Labour’s Rhoda Grant, Tory Murdo Fraser and Lord Advocate James Wolffe
By Democrat reporter
The Lord Advocate has agreed that the malicious prosecution of Rangers administrators should be independently probed.
James Wolffe QC responded to the Scots Tories’ motion in parliament’s debating chamber today, after they demanded an inquiry into the Crown Office’s actions.
He agreed that a judge should be “demonstrably independent”, but argued that doesn’t necessarily mean a Scottish judge isn’t capable of leading it.
It comes after the Tories urged MSPs to back the calls for an independent probe, with a judge from outside Scotland in charge.
David Whitehouse and Paul Clark were awarded the combined sum of £21m in damages after being wrongly arrested for fraud relating to a takeover of the club.
Two others involved have also been paid damages, while a fifth is currently pursuing action.
The Conservatives say the “unprecedented scandal in Scottish legal history” must be examined to restore public confidence in the Crown Office.
During the debate, Labour MSP Rhoda Grant raised a motion insisting that Police Scotland should also be investigated over their involvement, which was backed by colleagues.
Responding to Tory MP Murdo Fraser’s motion, the Lord Advocate said: “This case represents a serious failure in the system of criminal prosecution and no-one should doubt that I recognise the legitimate questions which it raises.
“I’ve committed the Crown to releasing further information when it is possible to do so and I’ve committed myself and the Crown to supporting a process of inquiry once related legal processes have concluded.
David Whitehouse and Paul Clark won damages over malicious prosecution.
“So far as criminal allegations are involved, I explained yesterday I am putting in place external senior counsel with no previous involvement in these matters, to ensure that any allegations of criminal conduct will be considered fairly and objectively.
“If criminal proceedings do ensue those must take their course before any inquiry could proceed. The timescale for conclusion of those matters cannot presently be known, but let me be clear that I agree with Mr Fraser that thereafter, there should be a process of inquiry. That enquiry should be transparent and independent, and that it should be led by an independent judge.
Mr Fraser interjected over the “minor disagreement” on how to proceed, explaining that his party would request that the judge be from another jurisdiction, “given the former Lord Advocate’s (Frank Mulholland) role on the Scottish bench.”
The Lord Advocate added: “I entirely agree the judge appointed would require to be demonstrably independent and command confidence in that regard, and it may well be appropriate to appoint a judge from outwith Scotland.
“However, it would be premature at this time to conclude that when the time comes to establish the inquiry, there is no Scottish judge that could satisfy that requirement.
“The inquiry should be rigorous, independent, fully resourced and able to address effectively all the issues which require to be examined.
“Rhoda Grant in her amendment is right to draw attention to the need to consider the investigation and prosecution process in its entirety and I invite members to support her amendment.
“The only part where I depart from the substance of Murdo Fraser’s motion is that he seeks to pre-judge the particular model and type of enquiry to be selected.
“I should be clear that I do not rule out a statutory public inquiry, that may be the right way forward. But other models and forms of inquiry are available and equally at this stage should not be ruled out.
“The time to address the form of the inquiry and the identity of the judge who should undertake it will be when all related matters have concluded.
“At that time it’s likely that more information will be in the public domain, and this matter should and will be brought back to this parliament with the proposed arrangements for establishing the inquiry.”
Responding to the Lord Advocate’s statement on the “malicious” prosecution of former Rangers directors, Scottish Liberal Democrat Liam McArthur MSP, pictured right, said: “This is a true scandal of monumental monetary terms. This is tens of millions of pounds that could have been spent on pandemic business support, education catch-up, or investment in mental health and there could be worse news yet to come, given we don’t yet know the police’s exposure.
“The Lord Advocate says that new procedures are in place, lessons have been learned and this shouldn’t happen again. However, the Court of Session’s 2019 ruling means that the Lord Advocate can now be held liable for other serious errors from the past. The public will now require reassurance that there aren’t other skeletons hiding in the Crown Office closet.
“The need for a full, independent and judge led inquiry is now achingly clear. The Scottish Government must now get to work setting the infrastructure up for this now.”