UPDATE Some journalists, NGOs and observers registering for my trial using details below are being asked for the case number. This is HCA/2020-06/XM.
My trial for Contempt of Court in my reporting of the Alex Salmond trial is on 27 and 28 January at the Court of Appeals in Edinburgh. Contempt of Court charges can be brought by a judge or by the Crown. These are being brought by the Crown – an important point. It is a strange charge. The potential penalties are very serious – up to two years in prison and an “unlimited” fine. Yet it is not a criminal offence nor a criminal trial, and despite the life-changing penalties there is no jury; but the judges do have to rule on the facts to the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt.
I am being charged with contempt of court on three separate counts:
a) Publication of material likely to influence the jury
b) Jigsaw Identification of Protected Identities
c) Reporting the Exclusion of a Juror
These are some of the key issues involved:
a) Publication of Material Likely to Influence the Jury
- My defence team believe this is the first modern prosecution in Scotland (or England) for a publication allegedly influencing a jury in favour of the defendant. All previous prosecutions for at least 150 years appear to be for prejudice against a defendant. It has always been assumed the Crown and the judge are big enough to counter any prejudice against the Crown (If anyone wishes to research the unprecedented prosecution point further that would be welcome; it is of course difficult to prove a negative)
- The Lord Advocate cannot order censorship. The Crown has not had the power of censorship in Scotland for 300 years. I am not obliged to obey an instruction from the Crown Office to remove an article. If the Lord Advocate genuinely believed an article could influence a trial, he had a public duty to go to a judge before the trial, in a timely manner, and ask the judge to order the removal of the article. I would have contested, but obeyed if I lost – only a judge can order the removal of an article.
- It is ludicrous to claim my little blog influenced the jury, compared to the massive outpouring of mainstream media articles amplifying salacious allegations against Salmond released by the Crown Office.
- Political satire is protected speech
- My articles were well founded journalism indicating the Salmond prosecution was a conspiracy involving senior members of the Scottish Government and SNP, with the active corrupt collusion of the prosecutorial authorities. This is true and evidenced in documents held by the Crown but kept from the Salmond trial, kept from the Holyrood Inquiry and so far kept from my trial. Publication of this true information was of crucial public interest and protected by my Article 10 rights to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights.
b) Jigsaw Identification
- I did not jigsaw identify anyone.
- The Lord Advocate argues that I am responsible for tweets in reply to my own tweets. We argue this is not true – I am not the publisher of twitter – and would set a very dangerous precedent.
- The Crown is specifically arguing that the bar for jigsaw identification is that any one single individual with specialist knowledge would be likely to identify a witness from my writing; this could be, for example, an individual who worked in the same office, or the doorman at Bute House who knew who was there on which day. My defence is that jigsaw identification means likely to identify to the public. If the Crown’s definition were accepted, there would be a massive chilling effect on journalism.
- The mainstream media demonstrably gave more jigsaw identification information than I did, notably, but not only, Dani Garavelli and Kirsty Wark. I have been singled out for prosecution on political grounds.
- The court order protecting identities did not come into being before 10 March 2020. Most of the Crown’s alleged examples are before this date. We absolutely deny my articles enable jigsaw identification, but even if they did they were not illegal at the time of publication.
- Up until 10 March 2020, had I wished to publish identities I could have done so quite legally in the articles before that date which the Lord Advocate cites. Unlike England, there is no law in Scotland barring publication of witness identity absent a specific court order. The fact I did not do so in the year between my learning identities and the ban coming into force, in several articles on the case where I could legally have published the identities, make nonsense the Lord Advocate’s contention that I deliberately gave clues.
- After Alex Salmond’s acquittal the false accusers continued to take advantage of the court anonymity order to decry and undermine the jury’s verdict and malign Alex Salmond. Given the high positions of influence the women hold, I decided to challenge in court whether there was not a public interest in stopping this behaviour, in this unique case greater than the important general public interest in protecting identities. I did not take it upon myself to determine this, but commissioned and paid for a senior advocate to prepare a case for the judge to decide. I received the draft application from my senior counsel but the application was postponed by Covid. I would not have taken this expensive and responsible legal route if I was leaking the identities illegally as alleged.
c) Juror Exclusion
- All I published was that a juror had been excluded but I was not allowed to say why. We argue this does not breach the court order preventing disclosure of the proceedings where the exclusion was discussed and ordered. The simple fact of the exclusion was not secret. (Though it is a very interesting story indeed which I shall tell you once I can).
AN APPEAL FOR HELP
I hope that brief account gives some idea of the legal arguments involved. But everybody whose head is not buttoned up the back knows this is not really what the case is about. This is about the ability of those in power in Scotland to use the law to persecute their political opponents. They tried it on Alex Salmond, they tried it on Mark Hirst – both blowing up in their faces – and now they are trying it on me.
If there were a jury, I would not lose one moment’s sleep. But there is not. I am buoyed by the fact that what the Alex Salmond and Mark Hirst trials show is that while both Police Scotland and the Crown Office may stink of rotten corruption at the top, Scotland’s judiciary is still independent. It is worth noting that the simply astonishing admission of the Lord Advocate and Crown Office to malicious prosecution recently in the Rangers case is going to cost the taxpayer almost £50 million, once all costs are in and awards paid out. The police and legal costs for the Alex Salmond case total some £10 million wasted.
I call on journalists worldwide who support freedom of speech to pay attention and to cover this trial. The case is HMA vs Craig John Murray in the Court of Appeals, 27 January. The emails for registration are [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected] – please copy to all three. I also ask you to press specifically for video access, not the dreadful quality sound only phone-in.
I also call on NGO’s, political associations, community bodies and elected representatives worldwide to apply to register for observer status using the same email details.
Once registered, journalists and observers should ask the court for copies of the court documents. I am severely constrained in giving out documents at present.
Members of the public will be able to register to listen live. I am afraid this will very probably be the same poor quality sound only link down the telephone. It also involves giving the court some registration details, and may incur call charges to a London number. Registration details will be posted here by the court shortly – where you will also find details for Martin Keatings’ vital case on Scotland’s right to hold an independence referendum without Boris Johnson’s permission.
I appeal for as many people as can do so to register and listen in. Your support is vital to me both morally and practically. I can see no reason why registered members of the public should not inquire to the court as to the availability of the documents. Justice is supposed to be seen to be done.
Long term readers of my blog know that for well over a decade we have campaigned against injustice, ill-treatment, imprisonment and detention of many, both the famous and the obscure. I therefore feel little shame in asking everyone now to try and join in the same cause on my own behalf.
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