21 December 2010

Satsuma Cicero says his final word...

I've no idea if Tommy Sheridan opened his final peroration to the jury this morning with Jonathan Watson's impression "brethren, cistern".  Whatever he said, today the Satsuma Cicero will be offering the fourteen folk in the box his final account of himself - his last opportunity to influence the outcome of his case. In the last days, there has been much-headlined dropping of charges against him. The Crown having declined to press the prosecution against her to a verdict, Sheridan's Satsuma Spouse has now been acquitted on all counts. Unless you keep a copy of the indictment and a pair of scissors to hand - you may be befuddled, lost and confused about which allegations remain outstanding, which were dropped by the Crown due to evidential requirements of corroboration - and which charges were amended, given those selfsame Scottish corroboration rules and the limits of the oral evidence presented to the (overwhelmingly female) jury. As ever, most of the interesting things which one might say about the case are ruled out by our contempt of court laws. Circumspection is called for. As such, I wanted to furnish you with a link or two which might afford an insight into the jury's deliberations over the next day or two. Firstly, here is the text of the final indictment against Tommy Sheridan, courtesy of James Doleman.  You can compare this text with the charges levelled against the Satsuma Socialist (or as he is styled in some quarters, the Govan Bigfoot) at the outset of proceedings:

THOMAS SHERIDAN, born 7 March 1964, whose domicile of citation has been specified as ****** you are indicted at the instance of The Right Honourable ELISH ANGIOLINI, Queen's Counsel, Her Majesty's Advocate, and the charges against you are that

(2) on 21 July 2 In 2006 at the Court of Session, Parliament House, Parliament Square, Edinburgh you THOMAS SHERIDAN being affirmed as a witness in a civil jury trial of an action for defamation then proceeding there at your instance against the News Group Newspapers Limited, 124 Portman Street, Kinning Park, Glasgow as publishers of the News of the World newspaper did falsely depone: -

(a) that at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Scottish Socialist Party held on 9 November 2004 at 70 Stanley Street, Glasgow you had not admitted you had attended Cupid’s Healthclub, 13-17 Sutherland Street, Swinton, Manchester known as Cupid’s on two occasions in 1996 and 2002 and that you had not admitted that you attended there with Anvar Begum Khan c/o Lothian and Borders Police, Police Headquarters, Fettes Avenue, Edinburgh.

(b) that at said meeting on 9 November 2004 Alan William McCombes and Keith Robert Baldassara, both c/o Lothian and Borders Police, Police Headquarters, Fettes Avenue, Edinburgh did not state that they had previously raised the issue with you of your visits to a sex club in Manchester and that you had admitted to them that it was true;

c) that at said meeting you denied having visited a swingers’ club in Manchester;

(m) that you had not attended said Cupid’s in Manchester along with Andrew McFarlane, Gary Clark, Anvar Begum Khan and Katrine Trolle all c/o Lothian and Borders Police, Police Headquarters, Fettes Avenue, Edinburgh towards the end of 2001, or had ever visited a swingers’ club;

(n) that you had an affair with said Anvar Begum Khan in late 1992 for six months only and that you did not have a sexual relationship with her from 1994 to August 2002; and

(o)you never had a sexual relationship with said Katrine Trolle and had never been with her in the house occupied by you at 2005 Paisley Road West, Cardonald, Glasgow or with her at Kingennie Court, Dundee;

the truth being as you well knew,

(A) that on 9 November 2004 at the Executive Committee meeting of the Scottish Socialist Party held at 70 Stanley Street, Glasgow you did admit to attending said Cupid’s in Manchester on two occasions in 1996 and 2002 and that you had visited said club with said Anvar Begum Khan;

(B) that at said meeting it was stated by said Alan William McCombes and Keith Robert Baldassara that they had previously raised the issue of you attending a sex club in Manchester and that you had admitted to them that it was true;

(C) that at said meeting you did not deny having visited a swingers’ club in Manchester;

M) that on 27 September 2002 you did attend said Cupid’s in Manchester with said Andrew McFarlane, Gary Clark, Anvar Begum Khan and Katrine Trolle and that you had visited a club for swingers;

(N) that between 1 January 1994 and 28 August 2003 you did have a sexual relationship with said Anvar Begum Khan; and

(O) that between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2005, both dates inclusive, you did have a sexual relationship with Katrine Trolle, that she had been in the house occupied by you at 2005 Paisley Road West, Cardonald, Glasgow with you and that you had stayed overnight with her at16 Kingennie Court, Dundee;

Secondly, when the case was at an earlier stage, I composed this wee post outlining the differences and voting rules between (a) Scottish civil juries (b) English criminal juries and (c) Scottish criminal juries. Perhaps the critical detail to bear in mind in a case such as this, conviction on any charge requires eight votes out of fifteen. One juror fell by the wayside as the case against the Sheridans was laid out, leaving fourteen souls to decide Tommy's fate. Under Scottish rules, the conviction threshold is not diminished by the prodigal juror and the Advocate Depute still has to persuade at least eight of the fourteen to vote guilty. If he can do so, even if six ardently believed the accused was innocent - he would still be competently convicted. In some quarters, I note this has been criticised as stacking the case in the prosecution's favour. This, in melancholy contrast with the position in England, where a qualified majority of 10 of 12 votes in favour of guilty obtains. Obviously, to suggest Scottish rules favour the Crown cannot be the case mathematically speaking, since the prosecutor must convince the majority. Quite properly, the Crown must undertake the burden of persuasion.

Moreover, critics would do well to consider Scottish corroboration rules, which undeniably (and much more radically) favours the defence, particularly in circumstances where evidence is limited or hard to come by. While in England, ten jurors must be convinced of guilt, charges can be put to them for a decision which are simply knocked out by strict Scots rules on corroboration. Compare these examples. Imagine an abstract case where a single truthful witness avers some villainy about the accused. Imagine another where two rogues concoct a fiction about the wretch in the dock. On Scottish sufficiency tests, assuming there is no other independent evidence, the first case would fall for want of corroboration, while the second could proceed. It may be that the jury would winkle out these imaginary villains - and acquit the accused. It may be that the jury believe the first honest witness wholeheartedly and without reserve - but are deprived of legal capacity to give criminal effect to that persuasion by convicting the man she accuses. What these respective imaginary cases suggest, I'd argue, is that these rules are a feature of Scots law's artificial reason, its technical requirements.  Its for this reason that I  prefer the deliberative pair proved/not proven to guilty/not guilty. The former emphasises - much more clearly and beneficently alienatingly - the extent to which law is based on the limited logic of charges and proofs - and should not be simply conflated with general notions of truth and justice. Merely reflect on this. In our own lives and in our moral reflections, how many of us would insist on  minimal independent corroboration before we even begin to consider reaching any conclusion on the truth of some claim, value or position?

As I say, I pass no comment on the instant case, other than to remark that these issues and general conceptions about law's (and particularly criminal law's) place in the life of the Scottish polity will certainly circulate in the coming days, whatever the result. Today, the Satsuma Cicero has said his final word until the jury hand down their verdict. For the man himself, and those like myself who've listened to the detail of this case with interest, the wait is almost over.

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