Lord Steel quits standards role over Supreme Court row

Lord Steel
Image caption Lord Steel has quit the advisory role he has held since 2008

Veteran politician Lord Steel has quit as an advisor on Scottish ministerial standards, while attacking the SNP's criticism of the UK Supreme Court.

The former Holyrood presiding officer and Liberal Party leader said he was "appalled" at comments made by First Minister Alex Salmond on the issue.

Scottish ministers have said the Supreme Court has interfered with Scotland's independent legal system.

Lord Steel was appointed to the role in 2008, along with George Reid.

Responding to the comments, a government spokesman thanked Lord Steel for his service - pointing out that he had dismissed all three of the complaints he had considered in his advisory role.

At the weekend, Mr Salmond announced former lord advocates Lord Fraser and Dame Elish Angiolini had agreed to serve as independent advisers to the Scottish government's ministerial code, after Lord Steel and Mr Reid, a former SNP politician and Holyrood presiding officer, decided to give up their posts.

Scottish ministers have been raising serious concern over several high-profile legal decisions, in which appeals in Scots criminal cases have been heard by the Supreme Court, on human rights grounds.

Mr Salmond says the situation is undermining the independence of the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, and recently launched an attack on Scottish Supreme Court judge, Lord Hope, saying the political consequences of his judgements were "extreme".

Ministerial code

Lord Steel, who left his advisory position several weeks ago but has now spoken out, said: "The reason I relinquished the role was that I was appalled by the language being used by Alex Salmond, (Justice Secretary) Kenny MacAskill and an authorised spokesman towards the judiciary on the Supreme Court and the Secretary of State.

"I told Alex that I hoped this was not the way they were going to continue now that they had an overall majority, because if so I expected a growing number of complaints against ministers.

"Whether my letter had any effect I do not know - he sent me a polite and effusive letter of thanks for my services, but I am glad to observe that there has been no repetition of attacking the messengers instead of arguing the message."

The Scottish government set up the system of independent advisers in 2008, to allow the first minister to refer complaints made under the ministerial code for independent advice.

A spokesman for the government said: "The first minister is extremely grateful to Lord Steel for his service as an independent adviser to the ministerial code for three years - we are the only administration in the UK to have such a system, introduced by this administration in 2008 - and we wish him extremely well for the future.

"Of the three complaints considered by the independent advisers, all three were dismissed."

The spokesman added: "We are delighted to welcome Dame Elish Angiolini and Lord Peter Fraser as new independent advisers, ensuring the continuation of the robust and transparent procedures that we have within Scotland's system of government."

The government's announcement at the weekend stated that Mr Reid was stepping down after having been appointed as Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant for Clackmannanshire.

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