Judges have been urged not to jail a former diplomat who was found to be in contempt of court after covering the Alex Salmond trial on his blog.
Craig Murray, a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, attended two days of Salmond’s trial in March 2020, sitting in the public gallery, and wrote about it on his website.
The former first minister was cleared at the High Court in Edinburgh of 13 sexual assault charges involving nine women following his trial.
Following previous hearings, judges on March 25 this year found that Murray was in contempt of court, relating to material capable of identifying four complainers.
At a virtual hearing of the High Court in Edinburgh on Friday, Roddy Dunlop QC, representing Murray, said there is little indication of any actual identification having happened as a result of the articles, and said there was nothing amounting to actual interference in the case such as the trial having to be adjourned.
He said: “The simple fact is that some complainers seem to have been identified as a result of comments made in publications made by other entities with greater reach, and in so far as there is any instance of identification being made as a result of what Mr Murray did, it is limited.
“There are tweets that follow on what Mr Murray did, whether or not they amount to people just weighing in with their own identification as opposed to actually having completed the jigsaw we do not know and one cannot know, but my point is there is little indication of any actual identification having happened as a result of this.”
He said the posts were redacted when the contempt proceedings were launched to “neutralise” the problems.
The Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian, who was hearing the case along with Lord Menzies and Lord Turnbull, said: “The reality remains that for complainers in other cases, the fact that this has happened in such a high profile sexual offences case can only be detrimental.”
In his mitigation submission, Mr Dunlop said Murray is a man of “impeccable character” and previously “untarnished reputation”, and said it is no exaggeration to say the retired diplomat is already suffering “significant punishment” from the impact of the case.
Mr Dunlop said sending Murray to prison would be “harsh to the point of being disproportionate”, and he urged the judges to deal with the matter by way of a fine.
He said: “Allowing that the finding of contempt has been ruled by this court to be justified the question is whether, given all the circumstances, that justification extends yet further to countenancing imprisonment, to taking a retired diplomat with an exemplary background away from his wife, his 11-year-old son, and his baby.
“For what purpose? The response might will be “pour decourager les autres” (to discourage others). If that is the purpose, job done.
“Mr Murray’s blogging is inevitably hamstrung by the ruling itself, the decision is and has been widely publicised.
“If anyone out there thinks that playing with fire in the field of jigsaw identification is a zero-sum game, their views have been disabused by the ruling this court has already made.”
The judges will give their sentencing decision on Tuesday.