SCOTTISH lawyers fear new rules limiting criminal appeals could lead to miscarriages of justice and may even be contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Solicitors are being warned by the Faculty of Advocates that the new appeal provisions may be "contrary to the principles of natural justice". The faculty is also sending a paper to all solicitors explaining the pitfalls of the new provisions.
Andrew Hardie QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said: "Many solicitors still do not appreciate the radical nature of the provisions."
Leeona Dorrian QC, chair of the faculty's criminal law group, said the rules abolished previous direct access to the criminal appeal court.
Instead, a sifting process by a single judge, with a second stage provision for an appeal against refusal to a quorum of the High Court, will apply.
Dorrian said: "The disturbing thing...is both the sifting process and the second stage appeal occur in chambers, without the appellant being present and with no opportunity for oral or written representation other than the Note of appeal (prepared by an advocate)."
Dorrian said the new rules could "run counter to the principles of natural justice, and may be contrary to the European convention on Human Rights". Miscarriages of justice may occur, with inappropriate convictions or sentences standing "by default" she warned.
Ken Pritchard, Law Society of Scotland secretary, added: "If the judge's decision is purely on the papers before him, the drafting of grounds of appeal by solicitors will now be absolutely crucial."
The appeal provisions are the first of a raft of changes under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1995, which began to come into effect on 26 September.