Back in June we blogged about the prosecution of former Edradynate Estate gamekeeper David Campbell for alleged offences including the malicious damage of crops (it is claimed he poisoned them by spraying with an unknown substance, causing them to rot and perish) and the alleged theft of a thermal imaging spotting scope (see here).
What fascinated us about this case was that the Crown Office deemed the charges sufficiently serious to begin proceedings ‘by petition’ – only serious cases are begun by petition and may be heard in the Sheriff Court or a higher court.
Contrast the Crown Office’s approach in this case with that of its approach in another case involving an unnamed Edradynate Estate gamekeeper, in relation to the alleged poisoning of several buzzards. Despite a plea from Police Scotland to proceed with a prosecution, the Crown Office decided to drop the case earlier this year with just a vague (and unsatisfactory) explanation (see here). We’re now waiting to see whether SNH will impose a General Licence restriction on the estate in relation to these and other alleged wildlife crimes.
But back to the alleged poisoning of crops and theft of estate equipment. We wanted to track this case so we called the Sheriff’s clerk to ask when the next hearing was due. The clerk was polite but firm; he couldn’t tell us because it was a secret. He didn’t actually use the word ‘secret’ but by telling us that he wasn’t allowed to provide any information, effectively he was saying it was a secret.
Eh? All we wanted to know was the date of the next hearing. We weren’t asking for any details about the case, the charges or whether the accused had entered a plea. Just the date of the next court hearing.
The clerk told us that all information relating to proceedings by petition were not for public release. We mentioned that this seemed a bit strange given that the details of the first court hearing back in June had been published in the local newspaper. He seemed a bit perplexed by this and went off to check with his manager. He came back and said he couldn’t tell us anything.
If there are any lawyers reading this blog who could explain why this case is shrouded in secrecy, given that it doesn’t appear to relate to a minor or to national security, we’d be very interested to hear those thoughts.
12 thoughts on “Secret trial for Edradynate Estate gamekeeper”
When public scrutiny keeps revealing the misdoings of the great and powerful, the first remedy of the establishment is always to remove that scrutiny. Just look at how the Tories have effectively gagged charities from doing the same thing with the “Lobbying Act” and the Brexit Powergrab.
Scroll down to item 3.
I am not a lawyer, but I can recall reading of serious cases starting with “petition proceedings”. That is always private, but the subsequent court proceedings will usually be public.
However, proceedings held entirely in private are not unknown – https://www.theguardian.com/law/2011/sep/16/secret-trial-scotland-disturbing-development
Sure need someone with suitable legal qualifications to look at this.
It may also be worthwhile ensuring that those in Holyrood are made aware that steps will be taken to put this into the media spotlights.
Was the court hearing held ‘in camera’ ? Meaning that the court was closed to members of the press or public?
If the case was heard in open court, then information relating to what took place should be avaialble?
I am confused!!
The first appearance on petition (i.e. the committal for further examination) is always held in private. I’m not sure how the local paper knew about the details of the case, but these hearings are not open to the public. A petition case is kept (more or less) confidential while being investigated by the PF, certainly at least until indictment / First Diet. It is irrelevant that this particular case relates to a former gamekeeper.
I suspect, however, that in this case the Sheriff Clerk Depute simply didn’t have the information requested. If the first appearance was in June it seems unlikely that there is a first diet date yet.
Thanks, Adam. The clerk did say he had information about the next court date but that he wasn’t allowed to tell us what it was.
Petition cases are indicted at least a month prior to the first diet date, so the accused’s name should appear on the Court Rolls soon.
(The Unlock the Law link posted above is quite good, although the Criminal Jusrice (Scotland) Act 2016 altered the procedures signifcantly, so for example the trial date for a sheriff and jury case is no longer on the indictment and is now appointed by the court at the first diet (section 81).)
The Scottish Criminal Justice system is a complete joke.
It’s credibility and effectiveness is seriously in question.
Simply rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Lets get back to the main question here – why is this case on petition, when the buzzard killing case was not?….one would be lead to assume that the lives of buzzards are less important to our justice system than one man’s personal property….
You might find the local newspaper has a link/system which enables them to see which cases are coming up. That was the unofficial way it was done, when I was a social worker at a court in Scotland, which I prefer not to name, as it may well have been simply an ‘local arrangement’ with the local press. Worth a try if you can
find a friendly court reporter.
I think that the legal system and the terminology is a bit of a mystery to most of us.
Useful Glossary here:-
Scrolling down to Petition this is stated.
“(2) In criminal proceedings, the Crown (the prosecutor) may begin proceedings by petition before deciding whether to prosecute on indictment or by summary complaint. Only serious cases are begun by petition.”
As Dave Dick has pointed out the reason why the case is commencing by petition is of special interest here.
Interesting how the same names keep cropping up