THE VOICE OF JUSTICE FROM THE GRAVE.
When the Court of Appeal considered Beattie's case in 1994 it had a problem because the judge at the 1973 appeal had got several important facts wrong. In particular he said that Beattie had given evidence at his trial ( he didn't) - and had repeated the story about the men with top hats and mirrors. Beattie denied he ever told this story to anyone - he said the police made it up.
As a means of correcting this remarkable error, the 1994 Appeal Court decided to treat the appeal of George Beattie as if the appeal had taken place in 1975, after the Criminal Procedure Act of that year. Why they chose the 1975 situation instead of the 1973 situation remains unclear.
It took a certain leap of the imagination to treat the appeal in this way, for, although it may be relatively easy to now interpret the law as it stood in 1975, each era has an atmosphere which is unique to that moment in history. The seventies were not the same as the nineties; and interpretations are usually affected by the prevailing mood of the period in which they are made.
In my files I already had a good basis for assessing how Beattie's appeal might have gone in 1975 - as the 1994 Appeal Court chose to place it. In 1983 I obtained the opinion of a distinguished Lord of Appeal of that period.
Lord Kilbrandon was a Lord of Appeal from 1971 to 1976. He was called to the Bar in 1932 and became Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in 1957. In 1965 he was made chairman of the Scottish Law Commission. He died in 1989 after a distinguished career during which he was chosen to be Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Constitution. This was a man of immense wisdom who shaped the Scottish nation as well as interpreted its laws.
In 1983, before I had made any investigation into the Beattie case, I submitted the trial transcript to Lord Kilbrandon for an opinion. He was therefore in the exact same position that he would have been in 1975 as a judge in the appeal court - if Beattie had been granted an appeal at that time.
Lord Kilbrandon produced a long and detailed and balanced report. " I am bound to come to the conclusion," he summarised, " that Beattie should have been acquitted."
At that time I pointed out to Lord Kilbrandon that evidence would need to be obtained that pointed positively to Beattie's innocence if the Secretary of State were to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal. My objective in asking for his report was to evaluate where investigation was necessary to get that evidence. Lord Kilbrandon did not think there was sufficient evidence on his reading of the trial transcript alone to prove Beattie's innocence. However, this Lord of Appeal who actually sat in 1973 and 1975 was adamant that there had been a wrongful conviction.
" The weight of circumstantial evidence strongly favours Beattie's case," Lord Kilbrandon wrote in his report. " This is nearly always the best kind of evidence, as it certainly is here. I won't particularize the witnesses, but there is unequivocal and convincing evidence that within a short time of the struggle, in which the assailant inflicted 19 stab wounds on the victim, Beattie was seen by unimpeachable witnesses, who knew him well, and who saw nothing exceptional about his demeanour or his appearance. It is to my mind almost incredible that he could so recently have been engaged in the activity I have described. I cannot understand why he was not extensively blood-stained and noticeably agitated. But there is stronger evidence that that."
He continued with an examination of the forensic evidence which has formed much of the background of Beattie's two appeals. He was particularly impressed by the lack of any trace evidence on Beattie. " Evidence, even negative evidence, of this character is much more satisfactory than conclusions attempted to be drawn from accurate and close-fitting estimates of time and place."
And he was also concerned about a total lack of evidence that Beattie had ever had a knife. " Where did Beattie get the knife?" he wrote. " It was a 'carving knife or a butchers knife'. There is no evidence that Beattie was in the habit of carrying such a knife, and if he was not, he would not have had it in his possession when he left home, because it is fanciful to suppose that he made up his mind, on that evening, to stab some random person, who turned out to be Margaret McLaughlin."
Particularly interesting was Lord Kilbrandon's comment on the bizarre story Beattie was alleged to have told the police - that six men with tops hats and mirrors had done the crime, making him watch.
" Such an incident could not have taken place without some traces of the gang being found. Probably the whole incident, as an actual happening, can be ignored."
If Beattie had come before the appeal court in 1975, he might well have had his case heard by Lord Kilbrandon. The report Lord Kilbrandon gave me is a good idea of the kind of judgement he would have made of the case in 1975. And his opinion is unequivocal - this eminent Lord of Appeal in 1975 said that Beattie should have been acquitted.
The 1994 Appeal Court decided that the 1975 Judges would have dismissed Beattie's appeal. The 1994 court was wrong.
If you wish to know why the appeal court in 2009 got it wrong, watch the film "The defeat of Justice" elsewhere on this site
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