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Wednesday, August 25, 1999 Published at 08:11 GMT 09:11 UK

UK: Scotland

'Knee-jerk' warning on emergency laws

Noel Ruddle's release sparked a public outcry

A leading lawyer said he hopes emergency legislation aimed at closing a legal loophole which allowed a mentally ill killer to walk free is not just a response to public pressure.

Gerry Brown, a member of the Law Society of Scotland's Criminal Committee, said any permanent legislation should take account of the two committees of the Scottish Parliament which are currently looking at the issue in depth.

Gerry Brown: Reaction to tabloid pressure
Justice Minister Jim Wallace announced on Tuesday that emergency legislation will be put before parliament in response to the Noel Ruddle case.

He was released from Carstairs state psychiatric hospital at the start of the month because his lawyer argued his condition was not treatable, sparking a public outcry.

Mr Brown said while public safety was a key issue, so was considered law which takes account of medical and legal aspects.

[ image: Gerry Brown:
Gerry Brown: "More problems could be created"
He added: "The danger with rushed legislation is that it might be a knee-jerk reaction to tabloid pressure rather than well thought out law.

"It has to be legislation which works and which complies with the Convention of Human Rights."

Mr Brown argued any permanent legislation must be based on the advice of the two committees of the Scottish Parliament which are already seeking expert opinion from both the legal and medical profession on the way forward.

Mr Wallace has given assurances that emergency legislation will be of an interim nature and more long-term law will be considered in light of the final reports.

He said: "Mr Brown is right to recognise the complexity of this situation.

Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace defends the Scottish Government's move to plug the legal loophole
"We have acted quickly but with consideration. Our draft document looks very carefully at the whole picture.

"Our response has been proper. There was no knee jerk reaction and we did not recall the Scottish Parliament."

Despite his strong defence, Mr Wallace continues to be criticised by opposition members.

Shadow Justice Minister Roseanna Cunningham and Scottish Tory Party leader David McLetchie say the Scottish Executive has mishandled the saga from start to finish.

MSPs debate

The government's proposed change to the Mental Health Act will be debated by MSPs on the day the parliament reconvenes on 1 September.

Ruddle, who shot a neighbour dead in 1991, was released from Carstairs after an appeal hearing at Lanark Sheriff Court on 2 August.

His lawyer successfully argued that his detention without limit of time was no longer valid because his mental condition has now changed and treatments at the hospital were no longer helping him.

When Ruddle was freed the Scottish Executive denied there was a danger more killers could bid for freedom in the same way.

It was subsequently revealed that cases are pending from Karl Tonner, a 51-year-old paedophile and killer, as well as fellow child killer Brian Doherty, 26.

Ministers denied the new cases paralleled the Ruddle affair and stressed that action proposed in the light of the ongoing row must not infringe the European Convention on Human Rights.

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