MSP's case against 'not proven' does not bear scrutiny
WHAT is it about the Holyrood people that they have to take a swipe at lawyers whenever the whim takes them?
Recently, it was the turn of Michael McMahon MSP. He has decided to try to get himself noticed by abolishing the "not proven" verdict. Not sure how useful this will be but he's welcome to try, so far as I'm concerned.
In a press report, though, I noted that he has opened his campaign by accusing lawyers of wanting to retain the verdict because it gives them a reason to congratulate themselves if they get a client off on that result. Lawyers are not to be listened to on the matter, says McMahon, because "legal figures" are only serving their own interests in the "clever system".
This is gratuitous claptrap. So I tackled the bold Michael in an e-mail exchange. I invited him to confirm he is pleased to be associated with the remarks attributed to him. I asked him to justify his allegations, naming names.
He explained that he had heard of someone who was a victim of a crime overhearing the two opposing lawyers at the end of a trial, in which the not proven verdict had been given, lightheartedly agreeing to meet in the pub to talk about it. He wouldn't name the victim, though, pleading confidentiality.
I sensed a non sequitur here so I persisted. I am not looking for the victim's name, I said, but the lawyers'. He wouldn't tell me that either, saying that would disclose the case and hence indirectly his informant, too.
I don't see the connection between one selected instance and the generality of the vitriol he has actually employed in making his attack. I asked him to explain and fired a few more questions at him. But he declined to tell me whether he stands by the press quotations.
My guess is he does stand by them but doesn't want to admit what he knows is a prejudice. He declined to debate whether his sweeping generalised attacks upon the profession are justified on the basis of one innocuous overheard remark reported in hearsay. My guess is this is his only example and even that looks weak.
He declines to name names. He declines to say whether there are other "legal figures" involved who are different from the "lawyers" whom he won't name.
My guess is he hasn't a clue. He declines to tell me whether he sought to take the matter up with the lawyers concerned before going public. My guess is that no, he didn't, because a good story is much more useful than the dull truth.
Well, who cares about a trivial spat between an obscure MSP and an aggrieved solicitor?
Probably no-one, really. But if you do, note this: the "not proven" verdict may have its detractors and defenders, but, if it goes, it will be on the basis that justice is more properly served by its demise.
Justice is gained and observed on established proven evidence. In making free with malicious innuendo against the legal profession, McMahon is in flagrant breach of the very principles he thinks his bill will honour. This is not good enough and a shameful approach for an elected representative to take.
One last thing. McMahon's website tells us the one thing he would do to change Scotland for the better would be to allow people to live quietly in their homes and make the community that they live in a bit safer. Frightfully noble, but how on earth will abolishing "not proven" serve that purpose?
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