Vince Cable is the Business Secretary at Westminster. He is a Lib Dem. He has been an MP for a long time, so, one would assume, actually knows something about the constitution.
However he seems to have decided, in one fell swoop, to forget about the separation of powers and about the independence of the prosecution system. He also seems a bit clueless regarding devolution
Business Secretary Vince Cable has written to the Scottish legal authorities urging a rapid decision on whether to prosecute former directors of Royal Bank of Scotland.
Mr Cable said the matter had been referred to them in January last year.
He said he was very keen for a decision to be reached as quickly as possible to maintain public confidence.
The piece then states that he has written to the Advocate General for Scotland asking for clarification on this.
As an aside, the Advocate General is Lord Wallace of Tankerness. In his previous life he was Jim Wallace, Lib Dem MP and MSP. He served as Deputy First Minister for 8 years.
Presumably, as fellow Lib Dems, Mr Cable and Lord Wallace could have had a conversation without having to issue a letter and publicise it? After all, if Mr Cable’s goal was to find out what was happening, rather than to create headlines about him “urging progress” and concerns about the authorities “foot-dragging” then that is what he would have done, surely?
So instead he writes to the Advocate General.
Has he confused his Advocate General and his Lord Advocate?
As the Advocate-General’s page on Gov.uk says:-
The Advocate General for Scotland is one of the Law Officers of the Crown, who advise the government on Scots law.
Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act requires that the Advocate General be provided with notice of all ‘devolution issues’ raised before courts or tribunals in Scotland. Devolution issues include challenges to the legislative competence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament and to whether a member of the Scottish government has complied with the EU Convention on Human Rights or EU Community law
The Advocate General can choose intervene, on behalf of the UK government, in proceedings in which devolution issues have been raised if he so decides.
The Office of the Advocate General considers all Scottish Parliament Bills as they progress, in consultation with interested UK government departments, to assess their legislative competency. Under section 33 of the Scotland Act, the Advocate General has the power to refer Scottish Parliament Bills to the Supreme Court for decisions on their legislative competence.
Lord Wallace’s reply ought to read as follows:-
LOved your Lycra cat-suit when I last saw you at the Trocadero – that ballroo dabcing gives you a good work-out, doesn’t it!
Turning to your letter about RBS:-
It has nothing to do with me, so if you want to know, ask the Lord Advocate, who is in charge of the decision.
However asking him would look like political interference in the investigation and prosecution of alleged crime, even though you say it is not, and as such might assist in providing an additional defence to anyone who is prosecuted.
If there is a prosecution, and any of the accused raise a “devolution issue” then I, or my office, has to consider whether to intervene, so you raising this with me compromises not only you, but me as well.
So please be quiet about it.
Yours in sport,
But he won’t, though he should.
Mr Cable is concerned about confidence in the banking system and so wants a speedy decision. After all, he refers to the matter having been referred to Crown Office last January.
With all due respect to Mr Cable, he is either not living in the real world, or else is indulging in political grandstanding. (Heaven forbid he is doing the latter.)
If there are to be criminal proceedings against anyone, then the allegations will be detailed and complex. There are no suggestions that any of the allegedly culpable officials were sneaking out of the RBS HQ laden with sacks of cash, or were putting money that was not theirs into secret accounts in the British Virgin Islands, for example.
Instead the allegation is that there was gross mis-management, leading to the bank’s demise, until it re-appeared as newbank but still with all of its history and titles (sorry – got two posts mixed up there).
Even a simple fraud case, and there are very few simple fraud cases, takes many months to investigate.
Investigations by liquidators or the Insolvency Service into bankrupt companies often take many years.
Mr Cable wants Crown Office to hurry this investigation along, and to make decisions about prosecutions, which depend on accumulating evidence, seeing if there is evidence of criminality and then deciding if there is sufficient prospect of a conviction, beyond reasonable doubt, and whether a prosecution is in the public interest, in less than 18 months?
Mr Cable also stated that his enquiry was NOT political interference in the criminal process. If he felt the need in advance to say that, then that, per se, suggests that it is, or at the very least he thought it could be
His question contains too the implication that, somehow, Crown Office is taking its time over the decision, that the attentions of the prosecutors under the Lord Advocate are being devoted to the theft, allegedly, of Mrs McGillicuddy’s cat in Cupar, rather than possible RBS prosecutions…
Politicians are kept out of the criminal process (except, as in the expenses scandal) when in the dock, for very good reasons. It was considered entirely inappropriate for politicians to set tariffs for prisoners on life sentences. Politics ought not to be part of the criminal justice decision making process.
If Mr Cable too was respecting the devolution settlement, then he would have thought about asking the correct people.
However, to my eyes, it looks simply as if Mr Cable wants to be seen to be getting tough on the bankers. He wants to be seen as being the person who is standing up for the shareholders and for the country. He should well know that, even if a criminal case started today, the chances of it coming to any conclusion before the next election are very slim.
But it might suit politicians to comment that there were people facing trial for ruining the banks, whose actions took place under the previous government, while, of course, making it clear that these were maters for the criminal courts and that the people involved enjoyed the presumption of innocence.
In fact the start of a prosecution would be a disaster for Mr Cable wanting to make capital from this, as he would, or ought to be, precluded from comment under contempt laws!
And, as I mention above, the devolution settlement means that the Advocate General has nothing to do with the prosecution of crime in Scotland.
But I guess these small technicalities mean little when there is headline to be gained about “getting things done” and “putting on pressure”.
Finally, how many former directors of RBS have been sued by the company (now mainly state-owned) for damages for malfeasance, negligence or incompetence? After all, in law, if their management of the company caused it losses, then there could be cases against them.
Handing back, or stripping, knighthoods does not really make much difference, and indeed perpetuates the myth that it was only a couple of greedy so-and-sos who were responsible, rather than the whole banking culture, which became infected with gold fever, or greed, as it would more prosaically be known!
“Politician talks rubbish” is as boring a headline as “Dog bites man” but sometimes it needs to be pointed out.
Posted by Paul McConville