SNP probe into UK supreme court

ONE of Scotland's leading legal experts is to head up a review of the role of the UK Supreme Court following the bitter row over intervention in the Scottish legal system.

Former solicitor general Lord McCluskey will head a four-man team commissioned by the Scottish Government to investigate what part the court should play in deciding human rights cases north of the border.

The move comes two weeks after the Supreme Court, under the lead of Scottish judge Lord Hope, ruled that Nat Fraser, jailed for murdering his wife Arlene, should have his conviction overturned on the grounds his rights had been breached during his trial.

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The decision has prompted a political storm with First Minister Alex Salmond accusing Lord Hope of "second-guessing" Scotland's Appeal courts, which previously had ruled against Fraser's case.

That prompted claims Salmond and justice secretary Kenny MacAskill had over-stepped the mark in their attacks on the court, especially after the latter threatened to withdraw Scottish public funding.

McCluskey was among those last week who criticised MacAskill after he accused the Supreme Court judges of being "ambulance chasers," adding the justice secretary ought to be "ashamed" of his claims.

However, along with influential lawyer and author Sir Gerald Gordon, former sheriff Charles Stoddart, and Professor Neil Walker of Edinburgh University School of Law, he will now be asked to study the case for change on behalf of Scottish ministers.

Insiders expect the review to reconsider whether the Supreme Court can take cases such as Fraser's without leave of Scotland's High Court of Appeal.

Fraser is expected to find out this week whether he will be granted bail ahead of an expected retrial.

The review will not consider the specifics of the Fraser ruling, but will focus on what role, if any, the Supreme Court should play. It presently considers cases where Scots ministers, including the Lord Advocate, who heads prosecutions in Scotland, are accused of breaching European Human Rights law.

Salmond said yesterday an interim report would be published prior to the Scottish Parliament's recess.

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He added: "My own view is that we simply cannot ignore a situation where a court in another UK jurisdiction is intervening so aggressively in our judicial system."

A spokesman for the Scotland Office, which represents the UK government, said last night: "It is extremely important the new group looks objectively at the issue of justice rather than geography."