The Alex Salmond Trial and Censorship 175

I am just off to the High Court to check out physical arrangements for access on Monday, and was inspired to send the above email, which I add as an update.

On Monday morning at 6am I shall again be queuing up outside a courtroom. I never had any intention this blog would become so concentrated on court reporting, but then I never expected the state to be trying to put so many of my friends in prison.

Nor had I expected at this stage in my life to be threatened with prison myself. The Procurator Fiscal’s office in Scotland wrote to me to say that they are considering prosecuting me for contempt of court – which when it is related to a major criminal trial, carries a maximum sentence in Scotland of up to two years in prison.

20200121 LRM letter to C Murray[353039]

I have still not heard where their consideration of whether to prosecute me has led them. But the job of the Crown Office is to prosecute criminals, not to write them letters. My interpretation of the letter, which I believe would be the interpretation of any reasonable person, is that it is an attempt at censorship by terrifying me into removing the article of which they complain.

The Crown should not be doing that. If the Crown is ordering the suppression of satire without the decision of a judge, then we have set Scottish society and Scottish liberties back several hundred years. The Crown is not in the position of somebody who feels themselves libeled and might send a “cease and desist”. For the Crown to attempt direct censorship without judicial authority is a very serious breach of human rights.

The article complained of, clearly labeled as fiction, does not mention Alex Salmond nor any of his accusers and is largely a satire on the Moorov Doctrine. If the Crown is saying that it is illegal to satirise the Moorov Doctrine lest you reduce its efficacy, that again appears to me to have serious human rights implications. A senior QC told me shortly before Christmas that, entirely unrelated to the Salmond Case, they had been briefed by the Procurator Fiscal Service that it was their policy to push and extend the use of Moorov Doctrine. There is a very wide public interest in discussing that.

All of which naturally constrains my reporting next week. It is of course important both to give the fairest hearing to the accusers and not to prejudice jury members on the facts with which they are faced. But I cannot even tell you what happened in court at the last case management hearing, although it is very important. When combined with the anonymity of the accusers, it does make it very difficult indeed to report the background to the case, which given its profound political implications that engage a legitimate wider public interest, is deeply disturbing to me. I shall however do my best, in full compliance with both the law of contempt and the rulings of the court, but operating hard up against that boundary in the interests of free speech and public knowledge, to the extent that is permissible and legitimate, to report as much of the truth as I can.

Hopefully without going to prison. Wish me luck.

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175 thoughts on “The Alex Salmond Trial and Censorship

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  • remember kronstadt

    Best wishes and your success for the trial Craig. Reading the case, and similar ones, the tone of case law is is being replaced by the icy jargon of corporatism which chills the blood.

  • Jon

    I’ve been having a bit of a fish about for an Idiot’s Guide to the Moorov Doctrine (I had not heard of it up until now). It sounds to me that it is used in sexual offence cases where the odds of having more than one independent witness per incident is unlikely, and thus the existence of several independent complaints, with one victim/witness per incident, is considered a reasonable test of veracity. Furthermore, there is some discussion about what time should be allowed to pass between incidents for their similar nature to be considered corroborating.

    If the Procurator Fiscal Service says that it plans to extend the use of this doctrine, that does not seem to me to be an entirely bad thing. Would Craig or anyone provide some reasons as to why this approach might lead to a miscarriage of justice? I would assume that where it is used, the complainants are still subject to exploratory questions to investigate the details of their report, and that the possibility they are repeating a similar report from another complainant is considered. I’m aware of the feminist ideal that “all sexual assault complaints are true” and I understand the value of that from the perspective of supportive friends. Nevertheless, I have some faith that the court system is a bit more hard-nosed about it, since it has to maintain the presumption of innocence.

  • Falcore

    If it really was contempt of court, they would have simply come and arrested you for contempt of court. That letter smells like something Shillings would send.

    Having read the article it was pretty obvious who it was aimed at, simply adding a line of “this is fictional” doesn’t clear you of that one. However you have released no details from the court case, you have not named anyone and you have not in any way interfered with the court case. As far as I am aware you have not broken any reporting restrictions, nor commented on the actions of the court.

    As comments on here clearly show, not everyone linked the article to that specific court case. Not a cat’s chance in hell they would take you to court for that article. Its just a typical lawyers shotgun approach.

  • John McLeod

    I am not surprised that you received this letter from the court. When I read your ‘yes minister’ blog, it seemed obvious to me that it was referring to the Salmond case. If I interpreted it in that way, I would assume that many other readers would have had a similar response. The relationshio between factual reporting, on the one hand, and fiction/satire on the other, is always hard to define. Fiction and satire are essential elements of any kind of free society. None of us want to be in a situation such as that experienced by Vasily Grossman, who wrote one of the great novels of the 20th century (Life and Fate) that was not published for many years because of censorship in Stalin’s Russia.

    I believe that the warning letter sent to you by the court is justified. I am sure there are many people who have their own knowledge about the Salmond case, who are keeping it to themselves in order to ensure that the trial is as fair as it can be. if the interpretation of events that you suggest in your ‘yes minister’ blog is valid, surely the defence lawyers wil present that perspective very forcefully to the jury. l

    • Dungroanin

      I suppose satire like Swift suggesting the Irish should eat babies during their famine ignored by the British State is now to be banned!

      ‘But by making such a shocking and distasteful suggestion, he meant to call attention to the severity of the problem that was at hand. In doing so, he also cemented his place in history as the father of Western satire, a form that has been going strong ever since.’

      Craig can be considered a child of Swiftian western satire – no matter how close to the bone it gets.

      • Los

        Don’t laugh. With Matt HandJob’s handling of the supermarkets it may still come to pass.

        • nevermind

          So much to his barefaced lies to the nation last night claiming the Government had come to an arrangement for supermarkets to ensure we are fed, in any crisis, not just this virus episode being thrown at us. Which was the opposite of the truth.
          Nobody in Government has talked to the trade bods buyers or their logistics, zero communications. We must feel assured by their fine smiling reassurances, sadly they are barefaced lies that smack of incompetence.

      • Pooh


        Jolly good comment.

        I’ve understood Craig received a letter from Deputy Crown Agent Lindsey Miller of Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, not from the Court. With the good old Alzheimer’s at the gate, I must’ve missed something…

        I’ve read all the comments at the link you’ve given @09:41. You don’t mince words, doncha?. 🙂

        • Dungroanin

          Cheers Pooh,
          After 3 years of btl interaction- ironically I joined at the Guardian after many years of lurking to defend a certain Marina Hyde against flak over a sketch she did over brexit, against humourless Remainers – the scales soon fell away from realising that there were actual organised bullies trolling there tolerated by the Mods as ordinary punters got sanctioned ; also the dubiousness of the journalism there and ultimately from the saintliness of La Hyde as her personal attack on Assange spat out amongst her many other failings.

          My netiquette has evolved to not take any prisoners and attack as soon as I spot a troll – life is to short to play their games. ?

  • Republicofscotland

    Sounds like a shot across your bow Craig from the somewhat compliant Scottish judiciary. Probably set off by your excellent analysis of the Assange fit up at Woolwich.

    They don’t like people dissecting their unscrupulous actions, keep the good work up I wish you luck especially when you push against, but not breaking the barriers.

  • Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh

    Extract from letter –

    “Crown Counsel holds the view that the article published on your website gives rise to a potential contempt of court. You will be in no doubt as to the most serious nature of the above criminal case. COPFS consider the publication of this material by you to be a matter of considerable gravity. We are very concerned that material has been published which may prejudice any reader and therefore, potentially prejudice proceedings against the accused.”

    Did the Daily Record ever receive such a communication?

    • Cubby

      No but it wasn’t a criminal case at that time so no reporting restrictions in place.

      It doesn’t make the Daily Redcoat’s reporting any better though. Just who did leak the details to the Daily Redcoat?

  • Mary

    Pray God that Julian stays clear of the Covid19 virus, especially when he is currently so debilitated. Also that Craig and family stay clear of it.

  • Kenneth G Coutts

    I, we look forwards to your investigative journalism, Craig.
    The whole thing stinks to high heaven.
    It is what it is, will the accusers be named once proceedings
    Start ?
    Take it easy out there, watch your back!
    Onwards and upwards.
    Independence, Aye!

    • William Nigel

      Know owt about the law, Ken? Accusers in sex cases are never named unless they waive their right to anonymity. Murray will name them at his peril.

      • William Nigel

        And please don’t suggest Murray is an investigative journalist, or any kind of journalist. He’s delusional enough as it is.

  • Willie

    Just a small comment to add if I may to say that I couldn’t agree more that the Yes Minister satire was a play on the Moorov principle and not anything to do with Alex Salmond.

    And yes Assange certainly seems to have been set up.

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