This is the headline over an article by Ian Hamilton QC about payments made to witnesses in the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial which is published today on the website of Scottish lawyers' magazine The Firm. One paragraph reads as follows:
"Never in the history of Scots law has the crown adduced witnesses who have been paid, or promised payment, by a third party in connection with their evidence. Why were they adduced in this case? The Lord Advocate must explain why."
Of course, it now appears that such witnesses were adduced by the Crown ten years ago in the trial of Abdelbaset Megrahi and Lamin Fhimah in the Scottish Court at Camp Zeist. This formed the subject of paragraph 3.1.7 of Megrahi's Grounds of Appeal in the appeal that was abandoned in August 2009. Ian Hamilton recognises this in his article when he states:
"Purchase of witnesses has no place in Scots law. Indeed payment by the Americans of witnesses in the Megrahi case is one of the things that make many people think the conviction is unsafe."
[My own understanding of the present state of Scottish criminal procedure is that there is no bar on, or necessary impropriety in, the Crown's leading the evidence of a witness who has been paid, or has been promised payment, by a third party. What is grossly improper -- and is alleged to have happened in the Lockerbie case -- is concealing from the defence and the court the fact that such payment has been made or promised, since it is a factor highly relevant to the court's assessment of the witness's credibility.]