Lib Dem Wallace accused of not trusting Scotland’s judges after delivering Supreme Court snub

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Scottish Lib Dem peer Lord Jim Wallace, has been accused of snubbing Scotland’s top judges after rejecting a call for Scots law to be given the same recognition as the law in England over which criminal cases can be heard by the UK Supreme Court.
 
The former Scottish Lib Dem leader has said he “remained to be persuaded” after an unprecedented plea from the Lord President, Lord Hamilton, for Scots law to be placed on an equal footing with its English counterpart.

By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Scottish Lib Dem peer Lord Jim Wallace, has been accused of snubbing Scotland’s top judges after rejecting a call for Scots law to be given the same recognition as the law in England over which criminal cases can be heard by the UK Supreme Court.
 
The former Scottish Lib Dem leader has said he “remained to be persuaded” after an unprecedented plea from the Lord President, Lord Hamilton, for Scots law to be placed on an equal footing with its English counterpart.

Lord Hamilton, who is Scotland’s most senior judge, has called for the Scotland Bill to be amended in order to address the anomaly.

He said: “I urge parliament to provide in the Scotland Bill an amendment to the Scotland Act 1998 so as to extend the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in Scottish criminal appeals and references to the remedying of infringements of the European Convention by the courts below as well as by the prosecutor.

“But to restrict those cases in which leave may be granted to appeal to the Supreme Court from the High Court of Justiciary to cases in which the High Court has certified that a point of law of general public importance is involved in the decision.”

Currently, English cases can only be referred to the London based Supreme Court on the authority of an English judge.  However Scottish judges have no such authority and cases can be sent to London despite Scottish judgements.

However Lord Wallace, who advises the UK coalition on matters of Scots law, has rejected Lord Hamilton’s plea saying: “I remain to be persuaded that it is necessary to require an appeal under the new appeals route to be certified by the High Court before it can be appealed to the Supreme Court.”

Lord Wallace’s decision brought a stinging rebuke from leading QC Paul McBride who called the Lib Dem peer’s response a “frankly disgraceful political decision” that he said effectively meant Britain had two classes of judges.

He said: “Basically, we have English judges who can be trusted and Scottish ones who can’t.”

He added: “We have a position whereby our Scottish courts who say ‘no’ can be overruled by judges in England, whereas if the English courts say ‘no’ they can’t be overruled by the Supreme Court in England.

“It is for these very reasons that support for the union is haemorrhaging.”

The anomaly hit the headlines last year when Nat Fraser had his conviction for murder quashed after his case was referred to the London court.

Last year First Minister Alex Salmond was embroiled in a bitter war of words with Supreme Court judge Lord Hope.  The First Minister had questioned the right of the court to overturn centuries of independent Scottish jurisprudence.

Speaking at the time Mr Salmond said: “It boils down to the potential replacement of Scottish law by Lord Hope’s law. I don’t think that’s a satisfactory situation.”

SNP MSP and Scotland Bill member Stewart Maxwell said Lord Wallace must listen to the views of the Lord President.
 
Mr Maxwell said
 
“Lord Hamilton is the head of the judiciary in Scotland.  He is Scotland’s most senior judge and as Lord Wallace is so keen on the law he should show far more respect to Lord Hamilton’s views.
 
“This is the first time the Lord President has had to use his powers to make this kind of recommendation to Westminster and its unprecedented nature adds real weight to his concerns.
 
“The Lord President is right, Scotland’s judges are perfectly able to consider whether issues should be sent to the Supreme Court and they should have the same opportunity as the English and Welsh High Court to do so.
 
“Why does Lord Wallace think Scotland’s justice system should be singularly discriminated against?  Snubbing the Lord President is a ridiculous move for Jim Wallace to make.
 
“Not only that, Lord Hamilton’s suggestions mirror those supported by the elected Scottish Parliament and by the Scotland Bill Committee.
 
“Scotland has always had a separate legal system but the UK Government must not be allowed to make it a second class legal system.
 
“For an unelected Lib Dem peer whose party and government has little support in Scotland to ignore the wishes of the Lord President, the Head of Scotland’s judiciary, would be a damning indictment of the Lib Dem / Tory Government’s attitude to Scotland’s legal system.”