Alex Salmond launches scathing attack on top judge

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Alex Salmond has attacked Supreme Court judge Lord Hope for passing rulings with "extreme" consequences, such as "some of the vilest people on the planet getting lots of money out of the public purse".

In a wide-ranging diatribe likely to attract further criticism of senior Scottish Government ministers' choice of language in the on-going row, the First Minister taunted Lord Hope's knowledge of politics.

The First Minister claimed he fared badly next to the four members of his own expert group - including former solicitor general Lord McCluskey - looking at the future role of the Supreme Court in Scots law.

Mr Salmond also rounded on human rights lawyer Tony Kelly, who has represented prisoners in slopping out and right to vote cases, for believing "the judicial system is there to serve their interests". His comments came just days after justice secretary Kenny MacAskill accused the Supreme Court of "ambulance chasing".

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has attacked proposed amendments to the Scotland Bill by the Advocate General Lord Wallace, which it warns would further embed the role of the Supreme Court in Scots law.

The decision to grant compensation to prisoners for slopping out was not taken by the Supreme Court, although it did pave the way for Scottish sex offenders to demand pay-outs if placed on a register for life.

A Supreme Court ruling in the Peter Cadder case triggered the collapse of almost 900 cases and forced a change in Scots law so that suspects must have access to a lawyer before being questioned by police, but can be held for twice as long without charge.

The court then particularly angered Scottish ministers when it quashed the conviction of Nat Fraser, who was accused of murdering his wife Arlene and now faces a retrial.

Mr Salmond was furious after Lord Hope claimed he had misunderstood both the law and the facts.

The First Minister hit back in an interview with Holyrood magazine, saying: "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 judgments 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 wants human rights appeals to go the European Court in Strasbourg instead of the Supreme Court in London, and has asked Lord McCluskey, and fellow group members - Sir Gerald Gordon, Sheriff Charles Stoddart, and academic Neil Walker - to produce an interim report before the parliamentary recess early next month.

However, Lord Wallace, a former Scottish justice secretary, has produced his own amendments to the Scotland Bill, which looks at the role of the Lord Advocate, Scotland's most senior prosecutor.

Crucially, it puts into legislation the right to appeal actions of the Lord Advocate to the Supreme Court - a right which presently is an interpretation of the Scotland Act 1998, which the Scottish Government disputes and hopes to end.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "These proposals from the Advocate General mean that the role of the Supreme Court in Scottish criminal cases will be maintained and possibly even extended.

"This is unacceptable - we believe the final arbiter in Scottish criminal cases should be the Scottish courts. "We have now established an independent specialist group, made up of leading experts on Scots law and the constitution, to examine the current roles of the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh and the Supreme Court and we look forward to seeing their recommendations."

Last night, the First Minister's spokesman defended Mr Salmond's comments.

"I think he was just making the point that everybody, including government ministers, have the right to express their view on the unintended consequences of the encroachment of the UK Supreme Court on Scotland's Criminal Justice System.

"That is the underlying issue and it is of grave concern to many.

"What we have done is refer it to genuine expert group to come forward with potential remedies for the problem."

Last night, Lord Hope declined to comment.