9 December 2010

Andy Coulson Satsumad in court...

As I mentioned a while ago, unless you are in a position to write up fair and accurate contemporary reports on proceedings, like Mr James Doleman, it is nigh impossible to write much of interest on the ongoing case of H.M. Advocate v. Sheridan and Sheridan. The trial has been hearing evidence for more than two months, having begun on the 4th of October. The prosecution has now closed its case. Today, as anticipated, the director of David Cameron's communications from 10 Downing Street, Andy Coulson, appeared before the jury and Lord Bracadale, giving evidence for the defence. The Sheridan Trial blog as a full account of what has transpired thus far, as Tommy solicits his evidence-in-chief from the former News of the World editor. On account of tonight's vote in Westminster on tuition fees, a story which might have resounded with a whizz-bang through the press has, at most, sputtered squibbishly. My co-legalist friend Love and Garbage has a post briskly dispensing with the suggestion that this coincidence was somehow connived at to minimise the attention paid to his appearance. This doesn't make sense, not least because the Crown's deletion of a whole section of the indictment was hardly foreseeable - and whatever else he might be, Tommy makes for an improbable handmaiden (or painted dame) in the service of Tory powers.

One prominent deletion from the indictment against Sheridan was the charge of suborning perjury. The original indictment included the following:

"...knowing that accurate minutes of the said meeting existed and had been lodged on 16 June 2006 at the said Court on behalf of the said defender and that said Colin Fox was to be called as a witness at said trial did on 18 June 2006 at the premises known as The Beanscene, 67 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh attempt to suborn said Colin Fox, to falsely depone as a witness that the minutes of said meeting were not accurate and you did thus attempt to suborn said Colin Fox to commit perjury..."

This charge fell at the close of the prosecution case, citing the absence of corroboration. Corroboration is the evidentiary rule in Scots criminal law which requires that the essential elements of criminal charges are based on sufficient evidence, meaning evidence from two independent sources. In H.M. Advocate v. Sheridan and Sheridan, the Crown was only able to lead evidence from Fox himself, alleging that Tommy had attempted to  suborn perjury from him in the caffeinated atmosphere of the Beanscene outside of the Scottish Parliament. When the indictment was originally published in July 2009, I pointed out that in order to bring home a conviction on the charge, the Crown would have to produce some evidence beyond Fox's say-so. I was curious about what such evidence might be. So much, so obvious to anyone with a dim recollection of their Scots law of evidence. Giving evidence to Holyrood's End of Life Assistance committee, the Solicitor General Frank Mulholland recently told our parliamentarians, and I quote:

".... our job as prosecutors is to apply the law. It might be helpful to answer your question by outlining the general considerations that are taken into account when a case is reported to the procurator fiscal by the police. There is a step approach to assessing whether to prosecute. We have to answer a number of sequential questions, the first of which is whether there is sufficient admissible, credible and reliable evidence that a crime has been committed..."

Interestingly, this rule doesn't obtain in England - and as a result, a comparable charge in England, based on Fox's evidence, could be put to an English jury. It would then be up to them to make up their minds about how credible and convincing they found that evidence. The absence of corroborating proof, for example, might be a good reason for the jury to entertain reasonable doubts about the accused's guilt. Interestingly, in an interview with the Scotsman, Lord Carloway confirmed that his post-Cadder review will encompass these strict Scottish corroboration rules, telling the paper that:

"Is corroboration in the melting pot? Yes. It is in my terms of reference and will therefore form a significant part of the review. Every sophisticated system of criminal law works on a system of checks and balances. Are the protections we have relied on previously appropriate now in a system which has had additional safeguards introduced into it following the Supreme Court judgment. Corroboration has been a cornerstone of the Scottish system for a long time - and a matter of considerable pride - in assessing sufficiency of evidence. I'm not aware of any other country in Europe that has such a strict concept of corroboration as we have had. If we conclude the concept should be adjusted we will have to set out a new test for sufficiency of evidence."

The trial of the alleged perjuries of the satsuma socialist, and his satsuma spouse, continues.


  1. What are the chances wee Tommy beats the rap?


  2. Bugger,

    Given contempt of court laws, commenting on an active case is exceedingly problematic. I'll limit myself to this perfectly bland observation - in order to "win", Tommy really has to be acquitted on all counts. Structural features of Scottish criminal juries, which I discussed here, are likely to be relevant in any assessment of what will the final decision will be.

  3. Thanks LPW

    I didn't expect you to give me the definitive but maybe just a percentage probability, based on a finger in the air.

    As for the strict definition of "winning," surely there are two definitions of that end point; the legal and Tommy's.

    I suspect that he will end up with some sort of conviction but enough for Tommy to claim a win, as the Yanks did in Iraq?