Scottish judges relax reporting restrictions in Nat Fraser case following BBC Scotland legal plea

Appeal court judges in Edinburgh have relaxed legal restrictions over the details of the recent case involving Elgin businessman, Nat Fraser.

Rules have been relaxed, according to a report on the BBC Scotland website by Reevel Alderson, after BBC Scotland had challenged the ruling which left journalists unable to report his QC's comments in opposing attempts to try him again for murder,

The QC, Maggie Scott, said remarks by the first minister about the case meant Fraser could not now receive a fair trial.

However, the judges at the hearing said the restrictions were too far-reaching.

They were imposed on June 8 and 17 when prosecutors asked the High Court for permission to re-indict Mr Fraser, 52, for the murder of his wife Arlene in 1998.

Her body has never been found and Mr Fraser, a fruit and vegetable merchant, was jailed for life in 2003 for her murder.

He appealed and in May, 2011 the UK Supreme Court in London ruled there was a miscarriage of justice in his original trial, and sent the case back to Edinburgh for his conviction to be quashed.

According to BBC Scotland: “There was coverage of statements which were made which make clear that the Scottish government is 'angry' and 'concerned' about the decision of the Supreme Court in this case.

The move led to a political storm with First Minister Alex Salmond and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill highly critical of the role of the Supreme Court in "interfering" in the independent Scottish legal system.

Nat Fraser's QC, Maggie Scott, opposed the Crown motion for a retrial, and told the bench of three judges there had been widespread prejudicial publicity following the Supreme Court decision.

She said the Lord Advocate, Scotland's senior prosecutor did not take "adequate steps" to prevent publicity and quoted Scottish ministers' statements which she said were prejudicial to the accused.

She told the court: "There was coverage of statements which were made which make clear that the Scottish government is 'angry' and 'concerned' about the decision of the Supreme Court in this case and other considerations in respect of the role of the Supreme Court.

"From these it is reasonable to imply that they consider the Supreme Court decision was wrong. The implication which would be reasonable is that Mr Fraser is a guilty man."

However, a Scottish government spokesman said Salmond had made no comment whatsoever on the merits of Fraser’s case.

Ms Scott went on to blame the Crown for the need to apply for a retrial.

"The starting point the ending point of my submission is that in this miscarriage of justice, the fault is that of the Crown; a fault on the part of the Crown would be the primary reason to refuse the motion," she said.

She said statements had been made that the Supreme Court were 'second-guessing' or 'interfering' in the Scottish judicial system.

Ms Scott quoted a newspaper article in which the phrase "ambulance-chasing court" had been used and the suggestion by the justice secretary that the Scottish government should remove funding for the UK Supreme Court.

She told the judges: "It is difficult to see how Mr Fraser could get a fair trial in the light of government ministers' statements about the case."

The court gave permission for Fraser to be retried - and remanded him in custody until his trial.

Appeal Court judges lifted many of the reporting restrictions which had been challenged by BBC Scotland.

Lord Reed said: "The original restrictions were too far-reaching and defective, failing to specify the period for which publication should be postponed."

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