Supreme Court judges have refused to allow a blogger to appeal his conviction for publishing information about the identities of women who gave evidence against Alex Salmond.
Former Dundee University rector Craig Murray, 62, was given an eight month jail sentence for breaching a strict court order which had been passed during the former first minister’s trial on sexual assault charges in March 2020.
Judge Lady Dorrian passed the order to protect the identities of the women who claimed to have been abused by the ex-SNP leader.
Journalists covering sexual assault trials in Scotland follow a long standing convention not to name or publish information which could lead to readers identifying complainers.
The media follow this convention so not to stigmatise abuse victims. Lady Dorrian’s order formalised the convention.
However, the retired diplomat breached the order and published pieces of information on his blog, which if pieced together like a jigsaw, could lead readers to establish the identities of the women.
Lady Dorrian handed Murray the sentence and told him that his actions “struck at the heart of justice”.
The judge – who sat alongside Lord Menzies and Lord Turnbull – also refused permission to allow the case to go to the UK Supreme Court.
Murray then made use of a mechanism which allows potential appellants to appeal directly to the UK Supreme Court.
However, on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the court confirmed that justices won’t hear any submissions from Murray’s lawyers.
The spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that the application has been refused.”
A passionate interest in ‘open justice’
Mr Murray is an ex-UK ambassador to Uzbekistan. He now publishes a blog about political matters and often criticises the mainstream media and established politicians.
His previous lawyer John Scott QC told the judges earlier this year that Murray has a passionate interest in “open justice” and “whistle blowing”.
Mr Scott said his client also saw the Alex Salmond trial as part of “a bigger picture.”
Mr Scott said: “He sees and reported on the court as a beacon of integrity.”
At proceedings, which resulted in Mr Salmond being acquitted of all charges, Lady Dorrian passed an order which prevented journalists from naming the women who gave evidence against the politician.
Reporters were also ordered not to disclose any details about the women which would allow readers to realise their identities.
However, prosecutors showed Murray breached the orders and published information on his blog which allowed readers to gain enough knowledge that they could go onto identify the women.
Earlier this year, Fife man Clive Thomson was jailed for six months for publishing the names of women who gave evidence on his Twitter account.
The judges heard that the European Court on Human Rights had decided that journalists should only be jailed in exceptional circumstances.
The court heard that this case involved two journalists from Romania called Cumpana and Mazare.
The Scottish court were asked to apply the principles established in the case and not jail Murray.
However, the judges found that Murray’s actions were so severe that he needed to be jailed.
Lady Dorrian wrote that Murray had breached the women’s rights under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
She added: “The facts as summarised in the sanctions determination demonstrate exceptional circumstances seriously impinging on the article 8 rights of complainers in the trial. This is precisely the kind of situation envisaged within Cumpana and Mazare.
“It is not the case that the order prevented reporting of the trial, or other matter of public interest. The suggestion is made that the applicant’s genuinely held belief that the prosecution of the former first minister was unwarranted is the relevant matter of public interest, the inference from the context of that submission being that the sanction is such as to prevent discussion of a legitimate matter of public concern.
“However, that is not a tenable argument. It is the repeated publication of material likely to lead to identification of complainers in the face of a clear order of the court prohibiting that which drew the sanction. The order did not prevent discussion of whether the prosecution was objectively justified.”
Star Wars tweet
Last night, Mr Murray quoted dialogue from Star Wars. He also included smiling face emojis.
He tweeted: “In the immortal words of Obi Wan Kenobi: ‘If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine
Now Murray, who was given bail by the Scottish court, will have to surrender to a police station and be taken to prison.