Devolution spells dilution of Lord Advocate's powers

SCOTTISH lawyers have expressed concern that the traditional powers of the Lord Advocate – the equivalent of the Attorney General in England and Wales – are to be watered down under the Government's devolution plans.

Leading Scottish lawyer Ross Harper has joined the Law Society of Scotland in highlighting the effect devolution under the current plans would have on the role of the Lord Advocate, a post held by Andrew Hardie QC.

Under the plans the Lord Advocate, who currently advises the Government on Scottish law, will advise the Scottish First Minister instead, and a new post of Scottish Law Officer to the UK government will be created.

Harper, a former president of the International Bar Association and a prominent Scottish Tory, described the weakening of the Lord Advocate's powers as “regrettable” and said there could be a conflict of interest between the two law officers.

He also predicted that the judicial committee of the Privy Council, which is to adjudicate the division of responsibilities between Westminster and Edinburgh, may be “flooded” with cases and overwhelmed. And he said the use of the Privy Council instead of the Scottish courts as a court of first instance amounted to an “insult to the Scottish courts”.

His views about the Lord Advocate were echoed by Law Society of Scotland devolution committee convenor Seith Ireland, who questioned what would happen if the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Law Officer gave conflicting advice.

Ireland pointed out that the White Paper does not guarantee the presence of Scottish judges on the judicial committee. Currently, there is a convention that two Scottish judges sit when a Scottish case is heard in the Lords or the Privy Council.