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by Staff reporter
10 January 2024
SNP MP bids to split dual role of Lord Advocate to end perceived conflict of interest

Dorothy Bain KC is the current Lord Advocate | Alamy

SNP MP bids to split dual role of Lord Advocate to end perceived conflict of interest

An SNP MP is bringing forward a bill that will allow the dual role of Scotland’s Lord Advocate, as both public prosecutor and government legal advisor, to be split.

Joanna Cherry is bringing forward a private members bill that seeks to give the Scottish Parliament the power to amend the role.

The SNP committed to consulting on whether the two functions of the Lord Advocate should be split ahead of the 2021 election.

While no consultation has yet been launched, Holyrood lacks the power to be able to make the change as the role is protected from modification by the Scotland Act.

Cherry said: “The straitjacket of the Scotland Act has prevented the Scottish Parliament from modernising the post, as it might have done since 1999, by splitting the dual roles of providing independent legal advice to the government and that of head of the prosecution service in Scotland. This would avoid any conflict of interest whether real or perceived. 

“All major political parties in Scotland have called for a review of the role of the Lord Advocate, there is widespread support for splitting the roles and I trust that my bill will have cross party backing when it comes before the Commons today.”

The issue came to a head during the parliament’s probe into the Scottish Government’s botched handling of harassment complaints made against former first minister Alex Salmond.

Concerns were raised at the time about a perceived conflict of interest, though then Lord Advocate James Wolffe said all law officers exercised their functions with “complete independence” and no ministers had ever “sought to influence a prosecutorial decision”.

But the issue has come to the fore again as Police Scotland investigates the SNP’s finances, though Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain has recused herself from the case.

The Scottish Conservatives have previously raised concerns about the two roles being held by the same person, while Scottish Labour’s 2021 manifesto committed to splitting it.

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