Douglas J. Cusine: Justice Secretary’s response to malicious prosecution case now overdue

Douglas J. Cusine: Justice Secretary's response to malicious prosecution case now overdue

Douglas J. Cusine challenges Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to break his silence on Scotland’s malicious prosecution scandal.

A month ago, I posed the question in relation to the Rangers malicious prosecution case: “Where has the Justice Secretary gone?” He has not even said whether there will be an inquiry or not. Now that he no longer needs to focus his attention on the Hate Bill, and concerns about the ‘Old Firm’ game, why is he still keeping silent on this issue?

The matter will not go away, as can be seen from the report here on 16 March. By continuing to remain silent on whether or not there will be a public inquiry and the related issues of who chairs it, its terms of reference and powers, when it will start and when it will report, the Justice Secretary is, in my view, sending out very unfortunate messages.

So, what are these? It has been accepted that Messrs Whitehouse and Clark, who were accused in the Rangers case, were not treated fairly and they have been paid over £20 million out of public funds. (More claims may be in the pipeline.) In my view, the public are entitled to know why compensation, and compensation of that magnitude, was paid. That message is not out there, yet.

If, as seems probable, public confidence in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has been dealt a blow, fairness would indicate that the public should know what steps will be put in place to identify why that happened. Likewise, that message is not out there, yet. Fairness would also suggest that there needs to be some mechanism to avoid another such event, and that the public will be told what that mechanism will be: another message not out there, yet.

Let us not forget that among the public are those, in particular, who have been charged or will be charged with a criminal offence. While many of them may not think that they have been treated fairly, the rest of us need to be assured that there is nothing irregular about that treatment. Fairness also requires that the public will find out who took the decision or decisions about the ill-fated prosecution; no message on that front either, yet.

Finally, fairness demands that there will be a method whereby those in that same service (COPFS) who were not involved in the Rangers case have any suspicion about their integrity dispelled. Another message which is not out there yet. These are, of course, only my thoughts about what is fair. As he is entitled to, the Justice Secretary may disagree, in whole or in part.

Alistair Bonnington suggested in response to my earlier piece that the Justice Secretary “doesn’t have clue” about what to do about this issue. The longer the Secretary sits on the fence, the more he gives the impression that he does not intend to do anything, despite a clear consensus among those who spoke in the Parliament. I hate to say this, but some kind of pronouncement from the Justice Secretary is not only due, but overdue. The public are entitled to this.

The Justice Secretary seems to be in hiding only in relation to the Rangers case. He was “tweeting” non-SNP members of the Committee while the First Minister was giving her evidence. Says it all. Now that the Committee has reached a decision, he has associated himself with a statement by her that the non-SNP members of the Committee had reached a conclusion before she said anything in evidence. I assume that he accepted that it would not have looked right had the majority on the Committee been SNP, but now he is saying that the majority were biased. He may think that, but it is not obvious that it was prudent for a Justice Secretary to say so. It would, however, be prudent for him to say something about the Rangers case.

Douglas J. Cusine is a retired sheriff and a respected author of articles and books on legal and medico-legal topics.

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