ONE of the country’s top lawyers has accused a Scottish Government minister of “arrogance” after the two entered into a bitter slanging match on Twitter over changes to the legal system.
Brian McConnachie QC made the outspoken remarks to MSP Roseanna Cunningham after the government was accused by another leading lawyer of ruining 300 years of Scots law.
On Thursday, lawyer Alistair Bonnington accused Holyrood of doing more damage to the legal system since devolution than Westminster had since the Act of Union in 1707.
Angered at controversial plans to change long-standing rules on corroboration and double jeopardy, solicitor-advocate Mr Bonnington, a former honorary law professor at Glasgow University, said “huge damage” had been done by ministers.
Yesterday, Mr McConnachie – the country’s second highest-earning QC last year – entered the row with an attack on Ms Cunningham.
The MSP, herself a former advocate, sparked the exchange by questioning why Mr Bonnington had made such a small contribution to the debate prior to a newspaper article he wrote this week that said Scotland now had a “third-world” legal system.
She tweeted: “I presume Alistair Bonnington submitted to the various consultations & responded to Cttee [committee] calls for evidence. Yes?”
Mr McConnachie replied: “I gave evidence with three others at Cttee. Three to one against abolition of corroboration. Result?”
When Ms Cunningham questioned the QC’s recollection of his appearance at the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee, he tweeted back: “Rarely have I come across such misplaced arrogance. Try looking it up on the web and watching it or ask the convener.”
Mr McConnachie earned £286,500 in fees last year and is one of the country’s leading defence lawyers.
Ms Cunningham has been an MSP since the birth of the Scottish Parliament after serving Perth and Kinross as an MP.
She has held a number of local and national offices in the SNP, including deputy leader from 2000-2004. She won Parliamentarian of the Year in 2000.
After being accused of arrogance, she tweeted back: “Please don’t insult me.”
In response, Mr McConnachie wrote: “I’m sorry. Did I call you a liar? Oh no that was you.”
Mr Bonnington had hit out at the ending of double jeopardy – a centuries-old law that prevented a person being tried twice for the same crime – and accused MSPs of conducting a “sustained campaign” to erode legal aid.
He wrote: “From the Union of 1707 until the present day, Scots law has managed to continue to exist, and sometimes even thrive, as an independent legal system within the UK.
“It is one of the main things which has made Scotland different. Indeed, without Scots law, the claim to have distinct nation status would be absurd.”
He continued: “It is a paradox and a tragedy that since 1999 huge damage has been done to it by the Scottish Parliament.
He also claimed the “established traditions of Scots law have been abandoned to fit in with right-wing tabloid thinking”, adding that recent legislation was “embarrassing” and looked as if it had been written by a “primary school child”.
A review of the law by Lord Carloway has already recommended doing away with the requirement for corroboration, which has been accepted by the Scottish Government.