Leaders: MacAskill must not play loose with law

KENNY MacAskill is clearly a man who knows what he wants. As justice secretary in the SNP cabinet, he has been resolute in his determination that Scots law requires fundamental reform, and that this must include ditching the centuries-old requirement for corroboration in securing a criminal conviction.
Kenny MacAskill has been championing a report prepared by Lord Carloway. Picture: Greg MacveanKenny MacAskill has been championing a report prepared by Lord Carloway. Picture: Greg Macvean
Kenny MacAskill has been championing a report prepared by Lord Carloway. Picture: Greg Macvean

Mr MacAskill has been championing a report prepared by Lord Carloway, one the best legal minds in Scotland, which aims to make criminal justice in Scotland compatible with European human rights legislation. But support from other senior judges, or in fact from any significant section of the Scottish legal establishment, has been hard to find. If Mr MacAskill wants these reforms, he will have to face down the people he will be relying upon to make them work.

Yesterday, Mr MacAskill made what he no doubt intended as a conciliatory contribution to a hearing of the Holyrood justice committee. He said he was willing to take into account some of the many criticisms of his plans from those who were concerned about the increased likelihood of wrongful convictions. And he revealed that a Dutch legal model may well be the way forward for Scotland.

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But on the core issue of corroboration itself, the minister was not for turning. Any changes to the Carloway proposals would only be considered once Holyrood had accepted the basic premise of the reform bill. There would be no turning back on the most contentious issue of them all.

Mr MacAskill, a politician not known for vacillation, is playing hard ball. But is he justified in doing so? Is he right and the massed ranks of the Scottish criminal justice system, with only a few exceptions, wrong?

Yesterday, there were renewed opposition calls for a Royal Commission or Scottish Law Commission inquiry into this matter. This would appear to have some merit. The heat needs to be taken out of this debate, and decisions made in a more sober and considered fashion. Corroboration has lasted for centuries. Its replacement must be devised with a view to longevity, and not be hurried through to suit any short-term political agenda.

It seems curious, to say the least, to have a cabinet secretary demanding that a major reform is accepted before the safeguards necessary to make it work in the interests of justice are not yet in place. Surely a new system has to be looked at as a whole, and not formulated in this piecemeal fashion?

A rounded look at this issue would have to take into account the views expressed by Lord McCluskey, a former solicitor general and high court judge, which we report today.

His lack of faith in the reliability of police evidence rings a warning bell about any moves to diminish the legal protection afforded to the accused in the Scottish courts.

If we are to have a remodelled criminal justice system, let us ensure it is fit for purpose.

Unacceptable price of renewables sector

IT SOMETIMES seems as if every aspect of our lives is subject to environmental regulations of one kind or another. Empty wine bottles must be left out on the pavement in the appropriate receptacle. Every object you purchase comes with instructions on how it can be recycled after use. And in the workplace, one is presented with a range of waste bins whose uses must be deciphered before one can dispose of one’s lunchtime sandwich wrapper.

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But it seems there are some exceptions to the rule that everything needs to be capable of being recycled. And, somewhat bizarrely, these exceptions include the most visible symbol of the green revolution – the wind turbine.

As we report today, rotor blades on hundreds of wind turbines scattered around the Scottish countryside may have to be buried in the ground after use because they are made of a complex amalgam of materials that would be difficult to recycle down to its component ingredients.

Of course, this is an industry in its infancy, and in the race to develop world-leading technology sometimes corners are cut in order to bring a product to market. But this is almost beyond parody. It is the industrial equivalent of the speeding traffic cop, the drunk GP or the teacher who cannot spell. It is, in short, unacceptable.

Environmental constraints and recycling regimes may often feel like a pain, but most of us accept them as a necessary irritant and the price of a more sustainable way of life. We are entitled, however, to expect the sustainables industry to be on the side of the angels, and not a risible demonstration of worst possible practice.