Alex Salmond inquiry: Advocates warn over 'irreparable harm' to justice system

The Faculty of Advocates says it has concerns over how the debate is playing outThe Faculty of Advocates says it has concerns over how the debate is playing out
The Faculty of Advocates says it has concerns over how the debate is playing out
The Faculty of Advocates has said it is “concerned” at the focus on the Crown Office and Scotland’s court services in the increasingly bitter row engulfing the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament over redacted elements of Alex Salmond’s evidence to a Holyrood committee investigating how complaints of sexual harassment against him were handled.

And it has warned of the danger of “irreparable harm” to confidence in the justice system as a result.

Allegations have been made that the Crown Office has “interfered” in the work of the committee by ensuring paragraphs of Mr Salmond’s written submission were blacked out, which was done to ensure it did not breach a contempt of court order.

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The redactions at the behest of the Crown Office were made a day after the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body had said the whole document could be published on the parliament’s website.

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As a result the Lord Advocate James Wolffe, was forced to give a statement to Holyrood yesterday to deny “interfering” in the Parliament’s business. He said he was not consulted on the decision to have the evidence redacted.

The Holyrood inquiry investigating the botched handling of sexual harassment complaints against the former first minister has also written to the Crown Office demanding messages referred to by Mr Salmond in his final submission. The second use of a section 23 order, which will compel the Crown Office to provide the evidence, is understood to be a direct response to Mr Salmond’s allegations of conspiracy.

Mr Salmond is due to give oral evidence to the committee tomorrow with the Lord Advocate invited to give evidence on Monday.

The Faculty of Advocates has now said it is " increasingly concerned” at the debate around the redactions, both in the media and in parliament, which it said was “increasingly focused on the courts and Crown Office”.

A spokesman said: “The Faculty wishes to remind all concerned of the importance of maintaining confidence in the judicial system and in the rule of law.

"Maintaining that confidence requires, amongst other things, recognition of the importance of the independent role of the Lord Advocate, the independent role of the courts and, perhaps most importantly, the vital place of the verdicts of impartial juries in criminal proceedings.

“No one in public life is beyond reproach, and healthy public debate surrounding the justice system is to be encouraged.

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"However, when the public discourse fails to respect the basic tenets of the independence of the system, it is in danger of leading to irreparable harm. Such harm is something which might be to the detriment of Scotland as a whole in the long term.”

Law Society President Amanda Millar also called on “all those with a public platform” to consider the language used when discussing the legal system. "The principle of an independent legal system and respect for the rule of law are pillars of our democracy of which Scots can be rightly proud,” she said.

“While emotions can run high, it is important that in the heat of debate this fundamental aspect of our society continues to be respected and held dear.

"Every person with a public platform, whether in our parliament or elsewhere, should reflect carefully on the language they use, and respect the rule of law and the role of the legal profession."

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