Even Neil Davidson, one of the Scottish Executive’s top legal advisers until 2001, joined those voicing concern at McConnell’s headline-grabbing claims.
McConnell, who will set out details of a court reform bill this week, warned judges that they must make punishment fit the crime, saying he could not ignore rising public anger at seemingly lenient sentences.
But Paul McBride, one of the country’s top defence QCs who worked on the recent Arlene Fraser case, said that by “scapegoating defence lawyers and judges”, McConnell had simply deflected attention from under-funding which he says is the real reason why court cases are being held up.
McBride tells the new edition of Holyrood magazine out next week: “It was bandwagon-jumping, no question about it. We don’t need interference from politicians who have never set foot in a courtroom in their lives.”
Dubbing McConnell’s tone “negative and inappropriate”, he added: “It’s not helpful to abuse those people who have to make the system work. In my experience there aren’t any defence lawyers who waste time and abuse the system – they are too busy. Political posturing may help the Labour party but it won’t reform the system.”
Neil Davidson, a QC who was Solicitor General between 2000 and 2001, has praised “the enthusiasm of a number of judges, court staff and members of the bar to work for a speedier, more responsive criminal justice system”.
Highlighting other barriers including “a lack of resources”, he told Holyrood: “If the First Minister is putting the power of his office behind the progressive and constructive elements in the system this is to be welcomed. But criticism without a positive way forward takes us nowhere.”
Donald Findlay, one of Scotland’s most prominent defence lawyers, claimed McConnell’s comments amounted to “a gratuitous slur”.
“It is typical of the politician to talk in soundbites. He was mouthing off about something he knows nothing about.”