Scotland’s gun-toting legal system

It’s always difficult to imagine exactly how the other half live – it’s even more difficult for most of us to imagine how most of the establishment live.

I came across an interesting article the other day which, based on Freedom of Information requests, documents the arsenal of weapons held by members of the Scottish legal system (and wittily entitled Silencers in Court).  295 lawyers, advocates, judges, QCs & prosecutors in Scotland collectively own over 1000 firearms, shotguns and air weapons.

Even the Advocate General, Richard Keen QC, seems to own the odd shotgun (including one worth around six grand apparently) and he must learn not to leave them lying around the place.

But assuming that Scottish lawyers are not stashing away the guns and ammo because they fear for their lives once the SNP revolution really arrives, it is to be assumed that many of these guns are for shooting at live quarry such as deer, Pheasant and Red Grouse.  This reminded me of the incredible delays documented by the Raptor Persecution UK blog in legal cases in Scotland involving wildlife crime, and the controversial outcomes of some of those cases.

I would love to know which shooting estates have benefitted from the paying custom of Scottish legal eagles and, since we know that real eagles have not been made very welcome on some shooting estates, which legal eagles have benefitted from generous hospitality at any such estates.

I just had to go back and look at this video again – I’m fairly sure the guy wasn’t wearing a legal wig – but it’s terribly hard to tell!

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24 Replies to “Scotland’s gun-toting legal system”

  1. Little wonder that it is so difficult to get wildlife crime perpetrators prosecuted as so many in his position of influence appear to enjoy the sport of shooting birds and animals.

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    1. Hmmm... I think this is what is called "circumstantial evidence". There is a large leap to be made from recording the fact that many lawyers own guns to establishing that the Scottish legal system is protecting criminal estate managers from the law. The delays in prosecuting cases and the acquittals are certainly deeply frustrating but do not necessarily have a sinister explanation. In the case of acquittals on admissibility of evidence it is important to remember that those admissibility rules are there to protect all citizens against oppressive behaviour by the State and unfortunately the price of protecting individual liberties is that it means genuinely guilty people occasionally get away with their crimes on a technicality. That does not necessarily mean that the courts have always interpreted the rules correctly and there does seem to be some inconsistency in how evidence from concealed cameras fares in these cases. It would probably be helpful to have clarification on what is and is not permissible and the RSPB and other investigators could then usefully review their own procedures to ensure that cases are as water-tight as possible.

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      1. Circumstantial evidence means what it says. It is evidence and tacit implication drawn from a particular set of circumstances. In common parlance and particular use the term "it's only circumstantial evidence" has come to mean weak evidence, because of the tradition of the legal system. This due to the beyond reasonable doubt tradition. However, and this is very important to understand, is because in a legal context they are examining a single instance. This whole tradition becomes meaningless when examining multiple system wide phenomena. Essentially the more a particular phenomenon occurs, the more likely it is due to a single causal factor, rather than a random array of different causes.

        This is simply using Occam's razor. Where in essence the explanation invoking multiple assumptions, is much less likely in terms of probability than the explanations invoking the fewest possible assumptions. Occam's razor is particular powerful when examining repeated instances. Where if an unusual phenomenon occurs, where there is no obvious explanation, it becomes unlikely in the extreme that this is due to random other causes, rather than a single causal factor such as bias.

        There is a major division here between scientific thinking, and legal thinking. In scientific thinking bias is expected. It is assumed that human beings have poor judgement and are easily influenced by bias, even if unconscious. Whereas the legal system assumes that certain people have unusually good judgement and would never be influenced by bias, vested interest etc. Science has been particularly successful because it rejected this appeal to authority, where it was mistakenly assumed that these authorities were infallible.

        With regard to raptor persecution we must be very careful about not to conflate the specific and the general. Academic analysis commonly uses circumstantial evidence to examine likely causes. Also in science the attempt is not to prove the cause, but to reject the null hypothesis i.e. that the effect was due to random other causes, and not the likely cause being examined in the experiment.

        In the instance of raptor persecution we would do well to heed these principles. Shooting interests are saying you can't prove anything, putting the focus on proving individual cases. Whereas conservationists should instead be focusing on the null hypothesis posited by the shooting industry, not the hypothesis of proving particular instances, which are unlikely to be proven with direct evidence because of a lack of direct evidence. Instead we should examine the null hypotheses proffered by the shooting industry, and subject them to withering scrutiny. When these null hypotheses offered by the shooting industry are found to be unlikely in the extreme, we should reject them as being specious and spurious.

        It is simply not true that if you cannot absolutely prove something, that you must accept the specious and spurious null hypothesis offered by the other side. In this instance you may not be able to prove bias in individual legal cases. However, just because you cannot prove it, then it does not follow that you can safely reject there being personal bias as a cause.

        It is also a mistake to put the evidence on proving individual cases as a means to combatting illegal raptor persecution. There are many measures which could be taken which would make if far harder for shooting interests to get away with illegally persecuting raptors. If all managed shoots had to be licensed, and a precondition of this licensing was regular inspection, and monitoring by raptor experts, there would be far more direct evidence of raptor persecution. It is always going to be very difficult to create watertight cases when managed shoots have so much power to prevent examination by conservationists as to what they are up to.

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        1. Well that all sounds very learned and clever SteB but whether we are looking at this from a legalistic or a scientific point of view the evidence presented falls far short of convincing support for the notion that the Scottish legal system is systematically biased in favour of driven grouse shooting. At best it shows that some lawyers and law officials are involved in shooting which is hardly earth-shattering news or evidence of malfeasance. Whether they have been involved in any cases involving shooting estate crime or in what capacity (there wouldn't be a conflict of interest if they were defending the gamekeeper concerned, for example) we don't know. We all know that corruption does sometimes occur and this can happen in the legal profession as elsewhere so it is possible that there have been cases where the shooting industry's friends in the legal system have obstructed prosecutions of wildlife crimes. However, the information on gun ownership by lawyers by itself does not provide any meaningful evidence as to whether this actually occurs or to what extent.
          With regards to your comments about specific cases and the general problem, I would say that although there is usually insufficient evidence to bring a successful prosecution when a bird of prey is bumped off on a grouse moor there is nevertheless overwhelming evidence that the persecution has been happening for a long time and continues to happen. This includes Langholm (gosh! hen harrier numbers increase when the gamekeepers are instructed by their bosses to stop killing them!), the distribution patterns of hen harriers and other raptors, cases of persecution that are actually detected, the fate of tagged birds and so on. The case for there being a raptor persecution problem is very solid and arguments against it by the shooting community are feeble. As far as the decline of hen harriers is concerned I would agree that the application of Occam's razor very much supports the view that the cause is persecution by shooting estates.
          With respect to the legal system and its various constituent parts, however, I am not convinced that Occam's razor can be applied with anything like the same confidence to support the contention that it is systematically biased in favour of shooting.
          I very much agree with your last paragraph.

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          1. Jonathan I never mentioned corruption or malfeasance. I said:

            "There is a major division here between scientific thinking, and legal thinking. In scientific thinking bias is expected. It is assumed that human beings have poor judgement and are easily influenced by bias, even if unconscious. Whereas the legal system assumes that certain people have unusually good judgement and would never be influenced by bias, vested interest etc."

            I only suggested that the concept of the person uninfluenced by personal or vested interest, is to be frank, nonsense. However, they don't have to overtly abuse their powers. Nor does this reluctance to act have to necessarily involve those directly involved with grouse shooting. Those further down the ladder, with a career to think about are going to be at the very least unconsciously influenced, if they believe their superiors, or those at the top may be upset by their decisions.

            There is a reluctance to tackle this problem at every level, and it is by no coincidence that grouse shooting just so happens to be the chose pastime of the upper echelons of the establishment.

            Mark has documented the strange reluctance of the statutory bodies to tackle this problem as you'd expect them to deal with it, given their remit. Their strange reluctance to release information which might be embarrassing to powerful people etc.

            It would be very surprising if the inertia of legal system to act, did not have a similar cause to the strange inertia effecting other parts of the system, when it comes to dealing with this problem.

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  2. If so many of the judiciary are into shooting it's little wonder that so many cases of raptor persecution and other wildlife crime get thrown out of court.
    It angers and saddens me that justice for wildlife, such as our beautiful Hen Harriers, is at the whim of someone who loves to have a day or two shooting grouse, and is willing to ignore or even agree with the illegal activity which has made his day out possible.

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  3. Is it not time that the system was purged and any potential conflict of interest automatically resulted in disqualification from hearing related cases? A tad radical I grant you but there needs to be serious reform for the system to be seen to be if not actually being credible?

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  4. Whilst it's interesting that "295 lawyers, advocates, judges, QCs & prosecutors" own "firearms, shotguns and air weapons", it would be a lot easier to know what to make of such figures if we also knew how many "lawyers, advocates, judges, QCs & prosecutors" there are in Scotland and thus what % of the total that 295 represents.

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      1. I don't think it's at all irrelevant since the implication seems to be that gun owners are more likely to be sympathetic to shooting interests so quantifying the numbers involved as a % of the whole would show how far if the assumption is correct, this might introduce a bias.

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    1. Indeed John, probably a small percentage overall, but I guess those 295 will have friends in 'the business' whose support they could count on.
      I wonder if any of the judiciary own grouse moors or have relations that do?
      Also, I'm sure that the figures for England would be equally interesting.

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  5. There was a persecution case fairly recently where the judge dismissed herself because she was an RSPB member! It'd be nice (and amazing!) if some of these others declared an interest too.

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    1. I think this is the case to which you refer -
      https://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/news/local/aberdeen-sheriff-stands-down-over-rspb-link/ .

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    2. Yes I remember I'm sure it was the George Mutch case. Compare that transparency and decency with what happens in the grouse shooting sector!

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  6. John C, well noted. Scotland has about 5.25m people, so I suspect that there must be 13000 lawyers etc at least, based on the equivalent proportion of the English and Welsh population. (there are 130 odd MSPs by way of comparison). 295 people with guns would be 1/50th (0.02 %) of the legal profession - if you were a wildlife criminal relying on a sympathetic lawyer you'd have to have been eating far too much lead shot game for far too long.

    Besides which just owning a gun doesn't make you a wildlife crime sympathiser, much less a bent judge. You might just have a rabbit problem, or maybe you're helping wildlife by reducing Scotland's out of control deer population a smidge. Most solicitors would struggle to pay for a days DGS.

    I fear this is a non story that can only feed the unhelpful allegation that Mark, and by extension everyone who wants to see an end to DGS, really does want to ban all shooting, period, AND that we're all really motivated by a class agenda.

    Strong dislike from me I'm afraid.

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    1. jbc - it would be interesting to know the shooting credentials of those lawyers involved with particular cases, nonetheless. I rather suspect this blog may flush out some interesting info.

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      1. That is an entirely different matter and it would indeed be illuminating - but again, there would need to be more than co-incidental gun ownership involved to be a meaningful concern. But, say, a shared interest in DGS or any other part of the intensive upmarket end of the industry - that would be very interesting indeed.

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  7. I don't have the stats to hand, but it seems quite likely from the numbers that Scottish lawyers are no more likely than anyone else to own a gun.

    And it remains a HUGE leap from "owns a gun" to "biased in favour of wildlife criminals".

    Try rewriting this article but with "own a car" in place of "own a gun" and see if its still a convincing argument that since 99% (?100%?) of Scottish lawyers own a car it follows that they are all routinely biased in favour of drivers.

    Or more insidiously, think about what we know about the frequency of domestic violence perpetrated by men and apply that to the legal profession, which has notoriously more males than females in its ranks particularly in the criminal court system.

    Be careful what you wish for or the logic takes you to a place where every single human on the planet should be disbarred from being a judge for some reason or other, and there is no legal system at all.

    Non story. Unpleasantly close to Fake News.

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    1. Since the shooting industry can only exist because of persecution, there is no objective dispute over that, this is not Fake News at all. If you partake in shooting then you are supporting wildlife criminality, and that is a clear conflict of interest and bias.

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      1. Random - your assertion is patently untrue. The DGS shooting industry depends on illegal persecution, that's proved well beyond any doubt in my view. But does RSPB's deer culling? Rabbit control? Even upmarket deer stalking, which is not to my taste at all? As a statement of fact stalking doesn't depend on criminality, not under current law.

        DGS is a tiny proportion of the overall shooting activity, but the article assumes that anyone who owns a gun will be biased in favour of wildlife crime.

        Had it asserted that anyone involved in DGS, rather than anyone who owned any gun at all for any reason, was likely to be part of an old boys network brushing criminality under the carpet - then there would have been no argument at all from me. It's clear there is a DGS freemasonry. But it included the other 99.9% of gun owners in the insinuation as well, and that's my point.

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  8. Given that there are legitimate uses of firearms the ownership of one or more of them raises fewer questions than the possession of carbofuran

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