Sturgeon accepts case for reform of Lord Advocate dual role

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said that going forward the job should be split into two posts.

Sturgeon accepts case for reform of Lord Advocate dual role Getty Images
The position currently sees a senior lawyer both heading up Scotland’s prosecution service and also advising ministers on legal manners.

There is a case for reforming the role of Scotland’s most senior law officer, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

With James Wolffe QC standing down as Lord Advocate, there have been calls for the dual nature of the position to be ended.

The position currently sees a senior lawyer both heading up Scotland’s prosecution service and also advising ministers on legal manners, sitting in the cabinet as part of this.

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said that going forward the job should be split into two posts, with a new Director of Public Prosecutions position set up.

He also argued responsibility for Fatal Accident Inquiries should be removed from the Crown Office in order to end “scandalous” long waits for such hearings to be held.

Raising the issue at First Minister’s Questions, McArthur said: “Reform is needed and the First Minister has the power to deliver change.”

He insisted: “The role of the Lord Advocate needs (to be) split to end the conflicts of interest.”

Sturgeon noted that “since the dawn of devolution” the Lord Advocate has held this dual role.

But she added that she believed “there is a case for reform”, adding that in the SNP election manifesto her party had pledged to hold a consultation on this.

The First Minister however stressed that while there was a case for change “it is really important we take the time to get that right”.

She told MSPs: “Because of the dual role of law officers, law officers can be called to this Parliament to answer questions on all of the issues that perhaps fall within the prosecutorial function of the law officers, they can be questioned in this chamber.

“If we separate those roles then that may not be possible to do that in the future in the same way.

“That may be something Parliament is comfortable with, but it is one example of the need to take care over this and to make sure we get it right and we try to move forward on the basis of as much consensus and proper consideration as possible.”

In addition to Wolffe stepping down from the role of Lord Advocate, Alison Di Rollo is to resign from the position of Solicitor General.

Earlier this year, former first minister Alex Salmond called for Wolffe to quit over his role in the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against him.

Speaking before a Scottish Parliament inquiry into the affair in March, Wolffe denied any political influence relating to Salmond’s criminal prosecution, which ultimately saw him acquitted of 13 charges at Edinburgh’s High Court last year.

Wolffe also made a public apology over the wrongful prosecution of two men – before he became Lord Advocate – following a fraud investigation relating to the sale of Rangers.

David Whitehouse and Paul Clark had been appointed joint administrators of the club in 2012, but were arrested in 2014 regarding their involvement with the administration.

The pair were awarded more than £20 million after charges brought against them were dropped or dismissed.