Tuesday 4 December 2007

A victory for common sense (and strippers) [UPDATED AGAIN - AND AGAIN]

The offensive weapons charges against Aberdeen stripper Stuart Kennedy (see yesterday's post) were today thrown out of court after Sheriff Kenneth Stewart upheld a defence submission of no case to answer. It appears that Sheriff Stewart decided that Mr Kennedy did indeed have a "reasonable excuse" for carrying batons and a spray while dressed as a policeman, noting that the Crown had not analysed the contents of the "spray". The full story is on the BBC News website.

Update (4/12): The BBC News story mentioned earlier has since been fleshed out, and another report has appeared in the Herald. The latter report sheds some light on the decision to charge Mr Kennedy, who allegedly said that the spray he carried was for self-defence because "drunk guys get very jealous of male strippers".

More surprising is the updated BBC News report, which quotes a statement issued by the Crown:

"We are satisfied that the decision to raise proceedings in this case was entirely appropriate, and in the public interest. It is entirely and appropriately a matter for the Sheriff to determine the outcome, having seen and heard the evidence given in Court. We note the Sheriff's decision in this case. The Crown has no right of appeal against a decision by a Sheriff to uphold a no case to answer submission."

Opinions may differ on whether it was appropriate to bring the case, but - unless I am misunderstanding something here - it is remarkable to see an official statement claiming that the Crown has no right of appeal in this case. It is true that the Crown has no right of appeal against a decision of no case to answer in solemn proceedings (jury trial), but the proceedings against Mr Kennedy were brought under summary procedure (without a jury). (This is not made clear in today's reports - save to the extent that there is no mention of a jury - but a BBC News report of earlier proceedings refers to a date being fixed for an intermediate diet, something which exists only in summary procedure. In any case, it is surely unlikely that the prosecutor could have thought that the six month maximum sentence available under summary procedure would be insufficient in this case.)

In summary procedure, a decision of a sheriff to uphold a submission of no case to answer and acquit the accused may be appealed under section 175(3)(a) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. Such appeals are not uncommon, which makes the statement - assuming the quote on the BBC News website is accurate - all the more peculiar. But perhaps it is for the best.

Update (5/12, 9.30am): The BBC News report was amended again after the above post was written, removing the sentence "
The Crown has no right of appeal against a decision by a Sheriff to uphold a no case to answer submission" from the Crown statement. There is no way of telling whether the original text was a Crown error or if the BBC made the double error of reporting that the Crown had no right of appeal and mistakenly including that claim as part of the quote. A report in today's Scotsman carries the same quote as is now found on the BBC website. A Press and Journal report includes a truncated version of the quote and states that the "spray" contained only coloured water and that Mr Kennedy faces further charges of impersonating a police officer. Whether those will be proceeded with given the barrage of criticism this prosecution has received (see the Scotsman report in particular) remains to be seen.

Update (5/12, 11.30am): The BBC News report seems to have been amended again since I last wrote, despite reading "Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 December 2007, 19:58 GMT". According to the latest version, the Crown "
said that it would consider looking into appealing the decision", which is quite a turnaround. The BBC report now refers to a "statement issued on Tuesday", which is a strange phrase to use in a report which purports to have been written and published that same day.

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