Thursday, 2 June 2011

A Citizens' Initiative

Last week a letter in a Scottish newspaper caught my eye. My admiration of the writer knows no bounds as he has continued to contribute to the Scottish media for many a year.

His letter reiterates what some think is Scotland but not enough.  The Scots need to stop thinking government has all the answers because it hasn't. The people have the answers if they think hard enough and  our political representatives are there to listen to their views then attempt to dispense their desires.

Mr Orr's suggestion of a Citizens Initiative should not be scorned or disregarded. It should be seriously considered by the Scottish Government.

More power to the people  (source)
Sir, — Much has been written of the need for adequate checks and balances on the new SNP Government, which commands an outright majority. One such way is to transfer more power from the Parliament to the people.
So-called "Citizens' Initiatives" provide the means to do this, with mini-referendums being held once a certain number of names on a petition have been collected.
The Citizens' Initiative is a form of direct democracy common in the US, where it operates in almost half the states, and in Switzerland and New Zealand.
Voters in Zurich recently rejected proposed bans on "suicide tourism."
Implementing Citizens' Initiatives would revitalise our stagnant political process and restore credibility and trust in the political system, engaging people directly and giving them a real say on issues that matter most.
It is time we gave power back to the people and this direct democracy measure could do just this.
Alex Orr.
Leamington Terrace,


Hamish said...

Subrosa, I entirely agree with the sentiments of the letter you quote.
I did find your second paragraph difficult to understand, not only because you use 'extradite' in a sense that is new to me. But that's why your blog remains on my Favo(u)rites list.
Totally off-topic, but I think the picture you have chosen to decorate this piece is the one I have as my 'screen-saver'.
I take pleasure in it every time I powwr up my computer.
People sometimes ask, where is it, and I have to confess I haven't the faintest idea. Do you know?

Jo G said...

Scots should maybe begin by reminding the First Minister and his Justice Secretary that they do not have the authority to tailor the justice system in ways which do not suggest they want justice itself at the centre of the process.

IN his last term Mr MacAskill and Mr Salmond publicly declared Megrahi guilty as charged even while a report by the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission suggested otherwise on six separate grounds.

Mr MacAskill then took steps to prevent the SCCRC from publishing its report.

He went further still by altering the remit of the SCCRC thus ensuring it will not again be able to independently scrutinise cases and make recommendations. No, its authority to do that has been removed. Now a judge will decide whether he agrees with what the independent body - which itself was formed to produce INDEPENDENT findings away from judges - has said.

And now, with Mr Salmond, he has moved on to go to war with the Supreme Court for daring to suggest that another Scottish court had got something wrong.

To the ordinary man in the street Mr Salmond and Mr MacAskill are looking like politicians who are attempting to deny Scots the right to seek justice along similar paths to our English neighbours. They favour the STrasburg route. The issue with that is the court at Strasburg does not have the right to quash convictions. That's some kind of justice they are championing. It is actually quite disturbing.

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Hamish, it's Dunnottar Castle, just South of Stonehaven.

Allan said...

Jo G.

I was unaware of that. I had wondered why MacAskil had delivered such a pious speech when Megrahi's release was announced (when he spoke of a higher power and did not mention the unsafe nature of his conviction).

Interestingly, Megrahi also suffered from the same technical difficulties that the Nat Fraser case highlighted, namely the non disclosure of evidence.

Apogee said...

Alex Orr makes a suggestion well worth considering for the whole UK.
The Swiss model is also worth considering.
Trouble dealing with politicians is "who is watching the watchers", who is going to keep them honest.
Look at the shower in Westminster and weep.

subrosa said...

Hamish, I used the word extradite in the sense of 'handover' but of course the noun means something else these days, so you will note I've changed it to dispense. :)

The picture is Dunnottter Castle a place I often visit when I want a little 'me' time. It's best later in the day when the visitors have gone and you can just walk down to the cliff top and sit there looking at the view.

If you fancy the long haul up and down the cliff the place is open to visitors.

subrosa said...

i couldn't agree more with you Jo as I too think the handling of the Supreme Court's involvement has been exceptionally poor. Hope you read Kenneth Roy's lead article yesterday.

subrosa said...

Auch Conan, you beat me to it. :)

subrosa said...

I should have included the Swiss system Apogee. Now you have. :)

Jo G said...

"Interestingly, Megrahi also suffered from the same technical difficulties that the Nat Fraser case highlighted, namely the non disclosure of evidence."

Allan, indeed he did. On that occasion our Justice Minister simply gagged the Scottish Criminal Case Review Commission making it impossible for them to publish their findings. Their findings were that there were six separate grounds to suspect there may have been a miscarriage of justice at Megrahi's trial.

That MacAskill went on to alter the remit of the SCCRC is extremely disturbing. Although part of the Justice establishment it is independent which (once)allowed it to review cases impartially. More importantly however its findings were taken seriously and it had clout. That clout is gone thanks to Mr MacAskill tinkering with the Commission's role, remit and authority.

I am concerned when I hear our First Minister ranting about preferring the Strasbourg route because Strasbourg can't "unlock cells". I say if a person is innocent or has been unfairly convicted then cells should indeed be unlocked. Anyone who says the Scottish Justice system cannot be challenged simply because it is the Scottish Justice system has lost the plot. Salmond should stop digging.

subrosa said...

I agree Jo, I don't think Alex Salmond's response to this has been at all sensible.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Surely the question begging an answer is whether the system of justice in Scotland needs to be reviewed and updated to meet the demands placed on it by Human Rights legislation.

Leave aside for the moment the politics and dubiety of pride and prejudice and concentrate instead on the quality of justice being served. Since I see no difference between a verdict being considered flawed by any reviewing court whether it be in London, Strasbourg or the court of informed opinion.

There are still doubts over the Lockerbie case in both the verdicts of trial and appeals.

The Cadder case required changes to procedures which were easily adopted and can only serve to enhance the integrity and administration of justice.

In the Fraser case the argument of whether crucial or otherwise evidence could or should have been placed in front of the jury and, if it had, could it have influenced the verdict. From what I've managed to glean from the newspapers it seems the evidence concerned wasn't so much withheld from the defence as the details involved were not known (or so it's claimed) by the prosecutors.

If it is true, it lets the original verdict off the hook, but if a subsequent appeal is allowed largely due to this new evidence the test must be to its relevance related to the original verdict not its position to some arcane process.

It is the latter point which seems to my mind to underline the unease which for many seems to cast a blight on the Scottish system of justice. Yet the high priests of its inner temples seem reluctant to consider even the need for reform, adjustment or explanation by way of proving the reliability and integrity of the present system.

As to the arguments on superiority and sovereignty, that can be left to the governments and their lawyers to sort out. But as an advocate for an Independent Scotland, I'd want to enter the negotiations with a system of justice that tips the scales well towards infallibility.

subrosa said...

Excellent contribution Crinkly. I feel the Scottish government reacted rather than reconsidered the position of Scots law in the Fraser case, although, having read the judgement from the Edinburgh appeal (hard work to translate) it would seem the Appeal Court here decided differently as you know.

The HRA does need to be revised. So many of our judiciary translate it differently and even the latest increase in HR lawyers seem to differ.

Will the HRA be touched? I very much doubt it. It doesn't apply to the 'little person' who can't afford HR lawyers and have no chance of receiving legal aid - unless the case is sensational enough to make the front pages of the tabloids.

If it did, there would be thousands of elderly (or their relatives) claiming they're having their human rights abused while they live in certain private care homes. Can't have them doing that can we?

Jo G said...

"From what I've managed to glean from the newspapers it seems the evidence concerned wasn't so much withheld from the defence as the details involved were not known (or so it's claimed) by the prosecutors."

John, I'm not sure that's the case. Some deputy or other, I forget his original title now, (I think from the PF) was interviewed. He admitted he had seen those precognitions by the Police Officers but had decided, himself, this information should not go forward because he believed, himself, that a particular situation existed. That is NOT his job. That is attempting to pervert the course of justice in fact.

Every person subject to Scots Law is entitled to have ALL evidence presented during their trial. That has not happened here. It didn't happen with Megrahi either and that case was about the loss of nearly 300 lives.

The court at Zeist wasn't told the US intended to pay 3 MILLION dollars to the Gauci brothers after the trial. No Scottish court would have accepted the Gaucis as reliable witnesses had this been known.

It wasn't told there was a break in at Heathrow on the morning of the day Pan Am 103 went down.

We cannot go on about pride in Scots Law while politicians and dodgy dealings persist within our justice system. It either functions with the principle of justice at the centre or it doesn't. Ours, clearly, does not. It is a sham. And seeing Salmond using the "Scottishness" of it as some sort of symbol to persuade the rest of us to defend it, protect it even, is an insult to the intelligence of most. It does not deserve to be defended or protected, especially not after its unjust and, some would say corrupt, conduct over Megrahi.

Jo G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jo G said...

I would say that the decision by that person to leave out the detail of the Police precognition statements, technically, withheld evidence from the defence even if the prosecution didn't know of it either. Legally anything known by the prosecutuion which would have a bearing on the accused's situation MUST be given to the defence. The PF guy would have known this: ultimately it appears he decided to tell neither side about what those precognitiion statements said. In my view he should be sacked and charged actually.

(There was argument along those grounds during the Megrahi trial. The Lord Advocate at the time actually misled the judges by claiming there was nothing in cables exchanges between the prosecution and US authorities concerning a witness in the Megrahi case. (The defence was calling for the release of the contents to them.) In the end the judges asked to see the detail. The cables revealed that this particular witness was actually in the employ of the US security services and had been for some time. The judges had no option but to dismiss that witness. I'll repeat once more, Scotland's LORD ADVOCATE (Colin Boyd) MISLED THE COURT, in that trial. That is how rotten our "justice" system is.

John Page said...

As an Englishman I don't want to intrude on your discussion about the Megrahi case (which I hadn't expected in the comments to this post anyway!).

Delighted, though, to see you raising the issue of citizens' initiatives, which I think would have legs, unlike Richard's referism.

However, it was through his referism blog list that I found this one. So far I'm glad I did :)

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Jo G - agreed - just didn't want to go through all the details.

But their is a protective hubris within the Scottish legal system which does need to be investigated, exposed and de-constructed.

Jo G said...

John Page, on Subrosa's blog all are welcome and you should feel free to contribute. The Megrahi issue is actually a UK issue anyway as was Lockerbie.

Jo G said...

John (Crinkly): agreed. Makes it all the harder to understand why Salmond and MacAskill are defending it.

John Page said...

I see the connection now.

You want a referendum on the Megrahi verdict?

subrosa said...

No John I don't because the subject is too complex.

What I want is an independent enquiry into the Megrahi business.

John Page said...

Och I was just having a wee joke.

subrosa said...

Sorry John, I'm usually reasonably sharp at recognising wit. Maybe it's because I've been painting bits outside the house all day. Most folk would loose their sense of humour when they kick over the tin of paint. At least it was onto chuckies. :)

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