Not Guilty or Not Guilty Enough

On Friday, Alex Salmond appeared to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints. I start with a link to the committee’s web site to give everyone the opportunity to read what the remit of the committee is, i.e. what they are charged with investigating. I do this because there is clearly a misunderstanding on the part of many who somehow believe that it’s a replay of Alex Salmond’s trial. That seems to include members of the committee, particularly Alex Cole-Hamilton who had to be warned about five times to stop asking questions about the trial, such as “would you now like to apologise to the women who tried to get you found guilty“. I confess the last bit was an addition I made. Does that make me a bad person? You could also play the archived video copy of Alex Salmond’s appearance, if you’ve got 6 hours to spare. It’s also on the Committee’s website. I’ve watched it and it’s more fun than Netflix, so why not have a go.

There are obviously those who apparently believe that a finding of not guilty by a jury is just the start of a process. They think it is right to tell anyone who will listen that a not guilty verdict just means not guilty enough to be considered criminal. On that basis, social media has been filled with opinions such as, ‘he’s guilty, but he just got away with it‘ and ‘being found not guilty doesn’t mean you didn’t do it‘ and even ‘women who complain of a sex attack should be believed, there should be no need for a trial‘. I confess to a raised eyebrow at the last one. Does that apply to everyone found not guilty of any crime?

It was the jury’s role to examine the evidence presented and decide if they believed the prosecution’s evidence was sufficiently believable. Did they believe that events as described by the prosecution happened as they described? The answer in all cases was no. Note the jury are not asked to speculate on whether completely different events took place. Their job is to decide yes or no, not right or wrong. The right or wrong has already been decided by COPFS before Alex Salmond was prosecuted. If he committed the acts he was charged with, he was wrong and would be found guilty, but that’s not what happened. He was found not guilty, therefore found not to have committed the actions he was charged with. These actions did not happen.

There’s a whole list of people who have made comments casting doubt on the verdict of the jury, recently joined by Nicola Sturgeon, surprising, considering her position as First Minister. She has been quoted as saying “Just because he was found not guilty doesn’t mean the events didn’t happen”. She also claims that remarks don’t cast doubt on the verdict. Unfortunately, the jury’s verdict meant that they didn’t believe that the events did happen, so when Nicola Sturgeon says that “doesn’t mean the events didn’t happen”, she is casing doubt on the verdict So upset were that Faculty of Advocates at the turn of events that they issued a sharply worded statement reminding everyone of the need to respect the rule of law. You can read the full statement here.

Of course, casting doubt on the verdict was not the only insult thrown at Alex Salmond. He was accused of lying, of only appearing to pander to his enormous ego, that he wasn’t able to cope with the success Nicola Sturgeon had made as First Minister, that he couldn’t cope with the SNP being more successful under Nicola Sturgeon than when he was in charge, that he wanted to scupper our chances of independence. Anything other than he was simply telling the truth: the truth he could substantiate with documentary evidence.

Lord Advocate dual roles. One other issue which events of the last few month has brought into sharp focus is the dual roles occupied by the Lord Advocate, as both legal advisor to the Scottish Government and in charge of the prosecution service. While perhaps not a major issue under normal circumstances, when the situation involves the Scottish Government, it’s difficult for his decisions not to be accused of bias.