Thursday, September 2, 1999 Published at 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Ministers accused as bill wins backing
The Bill stems from Noel Ruddle's release from Carstairs
The Scottish Parliament has supported action to close a loophole in the law which led to the release of mentally ill killer Noel Ruddle.
But Justice Minister Jim Wallace and Lord Advocate Lord Hardie have come under attack over the Ruddle affair, with the Scottish National Party calling for Lord Hardie's resignation.
With no other legislation available by which Ruddle could be detained, a sheriff ordered his release.
The row prompted a fierce political storm and allegations that the Scottish Executive had failed to act speedily to address the issue.
Mr Wallace was forced to defend the executive's actions amid stinging personal attacks from opposition MSPs.
But he stressed that the bill was necessary and would place a duty on the courts to put public safety at the forefront when considering the release of certain patients.
SNP justice spokeswoman, Roseanna Cunningham said: "The Scottish Executive has been found seriously wanting in its handling of the matter."
Ms Cunningham said the Scottish Executive was aware of the possibility Ruddle could be released but had failed to act.
She told MSPs: "They clearly did not consider that public confidence was an issue they had to address.
Scottish Tory Leader, David McLetchie, said Mr Wallace had shown a complete failure of political leadership and the affair had approached farce.
He said: "The whole Ruddle affair is a nightmarish Scottish version of 'Yes Minister'."
Call for support
[an error occurred while processing this directive] But, in response, Mr Wallace said he acted as soon as the loophole in the law had been identified and called for the support of the parliament in backing the legislation.
He told MSPs: "Without this bill and following Noel Ruddle's release, there is a risk that a very small number of mentally ill patients, some of whom have committed very grave offences, and are still considered dangerous, could be freed."
"That is why your support is crucial. Parliament must act now to change the law and to close off this serious threat to public safety in Scotland."
The SNP called on him to resign and the Tories accused the Lord Advocate of "crossing the political rubicon" in defending Mr Wallace.
A spokesman said: "For a government law officer to intrude into the role of a Labour Party campaigning propagandist- and not a very good one at that - has compromised the integrity and independence of the office of Lord Advocate and coloured him with all the dubious political baggage of a party hack."
Despite some MSP's reservations over the definition of "personality disorder" contained in the Bill and whether or not it conforms to the European Convention on Human Rights, it received support in principle from the parliament and is expected to become law next week.