Craig Murray's eight-month prison sentence is vindictive and a sad day for Scottish justice - Kenny MacAskill
But it has and it’s a sad day for Scottish justice, something I’ve been involved in since embarking on my law degree 45 years ago. I still cherish our distinct legal system, even if this and some other recent events have challenged me.
There’s three grounds, again to paraphrase legalese, for my submission. Firstly, there’s, at minimum, a perception of a lack of prosecutorial impartiality. That’s essential to a justice system where everyone must be equal before the eyes of the law. Lady Dorrian – and any judge - can only deal with what and who is before her, and hence my ire and fire turns initially on the Crown Office who brought the case.
This is, after all, a fallout from the Alex Salmond trial. A case where there have been calls for a judge-led inquiry. It’s not the only issue that’s arisen from the Crown’s conduct or the Police, acting on their command, before, during or after the trial.
But all seem to have a common theme, that of being sympathetic to Salmond and critical of actions by Crown or government and its supporters. That’s simply untenable for a prosecuting authority and the departure of the former Lord Advocate hasn’t come a moment too soon.
Secondly, there’s the judge’s reasoning that Mr Murray and bloggers like him are to be treated differently from standard court reporting. Now I fully accept that those who train as journalists are schooled in the law, as well as prose. So I can see the basis of her logic and certainly random tweeters giving vent to their spleen confirm some of that.
Giving credence to professionalism’s one thing. But history’s littered with reporting that was from without established structures and yet either came within over time or was a vital outlet all the same. In 1819, Peter McLeod was transported to Botany Bay for sedition through his press publication. His heinous crime was seeking the universal franchise and working peoples rights.
Would Tom Johnston, as editor of the Labour Movement paper “Forward”, have been within her definition? Probably not, as it was closed down on occasion during World War One. But despite his lack of formal training, he was Secretary of State by World War Two and arguably the best Scotland has ever had. The world has changed with the internet and through Wikileaks. Yes, professionalism should be respected but lack of formal training or structures cannot alone condemn.
Finally, it drives a coach and horses through the Scottish Governments presumption against sentences of less than a year, something I know that is passionately supported by the Lord President. With a lifetime of public service, having neither assaulted nor robbed anyone, and posing no threat to public safety, Craig Murray’s sentence of eight months seems vindictive.