News World

What to expect during the Alex Salmond trial

during the Alex Salmond trial

Alex Salmond, the former first minister of Scotland, is to stand trial on a string of sexual offences charges – all of which he denies. Here is a guide to what to expect during the trial.

What is Mr Salmond accused of?
The former SNP leader is alleged to have carried out a series of sexual assaults against 10 women while he was serving as Scotland’s first minister.

The 14 charges include one attempted rape, one assault with intent to rape, 10 sexual assaults and two indecent assaults.

The offences are alleged to have happened at various locations in Scotland between June 2008 and November 2014, including at the first minister’s official Bute House residence in Edinburgh, a nightclub and a restaurant.

Mr Salmond has pled not guilty to all of the charges, and has vowed to defend himself vigorously during the trial.

What will happen during the trial?

The trial is being held at the High Court in Edinburgh before Lady Dorrian, who is the Lord Justice Clerk – Scotland’s second most senior judge.

A jury of 15 members of the public will be selected before the trial begins. They will listen to the evidence and decide if the case against Mr Salmond – who is known as the accused – has been proven “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Unlike in some countries, there is no vetting process for potential jurors in Scots law so they cannot be rejected because of their political views, for example. There is also no need for the jury to be balanced between men and women.

Lady Dorrian

There are no opening statements from lawyers and the trial will begin with Crown prosecutors calling witnesses, including the women who Mr Salmond is alleged to have sexually assaulted. They are known as the complainers.

The witnesses will be questioned by prosecutor Alex Prentice QC and Mr Salmond’s lawyer, Gordon Jackson QC – a former Scottish Labour MSP.

Once the prosecution case has ended, Mr Salmond and his legal team can decide whether or not to call any witnesses, which could potentially include Mr Salmond himself.

However, the accused is not obliged to offer any evidence in their own defence. This is because it is for prosecutors to prove that the accused is guilty rather than for the accused to prove they are innocent.

Defence lawyers can also argue at the end of the prosecution case that there is no case to answer, meaning that the evidence has not been strong enough to justify the accused being convicted by a jury.

If the judge agrees, the accused is acquitted before the defence case begins.

What verdicts can the jury reach?
Once the trial has finished, the jury will retire before reaching one of three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty or not proven.

This decision does not need to be unanimous, with only eight of the 15 jurors needing to be in agreement.

The not proven verdict is an unusual and highly controversial feature of the Scottish legal system which in practice is exactly the same as a verdict of not guilty. The accused is acquitted and is innocent in the eyes of the law.

You can read more about the not proven verdict here
If Mr Salmond is found guilty of any of the charges against him, it will be for the judge to decide what sentence should be imposed.

How long will the trial last?
The trial is due to start on 9 March and has been scheduled to last for about four weeks – which would take it up to the first week in April.

However, this is only an estimate and the trial could last for a longer or shorter period of time.

alex prentice and gordon jackson

Why are the alleged victims not being named?
The media – including online blogs and social media – are not allowed to reveal the name or any other information that could identify alleged victims of sexual offences, unless that person waives their right to anonymity.

This remains the case even if the accused is ultimately cleared.

As with all criminal cases, the media are also restricted by contempt of court laws and anyone who publishes or broadcasts anything that could potentially prejudice the trial – for example speculation about the guilt or innocence of the accused – can be prosecuted and imprisoned.

Again, these contempt laws also apply to blogs and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Can the public attend the trial?

Yes, but as with all court cases it will be on a first come, first served basis. The courtroom holds 90 people but the majority of these spaces are expected to be taken up by the media. There may be room for about 30 members of the public but the exact number of spaces could fluctuate from day to day.

Bute House

Members of the public are told to leave the courtroom before the complainers give evidence in sexual offences cases.

However, reporters are generally allowed to stay in court while the evidence is being heard.