APPEAL COURT, HIGH COURT OF JUSTICIARY
Appeal No: 1682/98
OPINION OF THE COURT
delivered by LORD KIRKWOOD
MARK JAMES ARMIT
PROCURATOR FISCAL, Ayr
Appellant: Shead; Drummond Miller
Respondent: Doherty, Q.C., A.D.; Crown Agent
4 June 1999
This is an appeal by stated case against conviction by Mark Armit who was convicted at the District Court in Ayr of a contravention of section 52(1) of the Criminal Law (Consolidation)(Scotland) Act 1995. The charge narrated that on 24 May 1997 at Direct Communications, 45 Fort Street, Ayr he did without reasonable excuse wilfully or recklessly destroy or damage the property belonging to another, viz. a window and did smash same, contrary to section 52(1) of the said Act.
We are informed by the justices that the Crown led the evidence of two police officers. They gave evidence that at about midnight they received instructions to attend at the premises at 45 Fort Street in connection with a report of a broken window. They were given a description of a person thought to have been involved. They immediately went to the premises and when they arrived they saw the appellant standing on the footpath beside the premises, a window of which had been broken. He fitted the description which they had been given and there was no one else in the vicinity. The appellant was cautioned and asked if he had smashed the window. He admitted breaking the window and explained that he was formerly employed by the company which owned the premises, but had been sacked by them that morning. He had made no attempt to run away and had co-operated with the police. When cautioned and charged he made no reply.
At the conclusion of the Crown case the appellant's agent made a submission in terms of section 160(1) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 that there was no case to answer but the justices rejected that submission. The appellant did not lead any evidence and the justices, who found both police officers to be credible and reliable, found him guilty as libelled. The question for our determination is whether the justices were correct to hold that there was a case to answer.
Counsel for the appellant submitted that there was no adequate corroboration of the appellant's admission. The case of Meredith v. Lees 1992 S.C.C.R. 459 had established that there was no rule of law that very little was required to corroborate an unequivocal confession. In the present case there was no evidence establishing when the window had been broken or when it had been reported to the police. While it was said that the appellant matched the description given to the police of the person who might have been involved, there was no evidence as to what description had been given. There was no evidence led by the Crown to the effect that the appellant had been dismissed earlier that day. The presence of the appellant at the locus when the police arrived was not sufficient to provide the necessary corroboration and the justices should have upheld the no case to answer submission.
In reply, the advocate depute submitted that there had been a clear and unequivocal admission of guilt and in the particular circumstances of this case very little was required by way of corroboration. The necessary corroboration was to be found in the evidence of surrounding facts and circumstances, namely, that the window was broken and that the appellant was found standing next to the premises when the police arrived at about midnight, very shortly after they had received instructions to attend, and there being no one else in the vicinity. The advocate depute stated that he did not attach any great weight to the evidence that the appellant matched the description which the police had been given as there was no evidence as to who had given the description or what the description had been and, in any event, it had only been a description of a man who was thought to have been involved. The advocate depute also referred to Sinclair v. Clark 1962 J.C. 57 and Fox v. H.M. Advocate 1998 S.C.C.R. 115. In the circumstances the justices had been right to reject the no case to answer submission.
In our opinion the submissions made to us by the advocate depute were well-founded. The starting point for the Crown case is the clear and unequivocal admission of guilt made by the appellant. In Sinclair v. Clark, supra, Lord Justice Clerk Thomson observed (at page 62) as follows:
"There is a rule in our law - a somewhat archaic rule - the merit of which in modern conditions is not always obvious, at all events where the admission is made in circumstances beyond suspicion, that short of a solemn plea of guilt, an admission of guilt by an accused is not conclusive against him, unless it is corroborated by something beyond the actual admission. One reason for this rule is to ensure that there is nothing phoney or quixotic about the confession. What is required in the way of independent evidence in order to elide such a risk must depend on the facts of the case and, in particular, the nature and character of the confession and the circumstances in which it is made".
In the present case it seems to us that, on the basis of the Crown evidence, the circumstances in which the appellant made the frank admission which he did were not such as to create doubt as to whether it was true and could be relied upon. Accordingly, the question was whether the supporting evidence relied upon by the Crown was capable of providing an independent check of the guilt of the appellant. There was evidence that when the police arrived at the premises, a window of which had been broken, at about midnight and very shortly after they had been called, they found the appellant standing on the pavement outside and there was no one else in the vicinity. In our opinion that evidence, in the particular circumstances of this case, was capable of providing adequate corroboration of the appellant's clear and unequivocal admission of guilt. In the circumstances the justices were right to repel the no case to answer submission and were entitled to convict the appellant. On the whole matter we shall answer the question in the stated case in the affirmative and refuse the appeal.