Martin Hannan: Scots justice has lessons to learn

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There is an arrogance about the Scottish justice system, or rather, on the part of its practitioners, which has annoyed me for years. We are routinely told by Scottish lawyers that we have the best legal system in the world, and when anybody tries to change it in the slightest there are howls of protest.

I know, however, that there are many lawyers out there who will agree with me when I say that our civil and criminal legal systems are not fit for purpose.

Since Edinburgh is the centre of both civil and criminal justice in Scotland, this is something that should concern us all. It should certainly concern us that our fatal accident 
inquiry (FAI) system is now a total shambles.

The Evening News revealed yesterday that the full details of how Keane Wallis-Bennett came to die under a collapsing wall at Liberton High School may not be known for years if a fatal accident inquiry is permitted – and that’s if an FAI goes ahead at all. Had Keane been a teacher, an FAI would have been almost automatic, so it is absolutely disgraceful that the former pupil and her family should be treated differently.

Yes, the police are still investigating and I keep hearing disturbing reports that this wall collapse was not as straightforward as it first seemed, but for the sake of all our children, an FAI must be held as lessons will be learned in public so that such a school tragedy can never occur again.

The long delays between an accident happening and an FAI taking place – it took five years to get the FAI into the Super Puma North Sea helicopter crash – mean that evidence from those involved can be less than accurate. Furthermore, it is very much the decision of the procurator fiscal as to whether an FAI should take place at all.

This may sound strange from an SNP member like myself, but we could learn a lot from the English inquest system.

It’s not perfect, but having expert coroners whose sole job is to get at the facts about death is surely better than our fiscals who treat FAIs as just a small part of their job.

It’s not only FAIs that need 
improving. Our civil justice system in particular is beset with tardiness. It was back in 2007 that Lord Gill recommended improvements that would speed up our civil courts, but it was only in February that the government brought forward the bill to implement the Gill Report.

His idea to move many cases out of the Court of Session to local Sheriff Courts is a good start in speeding up civil justice in this country, but in both our civil and criminal courts, we could go much further in reforming the law and how it works.

For instance, the practice whereby convicted criminals are allowed to appeal against their convictions years after they have been sent to jail is heinously damaging to victims’ families – there should be a three-year limit on all such appeals.

The problem is that lawyers, usually but not always Edinburgh-based, will fight tooth and nail to stop any reform that threatens their income, and that is one of the main reasons why Scots law is not the world’s best, nor ­anywhere close to it.

Not welcome

Good to see Nigel Farage being shown at the weekend what Edinburgh people feel about Ukip’s dodgy policies. His very presence in Scotland was irritating, but we live in a free country so he had the right to speak – just as the protesters had the right to tell him to go homeward and think again. Nigel is a farrago of nonsense, frankly.

With public office comes responsibility

The suspension of Mark Turley from his £123,000-per-year post of director of services for communities is a good start in Edinburgh City Council’s bid to regain the citizens’ trust after problems involving his department.

Turley’s role – or lack of it – in overseeing Mortonhall Crematorium and also being the man in charge of the department at the heart of the property repairs scandal are just two reasons for his suspension.

He may find out what ‘the buck stops here’ means.

The benchmark for family ties from the past

THERE’S a lovely tradition in parts of Edinburgh of people installing benches for the public to use. These are often provided in memory of people who liked a particular place.

I spotted one at Cramond the other day which made me laugh. There the Gow family has provided a lovely bench in memory of their parents, Thomas and Betty, for the “many days we spent at Cramond”.

On their inscription they have added the line “You’ll feel warmer once you’re in” – a heartfelt memory of childhood which I suspect we all heard used by our parents in bygone days.

HE HASN’t A SCOOBY

The continuing adventures of Hamish our pet Jack Russell terrier – he has fallen in love with a (male) Great Dane. Hamish is one confused but obviously ambitious wee pup.