31 March 2010

Sheridan Case III: "...the law's delay"

“For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes…”
~ Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1

Tommy Sheridan knows a good deal about the insolence of office and declaims regularly about what he takes to be the oppressors’ wrongs. That much we all know. Whether he has known the pangs of love – or was scourged by mistresses more mortal than cronely Time – that is a matter for the jury to decide. The Sheridans’ much anticipated trial for perjury – and in Tommy’s case, for attempting to suborn perjury from Colin Fox – also seems testament to law’s delays. Initially, it was expected that the trial would convene in February of this year. Not so, with Sheridan giving his leading counsel, the fantooshly face-furnitured Donald Findlay QC, his jotters last September. We’ll draw a discreet veil over what made him change his mind, and move on without speculation. Sheridan substituted in the less rambunctious Maggie Scott QC, who advised the Court in the following October that “given the interruption of Christmas, the start of the trial in February is wholly unrealistic”. As of this morning, the Court has determined that the 21st of September is the most realistic date for the trial’s commencement, some seven-odd months after the date which was initially mooted. Some of this is certainly attributable to the change in Tommy’s leading counsel. His wife, wee Gail, will be represented by Labour-turned-Tory legal gobsworth, Paul McBride QC.

Moreover, we might also reflect on the significant imbalances in the parties involved. After all, Crown Counsel, prosecuting, lean on a busy network of procurators fiscal, “little elves and sprites to do his bidding”. While disclosure of any evidence gathered is a theoretical mechanism to balance up the competition, defending counsel can still cut an isolated figure among his or her tottering towers of documents, with only a very small train of junior helpers. Let me remind you, this trial is anticipated to take a whopping three months to bring to its final conclusion, with the figure of 180 testifying witnesses being mentioned in the press coverage. With that much legwork to undertake, the pacing defender would develop well-turned cabriole legs in no time. One final point, connected to my recent post on the evidentiary rule requiring corroboration in Scots criminal law. I notice that press reports are quite accurately stressing the novel charge on the indictment – that Sheridan attempted to convince Colin Fox to lie in the 2006 defamation trial. Assuming that Mr Fox himself is the primary source of evidence on this charge – I merely remind you that corroboration will require something apart from Fox’s evidence to make a conviction for suborning perjury competent in law. I enlarged on the proposition when the indictment against the couple became public. The Crown are doubtless well-acquainted with this fact. Thus far, it is no clearer what mysterious piece of corroboration the Crown might have got its hands on. It seems that we’ll just have to lean on our patient merit and wait another seven months to find out.

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