Thursday, January 27, 2011

Exclusive: Crown use of paid witnesses in Sheridan case is "malpractice" says QC

03 Jan 2011
Former criminal practitioner Ian Hamilton QC has told The Firm that he believes the reliance on paid witnesses by the Crown in the Sheridan case may constitute malpractice, and has called for the Crown Office to publish records of the witness interviews.

He says that "never in the history of Scots law" has the Crown brought forward in argument testimony by witnesses who had been paid previously by a third party. In the Sheridan case, the anounts were as high as £200,000.

"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," he says.

"In High Court cases all witnesses are seen and precognosed by the Crown Office staff. The questions I pose would have been asked of all the witnesses. Records of these interviews lie in the Crown Office. They must now be published. Video records of the police interview of Mr Sheridan were published; so also can Crown Office records. The public interest demands it. "

Hamilton, who
previously accused the Lord Advocate of "prostituting" Scots law by bringing the Sheridan prosecution after a civil jury had previously found in his favour, said that the payment of money to key witnesses in this case for evidence could have been avoided and the evidence obtained by the police at no cost.

"When the News of the World heard that a video record of an alleged confession existed their duty was immediately to report this to the police. The police would then get a warrant to search the haver’s house. That is the usual method," he says.

"Why did Coulson, the Editor of The News of the World, come from London to interview and pay a potential crown witness for a video recording?

This is contrary to proper criminal procedure.

Purchase of witnesses has no place in Scots law.

 Indeed payment by the Americans of witnesses in the Magrahi case is one of the things that make many people think the conviction is unsafe.

 Why did Coulson hand over £200,000 when the police could have got the same evidence for nothing?

"Either the recording was evidence or it was not evidence and, if it was fabricated, no amount of money could make it sweet.

 In using at least one paid witness who had first been seen and paid, or promised payment, the Lord Advocate may have been guilty of malpractice in public office. She may have an answer that we should all hear."

The Crown Office has acknowledged The Firm's requests for comment but declined to respond.

Hamilton's remarks can be read in full her