Andrew Stevenson: A good day for hypocrisy



Andrew Stevenson

Solicitor advocate Andrew Stevenson, secretary of the Scottish Law Agents’ Society, points out the irony in the bizarre remarks of the Scottish Greens yesterday that this week’s Supreme Court judgment marked a “dark day for democracy”. Their claims call into question the independence of the British judiciary, whose most senior figure wrote the book on human rights in Scotland – literally.

Due to a recent power sharing deal the Green Party now holds power in the Scottish government, despite having no directly elected MSPs. So, It is alarming that one of those lawmakers so abjectly fails to understand the crucial role of the courts in ensuring that we must all act within our legal limits. Maggie Chapman claims that the Supreme Court’s ruling signifies a “dark day for democracy in the UK”.

We fundamentally disagree.

Democracy and accountability have been strengthened as a result of this outcome. The rule of law is one of the hallmarks of democracy, and it provides that every authority, including the Scottish Parliament, may act only within its remit. Where the state oversteps the limits of its powers it is vital for the courts to intervene and prevent that from happening. It can do that only if called upon to do so. In this instance, the reference to the court was made by two law officers, acting responsibly and in good faith. If the Scottish Parliament had done its job constitutionally they would not have had to do so and parliamentary and court time, as well as taxpayers’ money, would not have been wasted.

That these officers were right to go to court has been borne out by the decision. Framed by Lord Reed, President of the court, co-author of Human Rights Law in Scotland and one of the finest of legal minds of his generation, MSPs would be well advised to read the judgment and to learn from it.

Instead of recognising that the Scottish Parliament was in the wrong, we have crass and petulant remarks that “the UK government has used the courts to overturn a decision of the Scottish Parliament to protect the rights of children [which] reveals their disregard for human rights”. This echoes the claim made by the First Minister earlier this year that it was “morally repugnant” for the “Tory UK government to go to court.” This issue has nothing to do with Tories and everything to do with the rule of law. Every Conservative MSP voted in favour of these two bills alongside the rest of the Scottish Parliament.

The criticism thrown around by Ms Chapman the day after the court’s ruling is redolent of the Daily Mail’s “Enemies of the People” attack on the judges who held that the UK government required the consent of Parliament to trigger Article 50. It is deeply worrying that some politicians in Scotland appear so resentful of proper checks and balances being applied to their exercise of power.