While the Scottish Government continues to assert that it is defending against “the replacement of Scots law with Lord Hope’s law”, it is the SNP administration’s feud with the UK Supreme Court that is in danger of setting a dangerous precedent for Scots law.
The reference to Lord Hope, the deputy President of the Supreme Court and one of two Scottish Justices on the bench, made by Alex Salmond in an interview on Newsnight Scotland last night is puzzling. The First Minister seems to take issue with decisions being made by the Supreme Court, and would rather decisions concerning human rights in Scotland be taken by the European Court of Human Rights. But the ECHR bench contains no Scottish judges and only one from the UK. What expertise, or even knowledge of Scots law, would these judges have?
The First Minister would have us believe that the fabric of the Scottish legal system is being torn by the “aggressive intervention” of the rulings of a court in another land.
Does the ECHR not sit in another land? The answer to this is, of course, yes but while the Supreme Court sits in the capital of the Auld Enemy, the ECHR sits in Strasbourg, France – home of the Auld Alliance. This distinction seems to be of great importance to Mr Salmond.
The First Minster rightly points out that the ECHR has jurisdiction over 40 different legal systems. As such, there is a whopping back log of cases to deal with. Appeals lasting more than five years are not uncommon which does nothing to serve justice, or the victims and witnesses of the cases being considered.
The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has heard one Scottish case per year on average since its inception. This means that justice can be served in a swift and efficient manner.
But here we come to the crux of the matter. Mr Salmond does not believe that the justice is being served in these cases. He does not believe that succesful appeals in the cases of Nat Fraser and Peter Cadder are upholding Scots law. The political establishment intervening in the judicial process sets a dangerous precedent for Scots law, far more dangerous than the Supreme Court hearing the occasional Scottish case.
Now, in an exclusive in The Herald, we learn that the Justice Secretary has ordered civil servants to explore if the Scottish Government can withhold the £500,000 of funding that it gives to the Supreme Court every year. This is an extraordinarily petulant move by Kenny MacAskill, which Scottish Government officials have been quick to backtrack from saying the comments were made in a speech last week and will now only form part of the expert group set up to discuss the implications of recent Supreme Court rulings.
The SNP have a mandate to run Scotland, not to try to construct constitutional crisis out of every point of friction. To do so may serve the SNP’s ultimate goal, but it does not serve the Scottish people or the office to which they have been elected.