the judge to give a full corroboration direction, the judge was entitled to direct the jury that the son's evidence was capable of corroborating the evidence of the convicted man who gave evidence for the prosecution.

The case illustrated the highly technical rules governing corroboration. A review of this area of the law which had become arcane, technical and difficult to convey to juries was recommended.