'Conflict of interest' warning over Scotland's new Lord Advocate

A QC who secured the first conviction of serial killer Peter Tobin is set to be named as Scotland’s new Lord Advocate.

Dorothy Bain QC has been chosen for the appointment by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, while Ruth Charteris is to be recommended for the position of Solicitor General for Scotland succeeding Alison Di Rollo QC.

However, a Scottish Conservative MSP has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest, pointing out that Ms Bain is married to Lord Turnbull, who is a senior criminal appeal judge.

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Russell Findlay, the party’s community safety spokesman, said the case highlighted the need for a judicial register of interests.

Dorothy Bain QC has been appointed Lord AdvocateDorothy Bain QC has been appointed Lord Advocate
Dorothy Bain QC has been appointed Lord Advocate

He also questioned whether Lord Turnbull should continue sitting on criminal appeals while his wife was responsible for all criminal prosecutions.

Both appointments have to be approved by the Scottish Parliament. If successful, it will be the first time both senior legal positions in Scotland have been held by women at the same time.

However, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has called for the nominees for Lord Advocate and Solicitor General to face another layer of scrutiny – in the form of confirmation hearings – before being appointed to the roles.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I am extremely pleased to be seeking Parliament’s agreement to recommend Dorothy Bain QC and Ruth Charteris QC as Scotland’s law officers.

“Dorothy has extensive experience in both civil and criminal law. She has appeared in cases at all levels, including the Court of Session (Inner & Outer House), the Court of Criminal Appeal, the High Court of Justiciary, the United Kingdom Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.”

She added: “Dorothy was the first woman to be appointed as Principal Advocate Depute and has conducted many complex and high-profile criminal prosecutions and appeals. She is currently Counsel to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in Scotland and a serving Chair of the Police Appeals Tribunal.

“Ruth was a Standing Junior to the Scottish Government from 2012 and was Second Standing Junior to the Scottish Government from 2016-20. On taking Silk, she moved into Crown Office to become a full-time Advocate Depute.”

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Mr Findlay said: “The new boss of Scotland’s prosecution service is married to a senior judge in Scotland’s criminal appeal court yet the public would have no idea of this most intimate of connections.

“The SNP Government, Crown and judiciary may cite the ‘judicial oath’ as a safeguard against dinner table chat from influencing cases, which can greatly impact on people’s lives.”

He added: “But even a perception of conflict risks undermining public confidence in the judiciary and Crown at a time when its reputation is already trashed by the Rangers malicious prosecutions scandal.

“This is before we get to the conflict of the Lord Advocate being both a Scottish Government minister and head of the prosecution service.”

He pointed out Ms Bain’s predecessor, James Wolffe, was also married to a senior judge.

Mr Findlay said: “The outgoing Lord Advocate James Wolffe was also married to a senior judge. Scotland is a small place and the upper echelons of the legal profession even more so.

“This is further evidence of the need for a meaningful judicial register of interests. And will Lord Turnbull now recuse himself from hearing criminal cases while his wife is head of criminal prosecutions?”

The role of the Lord Advocate came under intense scrutiny during the Alex Salmond inquiry, with Mr Wolffe forced to give evidence to MSPs.

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Ms Bain, who if approved, will replace Mr Wolffe, said: “I am honoured to be nominated by the First Minister to hold the office of Lord Advocate. I am conscious of the responsibilities and importance of the role and, if appointed, will do my best to serve the people of Scotland.”

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Mr Wolffe informed the First Minister last year that he intended to leave office following the recent election and confirmed his intention before her re-election as First Minister. Ms Di Rollo also confirmed her intention to stand down following this year’s election.

The First Minister thanked both Mr Wolffe and Ms Di Rollo for their service.

She said: “James has been Lord Advocate during an extraordinary and challenging time and has repeatedly demonstrated his outstanding ability, personal integrity and commitment to the rule of law within government.

“As well as those attributes, I would like to pay tribute to the sheer hard work and dedication he has shown during his years in office. In her role as Solicitor General, Alison has been tireless in her support for the Lord Advocate, the work of lawyers within government and of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service."

She added: “I thank both James and Alison for their dedicated service to the government, to justice and to Scotland as a whole.”

Ms Bain is Counsel to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in Scotland, a serving Chair of the Police Appeals Tribunal, Scotland, and is appointed by the Lord President as a Special Counsel to represent the interests of accused persons in closed proceedings.

Mr Rennie said the nominees should be “grilled” over major legal issues before being confirmed in the roles.

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He said: “The nominees put forward have impressive CVs, but there is more to these important roles than legal expertise.

"The new Lord Advocate will face an overflowing in-tray of issues requiring attention, from the failure of the Crown Office to get a grip on Fatal Accident Inquiries to the malicious prosecution of figures connected to the Rangers takeover.

“A confirmation hearing would offer Parliament an opportunity to grill the nominees over their approach to these pressing issues as well as key constitutional questions such as the creation of an independent director of public prosecutions and their approach to legislation proposing an unsanctioned independence referendum.”

He added: “All of these issues deserve to be aired in public. That’s why I am asking for confirmation hearings to be introduced for top Scottish Government appointees.

"These roles must command the confidence of the public and our parliament, not simply the government of the day.”

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