Scotland politics

Supreme Court system for Scottish cases 'flawed'

Court logo
Image caption The row about the Supreme Court's role in Scottish criminal cases erupted in May in the case of Nat Fraser

Experts reviewing the relationship between the High Court of Justiciary and the UK Supreme Court in criminal cases have called for change.

Lord McCluskey's review group claimed Scotland faced more intrusive jurisdiction from the Supreme Court than the rest of the UK.

The report said the system was "flawed" and called for coherence across the UK.

The first minister set up the group over concern about the Supreme Court's involvement in Scottish criminal cases.

Scottish government ministers previously said the Scottish legal system should have direct access to the European court in Strasbourg - ending the jurisdiction of the UK Supreme Court on Scottish criminal cases.

However, the McCluskey Group backed the UK Supreme Court's jurisdiction to rule on human rights in Scottish criminal cases - but only if the High Court in Scotland granted convicts permission to appeal.

Currently in Scotland, an appeal can be made to the UK Supreme Court for criminal cases relating to human rights law.

In the rest of the UK, an appeal to the Supreme Court is only possible with the leave of the Court of Appeal - and only when a point about general public importance is at stake.

'Equal footing'

The McCluskey report recommended a new provision, with proposed amendments to the Scotland Bill, which would place the High Court of Justiciary "on an equal footing with its counterparts elsewhere in the UK, by enabling the Supreme Court to grant permission to appeal only if the High Court of Justiciary has granted a certificate that the case raises a point of general public importance".

It also said it should be made clear that "the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court should be exercised in such a way that it identifies clearly the law that the criminal courts have to apply, but that the application of the law to the case in which the issue is being litigated should be remitted to the High Court of Justiciary".

It claimed this would help preserve the traditional role of the High Court of Justiciary under current constitutional arrangements by ensuring "the Supreme Court, in dealing with its human rights jurisdiction in criminal cases, would concentrate on identifying and articulating clearly the relevant law contained in the Human Rights Act and would not proceed to decide the case as if it were the High Court of Justiciary".

First Minister Alex Salmond welcomed the review group's first report, which has been published in order to help inform the Scottish Parliament debate taking place on Thursday.

He said: "There is now a consensus that the UK Supreme Court plays a much broader role in Scottish criminal law than had been envisaged when the Scotland Act was passed, and that it is more intrusive within Scots Law than is the case for the other jurisdictions within the UK - with serious implications for the certainty and integrity of our distinct legal system.

"We now have the interim analysis and conclusions of the McCluskey Group, and I particularly welcome its recommendations for amendments to the Scotland Bill to limit the role of the UK Supreme Court by placing referrals from Scotland's highest court of criminal appeal - the High Court of Justiciary - on the same footing as is the case for the justice system south of the border.

"It also makes positive suggestions for the UK Supreme Court to operate clearly and consistently as a court of interpretation of human rights law, and not 'as if it were the High Court of Justiciary'."

He added that the recommendations should be "capable of attracting support and consensus across parliament, and among the wider legal and other important interests involved".

Nat Fraser

It is expected the group will publish a final report by autumn - before amendments are made to the Scotland Bill.

A spokesman for the Advocate General - the UK government's senior Scottish legal adviser - said any change in the rights of Scots to appeal directly to the Supreme Court in London would require legislation in Westminster.

He said amendments could be made to the Scotland Bill, which has just been sent to the Lords from the House of Commons, but pointed out that Lord McCluskey's full report was not due to be published until later in the year.

The spokesman said: "Ministers will consider the McCluskey Report and debates later in the week in Holyrood.

"They will do this along with consideration of the UK government's expert qroup and consultations on this issue before coming to a final view."

The row about the Supreme Court's role in Scottish criminal cases erupted in May in the case of Nat Fraser.

Five justices in the court in London said Mr Fraser's conviction for the 1998 murder of his wife, Arlene, should be quashed.

Fraser, 52, from Elgin, now faces a retrial.

The court had previously cast doubt on a large number of criminal convictions in Scotland in a ruling which came to be known as the Cadder judgement.

This concerned the rights of a suspect to legal representation during questioning by police.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites