Thursday, 16 June 2011

Tony Kelly v Alex Salmond?

A leading human-rights lawyer is considering suing Alex Salmond, claiming that the First Minister has undermined his professional integrity.

Tony Kelly sought legal advice after he was criticised by Mr Salmond in a magazine interview in which the SNP leader claimed that the lawyer believed that the judicial system was there to "make sure" he could make an "incredibly comfortable living". (...)

Prof Kelly, a visiting professor at Strathclyde University, said he was "sad" that the First Minister had called into question his "professional integrity" and described Mr Salmond's comments as a "personal slur".

He added: "For a politician to attack me for the work that I do and to mistake so seriously my motivation cannot be left unremarked upon.

"With regret, I have had to take legal advice and following upon that, given the nature of attacks upon me, I have decided to formalise my position."

The Scotsman understands that Prof Kelly is waiting to see what response he receives from Mr Salmond before deciding how far to take his legal action. (...)

Referring to compensation paid out to prisoners, Mr Salmond suggested that Prof Kelly "believes that the judicial system is there to serve their interests and make sure they can make an incredibly comfortable living by trailing around the prison cells and other establishments of Scotland trying to find what might be construed as a breach of human rights of an unlimited liability back to 1999".

The interview [in Holyrood magazine] also saw Mr Salmond make an unprecedented personal attack on Lord Hope of Craighead, one of two Scottish judges who sit on the UK Supreme Court, arguing that his rulings were allowing the "vilest people on the planet" to be compensated by the taxpayer. (...)

Tony Kelly's most famous client was undoubtedly Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence agent who was freed by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill despite being convicted of the Lockerbie [bombing].

[From a report in today's edition of The Scotsman. A similar report in The Herald contains the following:]

The First Minister told Holyrood magazine: “The judicial system does not exist to serve Professor Kelly, it exists to serve the people and any judicial system which allows that to happen would fall into disrepute, and what’s more, it costs lives because if you take £100 million out of the justice budget you cost lives; less police, less courts, less effective justice and incidentally, less Legal Aid and it is an inevitable consequence of that sort of thing.”

Prof Kelly, who represented the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, initially said he was “upset” at the remarks, claiming they were “wholly without foundation”.

But he raised the stakes last night when he announced he had taken the first steps towards suing Mr Salmond through the English courts, where the legal system allows the use of controversial conditional fee arrangements in defamation cases.

He added: “I am sad that the First Minister has called into question my professional integrity.

“I act for the most maligned in our society and in so doing fully expect that such a role is disliked and at times misunderstood by others.

“However, for a politician to attack me for the work that I do – and to mistake so seriously my motivation – cannot be left unremarked upon.”

Prof Kelly continued: “Human rights for those imprisoned are not popular. They tell us some things that we do not like to hear – the courts have repeatedly told the Government that it has breached human rights – including some of the most important articles on the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It is a matter of regret that the First Minister appears to lay blame at the door of the law, the judges, the courts and now, finally, the lawyers for taking them forward.

“Mr Salmond, in directing his comments in my direction, fails once again to deal with the issues of principle involved in the matters that I take forward on behalf of clients.

“The continued violation of human rights by the Government will, I hope, still be able to be challenged, or – as with his Justice Secretary’s comments about the Supreme Court – is this Mr Salmond telling me that ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’?”


  1. Why is he thinking about bringing his case through the English legal system?

  2. According to The Herald, it's because the English legal system "allows the use of controversial conditional fee arrangements in defamation cases."

  3. Sorry to keep saying this but Tony Kelly is also the brother of James Kelly, a Labour MSP at Holyrood. Is there a bit of Party politics going on here too? (Prof B, if you need to remove this post I'll understand.)

    Also I would admire Mr Tony Kelly more if he challenged Salmond openly about the sort of "justice" Salmond and MacAskill stood for in their handling of the Megrahi case.

  4. I would admire Tony Kelly more if he hadn't just shrugged and said, "oh well there was only a 67% chance of winning anyway" when asked about Megrahi dropping his appeal.

    The fact that only 2/3rds of appearls referred by the SCCRC are successful has nothing to do with how likely any particular appeal is to be successful. He managed to make it sound as if he hadn't thought that much of his chances all along.

  5. Yes Rolfe, I remember that quote from him.

  6. So Kelly going 'English' when the Scottish judicial system wont cut it for him - there's a contradiction in there somewhere, surely, which I'll go ponder.

  7. Surely the independence of Scots Law and the relevance of human rights are not mutually exclusive? Isn't it possible to tell the English Supreme Court to Foxtrot Oscar, but also uphold concerns surrounding Nat Fraser's conviction? I have a feeling that this should all have been handled better.

  8. I wholly agree, Vronsky. As I wrote on The Firm's website: “In an ideal world, I would prefer there to be no Scottish recourse, civil or criminal, to a UK Supreme Court. But, at present, on human rights issues, Scottish prosecutors and courts are getting it wrong far too often for comfort. How this is to be remedied, I do not know (but having career Crown Office civil servants as our law officers certainly doesn't help)."
    Perhaps the most worrying aspect of it all is the apparent total failure of the Scottish Government even to recognise that there is a problem in the Scots criminal justice system.

  9. The big issue for me is that even when a Scottish Court has got something wrong, as in the Fraser case and the withholding of evidence by someone in the PF's office, two appeals failed to see, or rather acknowledge, serious issues. Two precognition statements from Police Officers involved in the case mentioned those rings at the beginning. The prosecution wanted to argue that the rings only turned up later so the statements saying they were there all along were left out.

    What would we call that? Its tampering with evidence, its attempting to pervert the course of justice, its denying a person, no matter what we think of him, a fair trial, its contempt. And all by someone in the PF's office? Why would Salmond want to defend that, or say no one has the right to criticise it?

    And that's without even getting into the Megrahi case.