12 October 2010

Solidarity party litigant...

"So me, could I tell the court where I was on the evening of the 14th of July 2006?"

"Certainly, I'm glad we asked that. As it happens, I was at home reading Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit with a pint of ovaltine with a gaviscon chaser..."

"I put it to you that your evidence is consistent, credible, reliable and convincing."

"I agree with you ... -er ... me. Us..."

It can't be an easy thing to elicit evidence-in-chief from oneself as counsel in your own defence and accused sitting in the witness box. In a "stunning move" which I suspect discombobulated absolutely nobody, Tommy Sheridan has given Maggie Scott QC her jotters a mere week into Her Majesty's Advocate v. Sheridan & Sheridan. As you will all have read by now, Sheridan isn't following the third QC lucky rule. No doubt impressed by his expertise in Sheridan-related litigation, he has decided to instruct himself and intends to conduct his own defence, assisted by his solicitor Aamer Anwar. Some folk have been asking what implications, if any, this might have for Gail Sheridan's defence. Its quite simple really. She was and will continue to be represented separately by Paul McBride QC - until such time as she is minded to give him the heave ho. Indeed, if you re-read the indictment carefully, you will notice that the couple are actually accused of rather different things. And perhaps most fundamentally, you're not allowed to be represented by your hubby in court.

Under the ban of contempt of court legislation, its actually profoundly difficult to blog interestingly about an ongoing trial, held at a distance. Happily, for those of us furth of Glasgow with an interest in the case, we have an invaluable resource in James Doleman's Sheridan Trial blog, offering a more or less contemporaneous account of the process as it unfolds, day by day. If you haven't visited the site before, I commend it to you. Kenneth Roy of the Scottish Review also has an interesting article entitled the Two Trials of Tommy, which draws on his own experience as a court reporter and picks up discrepancies and apparent embellishments in press reports from the trial.

Finally, Sheridan's decision to defend himself raises a tantalising possibility which some sections of the press may not have fully considered. If the rumours prove well-founded and the defence do indeed call former News of the World editor Andy Coulson to give evidence, David Cameron's Downing Street  communications man won't be questioned by a caustic QC but the Satsuma Socialist himself, with all the Perry Mason he can muster.


  1. How does it work when you defend yourself in a Scottish court, do you make a statement then get cross-examined or do you have someone else question you? (McBride say

  2. How does it work when you defend yourself in a Scottish court, do you make a statement then get cross-examined or do you have someone else question you? (McBride say

  3. In all honesty, James, I haven't a clue. Perhaps some wise lurking legal practitioner might speak up and resolve the dubiety.

    A few pertinent thoughts, however. In many respects, taking on your own defence has the potential advantage of permitting you to address the jury without doing so under oath or submitting to the cross-examination of opposing counsel. I note this merely in general terms.

    That said, as I recall my Scots law, the offence of perjury is only competent where the accused person has taken an oath or affirmation to tell the truth in an earlier court proceeding. In this case, it means that Sheridan must have "entered the witness box" in his civil trial when he was conducting his own case - otherwise the current criminal charges wouldn't be competent.

    Commonsensically, I imagine that if the accused person decides to give evidence on their own part - they make a sort of statement before being cross-examined by the Crown and in this case, potentially by counsel appearing for the co-accused. That's just a guess, however.

  4. You go into the witness box, are placed on oath (or affirm), and may then state your evidence. in practice, the trial judge will offer some very limited guidance as to what the witness (as he is at that point) may or may not say, and may ask questions to clarify any ambiguities or obscurities.

    He will then be cross-examined by counsel for the co-accused, by the Advocate depute, and may then (in theory) respond by re-examination, although that is a little impractical in this situation. Lord Bracadale's role is to ensure that a party accused does not stray into areas of inadmissible evidence, or make statements of fact about witnesses that were not prefaced in cross-examination.

    For example, if Tommy were to suggest in his own evidence that witness X, who gave evidence on day Y, was misleading the court by reason of having concoted a story along with witness Z for financial or political gain, but this was not put previously to either witness, the statement would be disallowed. Likewise, if Tommy suggests in evidence that a witness lied about an uncconnected matter at a meeting about which nothing had been heard before, that would be ruled irrelevant to the issue of whether Tommy committed perjury on a separate specified occasion.

  5. Speak of a lurking legal savant, and one shall appear! Many thanks for that most helpful clarification, Voice of Reason and in particular the emphasis you put on that second relevancy aspect.

    However entertaining posing questions to oneself in the third person might have been, the approach you describe seems rather more practical!

  6. Ah well, I was looking forward to Tommy having to run from witeness box to lectern while posing questions like "I put it to me that I'm not telling me the truth"

  7. Incidentally, as Amer Anwar does not have rights of audience in the High Court, he cannot question Tommy Sheridan.

    Inciodentally, should he exercise his right not to give evidence, he cannot be questioned at all, although since April 1996 the Advocate Depute is no longerprevented by statute from commenting on his failure to give evidence.

  8. Still, you can't blame him for sacking Maggie Scott. The question is why, in the first place, he hired someone who signally failed to get Mr al-Megrahi off, even though the SCCRC evidently thinks he had a respectable case!

  9. In fairness to the legal lady, Am Firinn, Megrahi did drop the appeal in question so she didn't get the chance to make the case. As I recall, she did don her wig during the High Court hearing requesting bail pending the outcome of his appeal but given the stage of his condition, the Lord Justice General declined to liberate him.