For those of you south of the border who may not have heard about this, in recent months, the Supreme Court has ruled that two convictions should be quashed on human rights grounds. Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister and Kenny MacAskill the Justice Secretary have shouted long and hard about how the Supreme Court shouldn't be interfering in the Scottish legal system. Personally, if I were in power, I'd have felt mortified at being found not to have complied with what the European Convention of Human Rights would expect. And if you look at the substance of the cases, I am not in the least troubled by the judgements. In the first, Peter Cadder complained that as a teenager he had no access to legal advice during a police interview. In the second, Nat Fraser complained that his defence team had not been given a vital piece of evidence in his murder trial.
But no, Salmond and MacAskill did what they always do - blame London. Instead, they want Scots appealing under ECHR grounds to go to Strasbourg. The thing is, when the Supreme Court discusses ECHR cases, they use ECHR jurisprudence. For a month or so, SNP ministers launched a series of astonishing attacks on senior judges and solicitors, most famously Alex Salmond's in Holyrood magazine, which seemed at best ill advised and intemperate.
It's these attacks which prompted David Steel's resignation. He said:
“I resigned from this position several weeks ago but agreed with the First Minister not to say anything until he had made new appointments.
“The reason I relinquished the role was that I was appalled by the language being used by Alex Salmond, Kenny MacAskill and an authorised spokesman towards the judiciary on the Supreme Court and the Secretary of State.
“I told Alex that I hoped this was not the way they were going to continue now that they had an overall majority, because if so I expected a growing number of complaints against ministers.
“Whether my letter had any effect I do not know – he sent me a polite and effusive letter of thanks for my services, but I am glad to observe that there has been no repetition of attacking the messengers instead of arguing the message.
“I wish Peter Fraser and Elish Angiolini – both of whom I hold in high regard – well in taking on this task, with the hope that their services will not be too often required.”It's so typical of SNP ministers to fly into a rage with London on just about any issue. It's usually inappropriate, but this took not only the biscuit but the entire Scottish Government stocks of confectionery. They would be better advised to sort out the flaws in our legal system, and, while they're at it, the appalling conditions at Scotland's only women's prison, Cornton Vale,
Lib Dem Leader Willie Rennie said, in response to David Steel's resignation:
“I am not surprised that David Steel feels this way. He knows it is important to keep the judiciary separate from politics. SNP ministers put that at risk.
“There’s now a serious situation in Scotland. Alex Salmond has his overall majority. He has the plum parliamentary committee positions. And now he has lost two experienced members of his scrutiny panel. He has every opportunity to bulldozer now.
“It will take strong, liberal voices to stand up to him.”
It's interesting that Salmond has now chosen more legal, than political people to replace David Steel and George Reid, who also stepped down from this role. Peter Fraser and Eilish Angiolini will now deal with complaints about ministers. I wonder if you actually need people with an insight into the political process as well in that kind of job.
David Steel is not what you would call the biggest radical in the party - I mean, he's spoken out against electing the Lords, for goodness sake. If he thinks the First Minister and his cabinet are taking a dangerous approach to Government, then they really must be. Those of us who embrace liberal values will have to be very vigilant in the years to come.
Update: A wise friend of mine commented on the blog's Facebook wall: Nice piece Caron, but I think you could be missing David's radicalism. Look again at his record, you could start with the Abortion Act or his involvement in the anti apartheid movement or being a founder signatory to the Claim of Right. He's no stranger to human rights and wrongs. Let's not wipe out his record of radical acts with one expressed opinion.
And of course she is right. I have been a bit disgruntled in recent years with his hostility towards breastfeeding at Holyrood and his recent pronouncements on Lords reform, but we really shouldn't dismiss all he's done in terms of working against apartheid, and particularly the Abortion Act. These things were groundbreaking and deserve a mention.