One of Scotland’s top judges has been appointed to a flagship role as the country’s new `surveillance tsar’ in the aftermath of a controversial police spying row.
Lord Bracadale, who presided over the trials of Nat Fraser and Tommy Sheridan, is now being urged to “vigorously protect” the interests of the public and journalists after being made Surveillance Commissioner in Scotland.
Units within Police Scotland played fast and loose with the rules. This cannot be allowed to happen againLiam McArthur
It comes after police were found to have spied on one of their own officers in an effort to uncover the source of media leaks.
The appointment of such a senior figure has been welcomed by opposition parties after more than a year of delay in filling the role.
Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said: “The fact that a commissioner is now in place will mean nothing unless he vigorously protects the interests of journalists and others who have had their communications data intercepted unlawfully.
“Units within Police Scotland played fast and loose with the rules to identify journalistic sources and in many respects seem to have ignored them altogether.
“This cannot be allowed to happen again. A free press is vital to our democracy.”
It emerged last year that Police Scotland had contravened the Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data Code of Practice.
Police Scotland’s Counter Corruption Unit was found to have breached its requirement to seek judicial approval in trying to establish if serving and former officers had leaked information to a newspaper about the original investigation into the murder of sex worker Emma Caldwell.
An independent inquiry is now likely to be carried out by an external force after a day of legal arguments before the three-strong Investigatory Powers tribunal in Edinburgh last week.
The annual report of the UK’s Office of the Surveillance Commissioners for 2015-16, published earlier this month, raised concerns.
It said: “We are concerned that one police force in the United Kingdom finds itself in a different position to its counterparts across the border.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Surveillance Commissioners are people who have held high judicial office which provides strong assurance of independence and integrity in carrying out their functions.
“The Interception of Communications Commissioner has commented on the robust and rigorous steps Police Scotland has now taken to ensure processes for all communications data applications are fully compliant with the Code of Practice and all legislative requirements.”