Top cop cannot interfere with judiciary – Sheriff AN EXCHANGE of letters between the Chief Constable of Police Scotland and a Sheriff Principal relating to comments made by a Sheriff of ‘endemic’ Police corruption during a criminal trial of a Police Officer - reveal Scotland’s top cop said the Sheriff hearing the case should have raised his concerns in private instead of airing such matters in open court.
The case, reported earlier last month by the media HERE saw the Chief Constable accused of trying to interfere with the role of Sheriffs after the top cop expressed his anger at a sheriff who suggested a cover-up culture might exist within his force.
In a letter to Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart – Sheriff Dickson’s boss, Sir Stephen House wrote: “I was extremely disappointed that, in the context of this case, Sheriff Dickson was quoted publicly inferring that there is a perceived widespread culture of corruption and cover-ups, to protect fellow officers, within Police Scotland. I vehemently reject any assertion that this case is somehow the tip of an iceberg which needs to be "stamped out" to prevent a "corrupt force" Public confidence and satisfaction in Police Scotland remains high, and unsubstantiated comments from an influential member of the judiciary are extremely damaging .”
The Chief Constable then went on to suggest it would have been better for Sheriff Dickson to raise his concerns in secret, rather than in court.
Sir Stephen House told Sheriff Principal Lockhart: “If Sheriff Dickson had concerns based on specific cases and evidence, I would have expected him to raise these with, either directly or via yourself, in confidence, rather than read about these via sensationalised media reporting.”
Clearly, aggrieved at the situation, the Chief Constable then sent a flurry of press cuttings to Sheriff Principal Lockhart, along with an offer to meet to discuss the situation.
Responding to the criticisms, Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart told the Chief Constable members of the judiciary are entitled to make comment on cases before them, and the offer to meet was refused.
Full text of letters between top cop & sheriff released by Judicial Office. Sheriff Principal Lockhart told Chief Constable House: “Assuming that the press reports are accurate, in my view Sheriff Dickson was entitled to draw from the facts before him that this cover-up may not have been a one-off incident. The off-duty detective who saw McKiliion, apparently under the influence, driving away from a supermarket, deliberately chose not to state his name or job when she called the incident in, as she thought it would not be dealt with appropriately. She was clearly right to do so, in this case. The lead investigating officer recognised McKiliion, chose not to breathalyse him, and radioed his control room to say there was no-one at the house. He then said to his younger colleague "You don't want to grass on another cop or you will have no future in the police." His colleague felt intimidated.”
“Taken together, this is ample evidence to support the Sheriffs remarks. He expressed concern that this might not be a one-off instance. He said "there may be (emphasis mine) a perceived culture that police officers are willing to prevent the arrest and prosecution of a colleague." He said that if such a culture exists, it required to be stamped out. In my view his remarks were neither 'sweeping' nor 'unsubstantiated'. They were carefully phrased expressions of concern, justified by the evidence in the case before him.”
“Moreover, Sheriff Dickson was commenting in his capacity as a judge on evidence led before him, in a case likely to raise considerable public concern. This he was entitled to right, and a duty, to state them, in order that public confidence in the judicial system is not further damaged. To suggest otherwise fails to recognise the role of the judiciary. The integrity of the police force is not merely a matter of concern to senior police officers but to us all.”
“For these reasons, as Sheriff Principal I do not propose to take any action in this case. However, I think it is important that the Lord President is aware of this exchange of correspondence and I am accordingly forwarding a copy to him.”
Whether the Lord President at the time – Lord Brian Gill – took any further action on the matter, is unknown.
However, during his time as Lord President, Lord Gill was prone to issue guidance and edicts if matters concerning the judiciary boiled over into the media - therefore it would be surprising if Scotland’s top judge at the time gave no input on this affair.
Ironically, the Police Officer who was the subject of the heated exchange had his conviction quashed last week on appeal.
David Carmichael was originally sentenced to seven months in prison for wilful neglect of duty after a court heard claims he deliberately lied to protect a fellow officer from being investigated for allegations of drink driving.
Former Strathclyde police constable Carmichael had been freed on interim liberation pending an appeal against his conviction and the jail sentence imposed on him.
Sheriff Dickson prepared a report for judges at the Justiciary Appeal Court in Edinburgh posing the question whether on the facts found in the case was he entitled to convict.
Lord Drummond Young, sitting with Lady Clark of Calton and Sheriff Principal Ian Abercrombie QC, ruled that the answer was in the negative.
The senior judge said they would give reasons in writing for the decision later.
Carmichael's counsel, Gordon Jackson QC, said: "This appellant was convicted of a common law offence of neglect of his duty as a police officer."
Mr Jackson said the alleged failure fell into three parts - failure to make full and proper inquiry, failure to follow a procedure requiring a person to reveal who was driver of a car and a false report.
The senior counsel said: "That would be a matter of police discipline but would not be neglect of his duty."
While the events are now well documented, Justice Diary has published the correspondence between the Chief Constable & the Judiciary in full which was released by the Judicial Office in response to Freedom of Information Requests – given the content of the communications is in keeping with the public’s right to know, and the current debate on role of the judiciary along with judicial transparency & accountability.