More chaos for Scottish courts

The Scottish courts have been thrown into even deeper crisis by the Lord Advocate's decision to suspend huge numbers of Justices of the Peace from hearing trials.

About 80 JPs – around 10 per cent of the total in Scotland – will not be allowed to hear cases from today due to fears that their status may be vulnerable to challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights. Only JPs who are also councillors or who are directly appointed by the councils will be affected.

The suspensions follow the recent Court of Appeal ruling which banned the use of Scotland's 129 temporary sheriffs as contrary to the European Convention because the Lord Advocate can hire and fire them at will.

Shortly after winning this landmark victory, Scottish civil liberties lawyer, Jim Keegan, announced he was looking into challenging the validity of Scotland's JPs too.

It is understood the Lord Advocate feared the ruling could apply to these JPs since they do not have security of tenure: as councillors they are nominated by their local authority and can be discharged at any time. A Crown Office spokesman says the ban on these JPs hearing trials will last until at least January to allow the legal implications to be assessed.

Although banned from hearing trials, the JPs will be continue with other court duties such as the issuing of search warrants.