Tony Lenehan KC: Give complainers access to independent legal advice

Tony Lenehan KC: Give complainers access to independent legal advice

Tony Lenehan KC

Tony Lenehan KC, president of the Criminal Bar Association, explains how the Scottish government could help complainers right now.

On Tuesday afternoon, just as the Victims’ etc Bill met with a poorer reception in Holyrood than the Scottish government had hoped, I was at Glasgow University participating in an international workshop on independent legal representation (ILR) and advice for complainers in serious sexual offence trials.

In the Emma Ritch Law Clinic at Glasgow University there exists a ground breaking resource already providing complainers with advice on legal matters thrust upon them by the justice system. Eamon Keane, principal solicitor at the clinic, and professor Jacqui Kingham, professor of law and social change at the university brought together academics from around the UK, Ireland and further afield to explain and explore the existing schemes in different jurisdictions around the globe.

A common theme was the tangible and valuable benefits which flowed from providing complainers with access to expert independent legal advice (ILA) throughout their journey through the criminal justice system. We heard from complainers whose experience had been transformed by it, for the better.

The Victims Bill includes some promise of ILR, but limited to that pre-trial stage where sensitive evidence admissibility arguments occur. In the submissions to Scottish government during consultation in the lead up to the bill, and again at committee stage, it was suggested that there would be benefit in widening the access of complainers to legal advice beyond that proposed in the bill.

At the risk of offending new wave pop fans from the 1980s, what struck me was the synchronicity of the bill’s rough passage and the strong evidence I was hearing at the workshop for providing real improvements in complainers’ experiences in a readily deliverable form.

I therefore wonder if the Scottish government might see merit in trading the widely doubted benefit of an incendiary juryless trial pilot nearly half a decade in the future (q4 2028) for readily deliverable, widespread help for complainers in the form of providing longer term ILA for their journeys through our courts? It could be done quickly. The resource and experience of the Emma Ritch clinic at Glasgow leads the way and I have no doubt would be an invaluable resource for roll out advice.

Flexibility is often a greater strength than rigidity. There are positives in the bill which, respectfully, are not worth perilling on a juryless trial pilot.

Share icon
Share this article: