As the issue was debated in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government today took moves to strengthen the Scotland Bill and protect the independence of the Scots legal system.
Following the publication of an independent Review Group’s final report on the role of the Supreme Court in the Scottish criminal justice system last month, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the Scotland Bill represented an opportunity to put the High Court of Justiciary on equal footing with courts south of the border.
Mr MacAskill said:
“For centuries our High Court of Justiciary has held its rightful position at the apex of Scotland’s legal system and I want to ensure that is restored.
“Last month I welcomed the views of the independent Review Group, chaired by Lord McCluskey, and its conclusion that the UK Supreme Court has become too intrusive into Scots criminal law. I accept the Group’s recommendations to address this anomaly and uphold the historical independence of the Scottish legal system and I have today published draft provisions for the Scotland Bill to that effect.
“I agree with the Review Group that the current Scotland Bill proposals on this issue are “constitutionally inept and seriously flawed”, in fact they further entrench the problem. The Scotland Bill is an opportunity to right a wrong – implementing a certification procedure granted by the High Court for criminal cases and limiting the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to rule solely on the interpretation of Convention rights.
“Our High Court, like its equivalents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is best placed to decide where there is a case of general public importance that requires the granting of a certificate. Indeed, I note that the Lord President himself has now written to the Scotland Bill Committee indicating that Scotland’s senior judges support the McCluskey recommendations, particularly on the point of certification and comparability with other UK jurisdictions. This independent endorsement of our position is very welcome.
“I now call upon the UK Government to work with us to deliver a solution through the Scotland Bill that preserves the integrity of Scots criminal law.”
In June the First Minister asked a Review Group, chaired by Lord McCluskey, to examine the relationship between the High Court of Justiciary and the UK Supreme Court, with a view to identifying areas of concern and to advise on ways in which the mechanisms might be altered.
The group’s final report was published in September and found that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court should go no further than is necessary to ensure that Convention rights may be applied consistently by courts throughout the United Kingdom. The Review Group operated within the limitations of the current constitutional settlement.