Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Appeals

The behaviours of the murderous public pest William Beggs have been cited in today's 'Scottish Daily Mail' as an example of how our appeals system favours prisoners at the expense of their victims' families.

In 1999 Beggs, an Ulsterman, sexually assaulted and murdered an 18 year old youth named Barry Wallace at a flat in Kilmarnock, before dismembering his remains and dumping them in Loch Lomond. He is serving a sentence of imprisonment for life, the punishment tariff of which is 20 years.

Since his imprisonment, Beggs has shown neither decency nor humanity towards his victim's family, and has embarked upon a series of appeals so unsuccessful that one suspects many of them to have been frivolous. If it was his intention to prove himself as a jailhouse lawyer, he has shown himself to be so spectacularly inept that if he were in the business on the outside he'd be up before the disciplinary authorities in a flash.

However, he has been abetted in his course by the accident of having been convicted at almost the same time as the Human Rights Act became law. Beggs, who at one stage in his life was deeply involved in hardline Ulster Unionist politics, comes from a cultural background where people like him had been accustomed to imposing their will upon others whether they might like it or not. When allied to the novelty of the Human Rights Act, this cultural burden might have found a natural outlet in the conduct of specious legislation.

The paper quotes Frank Mulholland (qv), Scotland's new Lord Advocate, as being naturally sympathetic to Mr. Wallace's family - what reasonable, humane person is not? - and as saying,

"It's hard enough dealing with what's happened after an appalling crime, for example, dealing with the consequences of losing a loved one. In William Beggs' case, it's taken nearly ten years to have his appeal against conviction and sentence refused".

I must confess that I am rather suspicious of Mr. Mulholland, whose public statements are, in my opinion, even more authoritarian than one might expect from the head of the Scottish prosecutorial establishment (one thing we're still very good at making in Scotland is criminals). In the case of Beggs, then, it is to be hoped that the Crown has never sought any adjournments of any of his appeals. If it has, then it would have done its own bit to ensure that the suffering endured by Mr. Wallace's family continued as the lurching, staggering appeals of William Beggs blundered their way through process.

I have written in the past of the need for justice to be final, and of how infinite process renders verdicts meaningless. However, the presence of one very bad apple in the appeals system, rotten to the core with a conceit born either from contempt towards his victim's family, which is the option that my money's on, or from the delusion that he is innocent, should not be the sole example held up as evidence in support of restricting rights of appeal. You won't hear them admit it either loudly or often, but the police and the Crown do sometimes get it wrong, sometimes spectacularly so. It would be a great shame for Scotland if our appeals system were altered solely because of the monomania of a murderous bully.

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