For reader’s information.
The first thing to say is obvious, readers are cautioned against prejudicing the trial by posting intemperate comments that, understandably, some might feel impelled to make, all things considered. Emotions and prejudices will run high, as they say, but the wise will keep an eye on the detail and not the over-wrought. Alex Salmond has already won the first part of his action against the Scottish Government. It remains to be seen what bearing it will have on the main part of the case against him.
I shall try to attend the court proceedings on days available to me which may be few. Guest passes are strictly controlled. I have been inside the High Court only once, coincidentally a rape case on which I served as a member of the jury. I was not impressed with the reasoning of some of my fellow jurors, but judged by your community and peers is the way democracies operate.
I read in the press some aspects of Salmond’s case may be held in camera (private, behind closed doors) in particular his own evidence. I’d prefer all such cases open to scrutiny in a new nation. Secondly, my friend Craig Murray is planning to attend and he will be writing of his observations. Readers may wish to follow his blog. Lastly, where I have no information, I shall refer to BBC’s court reporter, Philip Sim, one of the few BBC staffers I’ve met and found to be scrupulously factual when we both attended and reported on the same case last year.
There is talk of the trial lasting up to three or four weeks. I have it at two. We shall see.
I am obliged to state I know the judge personally, Lady Leeona June Dorrian. She was born in Edinburgh. I have always found her pleasant, intelligent, a welcoming host, a person of good company. I cannot think other she will be scrupulously fair in her dealings in this case. Last time I was in court was the Court of Sessions. (I prosecuted the theft of copyright and won.) I was impressed to see so many female solicitors there, but of females judges and magistrates there are still too few. Lady Dorrian was the first woman to be appointed to such a senior judicial office. She sits as Lord Justice Clerk. She became a Judge of the Supreme Courts of Scotland in 2005. She is Scotland’s second most senior judge and as such has been overseeing reforms of court procedures in Scotland, including the evidence allowed in sexual assault cases and Scotland’s unique jury system. I am sure she understands the trial will make history, whatever the outcome.
The Prosecution QC
The crown case against Alex Salmond and for complainants is led by Alex Prentice QC, a senior crown counsel known for securing murder convictions in the most difficult cases. He will have been chosen for his forensic skills, to quote a cliché. A low-key lawyer with nearly 40 years’ experience, Prentice has prosecuted some of Scotland’s most high-profile cases, including winning murder convictions against Nat Fraser in 2012 and David Gilroy in the same year although no bodies were found, and the perjury case against the Solidarity leader Tommy Sheridan. Specifically, in 2012 he twice won a murder conviction without a body in the murder of Suzanne Pilley and the retrial in the murder of Arlene Fraser. Further to this, Prentice won an appeal lodged by Fraser in 2013. In June 2013, Channel 4 screened Nat Fraser’s second trial in The Murder Trial, which featured Prentice himself.
The Defence QC
Scotland’s most senior advocate, Gordon Jackson QC, appears for Alex Salmond. Jackson was elected dean of the Faculty of Advocates – the ruling body for the country’s most senior lawyers – in 2016, and is regarded by other lawyers as one of the best defence lawyers in Scotland. Jackson was educated at Ardrossan Academy and studied Law at the University of St Andrews. He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1979 and served as an Advocate Depute from 1987 to 1990. He was called to the Bar of England and Wales (Lincoln’s Inn) in 1989, appointed Queen’s Counsel in Scotland in 1990. An interesting aspect to Jackson’s career is his Labour Party affiliations. In his 41-year career at the bar, during which he has also qualified as a barrister in England and Wales, Jackson sat as a Labour member of the Scottish parliament for Glasgow Govan for eight years, before unseated by Nicola Sturgeon in the 2007 Holyrood election.
Deputy Defence QC
Gordon Jackson’s deputy for the trial is Shelagh McCall QC, one of Scotland’s most senior civil rights specialists who worked for two years at the UN’s international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia war crimes hearings as a prosecution appeals lawyer. Her LL.B (Hons) comes from Edinburgh University. She is now convener of the Faculty of Advocates ‘Human Rights and Rule of Law’ committee. McCall is also a part-time sheriff and chair of the Scottish arm of the legal rights campaign group Justice, after serving on the Scottish human rights commission, where she helped produce an action plan for justice for child abuse survivors. It is good practice to have a female QC ask question in a rape case.
The jury is made up of 15 people from various walks of life, chosen at random the first morning of the trial. None are asked their political affiliations. There are three possible verdicts: not guilty, guilty, or not proven.
The British media
Like wasps to a dead carcass, the British press will be all over the trial, all the while hoping a bad outcome will trash Scotland’s hopes for constitutional renaissance. It makes me think of the tabloid hack who cried “Let’s get the bastirt!” when he read the Settlers and Colonists essay of the late Alasdair Gray. We have seen already one insidious mouthpiece of the British state, the Herald, publish a crass article implying association of Alex Salmond’s plight with serial rapist-murderers, all found guilty.
Third-rate press pundits think this trial will put an end to ambitions of reinstating independence. To believe a mass movement for greater liberty is wiped out by a single incident in over 300 years of struggle, is the deluded talking to the deluded.
The Guardian mentions “over 40 newspaper and broadcasting journalists, including overseas media,” are expected to attend the hearings. I have no idea how they arrived at that figure. It has to be an understatement. What is certain is the trial will take place under Scotland’s strict procedures on staging and reporting sexual offence cases, which include the convention that complainants are not named.
The trial will make plain who is lying, who is deceitful, and who has a political agenda. I once asked a judge I knew how he could tell when a defendant or a witness was lying. He said, “Over the years with experience you acquire a sixth sense; sentence construction, body posture, eye contact, evasion, they all tell you something is amiss.” I listened and watched him answer my question … and I was sure he was telling the truth.
Alex Salmond has always insisted he is innocent of all the charges, including the curious one tacked on the end of the list, a fracas at Edinburgh Airport. (It was over “inappropriate behavior” in a corridor his bodyguard-driver claims never happened.) For the one politician to secure for the people of Scotland the first fully democratic plebiscite on our future, he gets the respect of the last word in this introduction.
“The only thing that I can say is, I refute absolutely these allegations of criminality and I will defend myself to the utmost in court. I’ve got great faith in the court system in Scotland – that is where I will state my case.”
The trial as it is reported
Please Note: For ease of following evidence, each week’s record is moved to a separate blog. When the trial is over and the judge has published her adjudication, the record here will be erased. Unless a Guilty verdict followed by an appeal, the record published here will be redundant. If Not Guilty or Not Proven, the Court will publish the record of the case together with the judge’s summing up.
Day 11 – Monday 23 March 2020
a. The Jury was sent home at the weekend; they and Alex Salmond return to court today, the likelihood a verdict will be reached in hours. Please check in for updates from 10am.
b. The jury have gone out again in the Alex Salmond trial – but there are only 13 now. Lady Dorrian tells the remaining jurors that two have been discharged for “various reasons”. No explanation given, but it could easily be for pressing domestic reasons, or they feel unable to bring themselves to judge. In Scottish Law a jury can continue deliberations with reduced numbers so long as there is at least 12 remaining. A majority verdict, however, must have no fewer than eight in agreement for a conviction on any charge.
c. The jury chairperson stands and reads out their verdicts as follows:
- Trial Charge 7 (sexual assault of Woman F) Not Proven by majority
- Charge 8 (sexual assault of Woman F with intent to rape) Not Guilty by majority
- Charge 9 (sexual assault of Woman G) Not Guilty by majority
- Charge 10 (sexual assault of Woman G) Not Guilty by majority
- Charge 11 (sexual assault of Woman H) Not Guilty by majority
- Charge 13 (sexual assault of Woman J) Not Guilty by majority
- Charge 14 (sexual assault of Woman K) Not Guilty by majority
d. Not Guilty on all but one count, and Not Proven on that. (Not enough evidence.)
e. The judge, Lady Dorrian asks Alex Salmond to stand and told – he is a free man, and discharges him from the court. The jury is thanked. The trial is over.
Week 1 can be found here: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-oAX
Week 2 can be found here: https://wp.me/p4fd9j-oEj