Senior judges in unprecedented opposition to Advocate General

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by a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has welcomed support from the country’s most senior judges backing proposals for the High Court in Scotland to be given parity with its UK counterparts.  The proposal would mean that in future, appeals in criminal cases may only to go the new UK supreme court when the High Court of Scotland has granted leave to appeal.  The measure would bring Scots law into line with law in England and Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Lord President, Lord Hamilton, has written to the Scotland Bill Committee on behalf of the judges of the Court of Session commending the final report from Lord McCluskey’s Review Group, and “in particular” the proposal to bring the Scottish legal system in line with its English and Northern Ireland counterparts by requiring leave to appeal to the UK  Supreme Court.

The unprecedented move by Scotland’s senior judges will put pressure on the Westminster Coalition’s advocate general for Scotland to revise his opposition to the proposal.  Former Lib Dem MP Jim Wallace, who now sits in the House of Lords as Lord Wallace of Tankerness, made clear his opposition, citing the fact that a number of submissions to the McCluskey review opposed giving Scots law the same power currently enjoyed by the legal system in other parts of the UK.  

In an interview with the BBC in September, he said:  “When it comes to the proposal to allow appeals to the Supreme Court, only where the High Court has granted a certificate, I am conscious that a number of responses to the consultation I held earlier in the year, and indeed responses to Lord McCluskey’s group consultation, took a contrary view.”

Joan McAlpine, SNP MSP for South Scotland and member of the Scotland Bill Committee, said Mr Wallace was looking increasingly isolated following the senior judges’ intervention.

She said:

“These senior judges have recognised the need for certification in the Scottish legal system as a precondition for a criminal case to be taken to the Supreme Court.

“It is highly unusual for the country’s most senior judges to become involved in a political row and is a measure of how strongly they feel that Scottish justice cannot continue to be undermined in this way.

“Lord Wallace is looking increasingly isolated.  With support from Lord McCluskey’s review group and backing from Lord Hamilton and his colleagues, he must seriously ask himself whether he really thinks he knows better, and why.

“It is time the Scotland Bill was amended to protect Scots law.”