Case against gamekeeper George Mutch: part 12

scales of justiceWell, well well. Today was the first day in the much-anticipated trial of Scottish gamekeeper George Mutch.

Mutch, 48, of Kildrummy Estate, Aberdeenshire, has been accused of various wildlife crimes relating to the alleged capture and subsequent killing or injuring of two goshawks and a buzzard in 2012. He has denied the charges and we’ve seen this case drag on and on and on…..

The dragging on looks set to continue….

The trial was halted today after the Sheriff (Annella Cowan) decided to stand down. Why did she decide to stand down? According to the BBC (here) it was because the defence counsel argued that as Sheriff Cowan was a member of the RSPB, she shouldn’t hear the case because the RSPB had been involved in the criminal investigation in to Mutch’s alleged activities.

Yes, seriously!

We thought a Sheriff was supposed to be considered as being ‘above bias’? The defence counsel, Mr Moir, apparently said that he wasn’t suggesting that Sheriff Cowan would be biased – so why then did he say she shouldn’t hear the case?! What a joke.

What’s an even bigger joke is that another (now retired) Sheriff, one Kevin Drummond, was never considered to be ‘unsuitable’ to hear cases against gamekeepers accused of wildlife crime, even though his hobbies apparently included shooting, and prior to becoming a Sheriff he had worked as a defence QC for……er, gamekeepers! (see here).

Fascinating, eh? You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, back to Mutch’s trial. It’s no big problem that Sheriff Cowan has decided to stand down – the case will be decided on the merit of the evidence presented against Mutch – and THAT is where our interest lies. Whether it’s Sheriff Cowan or another Sheriff who hears the case is largely irrelevant; it’s just irritating that yet another delay has been introduced to this case. Still, we can wait.

We understand the trial will re-start in December.


11 Responses to “Case against gamekeeper George Mutch: part 12”

  1. 1 Een Historicus
    October 22, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Just want to say I admire you guys, that you keep cool in reporting this case. It´s frustrating, nerve-wracking and… you know. Let´s hope there ´s some good news in December.

  2. 2 nirofo
    October 22, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Be interesting to see what credentials the new sheriff will have, I don’t suppose he/she will have any affiliations with the shooting set, I wonder, hmmm !!!

  3. 3 Brian Robertson
    October 22, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    I applaud this approach although it may have been better had the Sheriff declared an interest beforehand. If my memory serves me correctly one Sheriff did exactly that prior to hearing a case of ‘vandalism’ to property owned by a prominent RSPB member.

    Why do I support this approach? Because the lack of declarations of interest in shooting/hunting by a multitude of Sheriffs over the past years, decades and indeed centuries has led to innumerable miscarriages of justice.

    If the prosecution had ‘had the balls’ to object to every ‘shooting Sheriff’ prior to hearing certain cases then we would not be in the situation we are now with so many gamekeepers being prepared to break the law. NB I don’t day all gamekeepers.

    I am proud of most aspects of the Scottish judicial system but when it comes to adjudicating wildlife crime at times we can be no better than a ‘banana republic’.

    So I say object every time when there is no admission of a conflict of interest; wildlife has more to gain than lose.

    • 4 Circus maxima
      October 23, 2014 at 7:47 am

      While part of me worries that it is a bit of a leap,,,, would we ban a sheriff from a dangerous speeding case because they own a fast car?…. there does seem to be a benefit. Over the years I have heard some jaw dropping judgements coming out of the mouths of Sheriffs….. now we have a tool to consign these dinosaurs to the poisoners middin.

    • 5 Dougie
      October 23, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Perhaps the Sheriff should have declared an interest at the outset and perhaps the Lord Advocate should have selected a Sheriff without such an interest to hear the case.
      However, what is striking here is that the defence were perfectly content for Sheriff Cowan to preside over the endless stream of delays until now. One has to wonder whether this objection was always part of the defence game plan to be used if the need arose.

      • October 23, 2014 at 9:29 am

        Apparently the information about her RSPB membership only came to light the day before the trial, during the intermediate diet.

        As ridiculous as it is, good on her for stepping aside so that the verdict in this case, whatever that turns out to be, cannot be seen to have been ‘biased’ by her membership. Because she probably knows as well as we do, if this had been a guilty verdict under her jurisdiction, the dark side would have flagged up her RSPB membership in a heartbeat, shouting and screaming and arm-waving, claiming the verdict unfair because the Sheriff likes birds.

        Let’s hope when the trial re-starts the court can just get on with examining the evidence.

      • 7 David
        October 25, 2014 at 7:04 pm

        The Lord Advocate cannot “select” Sheriffs. The Lord Advocate is the chief prosecutor, all procurators fiscal prosecute on behalf of him (currently the Rt Hon Frank Mullholland QC). The courts are managed separately by the Scottish Court Service.

        On topic: I am glad that RPS keeps us updated on this case. I wish I could attend to the next sitting. I’ve seen Sheriff Cowan in action (albeit only undertakings and custodies) and can say that she is certainly an interesting character. I wouldn’t have minded if she remains the judge. What I heard about her is that she can be very strict, bordering on rudeness, but apparently she handed out fair sentences.

        I would argue that – while “the case will be decided on the merit of the evidence” – it does matter which sheriff hears a case. They are biased, just like everyone and if this is a summary proceeding, then the sheriff is the arbiter of the facts.

  4. 8 Jimmi
    October 22, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Ha ha ha you have to laugh this is ridiculous

  5. October 23, 2014 at 10:06 am

    one would presume that anysherrif. who is /has been a shooter at any point in life will also be illegible. as will the ones with family links to shooting estates.
    or is it only people who may possibly consider the crimes to be crimes who are inelligible, rather then ones who are friends with the people who commit them

  6. 10 Angus Maciver
    October 23, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Does that then mean that a witness for the prosecution (Police Officer) who is a member of a shooting syndicate be debarred from giving evidence because he may have an (interest) in the outcome of the case?
    Does the PF (Procurator Fiscal) now have to select witnesses who are not involved in shooting?

  7. 11 crypticmirror
    October 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Well, we now have a precedent for asking any sheriff with ties to the pro-shooting community to step aside too (doncha love a precedent based legal system). Now if only the Procurator (and down south, the CPS) would reach down into their big boy pants and find a fine set of balls to actually do it.

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