Respect all in the criminal justice system, says Lord Advocate

13 Dec


The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe, QC, has stressed the need to respect the dignity and rights of all within the criminal justice system, whether victim, witness or accused.

Delivering the JUSTICE Human Rights Day Lecture, Mr Wolffe addressed comments by the Dean of Faculty, Gordon Jackson, QC, that, while greater recognition of victims was to be welcomed, the independence of prosecutors, acting in the public interest, was being eroded in practice.

“You will find no-one more resolute in defence of the independence of the public prosecutor than I am…But I do not, for my part, believe that there is any conflict between resolute professional prosecutorial independence and the provision of appropriate and meaningful support to the victims of crime,” Mr Wolffe said.

“Our responsibilities as prosecutors demand that we engage with victims of crime, that we seek to give victims the confidence to come forward and to speak up, and that we seek to support and enable them through the criminal justice process.”

Mr Wolffe cited cases about disclosure and a suspect’s right of access to a solicitor which had resulted in changes to ensure that the rights of an accused were more fully respected.

He said: “The defence bar, both solicitors and counsel, have an essential role in securing the fundamental rights of the accused and the integrity of our criminal justice process. A vigorous and independent legal profession is one of the guarantors of the rule of law and fundamental rights, and Scotland is fortunate in that regard. It has, after all, been the persistence of defence lawyers that has, since 1998, compelled us to examine different aspects of our criminal justice system against our international commitments and to take fundamental rights seriously.”

Looking to the future, Mr Wolffe added: “What we can do, as a prosecution service, is to be an agent of change – to work hard with our colleagues across the justice system and in the legal professions to change our criminal justice system for the better, in ways which will serve more effectively not only the victims of crime, but all those who come into contact with the criminal justice system, whether as victims, witnesses or accused persons.”

Quoting the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said: “We should aspire to a system which routinely respects the ‘inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’, whilst being rigorous in our insistence on the obligation to secure a fair trial to every person who faces a criminal charge.”

The full lecture, hosted by the Faculty in the Laigh Hall, is here