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22-Feb-12, 17:10
Legal debate after Justice of the Peace tells court the witness is a neighbour

A CARELESS driving trial was dramatically interrupted this week when a man stepped into the witness box and one of the Justices exclaimed: “I know this man-he’s a neighbour of mine.”
The surprise development triggered a legal debate as to whether Wick Justice of the Peace Alan Clasper could continue to hear the case. It is thought to be the first time that such a situation has cropped up locally, and possibly south of Caithness.
The legal conundrum surfaced when Ian Macphee entered the witness box to give evidence in the trial of Alexander Gunn, (32) of An Luachair, Banniskirk, Halkirk, charged with colliding with a pedal cyclist the crossroads junction Francis Street and Dempster Street in Wick.
Justice Alan Clasper flagged ups his neighbour connection with second witness, Mr Macphee, who lives in the Glengolly area of Caithness, and went on: “I knew nothing of his appearance and I have not spoken to him. I would like to declare an interest.”
Gunn’s solicitor, Tom Cruickshank, informed the court, following a recess, that neither fiscal depute David Barclay or himself, had been able to find any legal authority and they had differed about the best course of action to address the problem. It was agreed they should confer further during the lunch break.
Mr Barclay then made the point that the issue had emerged before Mr Macphee had start to give his evidence and put forward the view that an onlooker would take, namely that the Justice, in question, should simply walk away from the case.
Mr Barclay said: “The geni is out of the bottle now and can’t be put back in.”
He submitted that there would still be a quorum of justices although it would be a matter for the bench to consider whether this would create any difficulty in it reaching a verdict.
Mr Barclay gave the example of a jury which might start out with 15 people and, that, if one had to be substituted, the case would still continue.
If the bench took the view that it was inappropriate to continue, it would mean a fresh trial with new justices. Mr Barclay maintained that justice could be done if the case continued with two justices.
Mr Cruickshank said it was “unfortunate” that the bench had not had sight of witnesses when given the list of names.
He said that neither Mr Barclay or himself could find a legal precedent for the situation and told the court that he had been concerned in legal matters since 1974 and never encountered such a problem.
The difficulty was that the main star witness – long distance cyclist Darren Lean (45) – had already given his evidence and would be forearmed, if a re-trial was to take place. He said that the case involved a minor collision at the lower end of the careless driving scale and he respectfully suggested that the bench should draw a line under the case and it “be put down to experience”.
The bench rose and, on their return, the clerk to court read a finding that justice would be done if Justice Clasper stood down. He accordingly left the bench.
Gunn was found guilty by two Justices and ordered to pay Mr Dean, from Blackburn, who had witnessed the accident, 415 compensation for damage to his bike, his clothing and himself, caused when the accused cut in front of him in his sports car at the Wick junction and collided with him.
Gunn also incurred five penalty points. Mr Dean had been on a marathon trip to John O' Groats at the time of the collision.