Saturday, 1 September 2012

Legal Power? ( Wales must not copy Scotland draconian reforms).

There has been a savage criticism of  the Scottish Governments record on Law reform

 Alistair Bonnington, a solicitor advocate, said "huge damage" had been done since the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999.
In a wide-ranging attack, he hit out at the ending of double jeopardy - a centuries-old tradition which prevented a person being tried twice for the same crime - as well as accusing MSPs of conducting a "sustained campaign" to erode legal aid.
Mr Bonnington, a former honorary professor of law at Glasgow University, also said he feared two "gold standards" of Scots law would soon be lost - the need for evidence to be backed up with corroboration and the ban on juries being told about an accused person's previous convictions.
A review of the law by Lord Carloway has already recommended doing away with the requirement for corroboration - with this having being accepted by the Scottish Government.
Ministers are currently consulting on how best to implement Lord Carloway's recommendations.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Law Commission has called for both juries and judges to be told if an accused person has previous convictions - something ministers are now considering.
Mr Bonnington said: "Sadly it is not going too far to say that Holyrood has done more harm to Scots law than Westminster managed in more than 300 years."
He hit out at the "sustained campaign by MSPs to erode legal aid to the point where lawyers will refuse to represent the impecunious accused in criminal cases".
The lawyer added: "Few legal firms now do legal aid work because if they did they would go bankrupt."
He also claimed the "established traditions of Scots law have been abandoned to fit in with right-wing tabloid thinking".
Mr Bonnington argued Scotland now had "Soviet-style laws on double jeopardy", claiming the ban on trying someone for the same case twice had been ended in a bid to retry the World's End murder case after Angus Sinclair was cleared of killing Helen Scott and Christine Eadie in Edinburgh.
The lawyer went on: "These retrograde steps seem sure to be followed by the destruction of two of the gold standards of Scots criminal law: the need for corroboration of evidence and the prohibition against juries knowing prior convictions.
"Again, these are the kind of rules one expects to find in the third world."
He added: "Scots lawyers are having to defend Scots law against our own Parliament. It clearly is not safe in their hands."

Herald Scotland August 30th
It is disturbing that the Scottish Government  has carried out these "Reforms" which does not reflect well on the SNP as a progressive party. in particular his accusation that  "established traditions of Scots law have been abandoned to fit in with right-wing tabloid thinking".

One of the arguments  for a second chamber in legislatures is that they can provide checks against such seeming Draconian measures. 
Certainly it would probably be harder for such legislation to pass through the House of Lords with out a serious challenge . Though to be fair the Scottish Government went through had a pretty extensive committee stage.

Though I will maintain that Wales should have control over Legal affairs in the same manner as Scotland it is a sobering thought that we need to make sure that  if we were to take this responsibility , we must do so in the interest of justice and not to pander to the editor of the Western Mule and his ilk.

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