Scotland’s First Minister may rely on Crown Immunity to avoid possible court challenge by solicitor. THE ROW over Alex Salmond’s comments on rulings from the UK’s Supreme Court took another twist today as senior legal figures claimed CROWN IMMUNITY for Scottish Ministers may come to the rescue of Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond in the issue over comments the First Minister made against Professor Tony Kelly, who Mr Salmond accused in an interview for Holyrood magazine of making “an incredibly comfortable living by trailing around the prison cells and other establishments of Scotland trying to find what might be construed as a breach of human rights of an unlimited liability back to 1999”.
Mr Kelly, a solicitor whose clients have included the man convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland in December 1988, has threatened to bring legal action in the English courts against the First Minister as reported in yesterday’s Herald newspaper. However if Crown Immunity is claimed by the First Minister, it is unclear if the case could proceed.
The Herald newspaper yesterday reported : “Human rights solicitor Professor Tony Kelly claims Mr Salmond “has called into question my professional integrity”. And he added: “With regret, I have had to take legal advice and following upon that, given the nature of attacks upon me, I have decided to formalise my opinion.”. Today’s Herald newspaper reports Mr Salmond has refused to apologise for any of his comments made on the Supreme Court, its judges, rulings and comments made against Mr Kelly.
In the interview for Holyrood magazine, Mr Salmond said of Mr Kelly : “You are talking about giving thousands of pounds going to people like Beggs, for example. If a system does that then it falls into total and utter disrepute because there is not a single person, outwith Professor Kelly [Tony Kelly, the human rights lawyer] who was the instigator of many of the actions, that believes that the judicial system is there to serve their interests and to make sure they can make an incredibly comfortable living by trailing around the prison cells and other establishments of Scotland trying to find what might be construed as a breach of human rights of an unlimited liability back to 1999 and that is what we were faced with.”
Mr Salmond continued : “The judicial system does not exist to serve Professor Kelly, it exists to serve the people and any judicial system which allows that to happen would fall into disrepute and what’s more, it costs lives because if you take £100m out of the justice budget you cost lives; less police, less courts, less effective justice and incidentally, less Legal Aid and it is an inevitable consequence of that sort of thing.”
In the same interview, Mr Salmond also attacked Lord Hope, a Scottish judge on the Supreme Court, saying : “All I would say to Lord Hope is that I probably know a wee bit about the legal system and he probably knows a wee bit about politics but politics and the law intertwine and the political consequences of Lord Hope’s judgements are extreme and when the citizens of Scotland understandably vent their fury about the prospect of some of the vilest people on the planet getting lots of money off the public purse, they don’t go chapping at Lord Hope’s door, they ask their Parliament what they are doing about it. I am perfectly happy if Lord Hopes wishes to exercise his freedom of speech and I hope he is happy with mine but at least I went to the bother of being elected, it may be an inconvenience but none the less has to count for something.”
In response to continuing criticisms over the First Minister’s comments on the Supreme Court and Lord Hope, and Professor Kelly, the First Minister said : "I conducted the interview with Holyrood magazine two weeks ago when we were engaged in a vigorous debate on these matters. Since then I have appointed, under Lord McCluskey, a panel of people of eminence and expertise to advise this Parliament, and then to have their views debated in this Parliament so we can address the underlying issue. I think this is the way we should do this.”
Mr Salmond continued : "The integrity of the criminal law of Scotland is a matter of concern. It was never meant to be second guessed in the way that's happening at the present moment. "As well as a right of free speech, we have a duty as parliamentarians to articulate the public concerns and try and bring proper remedy. It is not, as Iain Gray represents it, that everyone should have human rights. It is whether this Parliament, this jurisdiction, this legal system stands in equality with every other jurisdiction in Western Europe."
Legal insiders today claimed Mr Salmond as a Scottish Minister may rely on “Crown Immunity” from any court action brought against him, alleging the issue had already been discussed at senior levels of the Government.
A legal source said : “Mr Salmond like all Scottish Ministers, has the availability of Crown Immunity open to him should he require to use it. However the irony of Scotland’s First Minister who has an ultimate goal of independence relying on Crown Immunity to walk away from litigation brought by a solicitor who did nothing other than represent his clients on Human Rights issues will be a sad reflection on the legal system and leave Mr Salmond open to continuing widespread criticism on legal issues.”
The legal source pointed out Mr Kelly’s law firm, Taylor & Kelly already have a track record on cases involving Crown Immunity in post-devolution Scotland where the Scottish Government had lost rulings on its use of Crown Immunity defending previous cases brought by Taylor & Kelly.
Pressed on a statement the use of Crown Immunity amid rumours in legal circles Mr Salmond would claim it if faced with legal action from Professor Kelly, the Scottish Government said : “We do not wish to be drawn on the issue of Crown immunity.”
Yesterday, the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates issued a joint statement condemning the First Minister’s remarks against senior members of Scotland’s legal profession and the judiciary.
Responding to recent comments from the First Minister; Richard Keen, dean of the faculty of advocates and Cameron Ritchie, president of the Law Society of Scotland said : "The independence of our judicial system and the need to respect the rule of law are fundamental aspects of Scottish society, as they must be of any democratic society. This is affirmed by the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act, an Act of the Scottish Parliament which obliges the First Minister and the Justice Secretary to uphold the independence of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom . Our judges must be free to decide cases independently, according to law and upon evidence. Any attempt to influence the outcome of litigation by reference to political wishes or a politician's perception of popular opinion is a challenge not only to the courts but to the rule of law.
The statement continued : "The Scottish Government talks about the unintended consequences of establishing the UK Supreme Court. The First Minister and the Justice Secretary need to carefully reflect on the consequences of what are perceived to be repeated and now highly personal attacks on respected members of the legal profession. Such comments contribute nothing to any sensible debate on how best to provide a justice system that properly and effectively meets the needs of our changing society."
Mr Salmond’s attack on the legal profession and members of the judiciary on issues of Human Rights rulings & criminal law may well strike a chord with some, however as a journalist & long time law reform campaigner, I have to wonder why does the First Minister not make similar criticisms or public attacks on the now very obvious corruption at the Law Society of Scotland who, as the regulator of Scotland’s legal profession continue to allow rogue solicitors to work as normal while hundreds, now thousands of ruined clients are denied any justice, any access to justice and any chance of recovery of millions of pounds stolen each year by solicitors from their clients.
John Swinney’s constructive criticism of the Law Society over corruption at the Master Policy earned him much respect. Perhaps Mr Salmond can learn a thing or two about criticising the legal profession from his number two, John Swinney, who, very singularly, took on the Law Society of Scotland at its highest levels at the Justice 2 Committee in 2006 and exposed the word of the Law Society’s Master Insurance Policy and its targeting of solicitors clients who attempted to pursue their crooked lawyers to the courts. The scandal revealed by Mr Swinney eventually led to the resignation of the Law Society’s then Chief Executive Douglas Mill. Mr Mill announced his resignation in January 2008 which I reported on HERE after video footage of the heated exchanges between Mr Swinney & Mr Mill were published on video sharing website You Tube in December 2007.
John Swinney’s attack on the Scottish legal profession’s handling of client complaints & damages claims was far more relevant & to the mark than Mr Salmond’s raging against the Supreme Court.
If Mr Salmond wants to take on the Scottish legal profession, there are far more important issues & scandals for the First Minister to raise in public of how the legal profession & the Law Society affects & treats Scots when it comes to access to justice, than his current criticisms of Human Rights rulings of the Supreme Court in London.
If Mr Salmond did choose to use his office & Holyrood majority to clean up Scotland’s legal profession, cure its corrupt regulatory practices (including the useless Scottish Legal Complaints Commission) and resolve the legal profession’s injustice against thousands of clients over the decades, a matter I once brought before Holyrood’s Petitions Committee, which was in turn killed off by Law Society demands, well, that would be another subject entirely .. and one worthy of considerable support.
Mr Salmond would also do well to bring forward the full implementation of the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill’s recommendations in the Scottish Civil Courts Review, which for now, is itself under review as I reported HERE.