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Holyrood’s Justice Committee Chief Bill Aitken who praised former Law Society boss after complaints scandal is forced to resign over rape comments

22 Feb

bill aitkenTory Justice Committee Convener Bill Aitken shamed into resignation over his comments on a rape case. BILL AITKEN, the well known Scottish Conservative & Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s sole Justice Committee for the past four years has been forced to resign his committee position after his comments in a media interview regarding a rape case in Glasgow where he inferred a rape victim may have been a prostitute resulted in a Parliamentary Motion lodged by Green MSP Patrick Harvie, calling for him to quit.

While the focus of most of today’s news reports on Mr Aitken’s resignation remains on the actual comments made by the Justice Committee Convener & Tory spokesman on ‘Community Safety’, it should not be forgotten that Mr Aitken, who is no stranger to controversy himself, reportedly denied he had made the controversial comments regarding a rape case to the Sunday Herald newspaper, apparently changing his story to admit what he had said only after ‘reading a transcript of the interview’.

The Sunday Herald interview with Mr Aitken over a Glasgow rape case quoted Mr Aitken as saying : “I really think we need to know a bit more about these. They are not always as they seem to be, put it that way.If this woman was dragged halfway through the town then it just couldn’t possibly happen. So has nobody asked her what she was doing in Renfrew Lane? Somebody should be asking her what she was doing in Renfrew Lane. Did she go there with somebody? … Now, Renfrew Lane is known as a place where things happen, put it that way.It’s an area where a lot of the hookers take their clients. Now that may not have happened in this case. But you know … what was happening?”

The Sunday Herald further reported : When challenged on his comments by the Sunday Herald, Aitken denied making them until he read a transcript of the conversation. Asked whether there is a difference between the rape of women who work as prostitutes and those who don’t, he said: “Well, the prostitute has possibly put herself in a position of some vulnerability.”

Mr Aitken’s remarks were widely criticised from all quarters, including the Police, as was reported by Scottish Law Reporter, here : Cops claim Tory Justice Committee boss infers Hookers deserve it : Scottish Conservative’s Bill Aitken asks paper “Was rape victim a prostitute ?”

The Sunday Herald reported at the time the Scottish Conservative’s current boss, Annabel Goldie, refused to condemn her Tory Party colleague for his remarks, and then apparently “turned and walked away.”

The condemnation of Mr Aitken’s comments then reached the stage where a Parliamentary motion was due to be lodged yesterday by the Green MSP, Patrick Harvie, calling for Mr Aitken’s immediate resignation from the Justice Committee.

In the media release from the Scotland’s Green Party, Patrick Harvie said : “Bill Aitken’s comments are way beyond the standards any party in Parliament should find acceptable from any MSP, but they make it entirely unacceptable for him to continue in post as Convenor of the Justice Committee. No-one who thinks we should blame rape victims should ever be allowed to hold that role in this country.”

Mr Harvie continued : “If he does not resign, the Tory leadership should force his hand. If they do not, Parliament must act to remove him, and act quickly. The alternative would a serious loss of confidence in Parliament as an institution, and the Justice Committee in particular.”

Mr Aitken, who is also retiring from the Scottish Parliament and not standing in this year’s election said: “I am standing down as convener of the justice committee. I do so with a mixture of emotions: frustration at allowing myself to be misrepresented; anger at being misrepresented and remorse to rape victims and their loved ones for any hurt they feel, but also in the hope my true views can now be heard. In all my years as a city councillor, a JP and an MSP, I have spoken out against criminals and spoken up for victims of crime. That will not change in retirement. I will continue to battle for justice for all.”

Conservative Party leader Annabel Goldie commenting on Mr Aitken’s resignation, said: “Bill Aitken is a man of principle and honour. He was not prepared to let any issue compromise the work of the Justice Committee and he has shown his respect both for the committee and the party.”

However, in a stark indication of just how honest we can expect our politicians to be, neither Mr Aitken nor his Scottish Conservative Party boss Annabel Goldie chose to explain reports of why Mr Aitken initially denied his comments over the rape case to the newspaper until being shown a transcript of the interview.

A legal insider commenting on Mr Aitken’s resignation said today : “Changing stories to journalists only after being shown evidence of one’s comments is not the expected level of honesty or integrity to be shown by a Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee”.

While Mr Aitken’s political career has ended on a sour note over his comments regarding a rape case, he is well known for a habit of making controversial remarks, where in one instance he sought to praise a former Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland Douglas Mill in the Scottish Parliament’s debating chamber during a debate on the Legal Services Bill.

Bill Aitken offers praise for the then Chief Executive of the Law Society, Douglas Mill, claiming “Scottish Lawyers have an excellent reputation (click image to watch video)

The Scottish Parliament’s website, in a slightly differing verbatim account of the above footage reports Mr Aitken as saying : “Scottish lawyers have an excellent reputation. Members of the Law Society, such as Douglas Mill, have contributed to the International Institute of Law Association Chief Executives. That is indicative of the way in which Scots lawyers are regarded elsewhere. Other distinguished members of the Law Society staff have played international roles, which is to be encouraged.”

Just a few weeks later in January 2008 after Mr Aitken’s fawning comments for the Law Society Chief Executive, Douglas Mill himself was forced to resign his position after a video recording of a clash between Mr Mill & the Scottish Government’s Finance Chief, John Swinney was posted to the popular video file sharing website You Tube.

Douglas Mill 4Former Law Society boss Douglas Mill received praise from Bill Aitken during Parliamentary debates, only to be forced into resignation a few weeks later after memo scandal. The video footage from an earlier Scottish Parliament Justice Committee investigation of the Law Society & regulation of the legal profession in 2006, quoted Mr Mill as denying he had become involved in interfering with claims & complaints made by members of the public against crooked lawyers. John Swinney then produced one of Mr Mill’s own secret memos which proved Mr Mill and a number of others within the Law Society, including its then President and insurers had colluded against complaints & damages claims made by clients against Scottish solicitors.

John SwinneyJohn Swinney revealed copies of secret memos which contradicted Douglas Mill’s testimony to an earlier Justice Committee over protection of crooked lawyers. Mr Swinney, then in opposition battled on with Mr Mill in a clash before the Justice Committee lasting several minutes, at the end of which no one was left in any doubt the Law Society of Scotland and Mr Mill had been involved in preventing claims for damages against ‘crooked lawyers’ from going ahead. The incident was reported in the Herald newspaper at the time in an article titled Would granny swear by the law society ?” in a reference to Douglas Mill claiming he had not intervened in claims against ‘crooked lawyers’ by swearing on his granny’s grave.

Bill Aitken’s misplaced idol ? : Douglas Mill & John Swinney come to blows over corruption at the Law Society & its Master Policy insurance, revealed in Mr Mill’s own secret memos (click image to watch video)

A legal reform campaigner speaking this afternoon to Diary of Injustice said he felt Mr Aitken’s praise for the Scottish legal profession was misplaced, particularly in view of the 2006 revelations of the Law Society of Scotland’s conduct towards members of the public in complaints & claims for compensation.

He said : “Mr Aitken’s remarks in the Parliament praising lawyers sound like they come from a lobbyist, not an elected politician.”

He continued : “Any msp who openly praises the legal profession when there is such blatant evidence available as Douglas Mill’s memos which clearly show corruption right at the heart of the Law Society should examine whether they are in the right job. Maybe they should go and work for the Law Society instead of pretending to represent the majority of voters who are not lawyers and don’t work in or for the legal profession.”

Justice CommitteeThe current Holyrood Justice Committee under Mr Aitken’s term as Convener has not been ‘consumer friendly’ to reforms of regulation the legal profession. Mr Aitken’s term as the Convener of what has been one of the most disappointing Justice Committees since the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999, saw members of the public excluded from giving any evidence on their personal experiences with Scotland’s legal services market during the Justice Committee’s investigation of the Legal Services Bill, which instead saw a platoon of appearances from the legal profession & the Law Society of Scotland, who proposed ordered so many amendments to the Legal Services Bill, its initial aims of widening access to justice for Scots have been completely ruined.

I reported on msps final vote on the Legal Services Bill, here : ‘Choice’ but not as we know it : Legal Services Bill passed, Scots access to justice remains mostly under Law Society’s control

You can read my full coverage of the Legal Services Bill and how it passed through the Scottish Parliament, here : Legal Services Bill for Scotland – Scots denied access to justice on the Law Society’s orders

To demonstrate the rather one sided approach to the Legal Services Bill taken by Mr Aitken’s Justice Committee, readers can view my report of the Law Society of Scotland’s ‘easy ride’ testimony on the Legal Services Bill here : Little mention of consumer protection for Scots as Law Society give evidence to Holyrood on Legal Services Bill reforms

In comparison to the way members of the Law Society were treated by Mr Aitken and the Justice Committee, my coverage of the OFT & Which? testimony on the Legal Services Bill, in which consumer interests were noticeably ripped apart by msps, is available here : OFT & Which? call for independent regulation of lawyers as Justice Committee hears evidence on Legal Services Bill

In reality, as far as battling for justice goes, Mr Aitken’s term as Holyrood’s Justice Committee Convener appears to have been less along the lines of battling for justice for all, and more along the lines of battling to keep the current status quo as it is where justice in Scotland is far out of reach for most Scots, and questions over the honesty & integrity of the Scots justice system such as the Lockerbie case and the many more cases of injustice or the public’s access to justice remain unanswered.

Battling for justice for the legal establishment, is a world away from battling for justice for the Scots public.

In a curious development this morning, a legal insider claimed the Law Society of Scotland were, prior to the scandal over the rape comments, discussing whether to offer Mr Aitken a role on one of its Committees after he retires from the Scottish Parliament. Whether the Law Society choose to proceed with their alleged offer in the light of Mr Aitken’s resignation, remains to be seen.

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