David Burns

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Person.png David Burns   WebsiteRdf-icon.png
(Advocate)
David Burns.jpg
Lord Burns QC, Judge of the Supreme Courts
BornScotland
Scotland
Alma materDundee

Employment.png Senator of the College of Justice Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
2012 - Present

David Spencer Burns, Lord Burns is a Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland and Judge of the Supreme Courts.[1]

Legal career

A graduate of Dundee University, David Burns was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1977 and became a Queen's Counsel in 1991. Before admission, he worked as a Junior Counsel in Rochester, New York and San Francisco where he practised family, personal injury and planning law. From 1989 to 1991, David Burns QC was an Advocate Depute and on return to private practice he resumed his involvement in planning, personal injury and criminal law. He was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Social Security.

David Burns QC served as a temporary judge from 2002 to 2005, and he became a part-time sheriff in 2007. On 1 June 2012, it was announced he had been appointed a Senator of the College of Justice,[2] and he took up the post on 12 July 2012.[3]

Lockerbie trial and appeal

During the Lockerbie trial and appeal which took place at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands (2000–2002), David Burns QC was a Defence Counsel representing Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted on 31 January 2001 of the Lockerbie bombing. Megrahi's appeal against conviction was rejected on 14 February 2002.

Andy Coulson perjury trial

On 3 June 2015, David Cameron's former press secretary Andy Coulson was acquitted after his perjury trial collapsed at the High Court in Edinburgh. The judge Lord Burns gave the following explanation to the jury:

I have acquitted the accused of the charge of perjury which he faced and that means that you will not have to return a verdict on the charge in the indictment. You heard 5 days of oral evidence in the Crown case. You have attended and then been sent away repeatedly since the end of the Crown case last week and, during that time, what has been happening in this court has, quite deliberately, been kept from you, although you, as jurors, are the most important people in this room. You deserve an explanation of what has been going on. That involves going into some of the issues I have been discussing with Counsel in your absence.
As jurors you were responsible for the facts, I for the law. You were to decide whether the Crown could prove that the accused committed perjury during Mr Sheridan's trial in 2010. I was to tell you about the law of perjury. I need to do so now, albeit briefly, to explain to you what has happened.
Perjury is the wilful giving of false evidence under oath or affirmation in judicial proceedings. An oath or affirmation binds the witness to tell the truth. If he gives evidence in a criminal trial or in civil proceedings which he knows to be false and which was relevant to the issues in that trial or civil proceedings, he is guilty of perjury.
Relevant means relevant either in proof of the charge against the accused in that trial or in relation to the credibility of the witness. Unlike the falsity of the evidence, the question of its relevance is a matter of law and therefore for the judge to decide on that matter and not the jury.
To prove the charge against Mr Coulson, the Crown needed to prove that:
1. the accused gave evidence in court on oath at Mr Sheridan's trial. There was no dispute about that.
2. that he gave evidence that he knew to be false: that was to be for you to decide. A jury question.
3. finally that the allegedly false evidence given by Mr Coulson was relevant to the issues which arose in Mr Sheridan's trial for perjury or Mr Coulson's credibility in the important evidence he gave at that trial. That was the matter of law for me. A judge's question. Relevancy is always a judge's question. Because it was a matter for the judge in the Sheridan trial, now that trial is over but is the subject of this trial, the relevancy of questions and answers in the Sheridan trial was a matter for me in this trial.
In 2010, Mr Sheridan had been on trial for perjuring himself when he gave evidence in the civil proceedings in his action for defamation against the News of the World. So the question of relevancy for me was whether the alleged false evidence given by Mr Coulson in that trial was relevant to the proof of Mr Sheridan's perjury or relevant to Mr Coulson's credibility as a witness in the perjury trial of Mr Sheridan. You will recall that Mr Coulson said in Mr Sheridan's perjury trial that the person speaking on a video tape was Mr Sheridan.
After two days of legal submissions last week and having considered the matter, I decided that the Crown had not led sufficient evidence to satisfy me that the allegedly false evidence was relevant to proof of the charge in Mr Sheridan's trial or to Mr Coulson's credibility at that trial.
There are various reasons given for that in my opinion which I don't need to go into now. But, if you want to read it, you will be able to access it on the Scottish Courts website shortly. Once discharged as jurors, you are allowed to do this sort of research. So, after the Crown case had finished last Tuesday, Mr MacLeod argued that the evidence set out in the charge page 1 of the indictment, even assuming it was false, was not relevant in the way that I have explained and so the accused could not be guilty of perjury. Not every lie amounts to perjury.
I was invited to acquit the accused on the basis that there was no case to answer. The Advocate Depute made submissions in support of the contrary position. That debate took place on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. On Friday I asked you to come back on Monday since I needed some time to consider and decide the matter. On Monday, before you came into court, I issued my decision which was that the allegedly false evidence was not relevant in the trial of Mr Sheridan and that therefore the accused should be acquitted. So even if you answered your question by saying yes he lied, I would have had to answer my question: No, the lies were not relevant and do not amount to perjury. I therefore acquitted him on Monday.
When a judge does that, the Advocate Depute the right to ask for 2 days to consider whether to take an appeal against the decision to the appeal court. He made that request and I was required to suspend the acquittal in case the crown did appeal. Any successful appeal would have required you to resume your duties and to hear any defence evidence, speeches and my directions before considering your verdict.
The Advocate Depute was entitled to ask for that time I granted it. It meant that I had to ask you to return today. The 2-day period has now elapsed. The Crown do not propose to exercise their right of appeal. That means the accused is entitled to be acquitted.
During all this time it was essential that you, who might yet be required to consider and return a verdict on the charge, were not aware of any of this procedure or what was being said, in case it might influence you in any way, if the trial proceeded. So the press and all branches of the media were prohibited from publishing and reporting on the debate and the result. As is to be expected from responsible media organisations, no such information has been published or broadcast.
All this means that the trial is now over and you will not need to reach a verdict on the charge. I can discharge you.
But before I do so, I would like to thank you for the time you have devoted to the case and the attention you have paid to it. It is appreciated that jury service, even in a normal case, is a disruptive and a difficult task. This particular case has certainly been disruptive for you. But jury service is one of the most important public duties any citizen can perform. I am now able to discharge you and you go with the thanks of the court.[4]

Tommy's lawyer responds

Tommy Sheridan's lawyer Gordon Dangerfield responded by accusing the Crown Office of deliberately collapsing the trial:

In a new low, even for an institution so rotten to its core, the Scottish Crown has deliberately sabotaged its own prosecution of Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister’s former Director of Communications, and allowed him today to walk free.[5]

Craig Murray's reaction

Craig Murray reacted angrily to Lord Burns' decision to acquit Andy Coulson:

Andy Coulson lied under oath, repeatedly, in the Tommy Sheridan trial. He has not been acquitted of lying. He has been acquitted of perjury, by the judge, Lord Burns who ruled that whether he told the truth or not would not have affected the outcome of the Tommy Sheridan trial. It is very important to note it was Lord Burns who took that decision – he dismissed the jury who were given no chance to have their say. So Coulson is protected from a stretch in Saughton pokey, and more to the establishment’s purpose, the conviction of Tommy Sheridan stands.
Coulson lied about phone hacking in the Sheridan trial. Coulson has form. “Lord” David Burns also has form. He was part of the Megrahi “defence” team of advocates who failed to ask a score of glaringly obvious questions about the holes in the prosecution case and payment of witnesses in the Lockerbie trial, the fit-up of the century. The Scottish legal establishment is a sewer.[6]

Patrick Haseldine commented

Patrick Haseldine commented:

Richard Keen QC defended Andy Coulson arguing there was no case to answer. Coulson was cleared of perjury charges.
Richard Keen QC defended Lamin Khalifah Fhimah arguing there was no case to answer in the Lockerbie trial. Fhimah was found not guilty of the Lockerbie bombing.
Richard Keen QC is Chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party.
Richard Keen QC has just been appointed Advocate-General for Scotland (David Cameron’s adviser on Scots Law).
Q.E.D.[7]

John Goss added

John Goss added:

That’s really interesting Patrick. It looks like they all had a hand in Lockerbie. What a travesty that Lamin Khalifah Fhimah was found Not Guilty and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found Guilty. There was no way that could ever have been the case. I want to quote Francis A. Boyle on this matter:
After the Stalinist show-trial at the U.S. air force base in The Netherlands was concluded, the Scottish kangaroo court issued a split verdict finding Mr Fhimah “not guilty,” whereas Mr Megrahi was found to be “guilty”. Of course this split verdict defied belief and was logically inconsistent. From the very outset of the allegations made by the United States government against the two of them, both were alleged to have been the “masterminds” and co-conspirators behind the Lockerbie bombing. Either they both should have been found “not guilty”; or they both should have been found “guilty”; and in the event of one of them having been found “not guilty”, they both should have been found “not guilty” and acquitted. . .[8]
He goes on to note that while that decision was a travesty of justice the decision to “rubber stamp” the decision at the Scottish kangaroo appellate courts was as big a travesty:
Mr Megrahi was an innocent man who had been railroaded by “Scottish justice” – an oxymoron to be sure – into spending the rest of his cancer-free life behind bars.[9]
In order to procure Mr Megrahi’s return home, the Libyan government had deliberately dangled the prospect of access to the lucrative Libyan oil fields by British oil companies before the beady and greedy eyes of U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair et al. The Libyans knew their man.[10]


References

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