A SCOTTISH peer has suggested that the country’s legal system may need a rethink in the wake of questions about the impartiality of the role of the Lord Advocate.

Liberal Democrat grandee Sir Ming Campbell said Scotland should consider giving greater authority to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), and appointing a role similar to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in England and Wales to lead it.


Lord Advocate James Wolffe

It comes after concerns were raised over the dual role held by the current Lord Advocate James Wolffe, who is both a Scottish Government minister and head of the COPFS.

Although questions have been raised in the past under previous Lord Advocates, the issue was drawn into sharp focus over the involvement of Mr Wolffe in the handling of the Scottish Government’s case against former First Minister Alex Salmond.

Sir Ming, who has been a QC for more than half a century, suggested that Scotland should look at adopting a DPP-style role, which was previously held by Labour leader Keir Starmer,as a means of creating additional separation between the government and the prosecution service.

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He told The Herald on Sunday: “We have always prided ourselves on the Scottish legal system, but perhaps it is time to borrow something from south of the border.

“The Attorney General in England is a member of the government and has dual responsibilities as a result, but in addition to that there is the office of the DPP which means there is further distancing between the Advocate General and prosecuting decisions, although the Advocate General continues to have ultimate responsibility.

“We would do well to look at that, and see whether or not similar arrangements would be applicable in Scotland.”


Sir Menzies 'Ming' Campbell

Asked about why he thought the impartiality of the role had come under such scrutiny now, the Liberal Democrat grandee said: ”I was called to the bar in 1968, I have known every Lord Advocate since 1968 and I am more than confident that all of them have understood the dual responsibility that the office for the lord advocate creates, and have been at pains to ensure that the impartiality was beyond challenge.”

He said it was imperative that both outwardly, as well as internally within government and the prosecution service, that impartiality was made clear by the Lord Advocate both now and in the future.

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His comments come after a survey by Scottish Legal News published on Friday, suggested that the majority of Scotland’s legal profession thought there should be a separation of the roles held by the Lord Advocate entirely.

The poll of 350 legal professionals found that 81.4 per cent believed that the two roles should be split and held by separate people, while 12% said it should remain the same.

The remaining 6.6% were in favour of keeping the dual role but limiting it.

In feedback provided by respondents to Scottish Legal News, one person said of James Wolffe QC: "The present holder of the office is an outstanding individual but that is no argument for preserving an office that objectively speaking involves a clear potential conflict of interest. If the post of Lord Advocate were created now, of new, it would be at risk of immediately being struck down by judicial review.”

Another stressed the importance of perception, saying: “The separation of the roles would not only increase public confidence in the apolitical nature of the post but also allow for more targeted parliamentary scrutiny if required."

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Another legal professional added: "While I’m sure Mr Wolffe has conducted himself properly and with integrity throughout this episode, this seems to me like one of the situations where it is not enough that the right thing is done, but the right thing also needs to be seen to be done."