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Legal heavyweights prepare for start of Alex Salmond trial | UK news


It is a trial expected to capture wide attention in Scotland and beyond, involving one of the country’s defining political figures and most famous men, Alex Salmond – and it has a legal cast with the stature to match.

On Monday, three of Scotland’s most experienced trial lawyers will appear in court in Edinburgh when Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland, faces trial on multiple charges of sexual assault, including one of attempted rape – charges he has strongly denied.

They include the country’s leading prosecutor, its most senior defence counsel and one of its most sought-after human rights specialists, in a case being overseen by the country’s most senior female judge.

Salmond, 65, twice elected leader of the Scottish National party, faces 10 charges of alleged sexual assault, two of indecent assault, one of attempted rape and another of intent to rape. He has already pleaded not guilty.

He is accused of assaulting 10 women over an eight-year period, including nine incidents alleged to have taken place at Bute House, the Georgian townhouse used as the first minister’s official residence in Edinburgh’s New Town.

The trial, expected to last between three to four weeks, takes place in court three of the high court in Edinburgh, a squat neo-Georgian building constructed between the wars on a stretch of the Royal Mile called the Lawnmarket.

More than 40 newspaper and broadcasting journalists, including some from overseas media, are expected to attend the hearings. It will take place under Scotland’s strict procedures on staging and reporting sexual offences cases, which include the convention that complainants are not named.

The crown case will be led by Alex Prentice QC, a quiet senior crown counsel known for securing murder convictions in the most difficult cases, while Scotland’s most senior advocate, Gordon Jackson QC, will appear for Salmond.

Jackson was elected dean of the Faculty of Advocates – the ruling body for the country’s most senior lawyers – in 2016, and is regarded by other lawyers as an outstanding courtroom performer.

In his 41-year career at the bar, during which he has also qualified as a barrister in England and Wales, Jackson sat as a Labour member of the Scottish parliament for Glasgow Govan for eight years, before being unseated by Nicola Sturgeon, now Scotland’s first minister, in the 2007 Holyrood election.

A tall and laconic Glaswegian, Jackson is known for his oral submissions and gift for simplifying complex legal issues and cases, say his colleagues. “It’s the experience you can’t buy,” said one lawyer. “It’s years and years of trial experience.”

Jackson’s deputy during the trial will be Shelagh McCall QC, one of Scotland’s most senior civil rights specialists who worked for two years at the UN’s international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia war crimes hearings as a prosecution appeals lawyer.

Now convenor of the Faculty of Advocates human rights and rule of law committee, McCall is also a part-time sheriff and chair of the Scottish arm of the legal rights campaign group Justice, after serving on the Scottish human rights commission, where she helped produce an action plan for justice for child abuse survivors.

“She’s easily one of the best QCs in the country; she’s a proper lawyer,” said one colleague. “She’s very well respected throughout the profession and has attracted a great deal of instructions as a result of it.”

An understated lawyer with nearly 40 years’ experience, Prentice has prosecuted some of Scotland’s most high-profile cases, including winning murder convictions against Nat Fraser in 2012 and David Gilroy in the same year although no bodies were found, and the perjury case against the Solidarity leader Tommy Sheridan.

The trial will be overseen by Lady Dorrian, who sits as lord justice clerk, the country’s second most senior judge. She was the first woman to be appointed to such a senior judicial office. At the time of her appointment, there were only nine women amongst Scotland’s 31 judges.

A civil law specialist who, like Prentice and Jackson, has been practising law for close to 40 years, Dorrian has recently been overseeing reforms of court procedures in Scotland, including the evidence allowed in sexual assault cases and Scotland’s unique jury system, which allows juries of 15 to select from three verdicts: guilty, not guilty and not proven.

Salmond was initially charged at a hearing in January 2019 and has always insisted he is innocent. He told reporters outside Edinburgh sheriff court afterwards: “The only thing that I can say is I refute absolutely these allegations of criminality and I will defend myself to the utmost in court. I’ve got great faith in the court system in Scotland [and] that is where I will state my case.”

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