The six-year prison sentence imposed on Catherine Leahy for taking bribes in first Scottish jury corruption case is a warning to all.
No one in Scotland should have been in any doubt about the seriousness of sitting on a jury, given that it is a public duty, as Lord Turnbull quite rightly pointed out, that “forms a cornerstone of our freedom”.
But for those who had somehow failed to grasp this, the six-year sentence given to the first person ever to be convicted of jury corruption in Scotland is a salutary reminder. It should be noted this is a longer term of imprisonment than some sentences for culpable homicide.
The fact that Scotland’s most senior judge and the Lord Advocate were involved in the decision to bug the juror’s home to get evidence for a conviction is another indication of the level of determination to catch and punish those who succumb to temptation.
Catherine Leahy was paid nearly £3,000 “from or on behalf of the accused” in a case involving a number of people, most of whom were acquitted. There may be some sympathy for Leahy given her age – 62 – and her defence lawyer’s plea that she would find prison “very difficult”. These factors will doubtless have played on Lord Turnbull’s mind when he was considering the length of her sentence. Her “quite ridiculous” decision, in the judge’s view, to deny the charges despite “overwhelming proof” probably did not help. But this case is about much more than one woman’s dishonesty and greed.
The rule of law is a vital component of a healthy democracy. One only needs to look around the world at countries where justice has become corrupt to realise this; one of the worst examples, Mexico, has been described as a “narco-state” such is the power of its criminal gangs.
The legal system is also a key consideration for multinational companies looking to invest in a country as they want to know that they can expect fair dealing from the courts. One of the advantages that Scotland – and indeed the UK as a whole – has in this global market is its long-standing reputation for the adherence to the rule of law.
Scotland is happily far away from Mexico’s lamentable situation, but when Catherine Leahy decided to take money to subvert justice, she moved it just a little bit closer.
By taking the offence so seriously and imposing such a tough sentence upon her, the courts have showed their determination to ensure Scottish justice is true justice. And we should all be grateful for that.