Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tommy Sheridan's Statement in Mitigation Summary

As court resumed this morningm  Lord Bracadale,  the presiding judge in the trial of Her Majesties Advocate Vs Thomas Sheridan,  warned those attending  not to engage in any "inappropriate behavior," Tommy Sheridan rose from his seat in the dock of court number four to begin his plea in mitigation.

Mr Sheridan began by thanking the court workers, including the canteen staff, for their assistance in what had been a "long trial." Mr Sheridan  then told the court that he "recognised the jury had carried out a difficult task" in a case that was "long and arduous." He then stated that the court would be aware "by fair means or foul" that he had been convicted by "the narrowest of majorities." adding that while he agreed that perjury was a serious crime that "strikes at the heart of justice" it was important to look at the context in which he brought his case against the News of the World.

Mr Sheridan asked Lord Bracadale to recall that he had originally taken action against the News of the World over an article they had published on the 14th November 2004 that alleged he had a four year affair with Fiona McGuire, an article Mr Sheridan described as "grossly offensive and and defamatory" Mr Sheridan claimed that these allegations had been printed "without a shred of foundation" and were a "paid for packet of hurtful lies." Mr Sheridan then asked Lord Bracadale to ignore the "hype and publicity before, during and after the trial" and to "pause and reflect" on the circumstances of that case. Mr Sheridan stated to the court that "No-one had been killed" due to his offence and that "no-one had been falsely imprisoned" 

Mr Sheridan then asked the court to consider that there was no precedent in Scotland for a perjury trial arising from a civil case so therfore he would draw on the precedents of cases heard in English courts. He pointed out that Jonathan Aitken received a sentence of only 18 months for suborning a witness (his daughter) in a libel case and that Jeffrey Archer had been given a prison term of four years for a series of offences that were far more serious than those he had been convicted of committing. Mr Sheridan also asked Lord Bracadale to take into account the case of Regina Vs Fieldman were a 55 year old man of "previous good character" had been sentenced to nine months for three counts of perjury in an English Crown Court, adding that in his case the "fact of imprisonment" may be seen as "punishment enough" irrespective of the length of that imprisonment.

Mr Sheridan then told the court that while he accepted that a custodial sentence in this case was "inevitable" the length of the sentence he should be given was a matter of "serious debate." Mr Sheridan then made reference to what he called the "armchair lawyers" and the "vindictive media" who had been calling for a sentence of "four to five years." These articles Mr Sheridan described as being produced by "journalists with agendas" who had, in his words, "already announced my fate. Mr Sheridan stated to the court that his lawyer Aamer Anwar had assured him that Lord Bracadale would be "above such speculation."

Tommy Sheridan then asked the court to consider that his "his history" showed that financial gain had "never been a motivation for me" pointing out that fact that while he was a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) he had donated half of his salary to the Scottish Socialist Party. Mr Sheridan then went on to cite statistics from the English Crown Courts which showed that between 1991 and 2000, 830 people had been convicted of perjury of which 437 had received prison sentences. Mr Sheridan then stated these sentences were:

  • 1 person was sentenced to between 5 to 7 years
  • 3 people were sentenced to between 4 to 5 years
  • 3 people were sentenced to between 3-5 years
  • 11 people were sentenced to between 3-4 years
Mr Sheridan then asked Lord Bracadale to consider a particular case, again in England, where 30 defendents had been convicted of perjury in connection with, what Mr Sheridan described  as "Trial fixing" yet had only received 18 month sentences. Mr Sheridan then brought into consideration the case of  two defendents , who were convicted of committing perjury in a trial connected with the "Ice Cream Wars." A perjury that had led, in Mr Sheridan's words, to an innocent man "Serving 12 years of a life sentence." In these cases, Mr Sheridan told the court, those convicted served only 6 and 5 years and invited the court to take into account that while he "inevitably faced a custodial sentence" a sentence of more that four years would be "inconsistent with precendence.

Part Two to follow.


Anonymous said...

What is this "narrowest of majorities" that Tommy is referring to? Has the actual jury split being revealed? And if so, what was it?

Say It Ain't So Joe said...

Yes, anon 8.39 the 'narrow verdict' line is hard to pin down. Perhaps there's been chat but as far as I am aware at any official level the jury vote will never be revealed.

As ever James the reporting is excellent and gets to stuff we'll never see elsewhere - for example the detailed analysis of perjury sentences south of the border.

Anonymous said...

the "narrowest of verdicts" could only be an 8-6 split, otherwise it would be a "narrow" verdict. Or is this just Tommy-speak?

Jamesie Cotter Esq. Govan Prison Visits for Votes Campaign said...

Most, if not all, of that analysis was done by Susan Edwards in the Criminal Law Review of 2003. Virtually the only analysis available both to the judge and TS. Points of comparability, seriousness and multiple offences as compared to TS's situation I thought were well-articulated; although in treble the time an experienced advocate would take.
One aim of a good mitigation is to make the judge ponder whether the sentence he had in mind would be overturned on appeal. The retirement of Lord B for 30 minutes after TS's speech was a telling indication there was some judicial concern about a heavy sentence surviving the appeal court. In the end, three years is (on its own without any other appeal points) in all likelihood unappellable given the spread of authorities quoted.
Other than that, the mitigation achieved its main aims with some pitfalls, notably when TS claimed there were no victims of his crime other than the effect on the administration of justice itself. Try telling that to the numerous SSP members accused of lying by TS.

I felt that, as regards presentation,TS had been read the Riot Act by his lawyer as the former belligerence evident in his 5 hour closing speech could only be detected when he mentioned journalists and the NotW.

Not a SUN worshipper said...

This case has cost the taxpayer millions and now we will be picking up the tab daily for his incarceration.
Try explaining that to people in waiting lists for operations, and kids who have to learn in classes of 30 plus, or our crime ridden streets due to shortage of policeman. Sorry we would rather spend the money pursuing a liar who had the cheek to take on the News of The World.

Say It Ain't So Joe said...

Thanks for clarifying where that research originated. I don't suppose you have a link to it.

Not A sun Worshipper 8.24 a.m - that's a line of argument that old-stagers on the board like meself are used to seeing being used in both directions pretty much since the investigation started far less the trial opened. One argument is that the costs issue is a red herring as the vast bulk of expense is actually fixed costs i.e the cops were there being paid anyway irrespective of who's collar they were feeling then later so were the courts, court staff etc etc.

Another argument is that a big trial is actually public money well spent as it gets cash out into the wider economy thanks to the sheer number of piglets attaching themselves to the sow.

There is, of course, the very respectable argument that any sum spent simply to prove that a man lied is too much but it's not an argument that I am much taken by.
Pretty much every developed legal system has an offence of perjury or similar on the books so it's not as if we're talking about some piece of uniquely Scottish arcanery.

The jury thought it important enough to return their verdict on.

Anonymous said...

@ Say It Ain't So Joe - Talking of costs, I didn't hear any protestation of cost when that purpose-built courtroom was erected at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands solely to try one man (The Lockerbie Bomber).

Not a SUN worshipper said...

Yep I can see where your coming from. perjury is just as important as the trial of a man charged with mass murder of aeroplane passengers.
About as good an argument as I've heard from the anti TS clan.

Not a SUN worshipper said...

Say it ain't so Joe, I would rather the police were feeling a rapist or murderers collar than using the precious little time they have available chasing a guy who may or not have told some porkies in a civil trial against a tabloid.

Jamesie Cotter Esq. Gail for Govan said...

Say it ain't so Joe:

You can find the Susan Edwards article in the Criminal Law Review 2003 volume available in most law libraries or central council libraries. Must say I really enjoyed a visit to Glasgow yesterday. At least one city in Britain is a haven of character and characters. Long may you thrive. And I heard the local criminal Bar is not short of work after Cadder...hmmmm may see youse all again soon.

Say It Ain't So Joe said...


Anon 2.27. I wasn't on this board when the Lockerbie trial happened so you have no way of knowing what my views on that are.For what it is worth I am happy that if the prosecution had to take place (please note the 'if')then it should be in as neutral a venue as possible, within a country noted for its values of tolerance and plurality and with appropriate levels of high security to protect the accused, witnesses and other participants. It would have been cheaper indeed to have just renditioned the Libyans stateside for a quick show trial and execution but thankfully we didn't do that.

Not a Sun Worshipper 4.32

That's actually an only very slightly recycled Daily Mail letters page rant on why the hard-pressed police should leave the beleagured motorist alone to get on dealing with more important crimes .

Nowhere do I suggest that police and prosecution resources should be diverted from dealing with the sort of crimes you mention to concentrate on a perjury case.
Senior police are some of the most effective special pleaders and garden-tenders in our public services. I suspect that if the TS case had been stretching resources to the limit (as is the internal logic of the 'trying TS is a waste of money' argument) then we'd have heard plenty of moaning from senior cops. Which we didn't.

I'd suggest that if folk are seriously worried about the police being so badly stretched that in future a single investigation into a perjury case (albeit a lengthy and labour-intensive one)would throw policing into meltdown then the following are possible solutions

1. Invoice the SPL to fully underwrite the cost of policing football fixtures especially involving the Old Firm. That'd be a few million over the length of a season I'd expect. Okay the money the clubs would pay would have to be found somwhere- increased gate prices for the punters or (please God) less money for already over-paid players and their sundry agents and hangers-on?

2. Exempt police from Freedom of Information legislation - sure the odd FOI request turns up something rotten and smelly in the polis but we all know that 99% of requests are from green inkers who want to overturn a speeding ticket they got ten years ago, losers who got black-balled from even the masons or lazy undergraduate law students trying to pad out their dissertation.

3. Save time on the whole expensive reporting and prosecution malarkey by just authorising the Chief Constable and a dozen or so other senior officers to get folk locked up for an appropriate period as they see fit on the basis of a 'Certificate of Guilt' handed to a compliant magistrate.

It surprises me that an argument which if applied to the NHS would be supportive of rationing and internal markets is being used here to justify Tommy Sheridan being free to do what a jury of his peers found him guilty of.

Iain Mc said...

@ Say It Ain't So Joe said..6:50 PM

Couldn't disagree less :)

Jmaesie Cotter Esq. Govan Nutshell Writers Co-op said...

Say it ain't so Joe & James and Whatsy et al...

Anyone wishing to access the law collections library at the Faculty of Advocates in Parliament Square, Edinburgh (near Waverley Station) can do so through the National Library of Scotland.