Monday, September 17, 2007

Lord Advocate Angiolini wrong to justify failure of Crown Office in World's End trial collapse

Not everyone seems to think the Lord Advocate did a good job with her statement to Parliament last week on the World's End trial collapse .. as comments from Lord Coulsfield show ...

The rush to put the blame on the law, instead of the failures of the Crown Office, is not an honest approach to addressing the failures of one's legal colleagues & members of staff ..

The Herald reports :

‘Lord Advocate wrong to justify World’s End trial collapse’


The Lord Advocate was wrong to use a speech in the Scottish Parliament to justify the prosecution of the World's End murders, according to one of the three judges who presided over the Lockerbie trial.

Lord Coulsfield also said he supports changing the law to give the prosecution a right of appeal against judicial decisions to abandon trials.

The High Court judge, who retired from the bench five years ago, said he was uncomfortable with the manner in which Elish Angiolini, the Lord Advocate, handled the aftermath of the collapse of the World's End murder trial last week.

The case against serial sex killer Angus Sinclair, who was accused of raping and murdering 17-year-olds Helen Scott and Christine Eadie 30 years ago, was thrown out last Monday after the trial judge Lord Clarke said there was insufficient evidence.

Three days later Ms Angiolini gave a detailed account of the prosecution case and the DNA evidence to MSPs at Holyrood.

She said the fact some prosecution evidence was not led was irrelevant as "given the way in which the judge approached the case it is unlikely to have persuaded him to repel the defence submission".

Lord Coulsfield, one of the judges during the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands six years ago, was asked in a BBC interview yesterday if he was comfortable with the Lord Advocate addressing the parliament.

He said: "Well no, because it's quite obvious I think that unless you really knew what the DNA evidence was, unless you had studied it, you couldn't say whether or not the advocate-depute was right to take the course that he did and you couldn't say whether the evidence would have made any difference." He added that while the World's End trial had caused deep dissatisfaction and frustration across Scotland, he did not believe its outcome warranted scrapping principles such as the ancient double jeopardy rule which prevents a person from being tried for the same crime twice.

Alex Salmond, the First Minister, hinted to MSPs on Wednesday he was willing to look at doing away with the principle in certain cases.

Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, said over the weekend he was "sympathetic" to removing the double jeopardy rule in certain circumstances.

However, Lord Coulsfield, a Privy Councillor, said: "The fairness of our legal system and our free society depend on a number of fundamental principles of criminal law: the independence of the courts; the presumption of innocence; proof beyond reasonable doubt; and the finality of court judgments.

"These are pillars of the system. I think one should only tamper with those pillars if there is an overwhelming reason for doing so."

He added: "What it may do is raise the question about whether the Crown should have a right of appeal in some form or another.

"In a very difficult case, and a very important and tragic case like the World's End murders, it is not exactly comfortable for a single judge to make the decision on his own and a procedure which enabled some kind of appeal or reference to be made would be, in my view, a good thing."

Cross-party talks on far-reaching reform of Scotland's legal system are to take place in the wake of the World's End trial.

The changes, including the removal of double jeopardy and giving the Crown the right to appeal, could form part of a criminal justice Bill scheduled for late next year.

Ministers will also consult on allowing an accused person's previous convictions to be revealed to the jury during a trial.

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