Scots legal group to review Supreme Court rulings

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Supreme Court sign
Image caption,
The UK's Supreme Court came into being in October 2009

A group of legal experts is to be appointed by the Scottish Cabinet to look at the implications of UK Supreme Court rulings on criminal cases.

Membership of the group has not been confirmed, but they will bring forward "concrete" proposals for debate.

The move comes after a Supreme Court ruling last week that Nat Fraser's conviction for murdering his estranged wife Arlene was unsafe.

Ministers said an independent Scottish legal system must be defended.

First Minister Alex Salmond, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini have all voiced concerns about the role of the court in Scottish affairs.

The court has also sparked controversy for a ruling, known as the Cadder judgment, on the rights of suspects to legal representation in Scotland.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said: "Cabinet agreed to set up an expert group with a view to bringing forward concrete proposals in the coming weeks for parliamentary debate."

Constitutional fight

Mr Salmond said Scotland should be like other European countries and deal directly with Strasbourg.

Speaking on BBC Newsnight Scotland, Mr Salmond said: "The big difference between the Strasbourg Court and what the Supreme Court is doing, is Strasbourg can't strike down convictions.

"The Strasbourg Court doesn't open cell doors and allow people to walk free.

"And it certainly doesn't do it without a proper examination of the degree of protections, checks and balances within the Scottish judicial system."

Newly-appointed Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland attended the meeting of Cabinet to discuss the issue.

But Tory justice spokesman John Lamont warned against using cases such as Fraser to pick constitutional fights.

He said: "This rare appeal is based on the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights into Scots Law, a convention of which Alex Salmond and the SNP are enthusiastic supporters.

"Alex Salmond needs to explain why he would rather such appeals were sent to a European court in Strasbourg instead of being heard here in the UK.

"How pathetic of the first minister to try to turn every issue into a constitutional crisis and how typical of Alex Salmond to ignore the fact that the case was heard by two Scottish judges."

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie said Mr Salmond should stop "fretting" about the location of the court.

He added: "Alex Salmond should invest more time and effort in addressing the reasons for these successful, if rare, appeals.

"The voters didn't give him a mandate to pick a fight with London at every opportunity. The UK Supreme Court is a relatively swift process with a good representation of senior Scottish judges - that's not something to dismiss lightly."

For Scottish criminal cases, the court can be used only when the case relates to "devolution matters", a term covering the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament in dealing with human rights issues.

A group has already considered the role of the court in Scottish matters.

The body included Paul McBride QC and another former Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd.

It concluded that the Supreme Court should be maintained to "ensure that fundamental rights" are secured for everyone in the UK.

The group said the existing "devolution minute" process should no longer apply and that jurisdiction should be clearly limited to ensuring compliance with the international obligations of the UK.

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