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Cite as: [2004] 1 AC 462, 2003 SC (PC) 21, [2003] UKHRR 1, 2003 SLT 4, [2002] UKPC D3, [2002] UKPC D 3, [2004] AC 462, 2002 GWD 39-1280, 2003 SCCR 19, [2003] 2 WLR 317

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"R" v Her Majesty’s Advocate & Anor [2002] UKPC D3 (28 November 2002)

ADVANCE COPY

 

Privy Council DRA. No. 3 of 2002

 

“R”     Appellant

                             v.

(1) Her Majesty’s Advocate and

(2) The Advocate General for Scotland         Respondents

 

               FROM

 

THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICIARY

SCOTLAND

---------------

 

   JUDGMENT OF THE LORDS OF THE JUDICIAL

  COMMITTEE OF THE PRIVY COUNCIL,

Delivered the 28th November 2002

------------------

 

Present at the hearing:-

                             Lord Steyn

                             Lord Hope of Craighead

                             Lord Clyde

                             Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

                             Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe

------------------

 

Lord Steyn

 

  1.           Section 57 of the Scotland Act 1998 contains the following core provisions:

    “(2) A member of the Scottish Executive has no power to make any subordinate legislation, or to do any other act, so far as the legislation or act is incompatible with any of the Convention rights or with Community law.

     

    (3) Subsection (2) does not apply to an act of the Lord Advocate –

    (a) in prosecuting any offence, or

    (b) in his capacity as head of the systems
    of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland,

     

    which, because of subsection (2) of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, is not unlawful under subsection (1) of that section.”

     

    The Lord Advocate is in charge of prosecutions in Scotland: section 48 of the Scotland Act 1998.  He is a member of the Scottish Executive.  Convention rights have the same meaning as in the Human Rights Act 1998: section 126(1) of the Scotland Act 1998.  Accordingly, in carrying on prosecutions or directing them to be carried on the Lord Advocate may not act incompatibly with article 6.1 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.  The material part of this article provides:

    “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

     

    The result of this scheme is that an accused person in Scotland who complains about undue delay in criminal proceedings under article 6.1, may raise a devolution issue against the Lord Advocate under section 57(2)  or, alternatively, he may make a complaint against the court as a public authority under the Human Rights Act 1998.  The former course was adopted in the present case.  This is therefore an appeal under paragraph 13(a) of Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998.

     

  2.           An indictment charging the defendant with six offences of indecent behaviour towards four young girls was served for trial at the sitting of the High Court at Edinburgh on 2 October 2001.  The defendant had been charged with two of those charges as long ago as 13 August 1995.  The other four charges arose later.  The defendant raised a devolution issue in terms of section 98 of and Schedule 6, paragraph 1(d), to the Scotland Act 1998.  He alleged that there was a breach of article 6.1 of the Convention inasmuch as the two earlier charges were not brought to trial within a reasonable time.  He did not allege that a fair trial of those charges could not take place.  He did, however, submit that in continuing with the two earlier charges, notwithstanding the lapse of a reasonable time, the Lord Advocate would be acting incompatibly with the defendant’s Convention rights.

     

  3.           Lord Reed dismissed the plea in bar: HM Advocate v R 2001 SLT 1366.  The Criminal Appeal Court (Lord Coulsfield, Lord Cameron of Lochbroom and Lord Caplan) dismissed the appeal: HM Advocate v R 2002 SLT 834.  The defendant appealed to the Privy Council.  It is common ground that the appeal must be considered on the assumption that there has been a breach of article 6.1 of the Convention.  Taking advantage of the narrative and description of the legislative context provided by my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead, it is unnecessary for me to say anything more about the background.

     

  4.           The principal question is therefore whether the defendant is entitled to a remedy under section 57(2) declaring that it would be incompatible with the defendant’s rights under article 6.1 for the Lord Advocate to continue to prosecute him on the two earlier charges.

     

  5.           A preliminary question of jurisdiction arose, namely whether the decision of the Lord Advocate is capable of constituting “an act” within the meaning of section 57(2).  In essence counsel for the Lord Advocate submitted that the context requires the word “act” to be restrictively interpreted to cover only so-called soft laws such as codes, departmental circulars, directives, and statements of practice.  Counsel for the Lord Advocate challenged the correctness of the Privy Council decisions in Montgomery v H M Advocate 2001 SC (PC) 1 and Brown v Stott 2001 SC (PC) 43. Counsel for the Lord Advocate was given a full opportunity to develop this argument.  It was resisted by the Advocate-General. The Privy Council found it unnecessary to call on counsel for the appellant to reply on this point.  I have no hesitation in concluding that the words of section 57(2), read in context, rule out the artificial restriction which the suggested interpretation seeks to impress on the statutory words.  I would therefore reject the jurisdictional argument.  On this point there is nothing that I can usefully add to the detailed and cogent observations of Lord Hope.

     

  6.           There is, I fear, another diversion from the real issue in this case.  There was an argument that, if the continuation of the prosecution on the earlier charges was not incompatible with the defendant’s Convention rights within the meaning of section 57(2), nevertheless on the facts of the case the plea in bar should have been upheld.  In my view this is not a devolution issue.  For the further reasons given by Lord Hope I would also dismiss the reformulated arguments of counsel for the appellant.

     

  7.           That brings me back to the central point in the case, namely whether under section 57(2) a breach of the reasonable time guarantee under article 6.1. of the Convention automatically renders a continuation of the prosecution incompatible with the Convention rights of the defendant.  It is not too difficult to assign a sensible meaning to the word “incompatibly” within the meaning of section 57(2): it conveys at least the idea of inconsistency with fundamental legal rights, viz. rights under the Convention or community law.  On analysis the critical issue is whether a continuation of the prosecution of the appellant on the two earlier charges would be incompatible with the right of the defendant under the Convention to a trial within a reasonable time.  It would be incompatible with a Convention right to continue such a prosecution if the defendant could establish a right flowing from a breach of the reasonable time guarantee precluding continuation of the prosecution.  For my part nothing less will do to warrant the relief sought in this case under section 57(2).  If he is unable to identify such a right, logically he has failed to establish that the continuation of the prosecution is incompatible with a Convention right.  The question is whether the appellant has demonstrated such a right.

     

  8.           Although article 6.1 is well trodden ground, it is necessary to summarise its essential features.  Article 6.1 contains three separate, distinct, and independent guarantees: viz. (i) a right to a fair and public hearing, (ii) a right to a hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal and (iii) a right to a hearing within a reasonable time: Porter v Magill [2002] 2 AC 357; Dyer v Watson 2002 SC (PC) 89; [2002] UKPC D1; Mills v H M Advocate (No. 2) [2002] SLT 939; [2002] UKPC D2.  Pertinent to the present case is the fact that there are qualitative differences between, on the one hand, the first two rights and, on the other hand, the third right. The position in regard to breaches of the first two rights is clear. The only remedies available in the Strasbourg court are declaratory judgments and awards of damages: Republic of Ireland v United Kingdom (1978) 2 EHRR 25.  On the other hand, it is well established in domestic law by decisions of high authority that once it has been established that a defendant has not had a fair hearing at trial the conviction must be quashed: Brown v Stott 2001 SC (PC) 43; R v Forbes [2001] 1 AC 473; Mills v H M Advocate (No 2), 2002 SLT 939.  Similarly, it is settled by decisions of the House of Lords and Privy Council that once it has been established that there was a breach of the guarantee of independence and impartiality the conviction must be quashed: Millar v Dickson 2002 SC (PC) 30; Porter v Magill, [2002] 2 AC 357.  It is further clear that the court has a power to order a retrial in such cases.

     

  9.           The position under the reasonable time guarantee must now be considered.  The background is that in England the common law principle is that the court is not empowered to stay a prosecution unless the defendant can show that unless a stay is granted he would suffer serious prejudice in the sense that no fair trial could be held: Attorney-General's Reference (No 1 of 1990) [1992] QB 630.  My understanding is that before the Scotland Act came into force the position in Scotland was similar.  Thus in McFadyen v Annan 1992 JC 53 it was held that on a plea in bar on the grounds of delay the question is whether there was significant prejudice to the prospects of a fair trial: if there was, the plea succeeded; if not, it failed.  Under both systems a stay of a prosecution, where a fair trial is still possible, is regarded as a draconian remedy.

     

  10.      Under the reasonable time guarantee contained in article 6.1 the position is altogether different.  The starting point is that prejudice, although a relevant factor, need not be established.  It is not necessary to show that a fair trial is no longer possible.  The scope of the guarantee is wider: Mills v H M Advocate (No 2), 2002 SLT 939, 943-944, paras 13-14; Emmerson and Ashworth, Human Rights and Criminal Justice (2001), pp 353-354, para 14-45.

     

  11.      The width of the reasonable time guarantee is relevant to the separate question of the remedies available for a breach.  There is no automatic remedy. In this case too the role of the Strasbourg Court is a residuary one.  In the Strasbourg Court the only remedies available are therefore declaratory judgments and award of damages.  But domestic courts have available a range of remedies for breach of the reasonable time guarantee.  In a post conviction case the remedies may be a declaration, an order for compensation, reduction of sentence, or a quashing of the conviction: see Mills v H M Advocate (No 2), 2002 SLT 939, 944, para 16.  In a preconviction case the remedies may include a declaration, an order for a speedy trial, compensation to be assessed after the conclusion of the criminal proceedings, or a stay of the proceedings.  Where there has been a breach of the reasonable time guarantee, but a fair trial is still possible, the granting of a stay would be an exceptional remedy.  In marked contrast to the fair trial and independence guarantees there is therefore no automatic consequence in respect of the breach of a reasonable time guarantee.

     

  12.      A further material difference is that in the case of a breach of the reasonable time guarantee,  unlike in the case of a breach of the other guarantees, there is in the nature of things no scope for dismissing the criminal proceedings and ordering a retrial.  This underlines the draconian nature of an order for a stay of the proceedings.

     

  13.      In the context of the application of section 57(2) these are important qualitative differences.  Focusing directly on the issue one can confidently conclude that in any case where it would be a breach of the fair trial guarantee to carry on a prosecution, it would be wrong for the Lord Advocate to attempt to do so.  It would be incompatible with a defendant’s absolute right not to be exposed to an unfair trial.  It would be inconsistent with a Convention right to continue the prosecution.  Equally a defendant is entitled to have his guilt determined by an independent tribunal.  If a defendant can show that the tribunal, which is due to hear his case, is not independent, a breach of a Convention right is threatened.  The defendant has an absolute right not to be tried by such a tribunal. Subject to the possibility of a retrial, the Lord Advocate may not in such cases continue with the pending criminal proceedings in breach of a defendant’s Convention rights.

     

  14.      In marked contrast a breach of the reasonable time guarantee, in a situation where a fair trial is still possible, does not by itself trigger a right not to be prosecuted.  Only if a court has determined that there must be a discontinuance or stay will the Lord Advocate be obliged to terminate the prosecution.  The fallacy in the proposition that a breach of the reasonable time guarantee automatically triggers a right not to be prosecuted was neatly exposed by Hardie Boys J in Martin v Tauranga District Court [1995] 2 NZLR 419, 432, as follows:

    “The right is to trial without undue delay: it is not a right not to be tried after undue delay.”

     

    In the High Court Lord Reed rightly invoked this reasoning: 2001 SLT 1366, 1382, para 60.  This view is also consistent with the observations of Lord Millett in Dyer v Watson, 2002 SC (PC) 89, 125-126, paras 126-130.  While I would respectfully refrain from endorsing everything said in the judgments under appeal, the emphasis in the judgments on the fact that a breach of the reasonable time guarantee does not invariably result in a stay or dismissal of the proceedings is consistent with the interpretation which I have put forward: H M Advocate v R 2002 SLT 834.

     

  15.      It is necessary to consider the decision of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) in Attorney-General's Reference (No 2 of 2001) [2001] EWCA Crim 1568.  It was a case of pre-trial delay.  The Human Rights Act 1998 was applicable.  One question related to the appropriate remedy to be imposed where the court has found that there is a contravention of the reasonable time requirement in article 6(1): p 1873, para 15.  Giving the judgment of the court Lord Woolf CJ explained at p 1875:

    “18.  … [Section 6(1)] provides that it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.  A public authority includes a court.  The approach of the judge, reflected in Mr Watson’s submissions, is that if there has been unreasonable delay, to go on and proceed to try a defendant results in the court acting in a way which is incompatible with that defendant’s rights.  There is no discretion about the matter.  Once the court has come to the conclusion that the reasonable time requirement in article 6(1) has been contravened, the court has to stay the proceedings.

     

    19.  The illogicality of this approach, or the nonsense it produces, is illustrated when the position is looked at where it is not a party to criminal proceedings who is complaining about a contravention of the reasonable time requirement in article 6, but a defendant to civil proceedings.  The position of such a defendant was put to Mr Watson.  The defendant would say: ‘Because of the delay my article 6 rights have been infringed.  Section 6(1) means that you cannot proceed with the trial of the claim which is brought against me.’  But what about the claimant?  The claimant is also entitled to article 6(1) rights.  The claimant says that he is entitled to have his rights determined within reasonable time.  If Mr Watson is correct, the court would not be entitled to proceed with the trial because of its effect upon the defendant.  With the greatest respect, that approach cannot be right. Similarly, at the trial of a defendant on a criminal charge, it is not only the defendant who is to be considered.  The public are interested in whether or not defendants are tried for criminal offences they have committed.  As is the case with many of the rights which are contained in the Convention, the courts are called upon to hold the balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the public.”

     

    Lord Woolf CJ stated that in cases of pre-trial breach, where a fair trial was still possible, the appropriate remedy will normally be a lesser remedy than a stay: p 1876, para 20.  Lord Woolf concluded pp 1877-1878, (para 23):

    “if there has been prejudice caused to a defendant which interferes with his right to a fair trial in a way which cannot otherwise be remedied, then of course a stay is the appropriate remedy.  But in the absence of prejudice of that sort, there is normally no justification for granting a stay.”

     

    This decision is strong authority against the decision of the majority in the present case.  In Mills (No 2) it was unnecessary to consider Attorney-General’s Reference No 2 of 2001: 2002 SLT 939, 945, para 21.  In the present case however, the decision has a bearing on issues before the Privy Council.  Despite the fact that the point will come before the House of Lords on appeal the Privy Council cannot ignore it.  Subject to a re-examination by the House of Lords, it authoritatively states the law of England. I would be guided by the views of Lord Woolf CJ and the other members of the Court of Appeal.

     

  16.      This outcome is further reinforced by the judgment of the South African Constitutional Court in Wild v Hoffert NO 1998 (3) SA 695.  Under section 25(3)(a) there is a right to a trial within a reasonable time.  Section 7(4)(a) entitles an aggrieved person to appropriate relief.  Following earlier precedent Kriegler J, speaking for a unanimous court, observed (at p 702, para 9) that:

    “[a] balance [has] ... to be struck between competing societal and individual interests once a finding has been made that the delay was indeed unreasonable and the enquiry turns to remedies.  A careful value judgment is required whenever a court considers the kind of relief that would be appropriate in a given case.  Because of the flexibility allowed by s7(4)(a) of the interim Constitution, a court can tailor a snug fit between infringement and remedy.  More particularly a court need not resort to relief as drastic as a permanent stay of prosecution in order to remedy an infringement of the right to a speedy trial that does not entail trial prejudice.  From that it follows, so this Court held, that in the ordinary course and absent irreparable trial-related prejudice, a stay would seldom be the appropriate remedy.”

     

    He continued (at pp 702-703, paras 10-12):

    “10.  ... It should be under-scored, however, that the conclusion that a stay is likely to be appropriate in a limited range of cases only does not mean that the provisions of s7(4)(a) rarely come into play.  Nor does it mean that the question whether a stay is appropriate in a given case is the most important feature of the speedy trial protection of s 25(3)(a), read with s7(4)(a).

     

    11.  On the contrary, the true effect and scope of the protection against unreasonable delay is in much wider and more significant than – and should not be obscured by – the more dramatic and far-reaching remedy of a stay of prosecution.  The crucial point of s 25(3)(a) is that the Constitution demonstrably ranks the right to a speedy trial in the forefront of the requirements for a fair criminal trial. That means that the State is at all times and in all cases obligated to ensure that accused persons are not exposed to unreasonable delay in the prosecution of the cases against them.  That, in turn, means that both State prosecutors and presiding officers must be mindful that they are constitutionally bound to prevent infringement of the right to a speedy trial.  Where such infringement does occur, or where it appears imminent, there is a duty under s 7(4)(a) of the interim Constitution to devise and implement an appropriate remedy or combination of remedies.


    12.  What such remedy or remedies ought to be must obviously be left to be determined in the light of the circumstances of each particular case.”

     

    This judgment highlights the draconian nature of a permanent stay of proceedings and explains how, without invoking that extreme remedy, the reasonable time guarantee can be vindicated by other remedies.  This is a sensible and just approach.  Fortunately, the context and wording of section 57(2) permits it to be adopted in Scotland.

     

  17.      To hold otherwise would in my view be contrary to the public interest and detrimental to a fair and balanced criminal justice system.  For my part the interpretation advocated by the appellant would result in severe disruption of the effective and just functioning of the criminal justice system.  It is significant that since the commencement of the Scotland Act out of 1727 devolution minutes 675 raised issues of delay, ie 39%.  If such a view were to be adopted in England, contrary to the decision in Attorney-General’s Reference (No 2 of 2001), [2001] 1 WLR 1869, the result would be a huge increase in stay applications in criminal courts at every level, with detrimental effect on the administration of justice.  It will not be possible to counter such adverse consequences by setting, contrary to European jurisprudence, an artificially high threshold for establishing a pre-trial breach of the reasonable time guarantee.  Given that prejudice is not a requirement, it will simply not be possible to control the adverse consequence fairly and properly in this way.

     

  18.      A characteristically elegant observation of L’Heureux-Dubé J in R v O'Connor [1995] 4 SCR 411 is relevant.  She said p 461, (para 69):

    “It is important to recognize that the Charter has now put into judges’ hands a scalpel instead of an axe - a tool that may fashion, more carefully than ever, solutions taking into account the sometimes complementary and sometimes opposing concerns of fairness to the individual, societal interests, and the integrity of the judicial system.”

     

    The moral authority of human rights in the eyes of the public must not be undermined by allowing them to run riot in our justice systems.  In working out solutions under the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998 courts in Scotland and England should at all times seek to adopt proportionate remedies.  In my view there is nothing in the open-textured language of section 57(2), read in context, which rules out the application of such an approach in this case.

     

  19.         Counsel for the appellant argued that once a reasonable time has elapsed there is a continuing breach if the prosecution is not dismissed.  Accordingly, he submits that the continuation of such a prosecution is incompatible with a Convention right.  This will not do.  The past breach of the reasonable time guarantee may in no way endanger the fairness of the trial.  And such further time as is needed to complete the trial may also not imperil the fairness of the trial. Indeed the court could order expedition.  In these circumstances the analysis asserting a continuing breach, giving rise on its own to a breach of a Convention right, is not correct.  A similar argument, relying on the combination of section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 and article 6(1) of the Convention, was put forward in Attorney-General’s Reference (No 2 of 2001): see [2001] 1 WLR 1869, 1875, para 18, fourth sentence.  The judge had accepted the argument.  Lord Woolf CJ rejected it.  He observed p 1876, (para 20):

    “The explanation for the judge taking the view which he did, in our judgment, is because the judge failed to distinguish between the conduct which constitutes the unlawful act for the purpose of article 6(1) and the remedy which the court provides for the unlawful act if there has indeed been an unlawful act.  If a person complains of a contravention of the reasonable time requirement in article 6, and if the court comes to the conclusion that there has been a contravention, then at the request of the complainant the court is required to provide the appropriate remedy.  If the court is willing and able to provide the appropriate remedy, then the court is not compelled to take the course of staying the proceedings. That is a remedy which the court can grant, but it is certainly not a remedy which it is required to grant.  It seems to us in general that the approach that previously existed as to the provision of the remedy of staying the proceedings should be confined, as it was prior to the Convention becoming part of our domestic law, to situations which in general terms can be described as amounting to an abuse of the process of the courts.  But there are many other actions which the court can take which avoid the need for such action.”

     

    In my respectful view Lord Woolf CJ is right: the continuing breach argument gives undue weight to the range of remedies available for a breach of the reasonable time guarantee.

     

  20.    The appeal founders on an application of the ordinary meaning of the words of section 57(2) read in context.  In order to bring himself within section 57(2) the appellant must show that by continuing the prosecution the Lord Advocate is acting incompatibly with a Convention right, viz a fructified or enforceable Convention right precluding without further ado his continued prosecution.  No such right inheres in him.  On the contrary, since a fair trial is still possible, no court would or should grant him the relief of a permanent stay.  In any event, the issue of the appropriate remedy has not been considered.  If it were to be considered on its merits there can be only one answer.  A permanent stay of the proceedings is not warranted.

  21.    I have read with care the judgments of my noble and learned friends Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry and Lord Clyde.  While on the principal point in the case I believe they are wrong for the reasons I have explained, I would not propose to discuss their judgments.  The basis of the divergence of views is clear enough.

     

  22.    For the reasons given by my noble and learned friend Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, as well as the reasons I have given, I would dismiss the appeal.

    _____________________________

     

    Lord Hope of Craighead

     

  23.    This is an appeal under paragraph 13(a) of Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998.  The appellant’s complaint is that the Lord Advocate would be acting incompatibly with article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms if he were to proceed to trial against him on two charges of indecent behaviour towards two young girls.  He claims that this would be in breach of his right to have these charges determined within a reasonable time and that the Lord Advocate has no power to prosecute him on these charges, having regard to the provisions of section 57(2) of the 1998 Act.  The remedy which he seeks is the dismissal of these charges from the indictment.  The indictment contains four other charges of similar conduct to which he has taken no objection on this ground.

     

  24.    The first sentence of article 6 of the Convention states

    “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

     

  25.         Sections 57(2) and (3) of the Scotland Act 1998 provide:

    “(2) A member of the Scottish Executive has no power to make any subordinate legislation, or to do any other act, so far as the legislation or act is incompatible with any of the Convention rights or with Community law.

     

    (3) Subsection (2) does not apply to an act of the Lord Advocate –

     

    (a)  in prosecuting any offence, or

    (b) in his capacity as head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland,

     

    which, because of subsection (2) of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, is not unlawful under subsection (1) of that section.”

     

    The facts

  26.    The charges to which the appellant has taken objection are contained in an indictment which was served on him on 29 August 2001.  They contain allegations of indecent conduct towards two girls, both of whom were born in 1987.  The first, which is charge 1 on the indictment, relates to conduct which is said to have taken place on various occasions between 1 September 1990 and 28 August 1995.  The second, which is charge 3 on the indictment, relates to a single incident which is said to have taken place between 1 August and 13 August 1995.  The remaining charges contain allegations of indecent conduct towards two other girls. One of these girls was of approximately the same age as those named in charges 1 and 3, as she too was born in 1987.  The other girl was born in 1983.  She is the sister of the girl named in charge 1.  The allegations in these four charges cover various periods between 1 September 1990 and November 1998.

     

  27.    The complaint that there has been an unreasonable delay in the prosecution of charges 1 and 3 is made in the following circumstances.  On 13 August 1995 the two girls named in these charges made allegations to the police that the appellant had behaved indecently towards them.  The police detained the appellant that day and he was interviewed by them under caution. He made certain admissions as a result of which he was cautioned and charged.  He was then released and told that a report would be sent to the procurator fiscal.  A report was sent to the procurator fiscal on 23 August 1995.  The procurator fiscal took the view that the evidence was insufficient, and on 23 November 1995 he wrote to the police to the effect that no proceedings were to be taken.  It appears that this was a mistake as there was in fact sufficient evidence, but nothing turns on that point.  The procurator fiscal did not intimate his decision to the appellant.  But the mother of one of the girls made inquiries of the police as to what was happening. She was told by them that the Crown were not proceeding with the charges.  She passed this information on to the appellant, who understood from what she said to him that he was not to be prosecuted. 

  28.    In April 1999 further allegations about the appellant’s conduct were made to the police by the sister of the girl mentioned in charge 1.  She gave a further statement to the police in December 1999, and in April 2000 a statement containing similar allegations was made by a fourth girl.  A further report was made to the procurator fiscal in May 2000, following which on 27 October 2000 the appellant was again detained and interviewed under caution. At the end of that interview he was charged with four offences in respect of these further allegations.  Thereafter he was indicted for trial at a sitting of the High Court at Inverness on 16 July 2001.  The indictment also included the offences charged in charges 1 and 3, which are in very similar terms to the charges which were originally made against him in August 1995.

     

  29.    The case did not proceed to trial at Inverness as there was a defect in one of the charges.  The appellant was then indicted for trial at a sitting of the High Court at Edinburgh which was to commence on 2 October 2001.  On 30 August 2001 he presented a minute to the court in which he stated that he intended to raise an issue under the Human Rights Act 1998 seeking dismissal of charges 1 and 3 on the ground that the Lord Advocate had no power to prosecute him for these offences as his actions were incompatible with his Convention rights as incorporated in section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998.  His application came before Lord Reed at a preliminary diet which was held on 18 and 19 September 2001.  The advocate depute conceded that the delay which had occurred in the prosecution of these charges was an unreasonable delay and that this was contrary to article 6(1).  On 10 October 2001 Lord Reed rejected the appellant’s submission that these charges could not proceed to trial: 2001 SLT 1366.  He gave the appellant leave to appeal.  He also allowed the minute to be amended to include an alternative submission that the Lord Advocate had no power to prosecute these charges under section 57(2) of the Scotland Act 1998.  On 31 May 2002 the Criminal Appeal Court (Lords Coulsfield, Cameron of Lochbroom and Caplan) refused the appeal: 2002 SLT 834.  The appellant was given leave by that court to appeal to the Judicial Committee in terms of paragraph 13 of Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998.

     

    The delay

  30.    In the course of the hearing before Lord Reed the advocate depute accepted that there was a period of delay of about five years for which the Crown had no satisfactory explanation and he conceded that this was an unreasonable delay, contrary to article 6(1): 2001 SLT 1366, 1369L.  The Criminal Appeal Court allowed the concession to be withdrawn.  But, as Lord Coulsfield noted at 2002 SLT 834, 836K, para 2, the Crown did not contend that there had not been an unreasonable delay.  Mr Bovey QC for the appellant made it clear at the start of his argument that he was proceeding on the assumption that there had been an unreasonable delay.  He said he understood that this point was not in dispute, and he was not contradicted by Mr Davidson QC, who appeared for the Lord Advocate.  I think however that it should also be made clear that it appeared to be the common position of the parties before the Board that the unreasonable delay which had occurred was due to a failure by the Lord Advocate to ensure that these two charges would be determined within a reasonable time.  It is necessary to make this change in the use of language in order to relate the undisputed facts to the words which article 6(1) uses to describe the Convention right.

     

  31.    The circumstances of this case are unusual.  For the purposes of article 6(1) time begins to run from the date on which the person is first made subject to a “criminal charge”.  It ends when there is a “determination” of the charge, and it includes the time taken by any appeal.  The appellant was first charged with these offences on 13 August 1995 when he was cautioned and charged after the initial interview.  The procurator fiscal then decided to take no proceedings.  From the moment that this information was passed on to the appellant in 1996 he believed that the charges were not being proceeded with: 2001 SLT 1366, 1369B, para 3, per Lord Reed.  He remained in that state of mind until he was indicted for trial at the High Court at Inverness on 16 July 2001 on an indictment which contained all six charges.  A party’s right under article 6(1) to a determination of a criminal charge against him within a reasonable time is designed to avoid his remaining too long in a state of uncertainty about his fate: Stögmüller v Austria (1969) 1 EHRR 155, 191, para 5. 

     

  32.    It seems that for much of the period in question the appellant was not in a state of uncertainty at all, as he believed that the charges which were originally made against him were not to be proceeded with.  But it has never been part of the argument for the Crown in this case that the period while he was under that belief should be left out of account when consideration is being given to the question whether the appellant’s article 6(1) right has been violated.  As for the appellant, it has never been part of his case that the effect of the delay is that he will not receive a fair trial.   

     

    The issues

  33.    The joint statement of facts and issues states that the following issues (which I have re-worded slightly) arise in this appeal:

     

    1.  Whether the continuation of this prosecution by the Lord Advocate on charges 1 and 3 after a reasonable time has elapsed constitutes a violation of article 6(1).

     

    2.  Whether, in view of section 57(2) of the Scotland Act 1998, the Lord Advocate still has power to prosecute the appellant on charges 1 and 3 after a reasonable time has elapsed.

     

    3.  Assuming that the Lord Advocate does still have power to prosecute notwithstanding the elapse of a reasonable time, whether the remedy should nevertheless have been for the prosecution on charges 1 and 3 to be discontinued.

    4.  Whether in any event the act of the Lord Advocate in continuing to prosecute the appellant after a reasonable time has elapsed constitutes an “act” within the meaning of section 57(2) of the Scotland Act 1998.

     

  34.    In my opinion the third issue in this list, as it has been presented to us in the joint statement, does not raise a devolution issue.  In Mills v H M Advocate (No 2) [2002] UKPC D2,  2002 SLT 939, 946J-L, para 34 I said that the jurisdiction which has been given to the Judicial Committee by paragraph 13 of Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998 is not confined to answering the single question which the expression “devolution issue” has identified, but that it extends also to any other matter which may reasonably be said to be incidental to the determination of a devolution issue such as the appropriate remedy for the breach of a Convention right.  Adopting that approach, I would hold that the questions which lie within the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee in this case are whether the Lord Advocate’s “act” in proceeding to prosecute the appellant on these two charges would be “incompatible” with his right to a hearing within a reasonable time under article 6(1) of the Convention and, if it would be, what would be the appropriate remedy.  These are the questions which are the subject of the first and second issues.  The question of incompatibility is the question which is raised by the first issue, and the question of remedy is the question which is raised by the second issue.

  35.    The fourth issue, which asks whether we are concerned here with an “act” of the Lord Advocate within the meaning of section 57(2), is directed to the first question, the question of incompatibility.  It plainly forms part of the devolution issue.  But the third issue begins with the proposition that the Lord Advocate does in principle have power to prosecute the appellant on the two charges which are in issue.  It appears to assume that the Lord Advocate has power to proceed with the prosecution of the appellant on these charges, as to do so would not be incompatible with his Convention right.  If that is the position, the only issues which arise in this case as a devolution issue will have been resolved in the Lord Advocate’s favour.  Any further remedies to which the appellant may be entitled for delay will be for the High Court of Justiciary to determine, not the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

     

  36.    Mr Bovey QC recognised that the third issue, as worded in the joint statement, was open to this criticism.  He suggested that it should be re-worded so that it assumed that there was a violation of the appellant’s Convention right but that discontinuance of the prosecution did not follow automatically.  I would not have any difficulty in holding that, if the opening words were to be so reworded, this issue would raise a question which was incidental to the determination of the devolution issue.  The question would be whether, if a stay of the prosecution on these charges did not follow automatically from a finding that there was an incompatibility with the appellant’s Convention right, a stay should nevertheless be ordered on the ground that it was the appropriate or only effective remedy for the incompatibility.  As I explained in Dyer v Watson, [2002] UKPC D1, 2002  SC (PC) 89, 122B-C, para 109, that was the basis on which the Judicial Committee proceeded when, having held that for the Lord Advocate to proceed to trial in K’s case would be incompatible with his article 6(1) Convention right, it then went on in that case to consider whether to stop the proceedings was the appropriate remedy. 

     

  37.    So I would be willing to hold that we do have jurisdiction to deal with that issue should it arise in this case, on the ground that it would be incidental to the determination of a devolution issue under Schedule 6 of the Scotland Act 1998.  But I can see no merit whatever in the argument that, if there is a choice of remedies, charges 1 and 3 should be dismissed from the indictment.  The allegations in these charges concern events which took place during the same period of time as those which are the subject of the other four charges.  They may all be regarded as forming part of the same course of conduct.  It has not been suggested that the appellant would suffer any prejudice if he were to be prosecuted on these two charges together with the other charges on the indictment.  As in Mills v H M Advocate (No 2), 2002 SLT 939, the delay in the determination of these charges, if he is convicted, could be recognised as a mitigating factor when he is being sentenced.  That would seem to be an appropriate and sufficient remedy.  If this were the only point in the case, I would dismiss the appeal.  The critical issues in this case, however, are the first two issues.

     

    An "act" of the Lord Advocate?

  38.    I propose to consider this issue first, as it is directed to what is in effect a preliminary issue.  Its purpose is to challenge the proposition that the complaint which the appellant has made raises a devolution issue within the meaning of paragraph 1(d) of Schedule 6.  If the Lord Advocate is right on this point, the appeal would have to be dismissed on the ground that the Judicial Committee does not have jurisdiction.  The appellant’s complaint that his Convention right has been violated would not be one that could be dealt with under Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998.

     

  39.    As the written case for the Lord Advocate explains, he seeks to restrict the ambit of the word “act” in section 57(2) so that it excludes, in all but the rarest of cases, any act in prosecuting an offence which is carried out by him or on his authority.  He contends that the word does not embrace any of the acts which are inherent in the proceedings themselves, such as serving an indictment, calling witnesses, lodging productions or inviting the court to take this or that procedural step.  He bases this argument on two considerations.  The first is that a broad construction of the word could lead to numerous points being taken as devolution issues and to the Judicial Committee becoming the final court of appeal in a wide variety of Scottish criminal matters.  The second is that it would duplicate the protection which is now afforded in Scots law in criminal cases by section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998, in a manner which would be peculiar to Scotland.  It is not to be found anywhere else in the United Kingdom, as the devolution arrangements for Wales and Northern Ireland in the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 do not provide for the transfer of prosecution functions to the Welsh Assembly or to a Northern Ireland Minister.

     

  40.    The question which the Lord Advocate has raised is one of statutory construction.  I do not think that the wider considerations which have led him to take the point are relevant to that issue.  I would accept that they both raise points which are of genuine concern to all those involved in the administration of justice in Scotland.  But it seems to me to be clear that the consequences of the wider interpretation of the word “act” which was contended for both by the appellant and by the Advocate General do not affect the meaning which is to be given to this word.  They raise issues of policy which were a matter for Parliament. 

     

  41.    I think that it is also worth pointing out that the Judicial Committee has been careful from the beginning to emphasise that there are clear limits to what may and what may not be raised as a devolution issue: see Montgomery v H M Advocate, 2001 SC (PC) 1, 11-13; Hoekstra v H M Advocate (No 3), 2001 SC (PC) 37, 41D-F; Brown v Stott, 2001 SC (PC) 43, 68 E-F, 72B-D; Follen v H M Advocate, 2001 SC (PC) 105, 108D-F, para 9.  It was inevitable that a large number of issues would be brought before the criminal courts in the early stages as devolution issues while the new jurisprudence as to the rights and remedies which were available was being worked out.  But the guidance provided by decisions such as that in the present case should help to reduce their volume. So I do not think that the risk of the courts being overburdened by these issues is likely to continue. 

     

  42.    As for the risk of duplication with remedies under the Human Rights Act, there was plainly a choice to be made.  What that choice was is made clear in the White Paper on the Human Rights Bill, Rights Brought Home (Cm 3782), which was published in October 1997 when the Human Rights Bill was being introduced to Parliament.  Paragraph 2.21 of the White Paper States:

    “The Government has decided that the Scottish Parliament will have no power to legislate in a way which is incompatible with the Convention; and similarly that the Scottish Executive will have no power to make subordinate legislation or to take executive action which is incompatible with the Convention.  It will accordingly be possible to challenge such legislation and actions in the Scottish courts on the ground that the Scottish Parliament or Executive has incorrectly applied its powers.  If the challenge is successful then the legislation or action would be held to be unlawful.”

     

  43.    The precise relationship between the remedies available under the Scotland Act 1998 and those which are available under the Human Rights Act 1998 is still in the course of being worked out. But the fact that a unique system has been laid down for Scotland is not in itself a ground for seeking to depart from the true meaning of the words used in section 57(2).  On the contrary, the words which are to be found in that subsection must be taken, together with those in section 29 which describe the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, to have been chosen deliberately to describe the essence of the new arrangements.

     

  44.    Mr Davidson’s argument was that, on its proper construction, the word “act” in section 57(2) was confined to the issuing of departmental circulars, guidelines, statements of practice and other documents.  He pointed out that the first part of section 57(2) was concerned with the making of subordinate legislation.  He said that in that context the words “doing any other act” should be read as referring to acts of a legislative or administrative character in the promulgation of what might be conveniently described as soft law. He accepted that there would have to be strong indications from the context to justify giving such a restricted meaning to these words.  But he said that it was clear from the context that the purpose of the subsection was to control the acts of the Scottish Executive, not to give rights to those who might claim to be the victim of a violation of their Convention rights.  He also drew attention to the definition of “devolution issue” in paragraph 1 of Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act.  He said that it indicated that the primary concern of the Scotland Act was with functions and with devolved competence, and that an expansive meaning of the word “act” was difficult to fit in with the mechanism which the Act had provided for the control of powers which were being exercised by the Scottish Executive.  He maintained that protection against a violation of a person’s Convention rights, and the remedies which were to be afforded to persons who claimed that their Convention rights had been, or were at risk of being, violated, were to be found not in that Act but in the Human Rights Act 1998.

     

  45.    I would reject these arguments.  They fall into two parts, and I regard each of them as unsound.  On the one hand there are indications within section 57 itself and elsewhere in the Scotland Act 1998 that the word “act” does not have the restricted meaning which was contended for by Mr Davidson but is capable of extending to all acts performed by the Lord Advocate in the exercise of his functions as prosecutor.  On the other there are the wider considerations as to the aims and function of the Scotland Act and its relationship with the Human Rights Act 1998 which are wholly inconsistent with Mr Davidson’s argument that the Scotland Act is not concerned with the provision of remedies against violations of a person’s Convention rights.

     

  46.    The fact that section 57(3)(a) provides that subsection (2) of that section does not apply to an act of the Lord Advocate “in prosecuting any offence” which is not unlawful under section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 because of section 6(2) is in itself a powerful indication that the word “act” in subsection (2) is not confined to acts which relate to the making of soft law.  Mr Davidson was unable to explain what acts in the course of prosecuting an offence would fall within the restricted meaning of the word for which he contended.  Nor did he explain why the word “act” in section 57(2) should be given a narrower meaning than that which it has, according to his own argument, in section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act.  That subsection makes it unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right. 

     

  47.    A further indication that the word “act” is used in an unrestricted way in the Scotland Act 1998 is to be found in section 52(5), which provides that subsection (4) of that section which provides for acts or omissions of members of the Scottish Executive to be treated as acts of the Executive collectively does not apply in relation to the exercise of retained functions of the Lord Advocate.  Among the retained functions of the Lord Advocate are the functions which he exercised as head of the system of criminal prosecution in Scotland prior to the coming into force of the relevant provisions of the Scotland Act.  Section 52(5) indicates that things which the Lord Advocate does in the exercise of that function may properly be described in this context as “acts”.  I do not see why the same word should be given a different meaning in section 57(2).  I should add that I agree with my noble and learned friend Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, for the reasons he has given, that the term “act” in section 57(2) does not include a failure to act.  Section 57(2) does not mention an omission or a failure to act: contrast sections 52(4) and 100(4)(b) and paragraph 1(e) of Schedule 6, but compare the use of the word “act” in section 50 and the word “action” in section 58.  It deals only with positive acts of the Lord Advocate.     

     

  48.    There has, of course, already been much discussion as to the meaning of this word both in the Judicial Committee and in the High Court of Justiciary.  In H M Advocate v Robb, 2000 JC 127, 131E Lord Penrose said that there was no justification for giving the word “act” a restricted meaning and that it was apt to encompass all actions taken or avoided in the course of the prosecution of offences.  In the course of his opinion in the present case Lord Cameron of Lochbroom said that he was prepared to accept, for the reasons set out in H M Advocate v Robb, that the word “act” is not to be restricted to those acts which may be regarded as comparable to legislative acts or which are merely administrative: 2002 SLT 834, 845, para 10..  In Montgomery v H M Advocate, 2001 SC (PC) 1, 5F-G Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead said that he had no difficulty in envisaging that there might be circumstances where the initiation or continuation of a prosecution by the Lord Advocate, or the manner in which he conducted a prosecution, would amount to an act of his incompatible with the Convention and that where that was so it would be, in law, beyond his powers by virtue of section 57(2).  Lord Hoffmann noted at p 6G-H that the Scottish courts had said on a number of occasions that the commencement and maintenance of the prosecution is an act of the Lord Advocate and that he saw no reason to disagree.  At p 18E-G I referred with approval to Lord Penrose’s observations in H M Advocate v Robb, as did Lord Clyde at p 32E-F.  In Brown v Stott, 2001 SC (PC) 43, 71D-H I said that it seemed to me to be clear from the relevant provisions of the Scotland Act that it was the intention of Parliament that acts of the Lord Advocate in prosecuting offences should be subject to judicial control under the devolved system and that section 57(2) was the means by which the acts which he performs in the course of a trial are brought within the scope of article 6(1).  Mr Davidson invited your Lordships to depart from the decisions in these cases on the ground that they are inconsistent with the restricted interpretation of the word “act” for which he contended, but I can see no justification for doing so. 

     

  49.         Although I would not wish to be taken as suggesting that delegated legislation made under the Act could be invoked as a guide to the interpretation of the word “act” in section 57(2), it is perhaps worth mentioning that the Act of Adjournal (Devolution Issues Rules) 1999 (SI 1999/1346), which amended the Act of Adjournal (Criminal Procedure Rules) 1996 (SI 1996/513) by setting out the procedure for dealing with devolution issues, were based on the assumption that the preliminary diet procedure would apply where devolution issues were raised in proceedings on indictment in the High Court: see rules 40.2 and 40.5.  These rules were made under powers given to the High Court of Justiciary by section 305 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.  Those powers were extended to making provision for prescribing the stage in the proceedings at which a devolution issue was to be raised and other related matters by paragraph 37 of Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998.  These rules, and the power to make them which was given by the statute, would be largely deprived of content if Mr Davidson’s argument is right that the machinery provided by the Scotland Act is not available for dealing with complaints about acts of the Lord Advocate in prosecuting offences and that such complaints can only be dealt with under the Human Rights Act 1998.

     

  50.    As for the wider considerations as to the aims and functions of the Scotland Act, I would refer to what I said on this subject in Montgomery v H M Advocate, 2001 SC (PC) 1, 17G-19H and again, with the approval of all the other members of the Board, in Brown v Stott, 2001 SC (PC) 43, 70A-72A.  I do not think that it is possible to reconcile Mr Davidson’s contention that the system for the protection of an accused person’s  Convention rights is to be found only in the Human Rights Act 1998 and not in the Scotland Act 1998 with the ordinary meaning of the words used in sections 57(2) and (3) and 100(1)(b) of the Scotland Act.  Moreover the scheme of the Act seems to me to be clear.  Although the Act was careful to provide in sections 52(5) and 53(2) that the retained functions of the Lord Advocate are to be exercisable only by him and not by the other Scottish Ministers, the restraint on his powers in section 57(2) extends to his retained functions as well as all the other functions which he may perform as a member of the Scottish Executive.  This means, as Lord Rodger has explained, it is not open to an accused person who seeks to rely on his Convention rights against the Lord Advocate to pick and choose between the Scotland Act and the Human Rights Act.  His challenge must be brought under the Scotland Act. 

     

  51.    As I have just indicated, the prohibition from doing anything which is incompatible with the Convention rights and with Community law in section 57(2) has to be read with section 100, which seeks to ensure that Convention rights are protected by the Scotland Act in a manner which is consistent with the Human Rights Act.  It provides that a person cannot bring proceedings in a court or tribunal on the ground that an act is incompatible with the Convention rights, or rely on any of the Convention rights in any such proceedings, unless he would be a victim for the purposes of article 34 of the Convention within the meaning of the Human Rights Act if proceedings in respect of the act were brought in the European Court of Human Rights.  Among the proceedings which section 100(1)(b) contemplates are those in which an accused person complains that his Convention rights are being, or at risk of being, violated.  There would have been no point in enacting this provision if, as Mr Davidson contended, the only way in which an accused person could make such a complaint was by invoking the provisions of the Human Rights Act.  It points to the opposite conclusion, which is that it is under the provisions of the Scotland Act that he must seek his remedy. 

     

  52.    For all these reasons I would hold that the proceedings about which the appellant complains in his devolution minute fall within the scope of section 57(2), as for the Lord Advocate to proceed to trial on charges 1 and 3 of the indictment in the exercise of his prosecution powers would amount to the doing by him of an act within the meaning of that subsection.  I would also hold that the question whether the doing of that act in the exercise of his functions would be incompatible with the appellant’s right to a hearing within a reasonable time under article 6(1) of the Convention is a devolution issue within the meaning of paragraph 1(d) of Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act.

     

    The question of remedy

  53.    I turn now to the main issues in this case.  These are whether prosecution of the appellant on charges 1 and 3 would be incompatible with his right to a hearing within a reasonable time under article 6(1) and, if so, whether he is entitled to have these charges dismissed on the ground that the Lord Advocate has been deprived of the power to prosecute him on those charges by section 57(2) of the Scotland Act 1998.  I wish to concentrate first on the second issue, which raises the question of remedy.  I do so in order to demonstrate that the effect of section 57(2) is that, once it has been established that a proposed or continuing act is incompatible with a person’s article 6(1) Convention right, the Lord Advocate is prohibited from doing that act by the statute. The only course which the court can take is to order him not to do it and bring the proceedings to an end.

     

  54.    I think that it is necessary to stress at the outset that we are dealing in this case with two branches of jurisprudence which are quite distinct from each other and that they must be considered separately.  On the one hand there is the jurisprudence about the nature and scope of the Convention rights.  This has been guided to a large extent by the judgments issued by the European Court of Human Rights and, prior to the reorganisation of that court, opinions issued by the European Commission of Human Rights. There is no direct equivalent in the Scotland Act 1998 of section 2 of the Human Rights Act, which requires a court or tribunal determining a question which has arisen in connection with a Convention right to take account of that material.  But section 126(1) of the Scotland Act provides that the expression “the Convention rights” has the same meaning as in the Human Rights Act, so there is no doubt that the same material must be taken into account in this context also.  On the other hand there is the jurisprudence relating to the determination of devolution issues under the Scotland Act and the consequences under that Act of a finding that there is an incompatibility.  The primary concern here is the meaning of the words used by Parliament, whose power to legislate on these matters was complete and not in any way fettered by anything that is to be found in the judgments of the European Court.

     

  55.    Two aspects of the jurisprudence relating to the Convention rights lie at the heart of this division of responsibility.  First, there is article 13 of the Convention which provides:

    “Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”

     

    The case law of the European Court indicates that the means which are to be employed to protect a person’s Convention rights are left to the domestic legal systems of the contracting states: see Vilvarajah v United Kingdom (1991) 14 EHRR 248, 291, para 122. The court said in that paragraph that article 13 did not go so far as to require any particular form of remedy, contracting states being afforded a margin of discretion in conforming to their obligations under that provision.  In Montgomery v H M Advocate, 2001 SC (PC) 1, 16 C-I and Brown v Stott, 2001 SC (PC) 43, 70 A-G I sought to emphasise the importance of this point to a proper understanding of the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998. 

     

  56.         Secondly, it has repeatedly been made clear by the European Court that the machinery of protection established by article 41 of the Convention as amended by Protocol No 11 (formerly article 50) is of a subsidiary character: see Eckle v Federal Republic of Germany (1982) 5 EHRR 1, 24, para 66.  Article 41 provides:

    “If the court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”

     

  57.    The effect of article 41 is that measures taken in the domestic legal order, such as a reduction of the victim’s sentence or a discontinuance of the prosecution by the domestic court, will be taken into consideration by the European Court for the purpose of assessing the extent of the damage which the victim has suffered. This is because the only question for decision by the European Court is whether, after taking account of such reparation as may have been obtained in the domestic legal order, an award of just satisfaction should be made under that article.  It does not have jurisdiction to quash convictions pronounced by national courts: Findlay v United Kingdom (1997) 24 EHRR 221, 247, para 88.  Its jurisdiction is limited to making an award of just satisfaction in cases where the victim has not been afforded an effective remedy in domestic law for the breach of his Convention right.  It was for this reason that in Mills v H M Advocate (No 2), 2002 SLT 939, 949L, para 51 I said that it is important to start with the position in domestic law when one is considering the question of remedy.  The proper approach is first to identify the remedy which would ordinarily be thought to be appropriate in domestic law for a breach of the kind that has taken place, and then to consider whether the remedy which has thus been identified would achieve just satisfaction for the breach as indicated by the jurisprudence of the European Court.

     

  58.    There is however nothing in the jurisprudence of the European Court to prevent a contracting state from laying down a scheme within its own domestic order for the protection of a person’s Convention rights which imposes sanctions for their violation which are more severe than would be necessary to meet the standards which that court applies when it is considering whether or not there has been just satisfaction.  Nor is there anything in that jurisprudence to prevent a contracting state from declaring that it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way that is incompatible with a Convention rights or that it is outside the competence of legislatures or ministers to whom powers are devolved to act in a way which is incompatible with any of the Convention rights.  That is why, when it came to legislate on these matters in the Human Rights Act 1998 and in the body of devolution legislation which included the Scotland Act 1998, Parliament was able to adopt this approach.  It had the obvious merit of ensuring, so far as possible, that all breaches of Convention rights for which the United Kingdom would otherwise be answerable in the European Court were dealt with in the domestic legal order.  That was the essence of the concept which was described in the White Paper Rights Brought Home.

     

  59.    This approach has however given rise to the need to find solutions to problems with which the European Court does not have to deal.  They are how to deal with violations of Convention rights which are in prospect but have not yet occurred, and how to deal with those which are in the nature of a continuing breach. Past breaches of article 6 can be dealt with by applying the principle which, as the European Court has held, underlies the provision of just satisfaction for the breach of that article.  This is that the victim should as far as possible be put in the position which he would have enjoyed had the proceedings complied with the Convention’s requirements: Kingsley v United Kingdom, 28 May 2000 (Application no 35605/97), para 40.  But what about breaches which are in prospect or breaches which are continuing?

     

  60.    Section 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 gives power to a court to grant such relief or remedy for a breach of a person’s Convention rights as it considers appropriate.  There is no equivalent provision in the Scotland Act 1998, so the power of the court to grant relief or to provide a remedy is left to common law principles. One of these is the familiar principle which provides a civil cause of action where there has been a breach of a statutory duty which results in injury to a person of a class which the statute was designed to protect: see Solomons v R Gertzenstein Ltd [1954] 2 QB 243.  In the present context it may be sufficient to point to the fact that the Scotland Act itself envisages that a person who would be a victim for the purposes of article 34 of the Convention if proceedings in respect of the act were brought in the European Court of Human Rights is entitled to a remedy: see section 100(1). A power to award damages is clearly implied by section 100(3), as it prevents a court or tribunal from awarding any damages in respect of an act which is incompatible with any of the Convention rights which it could not award under section 8(3) and (4) of the Human Rights Act which requires the court to apply the principles which the European Court would apply.  As Clayton and Tomlinson, The Law of Human Rights, (2000), Vol 1, p 1416, para 21.13 explain, the award of damages in these circumstances is regarded as a public law remedy.  

     

  61.    There is no reason to think that the position is different in criminal cases.  In Mills v H M Advocate (No 2), 2002 SLT 939, the breach of the appellant’s Convention right lay in the past.  The High Court of Justiciary does not have power to award damages, but it was possible to provide the appellant with an effective remedy by a reduction in his sentence in recognition of the effects of the delay which had occurred between his conviction and the hearing of his appeal.

     

  62.    The ordinary remedy which our domestic law provides where an unlawful act is in prospect or is still continuing is to pronounce an order whose effect will be to prevent that act from taking place or to bring it to an end.  In civil cases the court will achieve this result by pronouncing an interdict.  In criminal cases it will do so by pronouncing an order suspending the proceedings which it finds to be unlawful.  This will involve upholding a plea in bar of trial if the flaw in the proceedings is such that it would be unlawful for the case to proceed any further.  It would not be in accordance with our practice, where a proposed or continuing act has been found to be invalid or unlawful, to allow the invalid or unlawful act to happen or to allow it to continue with a view to providing a remedy in damages or by way of a reduction in sentence afterwards.

     

  63.    The force of the point which I have just been making was recognised by Cooke P in Martin v Tauranga District Court [1995] 2 NZLR 419.  In that case there had been a delay in bringing the appellant to trial which was held to be “undue delay” under section 25(b) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.  It was held that a stay of proceedings was the appropriate remedy, but differing views were expressed as to whether it should be the standard remedy.  Cooke P said at pp 424-425:

    “A standard remedy under the Bill of Rights for undue delay should logically be a stay.  A wide range of factors fall for consideration in deciding whether the delay has been undue, including the public or societal interest in the prosecution of crime; but, if a balancing of the factors leads to the conclusion that there has in truth been undue delay, it would normally be unsatisfactory (to say the least) for the state to insist on trial thereafter.  A trial would then ipso facto be in breach of the right of the person charged to be tried without undue delay.” [emphasis added]

     

    After observing that there was no reason to refuse a stay in that case where the delay was of the prosecution’s making and that this would be a sufficient and straightforward remedy, he said at p 425:

    “The possibility in other circumstances of remedies such as bail or monetary compensation need not now be more than mentioned.  But I would be inclined to see some incongruity in any suggestion that, although undue delay has been found, the state should continue with a prosecution and, even if it results in conviction and imprisonment, accompany it with an award of compensation.  A stay seems the more natural remedy.  Generally speaking, it seems better to prevent breaches of rights than to allow them to occur and then give redress.”

     

  64.         Expressing the contrary view, Hardie Boys J said at p 432:

    “The right is to trial without undue delay; it is not a right not to be tried after undue delay.  Further, to set at large a person who may be, perhaps patently is, guilty of a serious crime, is no light matter.  It should only be done where the vindication of the personal right can be achieved in no other satisfactory way.”

     

  65.    At first sight the observation that the right to trial without undue delay is not a right not to be tried after undue delay is compelling.  It is, of course, entirely accurate as far as it goes. Among the minimum rights provided by section 25 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights to everyone charged with an offence in New Zealand is the right listed in that section as item (b): “The right to be tried without undue delay”.  It does not say that there is a right not to be tried at all after any delay has become undue.  But this is because the Act left it to the courts to say what the remedy should be in the event of a violation of the right.  It does not say, as does section 57(2) of the Scotland Act, that the prosecutor has no power to do any act which is incompatible with the right which has been violated. 

     

  66.    For this reason it would, in my opinion, be wrong to regard Hardie Boys J’s dictum as a guide to the consequences in Scotland of a finding that the Lord Advocate’s proposed act is in breach of the Convention right.  The structure of our law does not permit this approach.  One must compare like with like.   That is the golden rule, and in our case the comparison cannot be made.  What section 57(2) of the Scotland Act 1998 does, in what I believe to be a unique provision not found elsewhere in the Commonwealth, is to declare that the Lord Advocate has “no power” to do any act which is incompatible with any of the Convention rights.   If it would be incompatible with the Convention right for the Lord Advocate to prosecute the appellant because to do so would violate his right to a hearing within a reasonable time, the only answer which the court can give to the question if it is to comply with the provisions of the Scotland Act is to say that he has no power to proceed with the prosecution and that it must be stayed.  One may say, if one likes, that article 6(1) does not give a right to the accused not to be tried after undue delay.  But the accused does not have to go to article 6(1) to obtain his remedy.  The remedy which Parliament has given him is the right to a finding under section 57(2) of the Scotland Act that the Lord Advocate has no power to do the act which is incompatible with his Convention right.

     

  67.    For the same reasons I think, with great respect, that the judgment of the South African Constitutional Court in Wild v Hoffert NO, 1998 (3) SA 695, is of no help to us on the question of remedy.  As Kriegler J observed in paragraph 9 of his judgment at p 702, section 7(4)(a) of the interim Constitution gave a flexibility to the court in its choice of remedy which enabled it to strike a balance and choose one which was appropriate to the circumstances.  Section 38 of the Constitution of South Africa which was adopted on 8 May 1996 and amended on 11 October 1996 by the Constitutional Assembly (Act 108 0f 1996) has preserved this system.  It provides that, where a person alleges that a right under the Bill of Rights (which provides in section 35(3)(d) that the right of every accused person to a fair trial includes the right “to have their trial begin and conclude without unreasonable delay”) has been infringed or threatened, “the court may grant appropriate relief, including a declaration of rights.”  Neither in New Zealand nor in South Africa – nor indeed in Canada, as to which see R v Morin [1992] 1 SCR 771 – is it provided, as it is in section 57(2) of the Scotland Act, that the prosecutor has “no power” to act in a way that is incompatible with the Convention right.

     

  68.    The position in Scotland under the common law in cases of undue delay, as explained in Normand v Rooney, 1992 JC 93, 97, is that an objection to a prosecution will not be sustained on that ground unless the prejudice is so grave that no direction by the trial judge could be expected to remove it.  If this test is met, the plea in bar of trial will be sustained.  This because there is no choice then as to the remedy.  The safeguard for the public interest lies in the requirement that the accused must establish to the necessary degree the element of prejudice.  This is because the common law right which is put in issue by the plea is the right to a fair trial.  There is no self-standing common law right to a trial within a reasonable time.  So the common law has not had to concern itself with the problem as to the remedies which are appropriate to a breach of the right to a determination of a criminal charge within a reasonable time which is now available under article 6(1) the Convention.    

     

  69.    In Dyer v Watson, 2002 SC (PC) 89, 125-126, Lord Millett observed that little attention had so far been given to the content of the rights which are set out in article 6(1) of the Convention.  For reasons which I shall give when I examine the question of incompatibility, I regret that I am unable to agree with the way he then sought to analyse these rights.  But I agree with what he said in the last sentence of para 131 about the effect of section  57(2) of the Scotland Act 1998:

    “Section 57(2) of the Scotland Act 1998 imposes a vires control by providing that the Lord Advocate has no power to act in a way which is incompatible with an accused’s Convention rights.  If the Lord Advocate threatens to exceed his powers, there is no discretion to withhold a remedy.”

     

    A judgment has to be made, of course, as to whether the Lord Advocate’s proposed act would be incompatible with the Convention right.  It is at that stage that there is room for the flexibility which enables a balance to be struck between the competing interests of the individual and of society.  That was the very point which Cooke P was making in the first of the two passages which I have quoted from his judgment in Martin v Tauranga District Court [1995] 2 NZLR 419, 425 (see, in particular, the part of it which I have italicised).  It was this point too that Lord Bingham of Cornhill sought to emphasise in Dyer v Watson, 2002 SC (PC) 89, 108, para 51.  But once it has been decided that the proposed act would be incompatible the result which section 57(2) requires follows, as my noble and learned friend Lord Steyn put it in the course of the argument, automatically.  There is no room for any distinction to be made according to the nature or character of the various Convention rights.  The vires control applies to them, and to all acts which are incompatible with Community law, equally.

     

  70.    Nor, in my opinion, in cases of threatened or continuing acts by the Lord Advocate which are incompatible with any of the Convention rights is there any discretion as to the appropriate remedy.  Section 57(2) says that the Lord Advocate has no power to do any such act.  If he proposes to act, or to continue to act, in a way that is incompatible with any of the accused’s Convention rights, the accused is entitled to apply to the court for an order that he be stopped from doing so.  Lord Millett suggested in Dyer v Watson, 2002 SC (PC) 89, 125, para 127 that it would be necessary for him to show that article 6(1) gave him a correlative right not to be tried at all after a delay which was held to be unreasonable.  I agree that it is not possible to find a basis for any such correlative right in the wording of the article.  But section 57(2) makes it unnecessary for the accused to conduct that exercise.  So long as he can show that he would be a victim for the purposes of article 34 of the Convention, as section 100(1)(b) of the Scotland Act 1998 requires, he is entitled to rely on his Convention right in the proceedings which have been brought against him by the Lord Advocate.  His entitlement to an order stopping the Lord Advocate from doing an act which has been held to be incompatible with his Convention right is to be found in sections 57(2) and 100(1)(b) of the Scotland Act.

     

  71.    In Attorney General's Reference (No 2 of 2001) [2001] EWCA Crim 1568, [2001] 1 WLR 1869 the Court of Appeal held that in general proceedings should only be stayed under the Human Rights Act 1998 where it would amount to an abuse of the process of the court to proceed with the prosecution.  I do not think that it be right for us to express any view as to the merits of that decision in this case.  It has been appealed to the House of Lords, and the Judicial Committee does not have jurisdiction to decide questions as to the remedies that may be available under the Human Rights Act.  All that can be said about it is that it would perhaps be unwise to regard the law in England and Wales as having been settled by that case.  The question whether it is open to a public authority to proceed with an act once it has been held to be “unlawful” under section 6(1) of that Act is far from easy.  It is unclear whether that subsection raises precisely the same issues as those raised by the words “no power” in section 57(2) of the Scotland Act.  So I would drawn no conclusions either one way or the other from what was said in that case as to the position in Scotland.     

     

    The question of incompatibility

  72.    I now turn to what I consider to be the crucial question in this case.  Would it be incompatible with the appellant’s rights under article 6(1) of the Convention for the Lord Advocate to continue to prosecute him on charges 1 and 3 of the indictment?  I do not think that the word “incompatible” in itself creates a difficulty.  As Lord Steyn has said, it conveys the idea of inconsistency: see my own observations to the same effect in Montgomery v H M Advocate, 2001 SC (PC) 1, 18B.  It requires a comparison to be made between the act of the member of the Scottish Executive and the relevant Convention right or the relevant rule or principle of Community law.  The comparison which it requires in this case is between the Lord Advocate’s “act” in continuing to prosecute and the Convention right.  But in my opinion the Convention right which is in question in this case is not “a right flowing from a breach of the reasonable time guarantee precluding in every case continuation of the prosecution”, as Lord Steyn has suggested.  That formulation of it confuses the Convention right with the consequences that flow from the incompatibility.  The Convention right – and it is the Convention right that is in issue here, not some other right – is the reasonable time guarantee.   The consequences are those that flow from section 57(2) of the Scotland Act which, as Parliament has declared, must be applied to every case where there is found to be an incompatiblity.   

     

  73.    In Dyer v Watson, 2002 SC (PC) 89, 125 para 126 Lord Millett said that little attention has been given so far to the content of the rights which are set out in that article.  I am not sure that this statement is entirely accurate.  A good deal of attention has been given to the content of the right to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal: see, for example, Starrs v Ruxton, 2000 JC 208; Montgomery v H M Advocate, 2001 SC (PC) 1; and Millar v Dickson, 2002 SC (PC) 30.  But I agree with him that the right to a hearing within a reasonable time does require further analysis. 

     

  74.    This is particularly so in the present case, as we are not concerned here with a complaint about an unreasonable delay in the past.  What we are concerned with is the prosecution of a criminal charge which has begun and is still continuing.  This is not a situation that is familiar to the European Court, although the language which has been used in some of its decisions and those of the Commission might suggest otherwise: see X v Germany, Application no 8182/78, (1980) 25 DR 142, 144, para 5, where the Commission referred to the applicant’s right to “discontinuation of the criminal proceedings” in a case where he had already been convicted and sentenced.  Its concern has been to see whether a person who has been convicted and sentenced after an unreasonable delay has received sufficient reparation for the violation in the domestic legal order, and if not whether just satisfaction should be afforded to him under article 41.  The problem which confronts us in the present case is created by sections 57(2) and 100(1)(b) of the Scotland Act.  These provisions require a decision to be taken at this stage about incompatibility although the stage of conviction and sentence has not yet been reached.

     

  75.    In my opinion the proper starting point for an analysis of all the article 6(1) rights is to be found in the wording of that article. It is important to put the words “a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time” into their right context.  That context is to be found in the opening words of the article.  It begins by identifying the proceedings in which everyone is to be entitled to the protection of these rights.  They are proceedings for “the determination of his civil rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”   It has been held that the reasonable time guarantee begins to run as soon as a person is “charged” within the meaning of the Convention: Eckle v Federal Republic of Germany (1983) 5 EHRR 1. The wording of the article indicates that it continues until the charge has been determined.  It includes the whole of the proceedings which are designed to achieve that purpose, including proceedings on appeal.  It has been held that the purpose of the guarantee is to prevent an accused person from remaining too long in a state of uncertainty about his fate: Stögmüller v Austria (1969) 1 EHRR 155, 191, para 5.  That decision indicates, as do the opening words of the article, that the guarantee relates to the proceedings as a whole.  It is the time taken by the proceedings overall that matters.  The guarantee does not concern itself with parts of the proceedings in isolation from other parts.  What it is designed to do is to ensure that the determination of the charge takes place within a reasonable time.

     

  76.    It is clear that the concept of reasonableness implies that a relatively high threshold must be crossed before it can be said in any particular case that a period of delay is unreasonable: Dyer v Watson, 2002 SC (PC) 89, 108, paras 51-52 per Lord Bingham of Cornhill.   As Lord Bingham put it, the threshold is a high one, not easily crossed.  Among the factors to be taken into account in deciding where that threshold lies is the public interest: see also Martin v Tauranga District Council [1995] 2 NZLR 419, 424-425, per Cooke P.  A fair balance must be struck between the demands of the general interest of the community and the requirements of the protection of the individual’s fundamental rights.  But once that threshold has been crossed and it has been held that there has been a delay which is unreasonable within the meaning of the article, the position is irretrievable.  It is simply not possible to say that what has happened so far has resulted in a delay in the determination of the criminal charge which is unreasonable, but that the delay in its determination can be removed by looking to what happens in the future.  Once it has been established that there has been such a delay, any further proceedings will inevitably result in yet further delay in the determination of the charge.  They cannot remove the effect of what has happened so far from the proceedings, which taken overall are bound to result in breach of the Convention right.

     

  77.    In Dyer v Watson, 2002 SC (PC) 89, p 125-126, para 128 Lord Millett said:

    “The right to a hearing within a reasonable time clearly differs from the other rights in some respects.  Once there has been unreasonable delay, it is no longer possible to bring the case to trial within a reasonable time from its inception. The most that can be achieved is to bring it to trial without further delay.  On the other hand, a right not to be tried once there has been unreasonable delay prevents the case being heard at all.  In this case alone the correlative right is destructive of the primary right, of fundamental importance in a society governed by the rule of law, that civil and criminal disputes should be determined by judicial process.”

     

  78.    The suggestion is – and it is right to mention that Lord Millett makes these points as no more than a suggestion – that there is no such thing as a Convention right not to be tried at all after unreasonable delay.  But I do not think that there is any escape from the conclusion that, once it has been established that the right to a determination within a reasonable time has been breached, it will not be possible to avoid that breach simply by bringing the matter to trial without further delay.  I also think that it is unhelpful, when one is attempting to analyse the Convention rights in article 6(1), to talk in terms of primary rights and correlative rights.  The only correlative right under the Convention is the right under article 13 to an effective remedy. 

     

  79.    On this analysis, and on the agreed facts, a finding that the Lord Advocate’s act in continuing to prosecute the appellant on charges 1 and 3 is incompatible with the right to a determination of those charges within a reasonable time seems to me to be inevitable.

  80.    The conclusion which I would draw from an examination of the Convention right in the context of what Parliament has laid down in section 57(2) of the Scotland Act – and it has been said that, in law, context is everything – is that the stage at which the concerns of the individual, of society and of the system of criminal justice as a whole must be taken into account is the stage when one is considering whether the right to a determination of the criminal charge within a reasonable time has been breached.  That there has been such a breach has been conceded in this case.  I make no criticism of that decision.  But, as I indicated in Mills v H M Advocate (No 2), 2002 SLT 939, 946, paras 29 and 30, concessions on this point ought not to be made in the future without taking full account of the observations which are set out in the Board’s judgment in Dyer v Watson, 2002 SC (PC) 89.  It should be remembered also that we are dealing in this case with what may be called “pure” delay.  There has been no suggestion of prejudice, nor – to put the matter in Convention terms - has it been suggested that in consequence of the delay the appellant will not receive a fair trial.  The statutory protections for an accused are such that complaints of delay before trial unaccompanied by allegations of prejudice are seldom likely to arise in Scotland, for the reasons explained by Lord Rodger.  But I suggest that, if the issue is raised, the question whether the threshold has been crossed should be examined in the way that the judgment in Dyer v Watson has indicated with caution and with full regard to the consequences as to remedy which, in the case of proposed or continuing acts, section 57(2) of the Scotland Act 1998 makes inevitable.

     

  81.    I recognise that there is a genuine concern on the part of my noble and friends Lord Steyn and Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe about the implications of the decision in this case for the criminal justice system in England and Wales.  Lord Steyn says that the interpretation of section 57(2) of the Scotland Act which I favour is contrary to the public interest and that it is detrimental to a fair and balanced criminal justice system. He refers also to the risk to the moral authority of human rights in the eyes of the public if they are allowed to run riot in our justice systems.  These are powerful observations.  I would be willing to accept that they may be justified if it were to be suggested that the decision had to be applied without question in England and Wales also, although this is a point on which I should like to hear further argument.

     

  82.    But I do not regard these observations as providing fair comment about the effect which this decision will have on the criminal justice system in Scotland.  The Scottish system has accepted the imposition of statutory time limits on the prosecution of offences which are far more onerous than anything that the English system has been able to accept, and its common law jurisprudence proceeds along similar lines.  As a result cases of pure delay are, as Lord Rodger has explained, indeed quite rare and they are likely to remain so.  The bare fact that 39% of devolution minutes have raised issues of delay tells us nothing about the basis for these applications or the prospects of their being upheld when they are subjected to the appropriate threshold. My judgment is that the result of this case will be beneficial in Scotland, as it will tend to reinforce the philosophy which has always informed Scottish criminal justice that delays are contrary to the public interest and must be kept under strict control.

     

  83.    I think that it should also be recorded that the parties were informed at outset of the hearing before the Board that the decision of the Court of Appeal in Attorney General's Reference (No 2 of 2001) [2001] 1 WLR 1869 was not to be dealt with in the course of the argument as it was under appeal to the House of Lords.  It is for this reason that I have not thought it appropriate to draw attention to defects in the reasoning in that case which will require to be examined in the appeal.  All that needs to be said, with great emphasis as this is a case which has been brought under the Scotland Act and not the Human Rights Act, is that the decision in that case proceeds upon the assumption that under the Human Rights Act there is a choice of remedies.  It does not address the particular issue which arises under section 57(2) of the Scotland Act, which provides that the Lord Advocate has no power to act incompatibly with any of the Convention rights. 

     

    Conclusion

  84.    For these reasons, and for those given by Lord Rodger with whose carefully reasoned judgment I am in full agreement, I would allow this appeal.  I would hold that it would be incompatible with the appellant’s right to a determination of a criminal charge against him within a reasonable time for the Lord Advocate to continue to prosecute him on charges 1 and 3 of the indictment and, as the Lord Advocate has no power to do an act which is incompatible with the Convention right, that the plea in bar should be sustained and these charges dismissed from the indictment.

    _____________________________

     

     

     

    Lord Clyde

     

  85.    The appellant is the subject of criminal proceedings.  The indictment sets out six charges of indecent behaviour.  He claims that proceedings in respect of two of these charges should be discontinued and he has lodged a minute seeking to have these two charges dismissed from the indictment on the ground that a continuation of the prosecution of these two charges would be incompatible with his right under Article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time.  He had been cautioned and charged with these two offences on 13 August 1995.  Thereafter the procurator fiscal decided to take no further action with regard to them.  This decision was not formally intimated to the appellant but he heard informally of it.  The charges were then re-erected and included in other charges on which he appeared on petition on 30 October 2000.  He claims that the delay between 1995 and 2000 has been unreasonable.  The case proceeds upon the basis that there has been a violation of Article 6(1) in that in the determination of two of the six charges brought against the appellant there has not been a hearing of them within a reasonable time.  This means that there is a violation and that the appellant is a victim of that violation.  The question then is as to the consequences of that in the present case.  The appellant founds upon section 57(2) of the Scotland Act and claims that the Lord Advocate has no power to continue the prosecution.

     

  86.    The critical question is one of the construction of section 57(2) of the Scotland Act 1998. Section 57(2) provides as follows:

    “A member of the Scottish Executive has no power to make any subordinate legislation, or to do any other act, so far as the legislation or act is incompatible with any of the Convention rights or with Community law.”

     

    We are not concerned in the present case with subordinate legislation and accordingly I shall take no further notice of that element in the provision.  The subsection imposes a limitation on the powers of members of the Scottish Executive.  It thereby states the consequence of doing an act which is incompatible with any of the Convention rights or with Community law.  The consequence is that the act, being ultra vires, is necessarily void and of no effect. It does not detail what remedy, if any, beyond that invalidity there may be where someone has suffered because a member of the Scottish Executive has acted beyond his or her power but it does render ineffectual any act incompatible with the Convention rights or with Community law.

     

  87.    The subsection  relates to members of the Scottish Executive. The Lord Advocate is a member of the Scottish Executive by virtue of section 44(1)(c) and there is no doubt but that the subsection applies to him. It accordingly imposes some limitation on his powers.  Omitting the references to legislation three elements require to be considered. First there must be some “act” of his.  That is a matter of the construction of section 57(2). Secondly, there must be some particular Convention right or provision of Community law.  In the present case we are concerned with a Convention right and the nature and substance of that right are to be understood in accordance with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.  Thirdly, the act must be incompatible with the Convention right or the provision of Community law.  That matter, like the first, is one of domestic law. Once these three elements have been explored the effect and consequence of the subsection should follow.

     

  88.    So far as the first of these is concerned, the question is whether there is here an “act” of the Lord Advocate,  The appellant submits that the prosecution of the appellant is the relevant act. The first respondent claims that the word “act” in section 57(2) does not include a prosecution.  The point is one of the construction of section 57(2), but it also raises a matter of jurisdiction in so far as if the first respondent is correct there is no “devolution issue” before the Board.

     

  89.    The present appeal is presented to the Board as arising from a devolution issue under paragraph 1(d) of Schedule 6 of the Scotland Act 1998.  The question raised by that sub-paragraph is whether a proposed exercise of a function by the Lord Advocate would be incompatible with, in the present case, Article 6(1) of the Convention.  The issue which arises in relation to the meaning of the word “act” is whether the subparagraph covers the raising of a prosecution and the continuing to pursue it.  Paragraph 1(c) of the Schedule deals with questions of devolved competence and looks to section 54.  It is difficult to resist the view that sub-paragraph (d) looks to section 57 and includes the “acts” of members of the Scottish Executive.  The word “functions” in the definition section, section 126, expressly includes powers and duties and it is obvious that the exercise of a power may involve the doing of an act.

     

  90.    The first respondent sought to argue that the act of raising or continuing a prosecution was not an “act” within the meaning of section 57(2).  But the alternative construction which he offered, to the effect that it was limited to such acts of the same general character as the making of legislation, such as the making or distribution of circulars, guidance or general instructions, is both uncertain in its scope and artificially narrow.  If Parliament had intended some special meaning to be given to the word “act” in this particular context, it could readily have said so.  On the contrary the implication to be naturally taken from section 57(3) is that an act of the Lord Advocate in prosecuting an offence is within the scope of the “acts” referred to in subsection (2). That devolution issues were intended to include issues arising in criminal trials in Scotland is further borne out by the express making of an amendment to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 in paragraph 32 of Schedule 8 of  the Scotland Act.  In my opinion the view taken on this question in such cases as Montgomery v H M Advocate 2001 SC (PC) 1 and Brown v Stott 2001 SC (PC) 43 was correct and should be followed.  If, as was suggested by Mr Davidson, this wider meaning of the word “act” has had a disruptive effect on the conduct of criminal processes in Scotland, that must be seen as a consequence of the way in which the legislation has been framed.  On the view which I have taken we are dealing with a competent “devolution issue” relating to a proposed act by a member of the Scottish Executive.

     

  91.    The second element to be considered is the Convention right. We are not here concerned with any provision of Community law, but it is important to notice the wide scope of the matters by reference to which the vires control in section 57(2) has been drawn by including the requirement for compliance with both the Convention rights and with Community law.  In the present case the particular Convention right with which we are concerned is the right, in the determination of the criminal charges, to have a hearing within a reasonable time.  This is one of the rights set out in Article 6(1) of the Convention.  The right to a determination within a reasonable time is certainly of great importance Guincho v Portugal (1984) 7 EHRR 223, 233, para 38).  In H v France (1989) 12 EHRR 74, 90, para 58) the court observed that in article 6(1) “the Convention underlines the importance of rendering justice without delays which might jeopardise its effectiveness and credibility”.

     

  92.    As I have already stated the parties have not joined issue on the question whether or not there has been a breach of this particular right given by Article 6(1).  The argument proceeds upon the basis that there is such a breach.  But it is important to appreciate the significance of starting the debate from that premise. What has been accepted by the first respondent, or at least not disputed by him, is that the delay in the present case is unreasonable within the meaning of the Article.  This is a matter recently explored by the Board in Dyer v Watson 2002 SC (PC) 89. It is clear from that case that the threshold which has to be crossed in order that the delay may be categorised as unreasonable is a high one.  The Convention seeks to identify a common minimum standard of protection applicable internationally to the states parties to the Convention.  The period by itself must give rise to real concern.  The complexity of the case, the conduct of the accused, and the manner in which the case has been handled by the administrative and judicial authorities have then all to be assessed. An unreasonable time is one which is excessive, inordinate and unacceptable.  Under the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights the element of prejudice is not an essential ingredient of a violation, (Lűdi v Switzerland (1992) 15 EHRR 173, Eckle v Federal Republic of Germany (1982) 5 EHRR 1, 24, para 66), but the view has been expressed that inordinate delay may give rise to a presumption that the victim will be prejudiced (Dyer v Watson 2002 SC (PC) 89, 115, Lord Hope of Craighead at para 79).  While the focus under Scots law is more particularly on considerations of oppression and prejudice to the prospects of a fair trial (McFadyen v Annan 1992 JC 53) it may well be that there is in practice, in the rare cases in which the circumstances are so grave as to warrent a plea of delay to be upheld, no very great difference in the result of the application of the two approaches, even although there are differences in the ingredients of which they are each composed.  But however that may be, the word “unreasonable” is to be taken not as admitting any slight degree of delay, but rather as requiring there to be a delay which is inordinate and unacceptable.

     

  93.         Whether there has or has not been a violation of any of the rights contained in Article 6(1) must be decided within the context of the whole proceedings.  The European Court considers the case after the domestic remedies have been exhausted.  They are in a position to take a global view of the case as a whole.  But a complaint of a violation, and in particular a plea of delay, should be raised at the earliest stage.  In Scotland it takes the form of a plea in bar of trial.  The matter then has to be assessed in light of the whole course of the future proceedings leading to the eventual determination of the civil rights and obligations or of a criminal charge.  But it may not always be easy or even possible to determine the proper disposal of the plea at the outset. In some cases the issue may require to be deferred to, or raised afresh at, the end of the proceedings.

     

  94.    One feature of the particular right with which the present case is concerned, the right to have a hearing within a reasonable time, is that once a delay has occurred in contravention of the right it is impossible to turn back the clock and start again.  The  process of the determination of rights or obligations or of a criminal charge necessarily extends over a period of time.  The right is to have the process achieved within a reasonable time and the period taken up, or to be taken up, by the whole process has to be the first consideration.  It may be that it is only one part of that period to which serious criticism can be directed.  But even if the rest of the period is one of due expedition the delay over part of the time may taint the whole.  In particular, delay at the outset of the proceedings may constitute a violation affecting the whole course of the determination.  It may be a matter of language whether one describes that as a continuing violation or simply sees it as an incident in the process of the determination of the criminal charge which establishes the continuing character of the accused as a victim but which is otherwise irreversible history.

     

  95.    The feature to which I have just referred may, to an extent at least, distinguish the particular right with which we are concerned from the other rights immediately associated with it in Article 6(1), the rights to a fair hearing, to a public hearing and to a hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.  These other rights do not depend upon the march of time so as to lead to an impossibility of starting again.  But it cannot be affirmed that they are altogether free from any problem of starting afresh.  Where the fairness of a criminal trial has been vitiated by undue publicity there may be cases where it may never be possible to have a fair trial.  There may even be circumstances where there are no sufficient members of a tribunal free from interest and an independent body cannot be constituted, although it may be that public interest and necessity may enable that problem to be overcome.  The distinction between the various rights in respect of the practibility or the possibility of starting again is not absolute.

     

  96.    So far as the right in the present case is concerned the delay which is taken to be the starting point for the argument in the present case is a delay which violates the Convention right to trial within a reasonable time.  The case has this peculiarity about it that the period of delay complained of largely occurred after the procurator fiscal had decided that the prosecution should not proceed.  The appellant did in fact discover that and so should not be understood as having been on tenterhooks during all of the period of delay.  In Stögműller v Austria (1969) 1 EHRR 155, 191 para 5 the Court observed of Article 6(1) that it:

    “ applies to all parties to court proceedings and its aim is to protect them against excessive procedural delays; in criminal matters, especially, it is designed to avoid that a person charged should remain too long in a state of uncertainty about his fate.”

     

    Nevertheless we are not required to consider whether there has or has not been an unreasonable delay.  The argument proceeds upon the basis that there has been an unreasonable delay, that is delay, viewed in the context of the whole process of the determination of the charges, of the very grave standard which I have already described, and in that respect a violation of Article 6.  The acceptance that there has been a delay of so serious a degree as to qualify as an unreasonable delay under Article 6(1) is in my view a material factor in the determination of this appeal.

     

  97.    Before leaving the matter of the Convention right I should say something about the consequences of a violation of the right, stressing at the outset that the right and the consequences of violating the right are distinct and separate matters.  Plainly the stage at which the matter of the consequences of a violation is raised calls for differences in approach.  Viewed, as the European Court of Justice must view the case, at the latest stage there may well be remedies other than setting aside a conviction.  It is sufficient to refer to the decision of the Board in Mills v H M Advocate (No 2) 2002 SLT 939 where the delay occurred after conviction in the course of the appeal process. In these circumstances it was recognised that the discontinuance of a prosecution was only one possible remedy, and indeed not the normal one.  The alternatives noted in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights include such things as a reduction in sentence, monetary compensation, or even a finding that a violation had occurred.  In Bunkate v Netherlands (1993) 19 EHRR, 477, 484, para 25) the court stated:

    “The applicant’s claims are based on the assumption that a finding by the Court that a criminal charge was not decided within a reasonable time automatically results in the extinction of the right to execute the sentence and that consequently, if the sentence has already been executed when the Court gives judgment, such execution becomes unlawful with retroactive effect. That assumption is, however, incorrect.”

     

    But the fact that the European Court may find that just satisfaction can be given by some course short of a stopping of the proceedings does not mean that the domestic court must under its own law be prevented from stopping them.

     

  98.    There are two further matters to be derived from the European jurisprudence.  Article 13 of the Convention requires that there shall be an effective remedy for those whose rights and freedoms under the Convention are violated.  But the remedy shall be “before a national authority”.  Article 41 of the Convention anticipates that “the internal law of the High Contracting Party” will make reparation.  It is only if that law allows only partial reparation that the Court may afford just satisfaction to the injured party and in terms of the Article shall do so “if necessary”.  Thus the remedies and the consequences are matters primarily for the domestic courts and they are only of subsidiary importance for the European Court of Human Rights.  It is, at least initially, then to the domestic law that one must turn to find the consequences of the breach in the present case.  That brings one back again to section 57(2) of the Scotland Act 1998 and to the construction of the word “incompatible”.  But it is important in approaching that matter to notice that the Convention right with which we are concerned does not in itself carry any necessary consequence under the Convention.  There is no built-in right to any consequence or remedy.

     

  99.    The first respondent founded upon a formulation put forward by Hardie Boys J in Martin v Tauranga District Court [1995] 2 NZLR 419, under reference to observations in a Canadian case (Rahey v The Queen [1997] 1 SCR 588) where as Hardie Boys J recorded, at p 432, the stance had been taken that a stay was the necessary remedy whenever there has been a breach of the right to trial without undue delay and the view had been expressed that “once there has been undue delay, for a Court to embark on a trial would be a further violation of the right”.  He then continued:

    “These eminent Judges went so far as to put the proposition in terms of jurisdiction. With respect, I doubt the logic. The right is to trial without undue delay; it is not a right not to be tried after undue delay.”

    Attractive as this formulation may seem I am not persuaded that it is a useful exercise to pursue ideas of correlative rights in the context of the present case.  In its context the formulation presented by Hardie Boys J was designed to counter the view that holding a trial after undue delay would be a further violation of the right and that a stay was the only remedy.  This is a matter not of the nature of the right but of the consequences of a violation of the right.  This is an important distinction.  As I have already said, Convention rights do not carry with them a right to a remedy.  The consequences of a breach and the matter of remedy are primarily matters of domestic law.

     

  100.    I turn next to the meaning of the word ‘incompatible’.  Lord Coulsfield identified two possible approaches to the construction of the legislation at 2002 SLT 834, 841, para 22.  The one simply indicates that the action conflicts with a Convention right.  He described the other, which was the one which he preferred, as saying “that an action is incompatible with a Convention right if the right is of such a character as to entitle the holder to require that it should not be taken at all”.  Attractive as this latter approach can seem to be I have come to the conclusion that it involves too fine an analysis.  It also seems to me to be extending the substance of the right to include a right to a remedy, and that, as I have sought already to suggest, does not accord with the Convention right.  On this latter approach as applied to the present case the question would be whether it is an inevitable consequence of the delay in breach of Article 6 that the prosecution must be terminated at the present time.  If dismissal of the prosecution is not an inevitable consequence then its continuation would not be incompatible with the breach.  But this simply demonstrates the confusion here of rights and remedies.  Furthermore, it is to be remembered that the word “incompatible” appears in several contexts both in the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998.  A meaning should be found which will fit at least with the generality of the other places in which it is used. The ordinary meaning of the word, to the effect that the act would involve a breach of a Convention right, seems to me more appropriate for the generality of its use.  In the context of Scottish legislation section 101 of the Scotland Act 1998 requires a narrow reading of legislation to be adopted to avoid it going outside the limits of competence laid down in the Act.  That provision may apply to questions of the possible incompatibility of legislation under section 57(2); but we are not concerned with that area of activity in the present case.  On the other hand the simpler construction which I prefer seems to accord at least with the spirit of the general rule of interpretation laid down in section 3(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998.  I also consider that the distinction sought to be made by Lord Reed between the length of the proceedings and the proceedings themselves involves too fine an analysis ((2001) SLT 1366).  The breach of the right is in the failure to have the criminal charges determined within a reasonable time.  In other words, the process of determination is being or has been unreasonably long. It is not just the passage of time which is of concern but the pursuit of a prosecution after such a passage of time.

     

  101.    In my view the word “incompatible” simply requires that the act should be in conflict with the Convention right and the act of continuing the process of the determination of these criminal changes after the passage of an unreasonable time is in conflict with the right to have them determined within a reasonable time. One then looks to the domestic law to find the consequence. Section 57(2) gives a clear answer in providing that the Lord Advocate has no power to prosecute after an unreasonable delay. The prosecution must then be dismissed.  I find no other provision in the Act which may serve to modify that result. This is a more drastic consequence than the European Court of Human Rights would prescribe, but, as I have already noted, that court is reviewing the case after the domestic remedies have been exhausted and the approach to the consequences of a breach, which is only a subsidiary matter for that court, may be open to greater variety at that stage.  Moreover, whether this is or is not a more drastic consequence than Convention jurisprudence would expect, it is more favourable to the victim and in that respect should not be objectionable as falling short of the requirement for just satisfaction.  It is a consequence which has in practice been followed in the Scottish courts in such cases as HM Advocate v Hynd 2000 SCCR 644 and Docherty v HM Advocate 2000 SCCR 717.

     

  102.    In the present context of the prosecution of an alleged offence I am not persuaded that the position, regulated as it is by Section 57(2) in terms of vires, is so very different from the position at common law.  After any major delay the Lord Advocate will always be faced with a problem about the propriety of continuing with a prosecution.  He will have to make up his mind on the question and if he decides to proceed, his decision to do so will be open to review by the Court if the accused raises a plea in bar of trial on the ground of the delay.

     

  103.         Presumably the section would also apply to the acts of members of the Scottish Executive engaged in civil litigation.  But there again, as in the context of criminal cases, the consequence of unreasonable delay imposed by section 57(2) may be seen to have a healthy stimulus to the expeditious management of litigation in the interests of the individual citizen and of the efficient administration of public affairs.  Whether  the situation is or is not materially different at least in the end result if the problem were to arise under the provisions of section 6 and 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 is not an issue which arises in the present case and I express no view upon it.  I would only observe that if there is a difference between the position in Scotland and that which may exist in England under the Human Rights Act 1998 that is a difference which has been prescribed by Parliament in the express enactment of section 57(2) in the Scotland Act 1998.

     

  104.    The appellant raised a further question, identified in his case as a third issue.  As re-formulated in the argument before the Board I understood this to proceed on the basis that there had been a violation of Article 6(1) but that that breach did not lead to an automatic dismissal of the proceedings.  In that situation the Lord Advocate is not deprived of his power to continue the prosecution. The question is then asked whether in such a case a dismissal of the proceedings would be appropriate.  Even if this question can be presented as being within the scope of the devolution issue the point is, on the view which I have taken on the main question, academic and I would say no more about it.

     

  105.    On the whole matter I consider that the appeal should be allowed. The plea in bar of trial should be upheld and charges 1 and 3 should be dismissed from the indictment.

    _____________________________

     

    Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

     

  106.    I gratefully adopt the detailed account of the facts and issues given by my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead.  There is nothing that I can usefully add to what he has said on the third and fourth issues in the appeal, but in view of the division of opinion among your Lordships I must explain why my consideration of the first and second issues has led me to conclude that the appeal should be allowed.  By way of introduction to those issues I make a number of more general points about the case.

     

    Introduction

  107.    As Lord Hope of Craighead has explained, the first and second issues concern aspects of the right of an accused person to have the charges against him determined within a reasonable time. So far as material, Article 6(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom provides:

    “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time….”

     

    In Dyer v Watson [2002] UKPC D1, 2002 SC (PC) 89, 126–128, paras 136-140, I outlined the various statutory safeguards which exist in Scots law to ensure a prompt trial, especially of more serious cases tried on indictment.  Those safeguards should, for the most part, prevent any breach of this right in such cases.  At first sight it would look as if those safeguards would cover the proceedings against the appellant.  He was interviewed by the police on Friday 27 October 2000 in relation to certain allegations of a sexual nature.  The following Monday, 30 October, he appeared before a sheriff on a petition at the instance of the procurator fiscal.  The sheriff committed him for trial and granted him bail.  The petition contained six charges, including the two which are now charges 1 and 3 on the indictment.  In terms of section 65(1) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 his trial on all the charges had to begin within twelve months of his appearance on petition.  The Crown indicted him to a sitting of the High Court which was due to take place on 2 October 2001.  In the case of four out of the six charges there could therefore be no conceivable violation of the reasonable time guarantee under Article 6(1):  the appellant had been interviewed about them on 27 October 2000 and the Crown were ready to bring him to trial less than a year later.  The case has one unusual feature, however:  the appellant had first been cautioned and charged with the offences that now form charges 1 and 3 as long ago as 13 August 1995. Normally, the Crown would either have proceeded with those charges at that time or have decided finally to take no proceedings on them.  In fact the procurator fiscal did decide in November 1995 that there should be no proceedings, apparently on the mistaken view that there was not sufficient evidence against the appellant.  When, some years later, other girls made allegations against the appellant, however, the procurator fiscal decided to include the 1995 allegations in the charges on the petition against the appellant.  Such a sequence of events is not unprecedented, of course, but it is exceptional.

  108.         Unusually also, the Crown have accepted that, due to the lapse of almost five years when nothing happened, the charges against the appellant cannot be determined by a trial within a reasonable time in terms of Article 6(1).  While I do not suggest that the Crown were wrong to accept this, I shall have to examine the position in more detail in due course.  In the meantime, in addition to the comments of Lord Hope of Craighead, I note that, as in Dyer v Watson, the Crown have taken no point based on the fact that during the period from August 1995 until 20 May 1999 the Convention rights had not been incorporated to any extent into Scots law. 

     

  109.         Especially since none of the courts has needed to apply the test to the facts of this case, it should not be forgotten that, in the words of Lord Bingham of Cornhill in Dyer v Watson 2002 SC (PC) 89, 108E – F, para 52:

    “The threshold of proving a breach of the reasonable time requirement is a high one, not easily crossed.”

     

    So, on any view, the Board is dealing not with a common, but with a relatively unusual, case where the Crown accept that the high threshold has been crossed.  Moreover, the particular issue that the Board is called on to decide affects only the cases where that high requirement can be seen to be satisfied before the trial.  The somewhat amorphous nature of this particular right may well mean that such cases will be comparatively rare.  It would indeed be a cause for concern if there were many cases where the Scottish criminal justice system failed to secure the Convention right of an accused person to trial within a reasonable time.  I have no reason to believe that this is the case, however.  I need hardly say, moreover, that it is the law and position in Scotland, rather than the law and position in England, that form the background against which the issues in this appeal fall to be decided.

     

  110.         Finally, in this case the appellant does not argue that the delay in bringing him to trial would make it impossible for him to have a fair trial.  If he did so, he would be invoking a different guarantee in Article 6(1) and he would obtain his remedy in Scots law by raising a plea of oppression: McFadyen v Annan 1992 JC 53.  It is trite law that there may be an infringement of the reasonable time guarantee in Article 6(1) in the absence of actual prejudice but that, where unreasonable delay has caused prejudice, this will be relevant in determining the redress which a domestic system must afford the victim:  Dyer v Watson 2002 SC (PC) 89, 104, 107,  paras 40 and 50 per Lord Bingham of Cornhill.

     

    The Devolution Issue

  111.    It is useful to see exactly how matters developed in this case. When the appellant was indicted for trial in October 2001 his agents lodged a “minute” giving notice that he intended to raise an issue under the Human Rights Act 1998.  The minute related to charges 1 and 3 on the indictment.  The appellant set out the events upon which he founded.  He then referred to Article 6 of the Convention as incorporated by the Human Rights Act and to section 6(1) of that Act (“section 6(1)”) which provides:

    “It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.”

     

    The minute went on to say that “accordingly, the Lord Advocate [now] has [no] power to prosecute the minuter for the offences … as his actions are incompatible with the minuter’s Convention rights incorporated in section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998”. The minute craved the High Court to dismiss charges 1 and 3.

     

  112.    This minute was framed solely in terms of the Human Rights Act.  That was a form that practitioners commonly adopted after the Human Rights Act came into force in October 2000 when it was thought that an accused person could choose to found simply on the Human Rights Act rather than on the Scotland Act 1998. Taking the Human Rights Act route seemed to have certain advantages, especially in avoiding the requirements for lodging a devolution issue minute in due time in terms of Rule 40(2) of the Act of Adjournal (Criminal Procedure) Rules 1996 and for intimating the matter to the Advocate General in terms of paragraph 5 of schedule 6 to the Scotland Act.  On 1 August 2001, however, in Mills v HM Advocate (No 2) 2001 SLT 1359, 1364 – 1365, para 19, the Appeal Court held in substance that any allegation that an act of the Lord Advocate was incompatible with the accused’s Convention rights raised what was, by definition, a devolution issue in terms of paragraph 1(d) of schedule 6.  It followed that an accused person had to observe the requirements of the Scotland Act and of the Act of Adjournal relating to devolution issues.

     

  113.         Whether or not spurred on by that decision, counsel drafted and lodged what bore to be an amendment to the original “minute” which was now referred to as a “devolution issue minute”.  The amendment, which was allowed, deleted the last sentence of paragraph 4 of the original minute.  In its place the appellant averred that it was unlawful for the Lord Advocate “to continue to prosecute the minuter” on charges 1 and 3 or separatim for the court to allow the charges to be brought to trial.  These averments were still framed under reference to section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act.  But, separatim, under reference to section 57(2) of the Scotland Act (“section 57(2)”), the appellant added that “the Lord Advocate has no power to continue to prosecute the minuter” on the two charges.  The court should therefore sustain the minuter’s plea in bar of trial.

     

  114.    The courts below addressed the matter both in terms of section 6(1) and in terms of section 57(2).  Before your Lordships’ Board, by contrast, the joint statement of facts and issues focused on section 57(2) and counsel did not seek to argue the matter under reference to section 6(1).

     

  115.         Plainly, the distinct issue as to whether it was unlawful for the High Court to allow the charges to be brought to trial, although included in the amended “devolution issue minute”, is not a devolution issue at all.  The exercise of its functions by the High Court of Justiciary is not controlled by the Scotland Act and any question as to the incompatibility with Convention rights of any exercise of those functions is not a devolution issue within the meaning of paragraph 1 of schedule 6 to the Act.  That issue falls to be determined solely in terms of section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act.  It is therefore not a matter that can, of itself, be raised before your Lordships’ Board, whether by way of appeal or by way of reference.

     

    Section 6(1) and Section 57(2)

  116.    The question of the Lord Advocate’s acts or proposed acts is different, however, and, to deal with it, I must say something about the relationship between the Human Rights Act and the Scotland Act, a relationship which Parliament has not spelled out particularly clearly.

     

  117.    When prosecutions are mounted in his name, the Lord Advocate is a “public authority” for the purposes of section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act:  section 6(3)(b).  The question as to whether an act or failure to act of the Lord Advocate is “incompatible with a Convention right” is therefore one that could arise on the wording of section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act. Besides being a “public authority”, the Lord Advocate is a member of the Scottish Executive:  section 44(1)(c) of the Scotland Act. So the question as to whether any act or failure to act of his “is incompatible with the Convention rights” may arise under section 100(1) of the Scotland Act, while under section 57(2) of the same Act the court may have to consider whether any act of the Lord Advocate “is incompatible with any of the Convention rights”. Each of these provisions uses slightly different wording.  The form used in section 57(2) is also to be found in section 107(1) of the Government of Wales Act 1998 and in sections 6(2)(c) and 24(1)(a) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.  Despite the slight variations of language, what constitutes incompatibility with Convention rights must be the same under all the sections of the Scotland Act and Human Rights Act – and, presumably, under the other sections too.  I examine the matter in more detail later in this opinion.

     

  118.    It follows that, in so far as an act is indeed incompatible with a party’s Convention rights, any of these provisions of the Human Rights Act and of the Scotland Act that may be applicable may be engaged.  Therefore, an accused person cannot conduct proceedings on the basis that he wants the court to consider the question of the incompatibility of an act of the Lord Advocate only in terms of section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act.  That would be to ask the court to fail to apply the law that Parliament has enacted in the Scotland Act for such cases of incompatibility.  What must be ascertained in any given case is the actual legal position: that is determined by applying the relevant legislation enacted by Parliament, not by applying merely those parts of the relevant legislation which a particular party may have chosen to rely on.  It is for this reason that, as the High Court held in Mills v HM Advocate (No 2), a question of the incompatibility of any act of the Lord Advocate with Convention rights is necessarily a question under the Scotland Act and one which constitutes a devolution issue for the purposes of schedule 6.

     

  119.    The appellant’s devolution issue minute attacks the Lord Advocate’s act of continuing to prosecute him on two grounds:  first, that it is unlawful in terms of section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act and, secondly, that he has no power to do it under section 57(2) of the Scotland Act.  The courts below dealt with both attacks.  But is this a case where both section 6(1) and section 57(2) apply?  Or does one rather than the other apply and, if so, which?  To answer those questions it is necessary to examine how the Scotland Act works.

    Remedies under the Scotland Act

  120.    So far as the Scotland Act is concerned, the appellant’s devolution issue minute concentrates, and the argument at the appeal also largely concentrated, on section 57(2):

    “A member of the Scottish Executive has no power to make any subordinate legislation, or to do any other act, so far as the legislation or act is incompatible with any of the Convention rights or with Community law.”

     

    In other cases before the courts also the matter has been framed in terms of this subsection.  That is entirely understandable since, ultimately, as I conclude below, in a case such as the present, the accused person is saying that the prosecution should be stopped because, by reason of section 57(2), the Lord Advocate has no power to continue it.  In his thought-provoking opinion in this case, however, the presiding judge at the preliminary diet (Lord Reed) gave two examples of acts of members of the Scottish Executive that would be incompatible with Convention rights:  the ill-treatment of a prisoner in violation of Article 3 and the reading of the prisoner’s correspondence in violation of Article 8 (2001 SLT 1366, 1377H, para 40).  He then added:

    “In such a case, section 57(2) would appear to have the consequence that the act in question cannot be treated as being within the lawful powers of the person who committed it, and so prevents a possible justification or defence from being put forward.  It does not however in itself enable any effective remedy to be granted by the court in a case of that kind.”

     

    I would respectfully agree that the purpose of section 57(2) is to prescribe the consequences in law if the members of the Scottish Executive do an act that is incompatible with Convention rights. The presiding judge went on to observe (2001 SLT 1366, 1377I-K):

    “Where the act can be treated as delictual under the ordinary law of delict (e g an assault on a prisoner), then the court can provide an effective remedy under the law of delict, for example in the form of damages.  Where the act is not delictual under the ordinary law, then section 57(2) does not confer upon the court a power to award damages.  The Human Rights Act may however enable such damages to be awarded, since the conduct is also an unlawful act within the scope of section 6(1) of that Act, and section 8 empowers the court to grant a wide range of remedies, which may include damages, in respect of such an act.  In other words, section 57(2) of the Scotland Act only addresses the issue whether the act in question falls within the powers of the Scottish Executive; and there may be circumstances in which a violation of the Convention has occurred, as the result of an act which falls within the scope of section 57(2), but in which the only effective remedy may lie under sections 7 to 9 of the Human Rights Act.”

     

  121.    I have more difficulty with some of these observations.  The Scotland Act is a major constitutional measure which altered the government of the United Kingdom.  This is reflected in the fact that, apart from section 25, the whole Act applies throughout the United Kingdom: section 131. So, not only the Union with England Act 1707 but also the Union with Scotland Act 1706 has effect subject to the Scotland Act:  section 37.  Sections 29(2)(d) and 57(2) of the Act put it beyond the power of the Scottish Parliament to legislate, and of a member of the Scottish Executive to act, in a way that is incompatible with any of the Convention rights.  These are provisions of cardinal importance in the overall constitutional structure created by the Act.  So far as section 29(2)(d) is concerned, the Law Officers are specifically empowered, of course, to refer a question to the Board under section 33 if a Bill or a provision in a Bill appears to be incompatible with Convention rights.  It would, however, seem surprising if, apart from this, the Scotland Act itself did not enable proceedings to be raised where either the Parliament or a member of the Scottish Executive had overstepped the mark and had done something that was incompatible with Convention rights – even something as grave as ill-treating a prisoner so badly as to violate Article 3.  If that were indeed the position, then the absence of any effective public law remedies under the Scotland Act would mark it out from other constitutional documents.  For the sake of brevity, I refer to Simpson v Attorney-General (Baigent’s Case) [1994] 3 NZLR 667 and to the authorities cited by the New Zealand Court of Appeal, in particular by Hardie Boys J (at pp 700 – 702).

     

  122.    Like Lord Hope of Craighead, however, I find in section 100 of the Scotland Act the clear implication that the Act does indeed itself enable people to bring proceedings and to defend themselves where legislation or acts are incompatible with Convention rights. The power to do so can be seen from the restrictions that Parliament has placed on it.  Section 100 provides:

     

    “(1)  This Act does not enable a person –

    (a) to bring any proceedings in a court or tribunal on the ground that an act is incompatible with the Convention rights, or

    (b) to rely on any of the Convention rights in any such proceedings,

     

    unless he would be a victim for the purposes of Article 34 of the Convention (within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998) if proceedings in respect of the act were brought in the European Court of Human Rights.

     

    (2) Subsection (1) does not apply to the Lord Advocate, the Advocate General, the Attorney General or the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.

     

    (3) This Act does not enable a court or tribunal to award any damages in respect of an act which is incompatible with any of the Convention rights which it could not award if section 8(3) and (4) of the Human Rights Act 1998 applied.

     

    (4)  In this section ‘act’ means –

    (a) making any legislation,

    (b) any other act or failure to act, if it is the act or failure of a member of the Scottish Executive.”

     

    The section is designed to limit the situations in which a party can invoke Convention rights in litigation.  So no-one can bring proceedings or rely on his Convention rights unless he would be a victim for the purposes of Article 34 of the Convention if proceedings were brought in the European Court of Human Rights (“the European Court”).  The implication must be that “this Act” does enable a person to do both these things if he would qualify as a victim in European Court proceedings.  The fact that the Scotland Act itself is the source of this power is confirmed by subsection (3).  It is concerned to say that the Act does not enable a court or tribunal to award any damages which it could not award if section 8(3) and (4) of the Human Rights Act applied.  Again, the implication must be that the Scotland Act does enable a court or tribunal to award the damages that it could award if section 8(3) and (4) of the Human Rights Act applied.  Moreover, subsection (3) shows that the court or tribunal is not awarding damages under section 8 of the Human Rights Act:  the Scotland Act itself enables the court or tribunal to award the same damages as it could award if it were awarding them under section 8 of the Human Rights Act. The remedy of damages is the only one that is specifically mentioned – and then only because of the special restrictions placed on it.

     

  123.         Section 100 has a counterpart in section 7 of the Human Rights Act, subsection (1) of which is expressed slightly more fully:

    “(1)  A person who claims that a public authority has acted (or proposes to act) in a way which is made unlawful by section 6(1) may –

    (a) bring proceedings against the authority under this Act in the appropriate court or tribunal, or

    (b) rely on the Convention right or rights concerned in any legal proceedings,

     

    but only if he is (or would be) a victim of the unlawful act.”

     

    Especially in the light of that provision, I would infer from section 100(1) of the Scotland Act that the Act itself enables a person, who claims that an act or proposed act of a member of the Scottish Executive is incompatible with his Convention rights, to bring proceedings in a court or tribunal or to rely on his Convention rights in any proceedings in a court or tribunal.  Convention rights and the remedies for vindicating them belong in the sphere of public rather than private law: Maharaj v Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago (No 2) [1979] AC 385, 396 per Lord Diplock; Simpson v Attorney-General (Baigent’s Case) [1994] 3 NZLR 667.  What particular form the remedy or reliance will take depends on the court or tribunal, and on the jurisdiction, in which the matter arises.  In an appropriate court the person affected can seek damages under the Scotland Act in respect of an incompatible act.  Consonantly with this general approach, issues relating to incompatibility with Convention rights are specifically reflected in sub-paragraphs (d) and (e) of paragraph 1 of schedule 6 to the Scotland Act which apply to all the United Kingdom jurisdictions. Therefore the Scotland Act itself would enable a prisoner who had been ill-treated in contravention of Article 3 to sue the Scottish Ministers for damages.  Similarly, the Scotland Act would provide the basis for the prisoner to obtain appropriate redress from the Scottish Ministers for the reading or threatened reading of his correspondence in violation of Article 8.

     

  124.    In defending himself against the Lord Advocate’s prosecution of charges 1 and 3, the appellant in this case is using the power given to him by the Scotland Act to rely on his rights under Article 6(1).  More particularly, he is trying to show that the Lord Advocate’s act in continuing to prosecute him is incompatible with his right to have the “charges” comprising charges 1 and 3 on the indictment determined within a reasonable time.  If he can show that, then section 57(2) provides that the Lord Advocate has no power to continue to prosecute those charges.

     

    Section 57(2) and Failures to Act

  125.    It is important to notice that what the appellant is attacking as being incompatible with Article 6(1) is the Lord Advocate’s positive act in continuing with the prosecution of these charges in a situation where they cannot be determined within a reasonable time.  The appellant is not saying that the Lord Advocate has failed to carry out any of his functions and that his failure to do so is incompatible with the appellant’s Convention rights.  Of course, both section 100(4)(b) and paragraph 1(e) of schedule 6 indicate that a failure to act by a member of the Scottish Executive which is incompatible with Convention rights is something that the Scotland Act enables a person to raise in legal proceedings.  As my noble and learned friend Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe pointed out during the hearing, however, it is difficult to see how a failure to act would fit into section 57(2).  Significantly, where Parliament wishes to include failure to act in the term “act” in section 100, it does so expressly: section 100(4)(b).  In section 52(4) Parliament also speaks of an “act or omission” of any member of the Scottish Executive.  Although that subsection does not apply to the Lord Advocate’s retained functions, it does again suggest that, generally, the word “act” refers only to positive acts and not to omissions or failures to act.  Although the matter does not arise for determination in this case, I would therefore conclude that the term “act” in section 57(2) does not include a failure to act.  So section 57(2) does not apply to any failure by a member of the Scottish Executive to carry out one of his functions.  This does not mean, of course, that such a failure has no legal consequences under the Scotland Act: on the contrary, both section 100 and paragraph 1(e) of schedule 6 show that it does.  But the consequences do not flow from the operation of section 57(2).

    Unlawfulness and Invalidity

  126.    I return to a case like the present where the allegation is that a positive act of the Lord Advocate is incompatible with Convention rights.  In his minute the appellant has cast his case both in terms of section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act and in terms of section 57(2) of the Scotland Act.  Whether the matter arose under section 6(1) or under section 57(2), the question to be determined in the first place would be whether the Lord Advocate’s act in continuing with the prosecution was incompatible with the appellant’s Convention rights.  If only the Human Rights Act applied, then the result of any finding of incompatibility would be that the Lord Advocate’s “act” would be unlawful.  There would be an act of the Lord Advocate but an unlawful act.  But the Lord Advocate is not simply a public authority to whom section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act applies; he is also a member of the Scottish Executive to whom, in addition, section 57(2) of the Scotland Act applies.  And subsection (2) goes further than section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act.  By virtue of subsection (2) the Lord Advocate actually has no power to do an act so far as it is incompatible with any of the appellant’s Convention rights.  To that extent any such “act” of the Lord Advocate is invalid:  it is not truly an “act” at all but merely a “purported” act.  This is reflected in the language of paragraph 1(d) of schedule 6.

     

  127.    As Mr Bovey QC pointed out, one can derive the same conclusion from section 102.  That section would apply, for instance, if a court or tribunal found that a member of the Scottish Executive did not have power to make a particular provision of subordinate legislation “that he [had] purported to make”, because it was incompatible with any of the Convention rights (section 57(2)).  In such a case the purported provision would be invalid, but under section 102 the court or tribunal would have power to remove or limit any retrospective effect of its decision or to suspend its effect.  Section 102 applies only to an act of a member of the Scottish Executive in making subordinate legislation, however.  The implication is that, if a court or tribunal finds that a member of the Scottish Executive does not have power to do some other kind of act, that purported act is simply invalid and the court or tribunal cannot remove or limit any retrospective effect of its decision or suspend its effect.

     

  128.    The conclusion must therefore be that, whenever a member of the Scottish Executive does an act which is incompatible with Convention rights, the result produced by all the relevant legislation is not just that his act is unlawful under section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act.  That would be the position if the Scotland Act did not apply.  When section 57(2) is taken into account, however, the result is that, so far as his act is incompatible with Convention rights, the member of the Executive is doing something which he has no power to do:  his “act” is, to that extent, merely a purported act and is invalid, a nullity.  In this respect Parliament has quite deliberately treated the acts of members of the Scottish Executive differently from the acts of Ministers of the Crown.

     

  129.    So in all such cases of positive acts by a member of the Scottish Executive the legal consequence of incompatibility with Convention rights is that the purported act is invalid so far as it is incompatible.  That is the legal consequence which Parliament has chosen to attach to this situation – whether or not it is the consequence that would most suit the party who challenges the act. This case, therefore, does not require the Board to consider how section 6(1) should be applied to an infringement of the right to trial within a reasonable time.  The decision in Attorney General’s Reference (No 2 of 2001) [2001] EWCA Crim 1568; [2001] 1 WLR 1869 is accordingly distinguishable.  At the hearing of the present appeal, it was indicated that the Board should not entertain submissions on the decision of the Court of Appeal since the House of Lords is shortly to hear an appeal from it.  For that reason I feel constrained to say no more than that the arguments in the two cases are different.  The present case focuses on the role of the prosecutor and on the effect of section 57(2).  The Attorney General’s Reference, by contrast, concentrates on the role of the court and the impact of section 6(1) on the court, part of the reasoning being directed indeed to the position in civil cases.  As I point out in paragraph [146], the considerations affecting the position of the court and the position of the prosecutor may not be the same.  For reasons that I have already explained, the Board would in any event have no jurisdiction to consider a pure question relating to the application of section 6(1) to the High Court of Justiciary.

     

  130.    The situation might well be different if an accused were alleging that some failure of the Lord Advocate to act was incompatible with his Convention rights.  Then, for the reasons I have given, section 57(2) would not be applicable and so there would remain an “act” of the Lord Advocate, albeit one that would be unlawful by virtue of section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act.  In addition, as I have sought to explain, the Scotland Act would enable the accused to rely on the violation of his rights.  It is unnecessary, and would be inappropriate, in this case to explore how the two statutes would interact in that situation.

     

  131.    In the appeal before the Board, therefore, the appellant is not invoking any remedy given to him by the Convention itself, or any remedy given to him by the Human Rights Act.  Rather, relying under the Scotland Act on his Convention right, he is saying that the Lord Advocate’s act in continuing to prosecute him on charges 1 and 3 is incompatible with the Convention and that, by reason of section 57(2), that act is invalid, a nullity.  That is the correct basis for his challenge.  On the strength of that challenge the appellant calls on the High Court to stop the Lord Advocate from doing something that he has, in law, no power to do, just as it would stop anyone else from doing something that he had, in law, no power to do.  The Crown Proceedings Act 1947 does not apply to criminal proceedings and the High Court would unquestionably be able, in an appropriate case, to control the Lord Advocate and restrain him from such a course, whether by deserting the diet, by dismissing charges or otherwise.  But is this such a case?

     

  132.    The answer to that question depends on whether, by continuing to prosecute the appellant, the Lord Advocate is doing an “act” which is “incompatible” with the appellant’s Convention rights under Article 6(1).  If so, he has no power to do it;  if not, there is nothing to prevent him from doing it.  To resolve that issue, it is first of all necessary to decide whether continuing to prosecute the appellant constitutes an “act” of the Lord Advocate in terms of section 57(2).  It is then necessary to identify precisely which of his rights the appellant is relying on and what is meant by an act being “incompatible” with that Convention right.

     

    Acts of the Lord Advocate

  133.    So far as the first of these issues is concerned, I gratefully adopt what Lord Hope of Craighead has said on the fourth issue, building on statements in previous cases.  As he has shown, continuing the prosecution of the appellant on charges 1 and 3 on the indictment is indeed an “act” of the Lord Advocate for the purposes of section 57(2).

     

    Which Right does the Appellant rely on?

  134.    At first sight it might seem unnecessary to spend time identifying which right is in issue in this case.  On behalf of the Crown Mr Davidson QC argued, however, that the appellant was not asserting his Article 6(1) right to be tried within a reasonable time but, rather, a different right not to be tried after a reasonable time.

     

  135.    The reality is that many accused persons do not wish their prosecution to go ahead and do not wish to go to trial.  When they rely on their Article 6(1) right, therefore, they are in substance saying to the prosecutor:  “Of course, I don’t actually want you to go on with the prosecution and bring me to trial but, if you insist, then you must do so within a reasonable time.”  The Lord Advocate’s reply in a case like the present can perhaps be characterised in this way:  “I do insist on going on with the prosecution and on bringing you to trial;  and I insist indeed even though, admittedly, I cannot do so within a reasonable time.”  If that correctly represents the respective positions of the accused and Crown in any given case, then the accused person is relying on his Article 6(1) right and not on any supposed right not to be tried after the lapse of an unreasonable time.  Similarly, the Lord Advocate is admitting that he cannot respect that Article 6(1) right.

     

  136.    Mr Davidson’s submission, that, on the contrary, the appellant is asserting a right not to be tried, was based in part on the succinct observation of Hardie Boys J in Martin v Tauranga District Court [1995] 2 NZLR 419, 432 in relation to section 25(b) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990:

    “The right is to trial without undue delay;  it is not a right not to be tried after undue delay.”

     

    The presiding judge considered that this observation “identified the fallacy in the proposition that breach of the right to trial without undue delay must logically result in a stay of proceedings” (2001 SLT 1366, 1382B, para 60).  Lord Millett raised the same point in the course of his tentative but influential comments in Dyer v Watson 2002 SC (PC) 89, 125–126, paras 126–130. Referring to the various rights in Article 6(1), he said:

    “126  Little attention, however, has been given to the content of these rights.  The rights to a fair and public hearing clearly carry with them a correlative right not to be subjected to an unfair or secret hearing.  If this latter right is infringed, the parties’ primary rights to a fair and public hearing remain.  This is obvious in the case of a civil suit; and the language of Article 6(1) makes it difficult to admit a distinction between civil and criminal proceedings.  So, too, the right to a hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal carries with it a correlative right not to be subjected to a hearing by a tribunal which does not possess these characteristics.  If this latter right is infringed, the parties’ right to a fresh hearing before a proper tribunal is unimpaired.

     

    127  It has been assumed at all stages below in the present cases, and for a large part of the argument before us, that the right to a trial within a reasonable time similarly carries with it a correlative right not to be tried at all after the lapse of an unreasonable time.  But it is not at all self-evident that this assumption is correct, and there are signs in the jurisprudence of the European Court that it may not be.

     

    128  The right to a hearing within a reasonable time clearly differs from the other rights in some respects.  Once there has been unreasonable delay, it is no longer possible to bring the case to trial within a reasonable time from its inception. The most that can be achieved is to bring it to trial without further delay.  On the other hand, a right not to be tried once there has been unreasonable delay prevents the case being heard at all.  In this case alone the correlative right is destructive of the primary right, of fundamental importance in a society governed by the rule of law, that civil and criminal disputes should be determined by judicial process.

     

    129 The European Court has repeatedly held that unreasonable delay does not automatically render the trial or sentence liable to be set aside because of the delay (assuming that there is no other breach of the accused’s Convention rights), provided that the breach is acknowledged and the accused is provided with an adequate remedy for the delay in bringing him to trial (though not for the fact that he was brought to trial), for example by a reduction in the sentence.

     

    130  The question is whether this is a matter of right or of remedy.  Does the European Court refrain from declaring the trial a breach of the accused’s Convention rights because, although the holding of the trial constitutes a further and distinct breach of Article 6(1), it is a breach for which it is not appropriate to grant a remedy; or is it because there is no Convention right not to be tried at all after unreasonable delay?”

  137.    Lord Millett’s starting point is his identification of rights that are correlative to the rights expressed in Article 6(1).  So, he refers to a correlative right not to be subjected to an unfair or secret hearing.  If this correlative right is infringed, then the primary right to a fair and public hearing remains.  As he recognises, as a matter of pure logic, his analysis might suggest that the right to be tried within a reasonable time would also attract a correlative right not to be tried after the lapse of an unreasonable time.  But Lord Millett suggests that no such correlative right exists because, unlike the other (primary) rights, the right to a hearing within a reasonable time, once infringed, can never revive. The most that can be done is to bring the charges to trial without further delay.

     

  138.         Although the European Court might have derived a series of correlative rights from the rights set out in the Convention and might have formulated their decisions in terms of those correlative rights, they have not in fact done so.  When, for example, an accused person has been tried by a partial tribunal, it is his right to a hearing by an impartial tribunal that has been infringed, not a supposed correlative right not to be tried by a partial tribunal.  In my respectful opinion, Lord Millett’s proposed analysis adds a complication that is not found in the case law.  As with the other rights under Article 6(1), the issue in any case where the reasonable time guarantee is invoked is whether the accused’s right to a hearing within a reasonable time has been or will be infringed.  That is the right upon which the appellant founds in this case.  There is, of course, no logical reason why the Convention should contain a right not to be tried after the expiry of unreasonable delay and a consequential right to have the prosecution stayed.  Indeed it would be somewhat surprising if it did since, for the most part, the Convention leaves the matter of redress for infringements to the domestic law:  Article 13.  But the fact that the Convention does not contain such a right is irrelevant for present purposes for the simple reason that it is no part of the appellant’s case that it does.  Rather, he asserts that, if by going on with the prosecution the Lord Advocate infringes his right to a hearing within a reasonable time, then he must stop - not because the Convention says so but because section 57(2) of the Scotland Act says he has no power to go on.

     

    “Incompatible” in Section 57(2)

  139.    It is implicit in the appellant’s position that an act which infringes a Convention right is “incompatible” with that right for purposes of section 57(2).  Although in this case the question arises in relation to section 57(2), essentially the same wording is found in section 100(1) of the Scotland Act and in paragraph 1(d) and (e) of schedule 6, as well as in section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act.  Any interpretation placed upon the phrase in one provision must be apt for the others too.  The interpretation must also take account of the fact that in section 57(2) and in paragraph 1(d) and (e) of schedule 6 the full phrase is “incompatible with any of the Convention rights or with Community law”.

     

  140.    The purpose of the Human Rights Act was to incorporate the Convention rights into the domestic law of the United Kingdom, to require public authorities to respect those rights and, if they did not, to give domestic law remedies to those who were affected by any infringement of their rights.  The incorporation of the Convention rights is effected by section 1.  Section 6(1) is the section that compels public authorities to respect those rights, by making it unlawful for them to act in a way that is incompatible with a Convention right.  If they do so, then a court or tribunal may give a remedy in terms of sections 8 and 9.  In view of this legislative structure I readily conclude that, when Parliament refers to a public authority acting in a way that is incompatible with a Convention right, it is referring to a public authority violating or infringing a Convention right.  That is borne out by paras 2.2–2.6 of the pre-legislative White Paper, Rights Brought Home: the Human Rights Bill (Cm 3782 (1997)).  So if the act of a public authority involves an infringement of a Convention right, that act is “incompatible” or inconsistent with that right and is accordingly unlawful:  R Clayton and H Tomlinson, The Law of Human Rights (2000), Vol 1, pp 248-249, para 5.120.  As Lord Hope of Craighead noted in Montgomery v HM Advocate 2001 SC (PC) 1, 18B, this interpretation corresponds to the meaning of “compatible” in section 3(1).

     

  141.    The phrase must have the same meaning in the Scotland Act since Parliament chose to use the Scotland Act as the vehicle for bringing Convention rights to bear on the devolved institutions: Rights Brought Home, para 2.21.  In any event this can be deduced from the Acts themselves.  As I have already noted, section 100(3) of the Scotland Act says that the Act does not enable a court or tribunal to award any damages in respect of an act which is incompatible with any of the Convention rights which it could not award if section 8(3) and (4) of the Human Rights Act applied. Section 100(3) could not operate unless the meaning of “incompatible with any of the Convention rights” in the subsection were the same as the meaning of “incompatible with a Convention right” in section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act:  section 8(6) of the Human Rights Act.  That meaning must apply in section 57(2) also.

     

  142.    In the Appeal Court Lord Coulsfield and Lord Cameron of Lochbroom interpreted “incompatible” differently.  They held (2002 SLT 834, 841H, para 22; 845B, para 10) that an act is “incompatible” with a Convention right in terms of section 6(1) and section 57(2) only “if the right is of such a character as to entitle the holder to require that it should not be taken at all”.  I am unable to accept this restrictive interpretation, which elides, unhappily, the distinct concepts of infringement and remedy.  Mr Davidson adopted a not dissimilar and equally flawed interpretation.  He argued that an act was not “incompatible” with a Convention right in terms of section 57(2) if a court could, subsequently, give a remedy for any infringement that it entailed. That argument involves a vicious circle.  Under the Acts remedies can be granted only in respect of acts that are “incompatible” with Convention rights:  sections 8(6) and 6(1) of the Human Rights Act and section 100 of the Scotland Act.  If, therefore, acts involving infringements of Convention rights which can subsequently be remedied were held to be “compatible” or “not incompatible” with those rights, those infringements could not be subsequently remedied under the Acts.  Mr Davidson’s approach would reduce the scheme of the legislation to incoherence.

     

    A Continuing Violation

  143.         Section 57(2) will apply to the act of the Lord Advocate in continuing with the prosecution on charges 1 and 3 if he thereby infringes the appellant’s Article 6(1) right to a hearing within a reasonable time.  At first instance, Lord Reed accepted this (2001 SLT 1366, 1379B, para 46) but held that continuing with the prosecution did not infringe this right.  His reasoning can be seen in two passages from his opinion.  First, he says (2001 SLT 1366, 1378–1379, paras 46 and 47):

    “So far as the present application is based on the Human Rights Act, the starting point is section 6(1) …  I can only sustain the plea in bar of trial on the basis of the Human Rights Act, if (1) for the Lord Advocate to proceed to trial is incompatible with the accused’s Convention rights, or (2) for the court to proceed to trial is incompatible with the accused’s Convention rights.  It is plain from the Convention jurisprudence that to proceed to trial would not be incompatible with the accused’s Convention rights merely by reason of the length of proceedings.  That appears most clearly from the court’s article 50 judgment in Eckle v Germany [(1983) 13 EHRR 556, 559, para 20]: ‘The Court’s judgment … whilst pronouncing the length of the proceedings taken against the applicant’s to be unreasonable, did not in any manner hold, or carry the implication, that their prosecution, conviction and imprisonment were also in breach of the Convention.’  The fact that proceedings have lasted more than a reasonable time prior to trial therefore does not entail that to proceed with the trial is a violation of the Convention or, therefore, incompatible with a Convention right.  If however a public authority has acted in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right, the court can grant such remedy, or make such order, within its powers as it considers just and appropriate.  That power would enable the High Court of Justiciary in particular to give a reduction in sentence in recognition of the violation, if the accused were to be convicted and such a reduction were considered appropriate; or it would enable the Court of Session to grant a declarator, or to award damages, if appropriate.

     

    47  So far as the present application is based on the Scotland Act, the starting point is section 57(2), which I have already quoted.  On the basis of the Convention jurisprudence …, it is plain that for the Crown to proceed to trial, after an unreasonable pre-trial delay, is not (merely by reason of the delay) a violation of the Convention, and is therefore not an act incompatible with Convention rights.  That being the position, there appears to me no basis under section 57(2) for my sustaining the plea in bar of trial in the present case.”

     

    A little later his Lordship observed (2001 SLT 1366, 1379, para 50):

    “The fact that the length of the proceedings considered as a whole exceeds a reasonable time and therefore violates the accused person’s Convention rights does not have the consequence that the acts undertaken by the prosecution in the course of those proceedings (such as placing the accused on petition or on indictment, or presenting evidence, or inviting the jury to convict), or for that matter the acts undertaken by the court (such as committing the accused, or returning a verdict, or passing sentence), are in violation of his Convention rights – whether those acts are considered individually or cumulatively.  If those acts are not a violation of his Convention rights – as is clear from the Convention case law – then I see no reason to conclude that they are rendered ultra vires by section 57(2) of the Scotland Act.”

     

  144.    Lord Reed holds that, even if the length of the proceedings considered as a whole exceeds a reasonable time and “therefore” violates the accused person’s Convention rights, this does not have the consequence that the acts done in the course of the prosecution are in violation of his Convention rights.  This is an application of the distinction he sees (2001 SLT 1366, 1379F–G) para 49 between the propositions:

    “first, that the length of the proceedings violates the accused person’s Convention right under Article 6(1); and secondly, that the proceedings themselves violate the accused person’s Convention rights.”

     

    In a system which aims to provide effective remedies for breaches of Convention rights, seeing a practical distinction between the length of the proceedings and the proceedings themselves might appear almost as curious as seeing the grin without the Cheshire cat.  As the presiding judge really seems to acknowledge (in para 46), if the length of prosecution proceedings violates the accused’s Convention rights under Article 6(1), then in Scots law there can be no effective remedy for that infringement unless it is regarded as being caused by the act of the Lord Advocate in conducting them.  Section 57(2), one of the cornerstones of the system of protection in the Scotland Act, is framed by reference to acts of the Scottish ministers and would be unworkable in this instance on any other basis.  Mutatis mutandis the same would seem to apply to an equivalent infringement in English law which fell to be regulated by section 6(1).

     

  145.    I accept, of course, that in themselves the various steps taken in an unreasonably long prosecution may not violate any of the accused’s Convention rights.  The judgment of the European Court in Eckle v Germany (Just Satisfaction) (1983) 13 EHRR 556, 559, para 20 makes that clear.  Referring to their earlier judgment that the length of the proceedings had been unreasonable, the Court said that it

    “did not in any manner hold, or carry the implication, that [the applicants’] prosecution, conviction and imprisonment were also in breach of the Convention.”

     

    So, any trial, including the imposition of sentence, which takes place at the end of such a prosecution may in itself be fair and not in violation of the accused’s right to a fair trial.  Indeed, were that not so, it is hard to see how the court could ever make the acknowledgement of the violation, and impose the reduced sentence, which together constitute the kind of redress for undue delay that the European Court has recognised may well be effective.  But the fact that the various steps in the proceedings may not in themselves involve a violation of Article 6(1) is, it seems to me, just a consequence of the fact that the guarantees in Article 6(1) are separate.  The hearing may be fair and the tribunal may be impartial, but that does not mean that the proceedings in which that hearing by the tribunal takes place do not involve a violation of the guarantee of a hearing within a reasonable time. The rights are distinct, as your Lordships’ Board had occasion to reaffirm recently in Mills v HM Advocate (No 2) [2002] UKPC D2; 2002 SLT 939.  I refer in particular to the speech of Lord Steyn (paras 4–13, at pp 941–944) with whom the other members of the Board agreed.

     

  146.    In any event it seems unhelpful to concentrate on the individual steps in the prosecution proceedings when considering the reasonable time guarantee.  It is by his proceedings as a whole that the Lord Advocate either respects or infringes this particular Article 6(1) right.  So the mere fact that the individual steps in the proceedings would not in themselves violate Article 6(1) is nothing to the point.  The question is whether in going on with the proceedings by taking the steps the Lord Advocate infringes the accused’s Article 6(1) right to a hearing within a reasonable time. That right may be violated because, as here, the prosecutor takes too long over some step or steps and the total period becomes inordinate.  Or else, the prosecutor may diligently perform every step but the prosecution proceedings are inherently so (unnecessarily) elaborate and time-consuming that the determination of the charges cannot take place within a reasonable time.  In either event the prosecutor conducts the proceedings in such a way as to bring about a breach of the accused’s right.

     

  147.    In this case any trial and final determination lie in the future. Nevertheless, the Crown accept that, because of the initial five-year delay due to the procurator fiscal’s mistake, charges 1 and 3 cannot be determined within a reasonable time.  Because of the formal concession by the advocate depute at the preliminary diet and the practical concession before the Appeal Court, the nature of the violation was not explored in any detail. When the matter is being considered before trial, it can be said that the accused’s right has been infringed at least in cases where so much time has passed that the earliest possible determination of the charges would inevitably take place after an unreasonable time.

     

  148.    In the courts below the position appears to have been presented somewhat differently.  The preliminary hearing took place before the Board’s decision in Dyer v Watson 2002 SC (PC) 89.  There it was emphasised that, in applying Article 6(1), a court has first to consider the overall length of the proceedings from charge to determination and decide whether it gives cause “for real concern”.  Only if the court concludes that their length does give cause for real concern does it go on to look at the facts of the case to see whether there is something in them to show that the time taken is indeed unreasonable.  I refer in particular to the opinions of Lord Bingham of Cornhill and Lord Hope of Craighead (2002 SC (PC) 89, 108, para 52 and p 116, para 85) and to my own opinion (p 134, para 154).  The presiding judge dealt with this case, however, on the basis of the advocate depute’s concession that there had been a period of delay of about five years for which the Crown had no satisfactory explanation and that this was an unreasonable delay (2001 SLT 1366, 1369L, para 6).  The concession referred to the period from November 1995 until October 2000 when the appellant was placed on petition.  This formulation might suggest that the admitted infringement of the appellant’s Article 6(1) right lay in this period of delay which was over and done with a year before the preliminary hearing.  The failure to make progress between November 1995 and October 2000 is not, however, what constitutes the infringement of the appellant’s Convention right.  In itself that failure would be of no importance if the Lord Advocate were not now intending to proceed with the prosecution of charges 1 and 3.  In truth, the infringement of the appellant’s right arises because those charges, about which he was cautioned and charged in August 1995, would not have been determined until the hypothetical trial in October 2001, more than six years later.  That is a period that gives rise at first sight to real concern.  When the facts are examined it can be seen that that total period is indeed unreasonable because the procurator fiscal did nothing for five years.  The charges should, reasonably, have been determined long ago. In these circumstances, the Crown accept, a court looking at the position at the preliminary hearing in September 2001 would have held that, when concluded, the proceedings would inevitably infringe the appellant’s Article 6(1) right.

     

  149.    As soon as that can be said, the Lord Advocate must be infringing the appellant’s right to a hearing within a reasonable time.  On the facts of this case indeed it may well be that the appellant could have raised the point when he appeared on petition in October 2000, since so much time had already passed that the position would have been obvious even at that stage.  So he could have argued that the Lord Advocate had no power to go any further at all with the prosecution of the two old charges.  In practice the appellant might have been met with arguments to the effect that it was premature to take the point since Crown counsel had not yet decided whether to include the charges in any indictment.  But, in principle at least, the point might well have been open at that stage because any subsequent steps would have been taken simply to carry forward a prosecution on these charges which itself infringed the appellant’s Article 6(1) right.  That serves to underline how unusual this case is.

     

  150.    Once the proceedings have already gone on so long that they cannot be completed within a reasonable time, not only is the Lord Advocate infringing the accused’s Convention right but he will continue to do so all the time until the charges are determined.  His is a continuing infringement. Every day that the prosecution continues is an additional day during which the accused is kept in a state of uncertainty about his fate for longer than is reasonable. Every day the Lord Advocate is violating the accused’s Article 6(1) right, part of the very raison d’être of which is to avoid this unreasonably prolonged state of uncertainty: Stögmüller v Austria (1969) 1 EHRR 155, 191, para 5.  Only when the charges are eventually determined will the clock stop and the infringement come to an end.  Even then, the accused remains a victim of the violation until effective redress is made.  In its recent decision in Mills v H M Advocate (No 2) the Board impliedly analysed the situation in this way when it said that the remedies available for infringing this right could include discontinuance of a prosecution (2002 SLT 939, 944D–E, para 16, per Lord Steyn, with whom the other members of the Board agreed).  A court would not have the option of granting that remedy unless continuing with the prosecution did indeed violate the accused’s right to trial within a reasonable time. The same could be said of the Commission’s decision in X v Germany (1980) 25 DR 142, 144, para 5, in so far as it recognised that in exceptional circumstances discontinuation might be an appropriate remedy.

     

    Remedy under Section 57(2)

  151.    The present case is one where, it is accepted, the proceedings on charges 1 and 3 cannot be determined within a reasonable time.  If, therefore, the Lord Advocate were able to continue with the prosecution on these charges, in that respect he would indeed be infringing the appellant’s Article 6(1) right and so would be doing an act that was incompatible with that right.  But Parliament has intervened by enacting section 57(2) and prescribing the legal consequences which are to follow in so far as the Lord Advocate’s act is incompatible with the appellant’s Article 6(1) right:  he has no power to continue with the prosecution.  In this way Parliament ensures that the Lord Advocate respects the appellant’s Convention right to a trial within a reasonable time.  It also ensures that he cannot insist on acting in a way that infringes that right on the pretext that, at some future date, a court will give redress for the infringement.

     

  152.         Judges, commentators and members of the public may have different views as to whether Parliament went too far when it prescribed these radical consequences for the infringement of this particular right of the appellant - even though the right is one of “extreme importance” for the proper administration of justice: Guincho v Portugal (1984) 7 EHRR 223, 233, para 38.

     

  153.    To some, this form of prevention may seem better than subsequent cure.  In Martin v Tauranga District Court [1995] 2 NZLR 419, 425, for instance, Cooke P, as he then was, expressed the view that “it would normally be unsatisfactory (to say the least) for the state to insist on trial” after undue delay.  He added (at p 425, lines 13–17):

    “But I would be inclined to see some incongruity in any suggestion that, although undue delay has been found, the state should continue with a prosecution and, even if it results in conviction and imprisonment, accompany it with an award of compensation.  A stay seems the more natural remedy.”

     

  154.    On the other hand, in the same case Hardie Boys J took the view that a remedy short of a stay would usually be appropriate (at p 432).  The case law of the European Court shows that, in most cases at least, they too would regard a much less drastic remedy - for instance, by way of acknowledgement of the infringement and reduction of any sentence - as providing sufficient redress.  And many other systems have seen advantages in having available a refined system of remedies from which the court can select the one best fitted to balance the rights of the public and the rights of the accused in the particular circumstances.  The decision of the Constitutional Court of South Africa delivered by Kriegler J in Wild v Hoffert NO 1998 (3) SA 695, to which Lord Steyn has referred, is a striking example of a court operating within such a system.  There, section 7(4)(a) of the interim Constitution provided that a person who alleged an infringement or threat to any of the entrenched rights was entitled to apply to a competent court for “appropriate relief”.  The judgment of McLachlin J, as she then was, in R v Morin [1992] 1 SCR 771, 809–813 favours a similar approach to the application of section 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Yet another example is to be found in the judgment of 10 November 1971 of the Bundesgerichtshof BGHSt 24, 239, 240–243 which depends on the particular status of Convention rights in German law.

     

  155.    All of these, including Martin v Tauranga District Court, are decisions of judges in systems where the legislature has left it to the courts to decide what the consequences of any particular violation of an individual’s rights should be.  The Board is not in that position in this case.  In enacting a constitutional settlement of immense social and political significance for the whole of the United Kingdom, Parliament has itself balanced the competing interests of the Government of the United Kingdom, of the Scottish Executive, of society and of the individuals affected.  Having done so, Parliament has decided that members of the Scottish Executive should have no power to do acts that are incompatible with any of the Convention rights.  In this case that means that the Lord Advocate has no power to continue the prosecution on charges 1 and 3.  If this is to use an axe rather than a scalpel, then Parliament has selected the tool.  Your Lordships’ Board cannot re-open the exercise that Parliament undertook and re-balance the competing interests for itself.  Rather, it must loyally give effect to the decision of Parliament on this sensitive matter, even if – or perhaps especially if – there are attractions in a different solution in the case of unreasonably long prosecutions.

     

  156.    For these reasons as well as for those given by Lord Hope of Craighead with which I agree, I would allow the appeal, sustain the appellant’s plea in bar of trial and dismiss charges 1 and 3 on the indictment.

    _____________________________

     

    Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe

     

  157.    I agree with the opinion of my noble and learned friend Lord Steyn, which I have had the advantage of reading in draft.  I add some brief remarks of my own because of the importance of the appeal and the difference of opinion between your Lordships.

     

  158.    In this appeal the Board has to answer the question which was identified, but deliberately left open, in Dyer v Watson 2002 SC(PC)89: if it is apparent that an accused person’s right to trial within a reasonable time has already been breached, is it necessarily incompatible with his Convention rights for the prosecution to be continued?  In Dyer v Watson it was recognised that the right to trial within a reasonable time (the reasonable time requirement) is distinct from the other rights conferred by Article 6 (1), and that it differs from them in important respects (see in particular the opinions of my noble and learned friends Lord Hope of Craighead, at p 113, para 73, and Lord Millett at pp 125-126, para 128).  The other rights are concerned with what happens at the trial itself, whereas the reasonable time requirement is concerned with the whole judicial process starting (in a criminal case) at the time when the accused person is first charged.

     

  159.    The sharpness of this distinction has to be qualified in some respects.  Events other than delay occurring before trial (such as prejudicial pre-trial publicity) may exceptionally make it necessary to halt a prosecution before trial, because a fair trial is no longer impossible.  But Montgomery v HM Advocate 2001 SC (PC) 1 shows that such cases will be rare, because of the very important function of the trial judge in securing a fair trial; as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead said in Montgomery at p 30E,

    “The principal safeguards of the objective impartiality of the tribunal lie in the trial process itself and the conduct of the trial by the trial judge”.

     

    Conversely the European Court of Human Rights (which is normally looking at the position after the event) has stated that the issue of unreasonable delay is to be determined by looking at the course of the legal proceedings as a whole, and by taking account of all relevant circumstances, including any prejudice caused to the accused by the delay.  So the reasonable time requirement normally calls for review of the whole sequence of events down to (and including) the trial itself.

     

  160.         Nevertheless the difference between the reasonable time requirement and the other Article 6 (1) rights remains significant, and it is far from obvious that the right not to be subjected to an unfair trial (a right obviously correlative to the right to a fair trial) is matched by a right not to be subjected to any trial once undue delay has occurred.  In civil proceedings (where both the claimant and the defendant may be equally prejudiced by unreasonable delay resulting from cumbersome procedural rules or inadequate judicial resources) simply putting an end to the proceedings cannot be the right solution.  Even in criminal proceedings, there may be accused persons, convinced of their innocence, who wish to stand trial in order to vindicate their good names.  It is questionable whether all or even the majority of those facing prosecution, whether or not likely to be found guilty, would wish the prosecutions to be delayed for as long as possible, because of the uncertainty and anxiety attending the delay.  There is a strong public interest against the premature termination of any prosecution on a serious charge, unless it is clear that a fair trial is no longer possible. 

     

  161.    Mr Bovey QC submitted that this is a case of a continuing violation of Article 6 (1) and that continuation of the prosecution of his client would therefore necessarily be incompatible with his Convention rights.  In their judgments my noble and learned friends Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Rodger of Earlsferry (especially at paras. 59 and 150 respectively of their judgments) have accepted this submission.  That is the basis of their conclusion that the continuation of the prosecution on charges 1 and 3 would be incompatible with the appellant’s Convention rights.

     

  162.    If that is the effect of section 57 (2) then the consequences would be surprising and inconvenient.  One consequence would be that the law of Scotland would appear to differ (on a very important human rights issue) from the law of England (as well as differing from other Commonwealth jurisdictions: I refer below to Martin v Tauranga District Court [1995] 2 NZLR 419).  Another consequence would be that the Lord Advocate was liable to find himself rendered literally powerless to act at a moment which (instead of being defined by the expiration of a specific period of time) could be recognised (as my noble and learned friend Lord Steyn put it in the course of argument) only by making a complex value judgment.   It would be the Lord Advocate’s duty (whether or not the point was raised on behalf of the accused) to give anxious consideration to whether he would be acting beyond the law in continuing any prosecution in which serious delay had already occurred.  This would be likely to have a chilling effect.  It might even lead to what Hardie Boys J. referred to in Martin v Tauranga District Court (at page 431) as “a destructive diminution of community respect for the law, its institutions, and the administration of justice”.

     

  163.    If that is the law, then those consequences would be a matter for Parliament.  But I respectfully differ from my noble and learned friends Lord Hope and Lord Rodger as to whether the facts of this case disclose what can properly be called a continuing breach.  The concept of a continuing breach of duty occurs in many areas of the law, including failures to comply with court orders, breaches of obligations in leases, and torts such as trespass and nuisance.  A continuing breach means, not a breach which cannot be made good or remedied (a different concept), but a breach which is prolonged and repeated day by day, and indeed moment by moment.

     

  164.    In what sense would the Lord Advocate be continuing the violation of the appellant’s Convention rights by proceeding with the prosecution in relation to charges 1 and 3?  He would be doing so in the sense that he was proceeding with a prosecution which (as is all but formally conceded) cannot now be completed by trial within a reasonable time.  But (on the assumption that he avoids any further delay) what the Lord Advocate does now will be aimed at securing the appellant’s trial as soon as possible. For the Lord Advocate to take that course, while acknowledging past deficiencies and doing his best to minimise their effects (even though they cannot be undone), could not in my view be regarded as a continuing violation of the appellant’s Convention rights unless the reasonable time requirement is given a position of such paramount importance as to displace the other Article 6(1) rights. The reasonable time requirement is undoubtedly of great importance (Guincho v Portugal (1984) 7 EHRR 223) and the seriousness of any breach is emphasised by the high threshold which must be crossed before a breach is established. Nevertheless the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg Court indicates that the immediate termination of a prosecution, in any case of unreasonable delay, is not mandatory and would in many cases be disproportionate (see the summary in the judgment of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead in Mills v HM Advocate (No 2) 2002 SLT 939, 947-948, at paras 39-42).

  165.    The function of the Strasbourg Court is subsidiary.  It is (as already noted) generally looking at the matter after the event, and its range of remedies or sanctions is limited.  Nevertheless its jurisprudence provides valuable guidance.  I would hold that past delay, even if demonstrated (to a high threshold standard) as unreasonable, does not have the automatic effect of making the continuation of a prosecution incompatible with the appellant’s Convention rights.  That result follows only if it is clear that continuation of the prosecution would lead to an unfair trial and so would be oppressive (or in English terminology, an abuse of process).

     

  166.    In this case the respondents did not make any positive case that unreasonable delay had not occurred. There has therefore been a violation of the appellant’s right to trial within a reasonable time, and no amount of future exertion on the part of the prosecution can alter that fact.  It is a fact which will have to be given appropriate weight in due course.  But if the prosecution now proceeds with proper diligence, the violation will not be aggravated.  It is likely that a fair trial will still be possible (see the opinion of Lord Cameron of Lochbroom in the High Court of Justiciary 2002 SLT 834, 842, para 2).  That would be a matter for the trial judge, who would also be in a position to take account of past delays in sentencing the appellant on any charges on which he may be convicted, and on which the Lord Advocate moves for sentence. The continuation of the prosecution would not be a continuing violation of the appellant’s Convention rights, since it has not been shown (or contended) that the appellant’s rights to a fair trial (on the first and third charges) has already been irreparably lost.

     

  167.    The decision of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand in Martin v Tauranga District Court [1995] 2 NZLR 419 contains an illuminating discussion of the problem as it arose under section 25(b) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (“the right to be tried without undue delay”).  Your Lordships have already drawn attention to the differences of opinion in the New Zealand Court of Appeal between Cooke P and Hardie Boys J (at pages 425 and 432 respectively) as to the most natural remedy for undue delay in a criminal prosecution.  Richardson J (at page 427), Casey J (at page 430) and McKay J (at page 433) appear to have expressed views rather closer to those of Hardie Boys J than to those of Cooke P. In any event the case was concerned with a serious breach of professional duty on the part of the Crown Solicitor, for which no explanation or excuse was put forward, and leading counsel for the respondent did not contend for any less drastic sanction than a stay if undue delay were held to have occurred (see at page 432).  The case is valuable for its review of Commonwealth jurisprudence but is ultimately of limited assistance in the determination of this appeal.

     

  168.    I would therefore dismiss this appeal.

     


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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