Archive for August, 2012


Scots Law Harmed by Holyrood

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An extraordinary row regarding the state of Scottish Law has come to light, with a leading legal expert claiming that the Scottish Government, since 1999, has done more harm to the laws of the country than in the period since the Union in 1707. Alistair Bonnington, one-time honorary professor of law at Glasgow University, has claimed that the governments’ meddling with the laws has led to the right to a fair trial being eliminated. His controversial views come after a number of changes to the way trials are presented in Scotland have been implemented, many of them contentious in some ways.

Double Jeopardy Law

Bonnington cites two major changes in Scottish law as being particularly destructive; one is double jeopardy, which used to ensure a person could not be tried for the same offence twice but has now been abolished, and the other is the decision to allow juries to be informed of the defendant’s previous convictions. In legal circles there is no doubt that Bonnington’s views have much support. In an article in The Times he claims that the changes mentioned above represent ‘the destruction of two of the gold standards of Scots criminal law”.

The State of the Union

Scotland has had its own legal system since the Union, and in many ways there are quite distinct differences. The double jeopardy rule has also been relaxed in England, but juries are not told of the defendants prior convictions as this may influence their decision. Bonnington has pointed to a number of changes that have made certain offences criminal, despite them having been illegal under Common Law for centuries. He accuses MSP’s of pandering to the tabloid masses, rather than seeking to implement laws that would be beneficial to the public at large.

Government Response

Naturally, the Scottish Government has issued a response to Mr Bonnington’s assertions, and claimed that its most notable revisions were necessary and beneficial. A statement read:

“Reform of the law on double jeopardy followed a detailed assessment by the independent Scottish Law Commission and a government consultation exercise. The principle against multiple trials has not been abolished. As in England and Wales and other jurisdictions, a limited exception has been created to allow a new trial only where new evidence with a significant impact emerges following the first trial.”

The situation is a reminder of just how deeply the laws of the UK and Scotland are rooted in historical precedent.