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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 September 2007, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Judge in second opinion case hint
Lord Coulsfield
Lord Coulsfield asked whether lone judges should make big decisions
A former high court judge has suggested that judges hearing difficult legal cases could be allowed to call in colleagues to give a second opinion.

Lord Coulsfield spoke in the wake of the collapsed World's End murder trial in Edinburgh, when the judge ruled there was not enough evidence.

He told BBC Scotland there was an issue as to whether such major decisions should be taken by a single judge.

The Scottish Government has already hinted at legal reforms.

Judge Lord Clarke dismissed the case against convicted killer and rapist Angus Sinclair, who was accused of murdering two teenage girls 30 years ago, saying that the Crown had insufficient evidence to proceed.

The real issue here is whether a decision of the magnitude that Lord Clark had to take should always be taken by a single judge
Lord Coulsfield
Former high court judge

Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, both 17, were last seen in the World's End pub in Edinburgh and their bodies were found dumped in East Lothian.

It has also emerged that cross-party talks on far-reaching reform of the legal system are to take place, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said.

He added that he believed giving the Crown the right to appeal a judge's decision, not a jury's, needed to be investigated.

The changes - including the removal of "double jeopardy", the ban on suspects being tried twice for the same crime, and giving the Crown the right to appeal - could form part of new criminal justice legislation scheduled for late 2008.

Ministers will also consult on allowing an accused person's previous convictions to be revealed to the jury during a trial.

Meanwhile, Lord Coulsfield, one of the judges who heard the trial of the two men accused of the Lockerbie bombing, told BBC Radio Scotland's Sunday Live programme: "The real issue here is whether a decision of the magnitude that Lord Clark had to take should always be taken by a single judge.

Helen Scott and Christine Eadie
Helen Scott and Christine Eadie were murdered in 1977

"I think we have to think about it whether it's possible to make some kind of arrangement. It was done at one time in the high court in the old days before the court of criminal appeal existed, that judges could call in one or two of their colleagues to sit with them to hear a difficult legal matter.

"I think those are the sort of lines we should be thinking about."

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament on the World's End case, Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini, Scotland's top prosecutor, said Crown evidence had established a circumstantial case against Sinclair.

Ms Angiolini, who has supported a change in the law to allow the Crown to appeal certain criminal cases if they are thrown out of court, said DNA evidence providing a partial match to Sinclair found on items of underwear worn by Christine Eadie and Helen Scott, which were used as ligatures or bindings by the killer, was not presented to court.

The Lord Advocate said the evidence was "low probability" and could only have shown that Sinclair came into contact with the underwear and stronger DNA evidence had already been presented.

Speaking later on BBC Scotland's Politics Show, Lord Coulsfield said: "Unless you really knew what the DNA evidence was, unless you really studied it, you couldn't say whether or not the Advocate Depute was right to take the course that she did, you couldn't say whether the evidence could have made any difference."


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