Nicola Sturgeon: 'There is a case for reform' of Lord Advocate dual role

Nicola Sturgeon has indicated the dual role of the Lord Advocate as head of the Crown Office and chief legal adviser to the Scottish Government could be reformed during this Parliament.

In an answer to a question from Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, the First Minister said “there is a case for reform”, but indicated any changes would take time.

The moves to reform the position come after controversy around the Lord Advocate’s role over the harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond.

James Wolffe QC, who has announced he is stepping down from his post as Lord Advocate along with Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo, came under fierce criticism for alleged interference by the Crown Office with the parliamentary committee examining the handling of the complaints.

Nicola Sturgeon has indicated the potential for reform of the role of the Lord Advocate. James Wolffe QC has resigned from the position in recent days.

The Crown Office intervened in the publication of key evidence from Mr Salmond, forcing the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to publish, redact and republish a submission from the former first minister.

Supporters of Mr Salmond allege the decision to prosecute the leader of the Alba Party for sexual offences was also politically motivated, a claim denied by Mr Wolffe and the Crown Office.

Mr Salmond was acquitted of all charges in a trial last year.

Raising the question of potential reform, Mr McArthur raised the issue of potential conflicts of interest due to the dual role of the Lord Advocate as head of the prosecution service and as chief law advisor to the government.

He said: “Reform is needed and the First Minister has the power to deliver change. The role of the Lord Advocate needs split to end the conflicts of interest, including appointing a director of prosecutions.

"Fatal accident inquiries must be removed from the Crown Office as families are still waiting too long. It is a scandal that we still don’t know the circumstances surrounding the death of Lamara Bell and John Yuill on the M9 six years ago.

"And after the landmark vote in this Parliament in March, we need change to ensure that those in the grip of drugs are diverted to treatment rather than to prosecution and imprisonment.”

Responding, the First Minister raised concerns reform could lead to the loss of the ability of parliamentarians to call the head of the Crown Office to answer questions in Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I think there is a case for reform, which is why my manifesto committed to a consultation on that, but I think it is really important that we take the time to get that right.

"Because of the dual role of law officers, law officers can be called to this Parliament to answer questions on all of the issues that perhaps fall within the prosecutorial functions of the law officers, they can questioned in this chamber.

"If we separate those roles, that may not be possible in future to do that in the same way.

"That might be something Parliament is comfortable with, but it is just one example of the need to take care over this and to make sure that we get it right and that we try to move forward on the basis of as much consensus and proper consideration as possible.”

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