Alex Salmond 'guilty of getting Supreme Court facts wrong'

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ALEX Salmond has been accused of making "overblown" comments in the row over the UK Supreme Court's controversial decision to over-rule a verdict by Scotland's highest court.

Legal and human rights experts attacked the First Minister's criticism of the Supreme Court's actions after he claimed it had "no role" in Scotland's legal system and said it was "totally unsatisfactory" for English-based judges to rule on Scots law.

Mr Salmond's comments came after the Supreme Court ruled on the Nat Fraser case on Wednesday, overturning his conviction.

Fraser is due to return to Scotland's High Court today where the Crown will press for fresh proceedings against him, after the court in London ruled that his original trial for the murder of his wife Arlene Fraser - who disappeared from her home in Moray - had been unfair.

Tony Kelly, a leading human rights lawyer, said Mr Salmond's objections to the quashing of Fraser's guilty verdict were because the decision had come from London rather than on any "sound legal basis".

The objections were also dismissed by other experts, with Clare Connelly, a solicitor and lecturer at Glasgow University, saying the court had a "well established role" in ruling on human rights cases.

The row over the Fraser ruling deepened after former solicitor general and lord advocate Lord Fraser said First Minister Alex Salmond has been "spot-on" in his criticism of the court, while leading QC Paul McBride agreed the role of the court would have to be "constantly reviewed".

But Mr Kelly, a Lanarkshire-based lawyer, claimed that none of the critics had been able to find fault with the verdict or process, with Mr Salmond even saying "I have no comment on the specifics of the case."

Mr Kelly said: "I don't understand the complaint about the Supreme Court exercising its judgment. As I understand it, no-one is complaining about the way the court went about this or the actual outcome.

"The complaint seems to be about the fact that the decision came from a court in London and I'm not sure that's a sound legal basis for criticism."

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court issued a statement yesterday saying that it had jurisdiction for a "final right of appeal" over human rights issues in Scotland. A court spokesman said: "Judicial control for dealing with cases arising from alleged breaches of such obligations was given to Scottish judges, with a final right of appeal to the London-based Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, subject to it agreeing to hear the case.

"In 2009 this jurisdiction was transferred to the new Supreme Court, but there was no change to the basic framework."

James Chalmers, a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh's school of law, said that the Supreme Court's decision was not a challenge to Scottish law and the country's legal system.

"The claims that Alex Salmond is making are a bit overblown, as this is simply the Supreme Court disagreeing with Scotland's High Court.

"It was more of a point over the procedure of a fair trial rather than any disagreement on principal," he said.

"Also a Scottish court gets to decide what happens next and where the case goes from here."

However, Aberdeen University law professor Peter Duff said Mr Salmond was not trying to "stir up confrontation" over the issue.

Prof Duff sits on a Scottish Government-appointed review panel of experts set up in the wake of the controversial Cadder judgment, on the rights of suspects to legal representation.

He said: "There has been a concern among the legal fraternity that some of the independence of the Scottish judicial system has been lost.

"Alex Salmond is making a point that many legal professionals would agree with and I don't think he's trying to stir up confrontation. There is an issue there."

Ms Connelly said: "The Sup-reme Court now has a well- established role in dealing with appeals relating to human rights. It's nothing new and is a well- established principle.

"The question of whether criminal appeals should be leaving Scotland is perhaps something that requires debate.

"It's not a decision that should be made on the basis of one case."

Lord Fraser warned of a "drift towards the loss of that distinctive identity of Scots Law".

He said: "There is a perfectly adequate system within Scotland for criminal justice appeals to be taken in Edinburgh."