20 September 2013

For you, Mr Walker, the war is over...

... and you've been defeated, utterly. This morning, Sheriff Mackie sentenced the former MSP in Edinburgh Sheriff Court. Her sentencing statement is damning.  Jailing Walker for the statutory maximum available to her, a full twelve months, Sheriff Kathrine Mackie criticised Walker's unrepentant, stubborn sense of his own victimisation. The scabrous, Vogon PR he secured from Iain Maciver after his conviction can't have helped.  Mackie observed:

"I have also had regard to all that has been said on your behalf about the consequences in terms of reputation and financially, and to the terms of the reports that have been prepared.  I have noted from those reports that you maintain your denial of any wrongdoing, and that you perceive yourself as the victim of various conspiracies, amongst your former wives, political opponents and the media. 
While it cannot be denied that there has been considerable media attention in this case and issues thought to arise from it, even before the conclusion of the legal process, I share the opinion of the author of the Criminal Justice Social Work Report that your incredulity at being convicted of these offences and your perceived victimisation are further indications of your abdication of responsibility for your behaviour.  I have also noted from the terms of the reports, as I noted during your evidence, what can only be described as contempt for your former wives and your stepdaughter and the derogatory manner in which you refer to them." 

Ruling out enrolling Walker in the Caledonian men's programme as a non-custodial disposal, Sheriff Mackie continued:

"Having noted the extreme denial and minimisation of behaviour displayed to the authors of the reports prepared it is in my opinion unrealistic to believe that a programme designed to change men’s attitudes condoning domestic abuse has any prospect of success.  There is no basis for believing that the intense media scrutiny combined with your public position has had any bearing on your willingness to be accountable for your behaviour or that this might change within the time frame of the Caledonian Programme, whatever time frame might be allowed. "

That the Sheriff felt it necessary to impose the statutory maximum penalty on Walker poses its own questions. Her statement doesn't contain a breath of criticism or comment on the Crown's choice of venue. As I blogged at the time of Walker's conviction, in Scotland, prosecutors generally have a free hand to select where and how people are tried before our courts.  In Walker's case, he originally appeared to answer an indictment in solemn proceedings, and could have anticipated being tried by a jury, if he refused to plead guilty.

Reviewing the case, crown counsel decided to demote the case to summary proceedings in the sheriff court instead, reducing the court's sentencing powers from five years to one, if Walker was convicted. I very much doubt we'll be hearing any more from the Crown Office about the relevant factors considered by Counsel in reaching this decision, but serious questions remain unanswered.  Just how many counts of domestic violence does a man have to be charged with to face a jury in this country? The regrettable answer, it seems, is more then twenty four.

Discussing the case with various folk, a number of people have suggested that Counsel's real rationale for shifting venue was suspicion of juries. Aren't they awfully unreliably, apt to be taken in by a plausible accused, a risk to the whole endeavour, a threat to conviction? Much better to try Walker before a reliable sheriff. Much less risky. I find this unconvincing.

Firstly, this seems a rather dubious basis for prosecution decision-making. Although a soup of factors push decision-making hither and thon, the idea that a senior Crown Office lawyer reduced the severity of the charge just because they were feart that they'd lose the case seems incredible. Yes, the case was historical. Yes, recollections fade. But if the Crown believed their witnesses were credible and reliable enough to persuade Sheriff Mackie of Walker's guilt, I struggle to accept the idea that they thought they weren't up to winning over fifteen ordinary punters.

Secondly, there really isn't an awfully lot of evidence suggesting that juries are significantly less likely to bring home convictions than professional benches. Certainly, you can find the odd Clive Ponting case, where juries disdain to apply the law to the facts in a fashion which legally-trained judges are unlikely to follow, but Walker's prosecution was hardly one of those cases.

I leave the last word to Sheriff Kathrine Mackie.  Your can read her full sentencing statement here.


  1. Am I right in thinking that he has actually been sentenced to a total of 14 years?

    1. Andy,

      In one sense, though as all of these sentences run concurrently rather than consecutively, they combine to twelve months. Incidentally, this has implications for the success of any appeal Walker might try to lodge. Unless something can be shown to be fundamentally wrong with the trial on appeal, even eliminating a few charges on appeal is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the overall period to be spent in prison. And I struggle to see any appeal against sentence alone prospering well.

  2. Yes the most relevant question is why did the Prosecutor opt for the lower court?

    In England and Wales, The lower (summary, Magistrates' Court) has the power to send a case to the Crown Court (where juries are used in not guilty plea cases) which also has greater sentencing powers.

    That maybe is also a possibility in Scotland - if so - the Sheriff's remarks that are reported here, do not say whether such a committal was given any consideration.

    I would welcome a response from someone more familiar with powers of Scottish Courts than I am.

    As a former English probation officer, I am fascinated by his stubborn refusal to acknowledge any short comings; it seems amazing if this is the only area of his behaviour that he either lacks insight about or an understanding of how others view one who behaves as he has done. That causes further amazement that one as brazen as him should have been elected to such an important office.

    1. A good question essexandrew. In Scotland, we do have a procedure paralleling the one you mention, allowing sheriffs to remit a case to the High Court of Justiciary for sentencing. Critically, however, under the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, it is only possible to remit up from a sheriff and jury court - not from a jury trying a case alone, as here. Hence why the Sheriff made no reference from it in her sentencing statement.

      On Walker, he's clearly quite the piece of work. I share many of your sentiments, and suspicions.

  3. I think this case highlights a number of failings in our society one of which is: Why didn't the complainants go to the police in the first place?

    If they did that opens another failing if they didn't then one can surmise that a political reason could of been the motivation which then opens a thought that he cannot be the only one in a political position guilty of similar abuse. Just a conspiracy theory you understand.

    1. I don't know if you saw any of the coverage today. One of the wives Walker abused spoke to the BBC, explaining that she felt no fulfilment, and even a bit sad, at today's outcome for Walker. She also noted that she did have a political purpose in part: the conviction that Walker wasn't a fit and proper person to represent anybody in parliament. Learning more about him through this process, I find it difficult to disagree with her analysis.

    2. No I hadn't heard that as I gave up on R Scotland as a New Year resolution bar a couple of hours at the weekend.

      Does that political motivation not ring alarm bells that her motives were that his position in society rather than the offence itself merited a criminal conviction because it does me. That same criteria wasn't used over the large number of MPs who abused the expenses system in Westminster something is wrong somewhere which I am unable to articulate.

    3. He beat her up, repeatedly. That's been proved in a criminal court, with opportunities afforded Walker to for cross-examine her.

      What more do you want?

    4. I can see a woman in that situation after escaping such a relationship simply wanting a quiet life and a opportunity to tend to her many wounds. Many people who escape an abusive relationship think they have brought it upon themselves, hence they do not go to the police.

      I would go so far to say that the only reason these brave women decided to act was because Walker was in a very privileged, powerful position which given his personality and the right opportunity before him, he would not have hesitated to abuse. His former wives have done his constituents a favour as frankly I do not want to imagine the possible further damage he could have wreaked.

  4. Ver glad that justice has been done, but a depressing case in its wider social implications. I know a few women who have tried to make abusive relationships work - sadly not an uncommon effort with children involved - and of course they never do.

    Walker is indeed a piece of work, shockingly devoid of empathy.

    Many thanks LPW for your patient and calm articulacy on the details of a case that shames us all.

    1. Edwin,

      Kind of you to say. In so far as I feel zeal at all, one of the things I try to do with this blog is to make these sometimes slightly tricky legal details comprehensible without spending four years in a law library. Seeing the politics of our law seems to me an urgent democratic concern. The precondition for doing so is seeing law as a technical, but understandable, body of norms, rather than a scary, abstract body of ideas, administered by a closed order of lawyer-priests. It just won't do.

      Walker himself seems like an extraordinary character - or perhaps, an extreme example of a perfectly ordinary malice and lack of insight and empathy. Pitiful, really.