Solicitor takes advice over Salmond legal attack

Alex Salmond
Image caption Alex Salmond has raised concern over the role of the Supreme Court in Scots law

A prominent solicitor has said he is taking legal advice over comments made by Alex Salmond attacking Scottish legal figures.

The first minister accused Lord Hope, deputy president of the UK Supreme Court, of "extreme" decisions.

And he said solicitor Tony Kelly was making "an incredibly comfortable living" from representing the human rights of prisoners.

Mr Kelly said he was taking legal advice "with regret".

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said the interview in Holyrood Magazine was conducted a fortnight ago.

He said: "When the interview was conducted some two weeks ago, there was a lot of heated debate, from different standpoints, on what is a crucial issue in terms of ensuring the integrity of Scotland's criminal justice system.

"Things have moved on since, and the opportunity now is to bring light and clarity to these issues via the independent expert group that the government has established."

"In all circumstances, ensuring the integrity and certainty of Scots Law is the paramount issue."

The publication of the article follows an on-going row over the role of the Supreme Court in criminal cases north of the border, which the Scottish government says is undermining the independence of the Scots legal system.

The court has the ability to rule on cases where Scots law conflicts with human rights legislation.

Attacking Lord Hope, a Scottish judge who sits on the Supreme Court, Mr Salmond told the magazine: "All I would say to Lord Hope is that I probably know a wee bit about the legal system and he probably knows a wee bit about politics.

"But politics and the law intertwine, and the political consequences of Lord Hope's judgements are extreme and when the citizens of Scotland understandably vent their fury about the prospect of some of the vilest people on the planet getting lots of money off the public purse, they don't go chapping at Lord Hope's door, they ask their parliament what they are doing about it."

Mr Salmond also singled out Professor Kelly, a well-known human rights lawyer and visiting law professor.

He said: "There is not a single person, outwith Professor Kelly, who was the instigator of many of the actions, that believes that the judicial system is there to serve their interests and to make sure they can make an incredibly comfortable living by trailing around the prison cells and other establishments of Scotland trying to find what might be construed as a breach of human rights of an unlimited liability back to 1999, and that is what we were faced with."

Prof Kelly has responded to the criticism by saying that "with regret" he has had to take legal advice on the matter.

Human rights breaches

In a statement he said: "Human rights for those imprisoned are not popular.

"They tell us some things that we do not like to hear. The courts have repeatedly told the government that it has breached human rights.

"It is a matter of regret that the first minister appears to lay blame at the door of the law, the judges, the courts and, now, finally, the lawyers for taking them forward."

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie hit out at Mr Salmond, saying the first minister now had to do some "serious damage control" following his remarks.

"Alex Salmond is making himself look a fool with these deeply personal and blistering attacks on one of Scotland's most senior judges," said Mr Rennie

"Scotland does not want a first minister who uses such tawdry and childish language, leaving Scotland looking blinkered and insular."

Labour justice spokeswoman Johann Lamont said: "Of course there are issues to be resolved over the role of the UK Supreme Court, but they are not as contentious as Alex Salmond is trying to make out.

"It can be done through mature diplomacy, negotiation and proper debate."

Conviction quashed

Tory leader Annabel Goldie added: "Alex Salmond has ignored the key issues and chosen to be subsumed by rhetorical bile.

"He has also ignored that the SNP are enthusiastic advocates of the European Court of Human Rights and its incorporation into Scots law."

The Scottish government has appointed a group of legal experts to look into the Supreme Court issue after a ruling in the case of Nat Fraser, who was jailed for life in 2003 after being convicted of murdering his wife, Arlene, in Elgin.

Having exhausted the appeal process at home, the 52-year-old won an appeal in the Supreme Court to have his conviction quashed.

The judges remitted the case to the Scottish Court of Criminal Appeal. Last week the Crown said it accepted the quashing of the conviction but was seeking a retrial, a move which is opposed by the defence.

The UK government's senior legal adviser in Scotland, Advocate General Lord Wallace, has defended the role of the UK Supreme Court in Scots law.

He said people across the UK must have their human rights protected at the same level.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said the article "speaks for itself" and that he had "nothing to add".

More on this story