Mr Salmond tholes his assize

Screen capture by Seán J Crossan from BBC Scotland’s website

Strange words i.e. uncommon: thole and assize.

Our non-Scottish readers may have difficulty with ‘thole’ – actually to thole, a verb. It means to be able to endure something or someone. Scots will commonly say that they can’t thole a person , meaning that they dislike or have very little time for an individual. I understand that people in in the North of England also use this word.

Assize is probably a word that some lawyers might be familiar with: it means a trial diet (sitting) of a criminal court. Perhaps the best example of the word coming into popular use was the term ‘the Bloody Assizes’ presided over by the notorious, English hanging judge, Lord Chief Justice George Jeffreys in 1685. These events were, of course, a long time ago and followed the Duke of Monmouth’s ill fated rebellion against his uncle, King James VII of Scotland (James II of England, Ireland and Wales).

Enough of history for now …

In the legal context, if we take the two words together and put them into the following sentence: he has tholed his assize, it means that someone has endured prosecution and trial and has been vindicated or acquitted.

This is precisely what happened today at Edinburgh’s High Court of Justiciary (Scotland’s Supreme criminal court of trial) when the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges that he had sexually assaulted 9 women. The jury found him not guilty of 12 charges and returned a not proven verdict for the remaining charge. Mr Salmond was tried on indictment under solemn procedure in the High Court of Justiciary. Solemn or jury trials are reserved for more serious types of crime and they take place in either the Sheriff Court or the High Court of Justiciary.

It is worth pointing out to our non-Scottish readership that, in Scottish criminal trials, we have 3 possible verdicts, namely:

  • Not guilty
  • Not proven
  • Guilty

Not guilty and not proven are both acquittal verdicts, with the not proven verdict being a peculiarly Scottish development. I noted that the BBC referred to this verdict as “highly controversial”. It’s usefulness is still debated to this day, but it is a common outcome of many trials.

It was the jury of 13 – originally 15 – men and women that acquitted Mr Salmond. The jury in a criminal trial is said to be the ‘Master of the facts’, whereas the judge is said to be ‘Master of law’. It is, therefore, the task of the jury to weigh up the evidence presented at trial and come to its verdict.

At this point, I should also remind our readers that it is not simply a case of prosecution and defence presenting their respective cases at the trial. This would be to ignore the subtleties at play: the prosecutor (in the Salmond case: Mr Alex Prentice QC) has to operate under the onus or burden of having to prove the allegations against the accused. All the defence has to do is to deny the allegations. We operate in a system of criminal justice which emphasises the presumption of innocence.

I have been asked by several people over the last few weeks to predict the outcome of the Salmond trial. I have responded in the following way: I do not know Mr Salmond; and I have never met him or his accusers (I do not know these individuals either), so how can I give you a reasoned opinion?

Ah, but my questioners persist: surely, you have been following accounts of the trial via the media? To which I respond, not really …

Now the media does a very important job, but it can only provide us with a subjective view of things. Journalists will prioritise what they think are significant factors – no matter how impartial they think that they are being. Trial by media is never a good thing; it is to the jury alone that we entrust the task of determining the innocence or guilt of the accused.

We shall never know the precise motivations behind the jury’s decision today. Section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 makes it a criminal offence for jurors to reveal the reasons for their decisions (an interesting book about a jury trial in England, but not about the jurors’ deliberations, is The Juryman’s Tale by Trevor Grove (Bloomsbury: 2000).

It may be trite to say this, but there are no such things as open and shut cases. Things (the evidence) can and do sound very different in the surroundings of a court room. I have seen overly confident prosecutors come swiftly undone when the defence emphasises a flaw in the prosecution’s arguments. Here comes the nagging doubt I think; the chink in the armour; the reasonable doubt which heralds an acquittal verdict. Nothing is ever certain.

Whatever your views or feelings about Alex Salmond Esquire, this is exactly what happened today: the jury weighed up the prosecution’s case, found it deficient (in that it did not meet the criminal standard of proof) and acquitted the accused.

A link to an article about the Salmond verdict on the BBC website can be found below:

Scotland’s former first minister is found not guilty on 12 charges, while another allegation is found not proven.

Alex Salmond cleared of all sexual assault charges

BBC Scotland has also been running a podcast about the Salmond trial (please see link below)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0864016/episodes/downloads

Related Blog articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/15/oh-brother/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/03/01/corroboration/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/09/down-with-corroboration-i-say/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/22/scrap-corroboration/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/02/consent/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/25/the-jury/https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/28/alexa-theres-been-a-murder/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/10/the-burden-of-proof/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/03/15/kaboom/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 23 March 2020

Presumption of innocence?

Photo by Kay on Unsplash

A deeply embedded principle?

Should the accused in a criminal trial enjoy the presumption of innocence?

This is a long established principle of criminal law in the Western World that I have taken for granted since my first days at university. I always remember Professor Kenny Miller (of Strathclyde University’s Law School) correcting students who spoke in error about the ‘guilty’ person in a Scottish criminal trial. They were quickly admonished and reminded of the maxim that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

Indeed, Article 11 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights takes the view that the presumption of innocence is a fundamental human right.

Furthermore, Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights establishes the right to a fair trial and this includes the presumption of innocence. In the United Kingdom, this very important right has been incorporated into Scots, English and Northern Irish law via the Human Rights Act 1998. In Scotland, we, of course, have an additional layer of protection with the Scotland Act 1998.

Article 48 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights also echoes Article 6 of the European Convention.

Going back to the historical record, the Byzantine or Roman Emperor Justinian I emphasised the presumption of innocence for the accused as part of codification of Roman Law between 529-534 CE. Admittedly, Justinian was building on previous Roman legal practice as the Emperor Antoninus Pius (he of the less well known Wall for our Scottish readers) had introduced the principle during his reign between 138 and 161 CE.

The Romans would say Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat; translated as Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies.

Jewish and Islamic scholars have, historically, also placed huge importance on the presumption of innocence as a cornerstone of their legal practices. Both the Jewish Talmud and Islamic Hadiths (sayings or practices of the Prophet) testify to this.

The Carlos Ghosn Affair

So, why am I reflecting on this area this dull and rainy second day of the New Year?

The escape from Japan of Carlos Ghosn brought the principle forcibly to mind this New Year. Mr Ghosn is the former Chief Executive of Nissan who has been accused of defrauding his former employer.

Mr Ghosn was under effective house arrest in Japan until a few days ago. Allegedly, with the help of his wife, he escaped from that country to the Republic of Lebanon (of which he is a citizen) The escape reads like something from a Hollywood movie script (the Mission: Impossible series anyone?) with Mr Ghosn hiding in a musical instrument case (presumably not a violin case) in order to make good his unauthorised exit from Japan.

A link to an article about Mr Ghosn’s escape in The Independent can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.020120/data/9266461/index.html

A link to a YouTube film about the Affair can be found below:

https://youtu.be/BAxwWW5Ldqo

What is Mr Ghosn’s motivation for leaving Japan in this dramatic way? He claims to have no faith in Japanese justice in that the legal system of that country presumes his guilt.

The Japanese criminal justice system

Not possessing a great deal of knowledge about Japanese criminal practice, I admit that I was somewhat intrigued by Mr Ghosn’s assertions.

I had also just finished reading Owen Matthew’s excellent biography* of Richard Sorge, probably the most successful spy in modern history (and a possible role model for James Bond). Sorge had been spying for the Soviet Union in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s until he was unmasked and arrested in 1941. The treatment of Sorge at the hands of the Japanese criminal justice authorities forms part of the climax to the book.

As Owen Matthews notes:

Japanese justice, surprisingly, for an authoritarian state, turned out to be both thorough and scrupulous. The three volumes of investigative documents prepared by the Tokko [the Japanese Police] are exhaustive, far more professional than the cursory evidence which the NKVD [the forerunner of the Soviet KGB] assembled to convict hundreds of thousands of suspected spies in the 1930s.’ [p345]

Does the Japanese criminal code presume the guilt of persons on trial, as opposed to their innocence?

I decided to investigate …

… what I discovered was something rather more subtle.

The Japanese legal system does recognise the right of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise – despite Mr Ghosn’s claims. The burden of proof rests on the prosecution to demonstrate the guilt of the accused (as in Scotland, England, the United States etc).

There are indeed criticisms of the Japanese legal system that could be made (but no legal system is immune from criticism). In particular, the practice of not allowing suspects to have access to a lawyer during Police interrogation has been highlighted as a weakness of the system.

Before Scots lawyers get too smug, we would do well to remember the Peter Cadder case which led to an overhaul of Scottish criminal practice (see Cadder v HMA [2010] UKSC 43).

Another criticism of the Japanese legal system seems to centre around the practice of prosecutors rearresting an accused when s/he has been acquitted by a lower court. The accused is then taken before a superior criminal court for a further trial and, possibly, conviction.

That said, in Scotland (and in England), we have abolished the double jeopardy rule, but this does not mean that prosecutors have free range to do what they like.

Finally, an accused who maintains his/her innocence under the Japanese legal system, is often not granted bail and can therefore be expected to undergo a lengthy period of detention until the case is brought to trial (Mr Ghosn was perhaps luckier than most being under house arrest). Critics of this aspect of the legal system have pointed out that it puts suspects under duress making them more likely to make an admission of guilt. Mr Ghosn had apparently spent 120 days in detention before bail (with very strict conditions) was granted last year.

Links to articles about the Japanese legal system from the local media can be found below:

https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-topics/c05403/at-the-mercy-of-the-system-criminal-justice-and-capital-punishment-in-japan.html

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20190109/p2a/00m/0na/015000c

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2003/12/09/issues/burden-of-proof-impossible-to-bear/#.Xg456i-nyhA

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/01/05/national/media-national/international-scrutiny-japans-criminal-justice-system-fair/#.XhUY0S-nyhA

Conclusion

The principle of presuming the innocence of the accused in a criminal trial until proven otherwise is a deeply rooted one in the Western World. It is a cornerstone of our justice systems. The United Nations regards it as a fundamental human right in terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet, to assume that it is a Western concept alone, would be a monstrous conceit. Jewish and Islamic legal scholarship have both emphasised the importance of this principle.

Japan, as a member of the United Nations, also recognises the importance of the principle – which makes some of Mr Ghosn’s claims somewhat misjudged. Yes, the operation of the Japanese criminal justice system can and is the subject of criticism, but this observation also applies to every other legal system in the World.

* “An Impeccable Spy – Richard Sorge – Stalin’s Master Agent” by Owen Matthews (Bloomsbury Publishing: 2019)

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 2 January 2020

Homicide?

Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

For my latest Blog, I’m sticking with Scotland’s public prosecution system.

The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, has just won an interesting ruling before the Appeal Judges of the High Court of Justiciary.

The case in question is Crown Appeal under Section 74 by Her Majesty’s Advocate v Jason Gilmour [2019] HCJAC 74 HCA/2018/000542/XC.

The reason for the Crown’s appeal was that Mr Gilmour’s victim had subsequently died.

The simple question was this: could the Crown, having accepted Mr Gilmour’s guilty plea to the charge of aggravated assault, then pursue a subsequent prosecution against him for murder?

As Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk (Scotland’s second most senior judge) noted:

The charge of murder alleges that on 11 June 2012 the respondent [Gilmour] assaulted the deceased by repeatedly punching him on the head causing him to fall to the ground, and then kicking, stamping and jumping on his head, whereby he was so severely injured that he died almost five years later on 17 April 2017.”

Before the introduction of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act 2011, it was a clearly established principle of Scottish criminal law that an accused who had assaulted a victim could be charged subsequently with either culpable homicide or homicide if the victim later died due to the injuries sustained by reason of the assault.

The introduction of the Act meant that some clarification of the law was required.

As Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk stated in response to the Lord Advocate’s appeal:

The rationale for this was that the crime of murder was a separate crime and “it cannot be said that one is tried for the same crime when he is tried for assault during the life, and tried for murder after the death, of the injured party”- HM Advocate v Stewart (1866) 5 Irv. 301. In Tees v HMA 1994 JC 12 the accused had pled guilty to a charge of assault under deletion of attempted murder, and was re-indicted for culpable homicide when the victim died.

In delivering the Opinion of the Court, Lady Dorrian succinctly concluded that:

“Whatever may have been the position prior to the introduction of the 2011 Act … that Act makes it abundantly clear that it should now be possible to prosecute for murder even where there has been a prior prosecution for attempted murder. It is against that background that the Lord Advocate’s acceptance of the plea must be analysed. For this reason also we consider that the acceptance of the plea cannot be construed as the renunciation of a right to prosecute should the victim die.

Section 11 was the key part of the 2011 Act and the intention of the legislation was clearly to permit the possibility of a subsequent prosecution of the accused for murder – even in situations where s/he had previously faced a charge of attempted murder and had been acquitted.

In early 2019, Mr Gilmour’s had been prosecuted for his victim’s murder. He was convicted of culpable homicide and sentenced to a prison sentence of four and a half years. This has now been upheld by the Appeal Court.

A link to the judgement can be found below:

https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/docs/default-source/cos-general-docs/pdf-docs-for-opinions/2019hcjac74.pdf?sfvrsn=0

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 14 November 2019