Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Double Jeopardy

While none of them might say so in public, it is difficult to see how the announcement that double jeopardy is to be scrapped in Scotland, apparently as a matter of urgency, can be interpreted as anything other than the soi-disant, ersatz, 'Scottish Government's own hatred of the Scottish people, and its belief that the correct legal status of Scots in Scotland is not citizens, but suspects. However, it could also be much more sinister than that.
The mantra of the extreme right which justifies the application of permanent and universal measures in answer to temporary or even individual situations is 'You can't let a good crisis go to waste'. Indeed, the fostering of an appearance of a crisis is critical to the success of the extreme right agenda. In the case of double jeopardy in Scotland, that crisis is the 'World's End Murders'.
While one must observe the pieties of such matters and express sympathy for the families of the murder victims, it really has to be said that the reason why Angus Sinclair's prosecution for those crimes in 2007 collapsed was that the Crown should not have brought it to court at that time, or in that form, or indeed at all. That trial was a botch by the Crown. They and they alone are responsible for any distress caused to the victims' families as a result of the matter not proceeding to their satisfaction. Far from showing why the abolition of double jeopardy is necessary, the World' End case is a textbook example of why double jeopardy is not only necessary but shoul remain sacrosanct. Abolition will not serve to remedy injustice. It will, however, give the Crown any number of chances to remedy its mistakes - in the World's End case, mistakes so huge they call into question the competence of the Crown Office's leadership.
Since the collapse of the World's End trial, the Scottish public has been treated to what are presumably the personal opinions of Frank Mulholland, the Solicitor-General for Scotland, regarding the circumstances in which he believes that double jeopardy should not apply. One of the oddities of the devolution settlement, and in my view an unsatisfactory one that urgently demands revisiting, is that the former political offices of Lord Advocate and Solicitor-General are now held by two career civil servants. As committed to justice as the next man as he might be, Mr. Mulholland does not answer to any electorate, and as someone who pays his wages I have no interest in any opinion he might care to express on any matter at all, whether it might be the state of civil liberties in Scotland or whether Greased Lightning is going to ace the 4.30 at Shawfield.
One would expect nothing less but cheap authoritarianism from the soi-disant, ersatz 'Scottish Government'; The Tartanissimo is, after all, a former parliamentary bad boy once suspended from the House of Commons for interrupting a Budget speech. His brand of hooliganism is cosy and cushy, and gets your name in the papers for all the right reasons - but it was hooliganism nonetheless. The intervening 20 years have done nothing to dispel what was then an initial impression of hooliganism and thuggery; his posture in the Scottish Parliament, always looking as if he's ready to square up to his opponents, is not that of a statesman but of a thug wanting a square go in the back court. Yet he has quietly presided over, or at least done nothing to prevent, the quiet establishment of a cosy and cushy police state in Scotland, one which has had some welcome light thrown on it over the past few weeks, and from an unusual quarter.
Twice in the past few weeks, Sheriff Kevin Drummond has criticised the Crown's attitude to the prosecution of cases involving domestic violence. These criticisms are the first intimation that the public appears to have had that a policy on prosecuting domestic violence has been agreed between the Crown Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos). Acpos is a top cop talk shop. It is a voluntary organisation for senior members of the police services, a private body. It has no constitutional function regarding the prosecution of crime. In Scots law, the prosecution of crime is the exclusive function of the Crown Office and local Procurators Fiscal. For any person or body to seek to influence these bodies is a gross interference with their rights. If the Crown Office does not immediately rebuff any attempts to interfere with its rights and those of the local PF's, then it is either being very poorly led, or else those who lead it identify the interests they serve as being identical to the interests the police serve; which is another way of saying the Crown Office may be very poorly led. It is to be hoped that this policy does not represent the deep capture of the Crown Office by the police. If it does, then the case for not having career prosecutors but elected officials leading the Crown Office becomes unanswerable. If a local procurator fiscal were to be caught deciding prosecution policy with his mates at the bowling club, he would be tainted with corruption, or else branded a cosmic incompetent. I fail to see how supposedly independent prosecutors agreeing prosecution policies with a private body that represents the vested interests of some police officers is any different in any way, shape or form.
That such policies also interfere with the rights of the judiciary doesn't seem to occur to those who make them. In this case, one must offer three cheers for Sheriff Drummond, for having the guts to asserts the rights of the bench. It is to be hoped that more of his brethren do likewise.
Better for The Copfighter General to concentrate on attacking the formulation of such cosy and cushy policies - for how many more might there be? - than on abolishing double jeopardy and making it retrospective. Taking the ability to prosecute crimes retrospectively on a multiple basis to yourself is only one step away from taking the power to create crimes retrospectively to yourself. If you think Alex Salmond and the SNP would not do this if they thought their vision of an independent Scotland was under threat, or indeed weren't really happy with the type of Scots that an independent Scotland would inhabit, you are cordially invited to think again.
Eilish and Frank. Double jeopardy indeed.

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Blogger Laban said...

I don't know about Scotland, but in England ACPO is actually a limited liability company.

19 August, 2010 13:00  
Blogger Martin said...

Thanks for that, Laban. Don't know the Scottish position - can only why the English ones feel the need for that status.

20 August, 2010 07:49  

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