(687) SAFETY IN JUDICIAL NUMBERS?
On 5 October 2007, after a trial before Lord Uist which had lasted nine days and attracted extensive media coverage, Isaac Purcell pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of culpable homicide in respect of his hit-and-run killing of a 10-year-old boy at a pedestrian crossing in Edinburgh. Purcell had driven his car through the crossing’s red light at over 60 mph and on the wrong side of the road, and remained on the run for five months before handing himself in to police. He was initially charged with murder, but that charge was withdrawn from the jury by the court after a legal debate heard not only by Lord Uist but also by two other judges of the High Court of Justiciary.
Scots Law News is not quite sure what procedure was in use here, but wonders if it was coincidental that this came hard on the heels of another high-profile case, the World’s End trial, in which Lord Clarke, acting on his own (albeit after legal argument), controversially held that the accused had no case to answer at the end of the prosecution case (see Nos 679, 681, 684, 685). In the debate that followed that decision, retired judge Lord Coulsfield suggested that judges should not take such difficult and inevitably controversial decisions on their own, but should instead consult with colleagues. According to the BBC, Lord Coulsfield said: It was done at one time in the High Court in the old days before the Court of Criminal Appeal existed