A modern solution for a modern government was how the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd QC summed up proposals for the establishment of a UK Supreme Court on 21 January 2004, presenting the case for the establishment of a Supreme Court at a Law Society of Scotland event focusing on proposed constitutional reforms. Speaking to an audience of around 60 lawyers, the Lord Advocate emphasised the need for everyone involved in the legal system to be forward thinking in considering this issue, and underlined his belief in the need for continued modernisation. He said:
We need to develop a modern system to reflect the institutions and challenges of modern government, especially the public’s expectations of transparency and accountability. In my view, the creation of a Supreme
Court is the way forward. There is no future for this country, and this legal system, in looking to the past. Our legal ancestors did what they thought was right for them. Times have changed. Scottish lawyers and legislators must now look to what is right for us, what will work for us, what will best reflect the interests and the genius and the spirit of Scots law in the United Kingdom in the 21st century. Through debate and discussion of these proposals, Scots lawyers and legislators can shape changes to the legal system, which will endure well into the 21st century.
The Lord Advocate has dismissed claims that the proposals are not compatible with the provisions of the Treaty of Union, saying: It is unsound in law and judgement to argue that the Supreme Court would be incompatible with the Treaty of Union. The Lord Advocate will also participate in the Scottish Parliamentary debate on this issue that has been scheduled for 29 January. The Lord Advocate’s speech can be viewed and printed from the News page of the Crown Office website at http://www.crownoffice.gov.uk.
As Tam Dalyell, the person who first asked the ‘West Lothian question’ in the 1970s, announced on 13 January 2004 his impending retirement as MP for West Lothian, so his question – why should Scottish MPs have a say on purely England & Wales matters at Westminster when their English counterparts had no say in devolved Scottish matters? – was returning (see previously No 231) to hover over issues about the Westminster Parliament and the United Kingdom in the post-devolution era. It appeared likely that the votes of Scottish MPs would be crucial in ensuring the onward progress of the Government’s Higher Education Bill, which will inter alia introduce so called ‘top up’ tuition fees at English & Welsh universities – a measure which Scottish Ministers are currently declining to adopt for Scottish universities, and which has also been opposed by the Scottish Parliament’s Enterprise Committee in a report published on 18 December 2003 (although the Committee noted that the English provision would have an adverse effect on Scotland’s universities through a resultant imbalance of resources). The Higher Education Bill, which has received strong personal support from the Prime Minister, will be first debated at Westminster on 27 January 2004, the day before the publication of the report of the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the apparent suicide in July 2003 of the MoD weapons scientist Dr David Kelly. The only Scottish Conservative MP, Peter Duncan, has already announced that he will not vote on the Bill; his example appears unlikely to be followed by many other Scots amongst the Labour, LibDem or SNP MPs.
The New Year’s Honours List for 2004 saw the award of a KCMG for David Edward, who had just retired as the UK judge in the Court of Justice of the European Communities. Sir David, who had previously been awarded the CMG, is a member of the Scottish bar and was Salvesen Professor of European Institutions at Edinburgh Law School before taking up his judicial appointment in Luxembourg, initially in the Court of First Instance before going on to the ECJ. Sir David is the fifth member (present or past) of the Edinburgh law faculty to be knighted in recent times, the earlier ones being the late Sir Thomas Smith, Sir Colin Campbell (now Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham University and chair of the English judicial appointments board), Sir Gerald Gordon, and Sir Neil MacCormick. The last-named still holds his Edinburgh chair, while Sir David and Sir Gerald are both honorary professors in the law school.
SHERIFF COURT (AND LAW COMMISSION) CULTURE
Scots Law News is indebted to Professor Kenneth Reid who has taken time off from law reform to draw our attention to M, Appellant 2003 SLT (Sh Ct) 112, and the following dictum at p.115A per Sheriff I C Simpson: Wagner’s Ring Cycle begins with Das Rheingold, not Die Walkurie. A round of golf begins with the drive from the first tee, not the second hole. Professor Reid points out that there is a mis-spelling of the second Ring Opera: it’s actually Die Walküre (note also the Umlaut – possibly there is a misprint in the SLT?). As we near the end of 2003 and look forward to 2004, it is good to be reminded that culture remains broad at the pinnacles of the Scottish legal system.