Category Archives: HMA v Sinclair

HMA v Angus Sinclair – Double Jeopardy and the World’s End Murders

I am delighted to have seen that the Lallands Peat Worrier has written about the problems the possible new prosecution of Mr Sinclair will face in relation to the above notorious case. As always, he makes his points succinctly and clearly (qualities which from time to time fail me). I will therefore not bother with the 5,000 words I was planning, but instead would commend LPW’s article to you.

His post starts:-

“Only a numpty would fail to discern the semantic difference. Contrast the phrase: “we are investigating the possibility of a retrial” and “a retrial will definitely happen”. The first formulation certainly suggests serious-minded application – a searching search rather than a dawdling, half-hearted intention to review an acquittal – but for the Scotsman to headline yesterday’s developments in this morning’s paper as “World’s End murders accused set for retrial” is appallingly irresponsible.”

Put shortly, I agree with his points regarding the hurdles the case faces in connection with getting over the hurdles of overturning the acquittal.

It is interesting that, even though the Scottish Law Commission recommended abolotion of the “double jeopardy” rule, they did not suggest making the change of retrospecyive effect.

However the SNP Executive decided to ignore that recommendation, and to make the legislation retrospective. There are major legal issues about retrospective legislation in criminal matters, and as is often the situation it appeared that that provision was brought in specifically to deal with one particular case.

It is rare in my experience that legislation introduced with one case directly as its target achieves its purpose – after all, the new law applies to all cases, not just the cause celebre du jour.

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Back in the days when commenting on issues of the day involved sending a letter to a newspaper, I did so in relation to this case.

My letter, published in the Herald on 13th September 2007, was in response to Ian Bell’s piece the previous day. Titled “When a legal system loses public respect” Mr Bell made a number of points about how, to the outside observer, the decision of Lord Clarke seemed perverse.

He ended by saying:-

“The authority of any legal system depends on the respect it commands. This does not mean that every decision has to be popular. It does mean that decisions should be comprehensible. Sinclair’s guilt for the murders of Christine Eadie and Helen Scott has not been proven. What you or I happen to believe is, like it or not, of no account. Just as important, however, is the fact that vast doubts still hang over Sinclair’s innocence. The old formula does not apply.

Confidence in the courts and the Crown Office has been undermined badly. Neither institution is entitled to behave as though the fact is of no account in its august proceedings. The public, whom justice serves, has been insulted. What might we do about that?” Continue reading

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Filed under Bad Law, Criminal Appeals, Criminal Law, HMA v Sinclair