By a Newsnet reporter
A leading lawyer who last week launched an astonishing attack on the SNP, claiming the party was playing to tabloids and that Holyrood was damaging Scots law, has been criticised for including the attack within a “political agenda”.
Last week, leading lawyer Alistair Bonnington caused controversy after claiming that Holyrood had caused more damage to Scots law in thirteen years than Westminster had managed in 300.

In a vitriolic attack, former BBC Scotland lawyer Bonnington accused Scottish Ministers of altering law to suit tabloid headlines and of reducing the office of the Lord Advocate to that of a “Government spear carrier”.  The outspoken legal expert also likened the SNP administration to a “totalitarian regime”.

Listing double jeopardy and corroboration as areas causing concern, Mr Bonnington claimed that Scots law was now no better than that practiced in third world countries and that the SNP Government were making piecemeal and damaging reactionary changes “all the time”.

Describing the recent anti-sectarian legislation as “a complete waste of time”, Bonnington accused the Scottish government of making the changes in order to go on TV and radio to say “aren’t we wonderful”.

However, Clare Connelly, who is a senior lecturer in Scots Law at Glasgow University said that Mr Bonnington had been “naïve” to mix political criticism with his concerns about Scots law.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland yesterday, the academic challenged her former colleague’s claim that there had been no political interference in Scots law prior to devolution.

“I think that’s a wee bit naïve to say that it only started since 1999, we know that historically Westminster also interfered in [Scots Law] independence by allowing for example Lord Advocates in the past to appoint deputy sheriffs and judges.” she said.

Ms Connely also referred to the UK Supreme Court, created by the last Labour Government at Westminster, which has now assumed the power to overturn criminal convictions obtained under Scots Law.

“We always did have an application to the privy council and to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Ms Connelly agreed that Mr Bonnington had raised some interesting and important points with respect to criminal law, and cited problems with the reduction in legal aid as an example.  However she again challenged Mr Bonnington’s assertion that the situation was entirely exclusive to the Scottish government.

She said: “Westminster government isn’t pouring money into legal aid south of the border.  If we didn’t have a devolved government, we would be subjected to the same scrutiny and the same cuts from Westminster.”

However the lecturer reserved her strongest criticism for the political nature of Mr Bonnington’s Times’ article.

“It’s not only about the law, it’s also political.” she said, and added:

“Hooking in with a kind of nationalist kind of debate I think is narrowing it too much because the history of interference with criminal law extends, not only to the nationalist government we have, but before the devolved government.

“And the idea that political interference is a recent thing is not accurate and not helpful to having a proper discussion and properly challenging these encroachments on the rights of the accused people that they’re going to affect.”

Ms Connelly commented on cases in England where accused people can be detained indefinitely without trial, and added:

“The idea that we don’t look both south of the border and at Scotland in this sort of debate I think is too narrow and too naïve.  That’s why I say that this article that is written about the Scottish system has a serious and a heavy political slant to it.

“These issues are extremely important but they have to be debated properly [and] out-with political agenda.”

The attack by Alistair Bonnington followed a similar article published two weeks ago in the Telegraph, this time attacking Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill who Mr Bonnington claimed had blocked sensible measures on defamation that had been drafted by Westminster.

However, again Bonnington's interpretation of events was challenged, this time by legal expert Andrew Tickell.  Writing on his blog, Mr Tickell disputed the former BBC Scotland lawyer's suggestion that the Scottish government had rejected measures contained in a Westminster inspired Bill “for no other reason than to be different from England”

In his Telegraph article Mr Bonnington, referring to the Defamation Bill currently making its way through Westminster, wrote:

“Scots media lawyers have noted with some disquiet that Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister has decided to reject almost all of the Bill’s liberalising provisions and include only one minor subsection.”

“In libel, Scots law is miles behind English law.  That gap is about to become wider still courtesy of Mr MacAskill.”

Accusing the Scottish government of having an agenda, Mr Bonnington concluded: “MacAskill’s policy seems to be to deprive Scots law of these important liberalising and modernising measures – for no other reason than to be different from England.”

However, Mr Tickell poured scorn on the suggestion that the Scottish government had rejected proposals put to them by the Westminster government.  The legal expert also rubbished Bonnington’s suggestion that the proposals had been blocked due to a narrow-nationalist agenda.

Mr Tickell pointed out that the legislation had been specifically drafted only ever to apply to England and Wales and that only a formal request from the Scottish government had led to amendments to the Bill allowing aspects to be incorporated into Scots Law.

Mr Tickell wrote: “One doesn’t have to be an honorary professor to see that asking for sections of the Bill to be extended to Scotland isn’t easily constructed as rejecting ‘the Bill’s liberalising provisions’ for the idle sake of being different from the English.”

He also quoted direct from the official Scottish government legislation containing the request from Mr MacAskill:

“… having considered extended privilege to scientific and academic activities, it was concluded that:

… the parity of protection across the UK was desirable given that much scientific and academic research is done collaboratively and without reference to national borders.  Therefore, limiting these provisions to England and Wales only could potentially inhibit constructive and robust scientific and academic exchange.”

Mr Tickell added:

“I can find no evidence whatsoever suggesting that Westminster has ever proposed to Scottish ministers that the Defamation Bill should simultaneously reform Scottish and English law, nor that they ever enjoyed the formal opportunity to accept or reject such a proposal.” he wrote.

Hear Alistair Bonnington's latest criticisms of the SNP

Hear Clare Connelly responding

Alistair Bonnington on Newsnight Scotland


# Mad Jock McMad 2012-09-02 23:56
What part of Scots Law is outwith the Union and the Union Parliament does this numpty not understand, its right to be an independent code is enshrined in the 1707 Treaty of Union for all time and as the President of the Court of Session stated in 1953 for 'all time' means exactly that. This means that any judgement made by the UK Supreme Court can only be taken under advisement as to whether Scots Law is ammended or not.

Scots Law already had an act covering prisoner transfer / release on compassionate grounds in place prior to Blair and Straw's rushed job at Westminster to wheedle Megrahi out of prison. In many respects Scots Law is a better at ensuring the right to a fair trial, limit to detention with out charge, right to a jury trial and many other issues than its English Law counterpart.

Bonnington does not like the Scots Law on defamation - me, I think it is perfectly fair and prevents indictments for libel being used simply by folk like Bonnington to silence their opponents by use of so-called 'super injunctions' as happens in England.

What Bonnington considers 'libel' to most Scots is simply robust debate and in the written form of the 'Flyteing' pamphlet is at its most ascerbic and often funniest.

Bonnington is simply plying yet another version of the too poor, too wee, too stupid Westminster line - he must be a complete numpty if he thinks we do not see through his esoteric, verbal p!sh...
# Barontorc 2012-09-03 00:23
Alistair Bonnington was the legal advisor in-house to BBC Scotland and perhaps is still paid in that capacity, so pray-tell, could these latest opinions from him be telling of the continuing problem we pro-nat indy supporters feel about the BBC's anti-indy stance and does that conflict with their BBC Charter in any way?

Then again, the BBC do not feel they are responsible for what hired-in contractors say on their own behalf, off-duty so to speak - and in any-case, the BBC Trust would deplore that such comments could be associated with their good name.

Wouldn't they?
# Adrian B 2012-09-03 01:01
It is sad that Alister Bonnington has chosen to make these points in such a political manner.

For a so called professional to do so in this way loses him credibility with the wider public audience as well as his own profession.

I have had a look to see what the Scottish legal profession have viewed this story.

The First link is for 'the Firm' - Scottish legal stuff, quite interesting for some, click home to see more stories.

The second link is a blog from Alan McIntosh an Independence supporting Legal & money advice training manager. Alan is also a lay member of the Sheriff Courts Rules Council (I don't know what this means either)


The upshot seems to be that the legal profession - within the confines of their own prism - agrees with much that Bonnington has said, but has not been happy about it being politicised.

This story doesn't look as if all his opinions are entirely his own. In short there may be some valid remarks that have been made by Bonnington that others in the Legal Profession can identify with.

No one is claiming that the SNP alone make bad legislation or that Westminster alone makes good legislation.
# Robabody 2012-09-03 11:42
Info on the Sheriff Court Rules Council can be found here:
# J Wil 2012-09-03 20:33
"It is sad that Alister Bonnington has chosen to make these points in such a political manner.

For a so called professional to do so in this way loses him credibility with the wider public audience as well as his own profession. "

Is he a friend of Professor Midwinter?
# Adrian B 2012-09-03 20:52
Looking back at this previous article (link below)regarding Professor midwinter and the comments that Ian Smart posted on Labour Hame & his own blog. I would say that they were all in it together, All are members of the Labour party, all spewing out rubbish in a manor of a spoilt kid.
# xyz 2012-09-03 07:46
Got a chip on your shoulder? got a complaint against anything Scottish?

We'll give you airtime! Time to rave incoherently about the Scottish government with limited scrutiny of your arguments from us.

give us a call

We are real journalists.

# Mad Jock McMad 2012-09-03 09:47
As I remember it the Lord Chief Justice in England is on public record saying that 60% of the 2007 Criminal Law Act is unenforceable as it either contravenes the tennets of English Law or is so poorly written it frequently contradicts itself. (Interview BBC 4 series on English Law)
# lochside 2012-09-03 16:18
So Bonnington has direct in-house links with the BBC? Surprise, Surprise! The cronyism in the Scottish msm is even more stinking than the Labour West Coast Lawyer cabal. It really is incredible how this 'profession' is so eager to subordinate itself to its English Law betters e.g. Tony Bliar's 'The Supreme Court'. It illustrates just how badly served the Scottish people are by our main institutions: the Law; the Churches; even our two biggest football teams (yeah I'm including Rangers here!) all are corrupt toadying Unionist inferior imitations of what they could be. And the interesting thing is, that once their little-minded ossified cartels are threatened, they start screaming abuse at the progressive Scottish government, when only blind men that they are, can't see their pathetic fiefdoms have been and continue to be, eaten away by British institutions overbearing power grabs.
# Leswil 2012-09-03 16:55
I watched his interviews on STV and BBC,
he seems an opinionated and nasty piece of work.
Oh, may have something to do with him being a EX BBC lawyer.
# Barontorc 2012-09-04 01:31
Are you sure he's an ex BBC legal adviser?

You must be logged-in in order to post a comment.


Donate to Newsnet Scotland


Latest Comments