How deeply ironic and disgraceful that a Scottish nationalist blogger needs to appeal to a court in the British capital to delay being put behind bars! Judges at the High Court in Edinburgh today refused leave to appeal the contempt of court finding made against Craig Murray. Thankfully, the UK Supreme Court still allows people to appeal directly to it in these circumstances. Consequently, Lady Dorrian and her colleagues agreed to continue Mr Murray’s bail for a further month for him to make such an application. “We understand that it is the applicant’s intention to seek to apply for leave directly to the UKSC,” she stated in her written decision. “In the circumstances we will suspend the warrant for a further four weeks.” If Mr Murray and his legal team fail in that short timeframe to secure what they need, the former ambassador will be going to jail for eight months for blogs he posted about the Alex Salmond trial.
In Sturgeon’s Scotland we must all be grateful for small mercies. Mr Murray is a 62-year-old father of two young boys (one of them a three-month-old baby) and suffers from severe health conditions. In an emotional open letter to the High Court judge presiding over the case, his wife Nadira said sending him to prison would be a “deliberate death sentence”. So it will be a blessed relief to her that his incarceration has been put off to allow him and his legal team leave to apply direct to the Supreme Court to hear an appeal. Basically, the blogger has been granted a further four weeks’ suspension of the warrant for his imprisonment.
When the defence advocate Roddy Dunlop QC first signalled that they wanted to go down this legal route, he was told that any appeal would need to be to the nobile officium, an ad hoc court unique to Scotland which only ever comes into play where no other appeal route could be taken. Mr Dunlop considered such an action completely pointless. In the words of a contributor to his client’s much followed site, “Murray’s legal team effectively decided to break for the border and get the case out of corrupt Edinburgh.”
Lady Dorrian has only granted interim liberation so that the rebel blogger can take his case to the Supreme Court. As I understand it, that forum does not itself have power to grant liberation. Still, at least we have a higher judiciary to which an appeal can be brought.
The entire process over which the Lord Justice Clerk has presided in the case of HMA v Craig Murray has been unbelievably winding and torturous. Lady Dorrian allowed an eight week passage of time post trial before passing judgement, followed by another six weeks before sentencing (just after the outcome of the Holyrood election by total coincidence). The sentence she eventually delivered was widely regarded as disproportionate for the vague offence of “jigsaw identification” of some of Mr Salmond’s accusers. A crime that by its very nature could not possibly have been committed by only one publication (see my post titled Completing the Craig Murray Jigsaw).
The responsibility for the instigation of this whole sorry saga lies not with any High Court judge but with Scotland’s state prosecutors. They are headed up by the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, who is also the Scottish Government’s chief legal adviser and a member of its Cabinet. Given that the Crown Office under his command had to issue another public apology yesterday for undertaking malicious prosecutions – this time to Rangers chief executive Charles Green and finance chief Imran Ahmad – little wonder Mr Wolffe has signalled that he will be exiting office soon.
Today also saw Kenny MacAskill, Alba MP for East Lothian, tabling the following, much-needed, motion in the House of Commons:
That this House believes that the dual role of the Lord Advocate in Scotland, whereby they are both senior government legal adviser and head of the prosecution service, is entirely inconsistent with the needs of a modern democracy; and therefore call on the Government to engage with the Scottish Government as a matter of urgency to allow the relevant changes to be made to the Scotland Act 1998 and ensure that a formal separation of powers is provided.
Hear! Hear! I commend this motion to the House. Once again, though, isn’t it disgraceful that there isn’t a clamour for such a change coming from Holyrood? Och sure, the opposition has quietly called for the aforementioned roles to be split in future to prevent serious conflicts of interest arising. But this polite request hasn’t been supported by a single SNP MSP.
In 2015 the British civil liberties pressure group Liberty announced that it would be putting Scotland more closely under its microscope. Its then director Shami Chakrabarti (now a Labour peer) told an audience of lawyers in Edinburgh that there had been many pleas from its members in Scotland for it to scrutinise the Scottish Parliament over decisions affecting human rights here. “We do intend to be more vigilant and active in Scotland,” she declared – before posing for a publicity photo with the First Minister.
Less than a year in office at that point, Nicola Sturgeon had still to reveal her dark side: she was probably only beginning to figure out at that stage how to replace rule of law with rule by law. She’s now close to doing that to a chilling degree many of us would never have imagined possible in our darkest nightmares. And there doesn’t appear to be anyone at Holyrood, or sadly in the mainstream media, determined to stop her. The only real dissent is to be found in the blogosphere. But many Scottish bloggers now touch their keyboards with trembling fingers. They know that so long as the Murrells remain in Bute House, Craig Murray may not be alone in looking to London for liberation.
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