Scotland

Advocate General Lord Wallace defends Supreme Court

Supreme Court sign
Image caption The UK's Supreme Court came into being in the summer of 2009

The UK government's senior legal adviser in Scotland, Advocate General Lord Wallace, has defended the role of the UK Supreme Court in Scots law.

The court has the ability to rule on cases where Scots law conflicts with human rights legislation.

Scottish ministers said the arrangement was threatening the independence of Scotland's legal system.

But Lord Wallace said people across the UK must have their human rights protected at the same level.

The Scottish government, which wants to look into ending the current situation, will appoint a group of legal experts to look into the issue.

The move came after a ruling in the case of Nat Fraser, jailed for life in 2003 after being convicted of murdering his wife, Arlene, in Elgin.

Having exhausted the appeal process at home, the 52-year-old won an appeal to have his conviction quashed when Supreme Court judges remitted the case to the Scottish Court of Criminal Appeal.

SNP ministers say the Scottish legal system should have direct access to the European court in Strasbourg, as was the case for other legal jurisdictions.

And there has also been previous discussion over the withdrawal of the Scottish government's contribution towards the Supreme Court - £477,556 in 2010-11.

The UK government said there had been two occasions since the UK Supreme Court was set up in October 2009 that leave had been given for appeal in Scottish cases.

Between 1999 and 2009, its predecessor, the Judicial Committee of The Privy Council, granted special leave on 13 occasions.

Lord Wallace said: "Let's remember that last autumn I set up an expert group to look into this very matter.

"Chaired by Sir David Edward and made up of other senior Scottish legal figures it reached a unanimous recommendation that there should be an appeal to the UK Supreme Court where there were matters of ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) and EU law.

"This group received evidence from eminent bodies such as the Faculty of Advocates, the Law Society and the Commission on Human Rights who all wanted to retain this right of appeal to the Supreme Court.

"I accepted this recommendation. I am still considering responses to the draft Scotland Bill clauses which I published in March."

He added: "The Supreme Court has made clear as recently as last week in the Fraser ruling that the High Court in Scotland remains the court of last resort on criminal matters.

"I sometimes wonder if those who are the most vociferous have read these rulings.

"I will be interested in what the Scottish Government and their new expert group have to say but I imagine that if they take evidence from the same people they will hear the same argument."

Lord Wallace, a former Scottish deputy first minister and justice minister, said: "Why should Scots not have their human rights protected in the same way as people in the rest of the UK?

"What no one has yet explained to me is why the Scottish government are suggesting that Scots should have to go straight to the Court in Strasbourg where there are no Scottish judges and a 140,000 back log of applications. It costs more and takes longer."

Lord Wallace said two Supreme Court justices - Lords Hope and Rodger - are former holders of Scotland's highest judicial post, lord justice general, and added that, of the 50 judges sitting in Strasbourg, one was from the UK and none were Scottish.

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