Faculty of Advocates dean warns against 'knee-jerk reactions' on Scottish legal reforms

A leading QC has urged MSPs not to “make change for change’s sake” when they consider reforming the role of Scotland’s Lord Advocate.

Roddy Dunlop, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, has urged caution on splitting the traditional roles of the Lord Advocate and against “knee-jerk reactions” on scrapping Scotland’s not proven verdict.

His remarks come as the new Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, and new Solicitor General, Ruth Charteris QC, were sworn in at a ceremony at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

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Ms Bain replaces James Wolffe QC, who had come under fire during the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into the government’s handling of harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond.

Roddy Dunlop QC is dean of the Faculty of Advocates
Roddy Dunlop QC is dean of the Faculty of Advocates

Concerns were raised about Mr Wolffe’s dual role as head of Scotland’s prosecution service as well as being chief legal adviser to the Scottish Government. There have since been calls for the roles to be separated.

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However, Mr Dunlop, who gave advice to the Scottish Government as it attempted to defend itself in Mr Salmond’s judicial review of how it had handled complaints against him, warned against any rash changes.

In an interview with Holyrood Magazine, he said: “I think we need to be careful of knee-jerk reactions.

“A lot of the noise behind this is being driven by recent travails.

“If you acknowledge that there have been certain situations of late where problems have arisen, you have to set that against the fact the Lord Advocate’s office is centuries old and has operated perfectly sensibly and satisfactorily for centuries. The fact there has been a couple of difficult cases in recent times, by all means have a look at it, but don’t make change for change’s sake.”

Mr Dunlop also described Mr Wolffe as "an exceptional lawyer and a man of unimpeachable honour and integrity”.

He said: “We’re still in a time of great constitutional uncertainty and constitutional change. I, for one, think it’s been helpful that we’ve had someone of the ability of James Wolffe in the office of Lord Advocate who has a depth of knowledge of constitutional law that is absolutely preeminent amongst his peers.”

On the demands to scrap the not proven verdict, a move that was championed during the Holyrood election, he said: “I have no interest in the politics of it.

“I’m only interested in whether the reasons for attacking the not proven verdict are sound and I’m not convinced they are.

“I’ve got great respect for Sandy Brindley [chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland], but I would challenge her to show what evidence there is that the existence of the not proven verdict is leading to situations where there should be a conviction.”

He added: "We are not wildly dissimilar from other countries in that it is in the nature of these things that evidence is difficult to obtain, especially in a situation where corroboration is necessary and one must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt as to guilt.”

Mr Dunlop also said it was “inevitable” the new Hate Crime Bill would be “misused”, resulting in “malicious complaints”.

He said the general aims of the Bill were “laudable”, but added: “There is inevitably going to be the possibility that the legislation is misused and results in malicious complaints to the police by people simply looking to cause trouble.”

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