Trams inquiry Lord ‘Scotland’s toughest judge’

Lord Hardie has been known as Scotland's toughest judge

Lord Hardie has been known as Scotland's toughest judge

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THE top lawman appointed to chair the public inquiry into Edinburgh’s troubled tram network was considered Scotland’s toughest judge while on the bench.

Lord Andrew Hardie earned a fierce reputation for handing down harsh punishments to criminals, with 84 of his sentences overturned in a five-year period being too severe – more than any other High Court judge.

Experts say Lord Andrew Hardie will run the public inquiry into the troubled tram project in a 'businesslike' fashion. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Experts say Lord Andrew Hardie will run the public inquiry into the troubled tram project in a 'businesslike' fashion. Picture: Ian Rutherford

First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday announced Lord Hardie would chair the inquiry investigating why the £776 million tram project went so far over budget and suffered such long delays.

The First Minister said: “Lord Hardie will establish the inquiry immediately and we look forward to a swift and thorough inquiry.”

Today, a leading QC said the 68-year-old – who retired as a judge 18 months ago – was perfectly suited to conduct the trams inquiry.

Speaking anonymously. he said: “Lord Hardie is an experienced judge and he did planning when he was at the bar so he is probably the ideal appointment as far as knowledge of the subject goes.

“He was a harsh sentencer, but that won’t necessarily affect the trams inquiry. But he was a very business-like judge so I would expect him to run a public inquiry in a business-like way.”

The inquiry will examine the delivery of the tram project from start to finish – including the contract preparation and how it was managed – to establish why it failed to be delivered on time, within budget and to the original length, as well as the consequences of those failures.

Lord Hardie will appoint an inquiry team and set a start date and timescale.

But the prominent QC said Lord Hardie would almost certainly appoint counsel to lead evidence at the inquiry, although much depended on whether the questioning was restricted to the judge and his counsel or whether lawyers for parties would be allowed to cross-examine witnesses.

He said: “If everyone who is in the frame is entitled to be legally represented and ask questions, you are talking about a much longer process.”

Other issues still to be settled include where the inquiry will sit and whether it will be televised.

The Scottish Government ordered a non-statutory inquiry which should mean it will be quicker and less expensive than a full blown public inquiry. But it also means Lord Hardie will not have the power to compel witnesses to attend or give evidence. And fears have been expressed that some key figures who were at the heart of the project may opt not to appear.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ultimately, the inquiry is expected to produce a report that provides a clear account of what happened and make recommendations as to how major tram and light rail infrastructure projects of a similar nature might avoid such failures in the future.”

A life of public service

Andrew Rutherford Hardie was born on January 8, 1946, He studied at Edinburgh University and was enrolled as a solicitor in 1971. After serving as Advocate Depute, 1979-83, he became a QC in 1985.

He was appointed Lord Advocate after Labour’s election victory in 1997 and also became a life peer as Baron Hardie of Blackford. He helped pilot the devolution legislation through the Lords and carried on as Lord Advocate under the new Scottish Executive until 2000.

He had been due to lead the prosecution in the Lockerbie trial, but he quit two months before it was due to begin and became a High Court judge. He retired in 2012.