Three years for Mr Sheridan

Tommy Sheridan, convicted of perjury in December 2010, was on 26 January 2011 sentenced to three years' imprisonment by trial judge Lord Bracadale at the High Court of Justiciary in Glasgow.

The best account of what transpired in court is to be found on James Doleman's Sheridan Trial blog.  It appears that Mr Sheridan's 40-minute plea in mitigation (full text here) was a much better performance than his five-hour closing speech to the jury back in December.  There is an intriguing reference to the jury's majority verdict being the "narrowest" possible, i.e. 8-6 as there were only 14 jurors; but no confirmation of that from elsewhere.  (Nor, may it be noted, any sign of action against the juror who posted her support for Mr Sheridan's innocence on Facebook.)

The sentence is a little longer than Scots Law News had anticipated, but much shorter than the five years widely predicted in the media.  It means that, provided he behaves in prison, Mr Sheridan should be back in circulation around the middle of 2012.  In the meantime, an appeal against his conviction has been confirmed.  With stories about News of the World phone hacking gaining momentum and former editor Andy Coulson having to resign as the Prime Minister's Director of Communications as a result, so the prospects brightened of a further civil action against the newspaper by Mr Sheridan as a possible victim of their intrusive practices.

The BBC is very proud of the fact that its reporter Raymond Buchanan became the first journalist to tweet live from a Scottish courtroom, Lord Bracadale having granted permission for this to happen; but makes no reference to the James Doleman blog, rightly praised in the Scottish Review as the only serious attempt to report what was actually going on in the Sheridan trial as it happened.


The BBC reports a statement by Gail Sheridan that she will not be standing as a Solidarity candidate in the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary election.  The Herald speculates that Tommy Sheridan will spend only a year in prison and will thereafter spend six months in an electronic tag on home curfew.

A promising start

2011 has made a promising Scots Law News start.

Our final post of 2010 anticipated continuing interest from activities around Mr Tommy Sheridan, and as noted further below, we have not been disappointed.  But the best of all the new year stories was that of Nurse Poltis and the Red Cross, reported here and here by the BBC.  Scots Law News wonders if this wasn't a missed opportunity to educate the children of Glasgow and around in a positive way about the vital significance of the famous symbol, and doubts whether its meaning in the fields of war would in any way be diluted by its use in a pantomime, even one in Glasgow.  The relevant law is in section 6 of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957.

The most striking of the many stories about Mr Sheridan bore out another of our valedictory comments on 2010, namely the increasing ubiquity of the social network site Facebook wherever it perhaps ought not to be.  This time it was the post of one of the Sheridan trial jurors on Mr Sheridan's Facebook page, declaring her (and her husband's) support for our hero's innocence, and her disgust at her fellow jurors (the majority, obviously) who thought otherwise.  Details here per The Daily Record and here per The Herald.  It seems clear that the juror's conduct is a criminal offence under section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 since it broke the confidentiality of the jury's proceedings. (Note also section 9 on the use of recording devices in court, BTW).  The matter may fall to be dealt with by Lord Bracadale at the same time as he declares Mr Sheridan's sentence on 26 January.

Next in the interest list was the news that Mrs Sheridan will be a candidate in the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary election, standing of course for the Solidarity Party founded by her husband after his acrimonious departure from the Scottish Socialist Party.  This appeared to upset that other well-dressed socialist, George Galloway, who is also standing in the same election for the Respect Party; he fears a fatal split in the vote for the militant left.  He may be right – if we can put it that way.

There was also talk of further civil actions: by Mr Sheridan against the News of the World for infringement of privacy, and by Mrs Sheridan against the police for the manner in which their interrogation of her was carried out (in particular the removal of her rosary).  The actio iniuriarum, the place of which has been so much debated in recent years (see Whitty and Zimmermann (eds), Rights of Personality in Scots Law, Dundee University Press 2009; Elspeth Reid, Personality, Confidentiality and Privacy in Scots Law (SULI, W Green 2010), may yet get itself into court.  But the threats to sue have beennot much more than that so far, nor is it clear in which court they might be made good.  Could Mr Sheridan take a leaf from J K Rowling's book on successful litigation and head south?

Personality rights, and their limits, were also to the fore in our final new year's tale, the Scottish Government's consultation on whether the law of defamation should be extended to offer protection to the reputation of the dead against false stories about them published posthumously.  The paper has a nice snappy title: "Death of a Good Name".  The consultation, published on 11 January 2011, can be read here; answers to be in by 4 April if you want to have a say.