SILK OF THE YEAR 2018
Involved in many of the most serious, demanding and high profile criminal cases of recent years, John has demonstrated the ability to grasp the complexities of challenging expert evidence as well as complicated factual situations. Few in criminal court practice in Scotland have the same range of experience and achievement.
John qualified as a solicitor over 30 years ago, having trained with leading Glasgow firm Hughes Dowdall and Company, before moving to Edinburgh in 1988. By 1991, he was a partner in Gilfedder and McInnes (subsequently known as Capital Defence Lawyers), at the time one of the largest criminal firms in Edinburgh.
He obtained rights of audience before the High Court of Justiciary in 2001 and took Silk in 2011. Since then, he has been instructed in some of the most significant, complex and high-profile cases of recent times. In some of these, his arguments have helped to develop the law.
In November 2018, John was awarded Silk of the Year in the Law Awards of Scotland. This was a joint award with Aidan O'Neill QC. He has been a Finalist in these awards in 2017 and 2019.
John was the Firm Magazine’s Criminal Lawyer of the Year in 2009, 2010, 2011 and once again in 2013 (there was no award in this category in 2012 and it has not been awarded since 2013). No other lawyer has received this award on 4 consecutive occasions.
From 2007 to 2009, he was part of the team involved in the appeal against conviction by Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi ("the Lockerbie case").
UK SUPREME COURT
In 2011, he appeared before the UK Supreme Court on two occasions as leader (once before he took Silk and once shortly thereafter). In one of these, McGowan v B, although the Crown Reference was successful, one Justice (Lord Kerr) dissented, agreeing with John’s submissions, and the Court indicated that his submissions should be considered for the improvement of current practice regarding waiver of the right to legal assistance for police interviews (paragraph 50). Deputy President of the Court, Lord Hope, specifically commented on John's “very able argument” (paragraph 14).
In 2013, John again appeared as leader before the UK Supreme Court in a successful appeal against a decision of the High Court in an extradition case (Kapri).
John has undertaken two post-graduate courses in Forensic Medicine, firstly at Glasgow University and then at Edinburgh University. He is regularly instructed in cases involving complicated aspects of expert evidence.
For example, 24 hours before appearing in the Supreme Court in 2013, John completed a 6 week murder retrial which involved substantial expert evidence in various areas of forensics (neuropathology, pathology, handwriting, fingerprints, computers, psychology (re suicide), toxicology, blood, general forensic science).
NAT FRASER RETRIAL
In 2012, he represented Nat Fraser in his murder re-trial. This already high-profile case was filmed for a Channel 4 documentary (“The Murder Trial”) which was broadcast in 2013, won a BAFTA in 2014 and was thereafter available on 40D.
GLASGOW BIN LORRY COURT CASE
In October 2016, John was instructed for the Respondent to oppose the Bill for Criminal Letters in the “Glasgow Bin Lorry Case”. This high-profile case involved detailed consideration of the history of public prosecution, as well as the extremely rare procedure for private prosecutions. Following a full hearing before a Bench of three senior Judges, chaired by the Lord Justice-Clerk, the application was refused.
John's reputation for excellence and reliability sees him continue to be instructed in most of his work as a criminal defence lawyer by some of the leading criminal firms in Scotland.
In addition, in 2017, John accepted an invitation to become a Part-Time Advocate Depute. He has prosecuted in the High Court of Justiciary and appeared for then Lord Advocate in a high-profile extradition matter.
Since 2017, he has also appeared at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry chaired by Lady Smith, having been instructed as Senior Counsel to the main survivors group, INCAS, on account of his reputation in criminal law and human rights.
John has undertaken several courses in advanced advocacy and advocacy training, and is now a NITA accredited advocacy trainer (NITA is the US-based National Institute for Trial Advocacy).
OTHER ROLES AND WORK
John has been invited by the Law Society of Scotland, Senior Members of the Judiciary and others to become involved in various committees and reviews, as well as providing CPD to the profession and others.
He has been elected President of the Edinburgh Bar Association on 2 occasions, in 2001 and 2007.
John chaired the Scottish Human Rights Centre from 1997 to 2005. That allowed him to develop a reputation as one of the leading voices on human rights in Scotland. This has seen him give evidence on many occasions to committees of the Scottish Parliament, as well as contributing articles and comments to the media on a regular basis.
In 2014, he chaired human rights organisation Justice Scotland for a year, having been involved in the organisation from the planning stages years earlier.
He was Convenor of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Scotland from 2006 to 2018.
In 2015, John was appointed as the first solicitor member of the Scottish Sentencing Council. He held this position until October 2018 and remains involved in the Council's Committee looking at the Sentencing of Young People.
In 2016, he was elected President of the Society of Solicitor Advocates, having been the Vice-President(Crime) since 2008.
In 2015, John chaired an Independent Advisory Group on Stop and Search at the request of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. This Group reviewed the practice of non-statutory (“consensual”) stop and search and produced a Report with 10 recommendations. All were accepted by Government and passed by the Parliament in the relevant sections of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 which came into force in 2017. John gave evidence on this work at the Justice Sub Committee on Policing. Thereafter, the Group continued its work on behalf of Government and, in 2016, they produced a Code of Practice which came into force in May 2017. John agreed to continue to chair the Group to review the operation of the Code after its introduction.
John also chaired an independent review of Biometrics in Policing in Scotland, again at the request of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. This report was published in March of 2018. This work led to the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill 2019.
Also at the request of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, John chaired an Independent Review into the Impact on Communities of the Policing of the Miners' Strike 1984/85. He reported to the Scottish Government in October 2019. It is expected that the report will be published in 2020 along with the Government's response to the report.
In May 2019, John was asked by the Minister for Mental Health to chair a major independent review into the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003. This review is ongoing.
In April 2020, John was asked to chair an Independent Advisory Group looking at the use by Police Scotland of the temporary emergency powers created in response to the Coronavirus Crisis.