Sunday, July 15, 2007

Crown Office lets a Fiscal off the hook from possible criminal charges

More From A Diary of Injustice in Scotland

Failure of regulation at Crown Office allows Fiscal Depute in criminal investigation to resign

While the legal profession as a whole, suffered a bite into their armour last year with the passing of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007, nothing much changes at the Crown Office, with the revelation that a Procurator Fiscal Depute has escaped a criminal investigation over allegations she dropped a criminal case as a favour to a friend - reports the Scotsman.

Nothing new here then, which dashes the hopes that Colin Boyd's replacement, Elish Angiolini, would give a much needed clean up to the Crown Office's way of doing things, which by this incident, seems to indicate that has certainly not happened.

Of course, we could also assume that Morag Stuart, the now ex-procurator fiscal depute can now look for a job in private practice as a solicitor - since she is of course, a qualified lawyer ...but if that were to happen, would clients really like someone who has been involved in such a criminal investigation handling their legal affairs ? .. indeed, could they be trusted enough to retain a solicitor's practicing certificate ?

However, since Ms Stuart has resigned from the Crown Office, and retains her practicing certificate - perhaps, in the public interest, someone should put in a complaint to the Law Society of Scotland to see if she is fit to retain that practicing certificate ?

After all, solicitors have to be beyond reproach, don't they ? *laugh* .. and it would certainly be in the public interest to ensure that clients have full knowledge of a solicitor's experiences before they use then for legal representation ...

Ms Stuart has already been in civil practice, apparently, as reported by the Scotsman article .. but also it is reported she was once chairwoman of the Scottish Young Lawyers' Association and also served as the executive member for Scotland on the European Young Bar Association .... but at the end of it all, as you can see, she had to resign to escape action being taken on her case ... or of course, it may well be she was told to resign, because it may have been difficult for the Crown Office to cover up on this one, such as they have done in the past, when even their members of staff have faced serious criminal charges from everything from fraud to sex offences ...

We've all seen this kind of thing before in the media of course ... Crown Office covers up for it's staff ... Police cover up for their own, lawyers cover up for lawyer, accountant, doctor .. you name it ... self regulation covers it up ... and having another district's Procurator Fiscal's office investigate a complaint as a sign of 'impartiality' makes a mockery of the notion of transparency ...

If the Lord Advocate wants to clean up the Crown Office - just as the entire legal profession should be cleaned up, and if the evidence in this case necessitates a criminal charge - shouldn't it proceed ? rather than be allowed to slip away just because the offender has resigned ?

If someone who represents & serves the law and who is expected to "exceed the high standards of probity, justice and fairness expected by the public" in the acting of their duty, ends up twisting or using the law to defeat a criminal enterprise .. should they not be held to account for their actions just as everyone expects to be ?

Link from the Scotsman :

Crown won't charge fiscal who allegedly dropped case for friend

THE Crown Office has decided to take no action against a prosecutor after she resigned amid allegations that she dropped a criminal case as a favour to a friend.

Morag Stuart, a procurator- fiscal depute, was at the centre of a seven-month criminal investigation into allegations of corrupt practices at work.

Yesterday, it emerged that Ms Stuart had resigned from her post. A few hours later, the Crown Office announced no further action would be taken against her.

She had been escorted from the procurator-fiscal's office in Dundee by Crown officials after the allegation was raised by a colleague.

It is understood that Ms Stuart, 34, whose father is a retired police officer, tendered her resignation earlier this month.

A spokesman for the Crown Office confirmed yesterday morning that an investigation was continuing into allegations about Ms Stuart's conduct.

He said senior Crown counsel were considering the case and "no decision" had yet been made on whether she would face criminal prosecution.

But the case took a sudden twist last night when the Crown Office announced that they would be taking no further action.

Detectives had raided the Dundee office where Ms Stuart worked last September and removed files relating to hundreds of cases she had worked on.

The police investigation was launched at the request of Betty Bott, the district procurator- fiscal.

Ms Stuart had been on sick leave for several weeks and returned to work on a three-day basis shortly before being suspended. She was removed from the office and remained suspended from her post while officers from Tayside Police carried out their investigation.

The experienced prosecutor was alleged to have quietly dropped a court case in which the accused was someone who was known to her.

Documents relating to the case in question were carefully examined and a number of staff at the fiscal's office have been quizzed by detectives.

A court insider said: "There were apparently very dramatic scenes when she was marched out of the office.

"I don't know how it came to light, but it involves a case she was handling which was dropped. The allegation is that she took the decision not to proceed any further with the case because the accused was someone she knew.

"Fiscal staff have to be seen to be squeaky clean and they just can't deal with cases where they know the people involved."

Ms Stuart had been on long-term sick leave with a reported back problem.

Another court regular said: "She mainly worked in Dundee and Arbroath sheriff courts. She has done all the usual stuff - trials and pleading courts.

"She was not what you would describe as one of the popular figures round here. Being off for such a long time probably didn't help.

"This episode must be hugely embarrassing for the fiscal's office, as they are supposed to be seen to be above this kind of thing."

A Crown Office spokeswoman last night said: "Following full and careful consideration of all of the facts and circumstances, Crown Counsel have instructed that no proceedings are to be taken in this case."

It is understood that special arrangements are in place for investigating allegations against Crown Office employees or members of their families.

In this case, the investigation was carried out by the Edinburgh procurator-fiscal's office in an effort to ensure impartiality.

Ms Stuart, a graduate of Dundee University, is a former chairwoman of the Scottish Young Lawyers' Association and also served as the executive member for Scotland on the European Young Bar Association.

After qualifying in 1995, she spent several years in Glasgow as a civil litigator before moving to Dundee when her husband found work there. She later joined the Procurator-Fiscal Service.

A spokeswoman for Tayside Police said: "We were asked to carry out an investigation and a report is now with the procurator-fiscal.

" It would be inappropriate to make any further comment."

• PROCURATOR-FISCAL deputes' duties include directing police on local criminal inquiries, deciding when and how to prosecute and investigating sudden and suspicious deaths.

They are also tasked with conducting proceedings in sheriff and district courts, and preparing cases for prosecution in the High Court and are expected to "exceed the high standards of probity, justice and fairness expected by the public".

Their posts have a starting salary of between £24,500 and £30,750, depending on experience, with pay rising to up to £44,784.

The investigation involving Ms Stuart comes more than a year after another prosecutor, Stuart MacFarlane, was caught with a prostitute. However, it emerged last May that Mr MacFarlane would not face trial after the Crown decided it would not be in the public interest to proceed.

Mr MacFarlane, 37, had previously resigned his position as the principal procurator-fiscal depute in Glasgow, six months after he was arrested following a function at Strathclyde Police headquarters. It was alleged he and 27-year-old Joanna Crane were caught by police while she was performing a sex act on him.

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