Robert Green’s defence in his breach of the peace trial in Stonehaven this week substantially involved witnesses he was not permitted to cross-examine. Sheriff Principal Bowen denied Robert the right to have former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini take the stand under oath.
We all know he wanted to put Elish Angiolini in the dock because she was allegedly instrumental in the cover-up of abuses against Hollie Greig during her tenure as Regional Procurator Fiscal for the Grampian, Highland and Islands region of Scotland.
Normally in jurisdictions where the law is above board and not tainted by corruption, a judge has to declare affiliations with witnesses and, if necessary, a judge should recuse himself from the proceedings if there is any hint of association.
In a case where one of the witnesses is a high ranking legal official, it stands to reason that a judge may, in the course of the trial, be placed in a situation where their judgement could be prejudicial to his superior(s). This is a difficult situation but it does happen and the impact of any suspected bias could be significantly reduced by having a judge who has had relatively little interaction with any witnesses who may be from within the legal profession.
So, what if Sheriff Principal Bowen had interactions with Elish Angiolini and Frank Mullholland in circumstances beyond their role in the legal profession?
This would surely be a circumstance in which a Defendant had reasonable grounds to request that the judge be recused and replaced with a judge who had less perceived bias.
Sheriff Principal Edward Farquharson Bowen QC sits on the Northern Lighthouse Board alongside Elish Angiolini and Frank Mullholland.
Now, astute readers will note that all Sheriff Principals in Scotland are required to sit on the Northern Lighthouse Board and in that sense, Bowen has no choice in the matter. His role in that instance is an ancient legal function. However, Robert Green’s trial should have taken place with a Sheriff – not a Sheriff Principal.
Judicial FunctionsA sheriff principal sometimes sits in criminal courts or conducts major fatal accident inquiries. However, a sheriff principal is primarily an appellate judge who sits alone to determine appeals from the decisions of sheriffs in civil matters. An appeal lies from the sheriff principal to the Inner House of the Court of Session.In terms of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971 sheriffs principal are charged with a number of duties in respect of the courts for which they are responsible, including in particular a duty “to secure the speedy and efficient disposal of business in the sheriff courts of that sheriffdom”.
Notwithstanding the various professional affiliations between Sheriff Principal Bowen, Angiolini and Mullholland, why did Bowen preside over Robert Green’s trial? We’ve seen Bowen sit on appeal cases including the one where he let a paedophile go free (here). If his role is more suited to an appellate court then what on earth was he doing defending his legal buddies in a breach of the peace case?
A quick glance at other professional affiliations shows that Sheriff Principal Bowen has worked with Lord Cullen – the master whitewash merchant on the Dunblane Inquiry. In this respect, Bowen was the Chairman of SACRO and Cullen is its Honorary President.
We all know that these people rub shoulders all the time and in the low population of Scotland, this handful of lawmen are bound to be best buddies. But does Bowen have to be so obvious? Are his professional relationships with Angiolini and Mullholland sufficiently strong that he should have recused himself?
Tell us what you think.
Should Sheriff Principal Bowen have recused himself from Robert Green’s Trial?
- Yes – he is too involved with the protaganists
- No – he is totally honest and impartial