As a defence agent and then as Justice Secretary, I always respected the Crown, recognising they acted not as some zealous state prosecutor but in the wider public interest. Not for them the actions of some zealous American district attorney seeking re-election and intent on obtaining a conviction by fair means or foul.
Instead, whilst pursuing vigorously, they never forgot the rights of the accused. Indeed, as a young agent I remember a few occasions when cases were instantaneously dropped when information came to light. I even recall overhearing the shouting in the witness room as a police officer, who let’s say had embellished evidence, was suitably taken to task.
That’s why the admission by the Crown of a malicious prosecution in the case involving Rangers’ administrators is quite extraordinary, and deserving to be a front not back page story. I’ve worked with past Lord Advocates, Eilish Angeolini and Frank Mulholland, and hold them in the highest regard. Both had been career Procurator Fiscals and reared in that culture I’ve described. I don’t for an instant believe that any such conduct would have been instigated by them or even an investigation conducted without some reasonable cause for suspicion.
So, what happened, when and by whom in this case? Where’s the explanation or inquiry, the resignations or dismissals, even the statement to Parliament? I’ve been present when narrations were given by Lord Advocates for example in the World’s End case debacle. But here there’s little other than a brief reference in court.
Yet, it’s costing a fortune to settle it. But the price to be paid could be far higher than that. This isn’t some minor indiscretion that can just be brushed aside, as it goes to the very integrity of the prosecution service. There needs to be an assurance that it’s a one-off not a change in ethos and culture.
The Crown Office has latterly failed to cover itself in glory. The Alex Salmond case and continued prosecutions in its wake raise concerns but this is fundamental and even more concerning.