Scottish External Affairs minister Fiona Hyslop has accused Westminster of a “serial undermining of the Scottish justice system” following proposed changes to the Scotland Bill, which would allow the UK Supreme court to hear appeals in Scottish criminal cases. Currently the Supreme Court is able to rule on cases where Scots law conflicts with human rights legislation.

Lord Wallace, the advocate general, has called for the court to be able to hear other appeals too. The Scottish National Party is concerned that the draft clauses suggested by Lord Wallace suggest that the Supreme Court will be the ultimate court of Scotland. Ms Hyslop said: “I am concerned about the threat to the independence of Scots Law and therefore against any amendment creating a new system of appeal from the High Court in Edinburgh to the Supreme Court in London.”

Two newspapers, The Sun and The Daily Mail, have been found guilty of contempt of court after publishing the picture of a murder trial defendant, Ryan Ward, posing with a gun on their websites. It was ruled that posting the pictures ‘seriously impeded or prejudiced’ the trial of Ward in November 2009. The judgment contains an important warning for bloggers, tweeters and journalists who use instant news to report on criminal trials: ”instant news requires instant and effective protection for the integrity of a criminal trial“.

The Ministry of Justice has published the list of 120 newly appointed Queen’s Counsel. The list shows a steady increase in the number of women and members of ethnic minorities taking silk. Twenty-seven women appear on the list and twelve are from ethnic minorities, around twice as many compared to recent years.

The attorney and solicitor-general have referred four rape cases to the court of appeal on the basis that the sentences imposed were unduly lenient. There are only around 100 referrals for unduly lenient sentences a year, and the system had been criticised for the random nature of the cases which are referred to appeal. Attempts to expand the powers to refer unduly lenient sentences were resisted under former attorney general Lord Goldsmith in part on the basis that the court of appeal couldn’t handle the additional workload.

The Law Gazette published an interesting article about the Government’s use of language and the way in which it is being used to frame the legal aid debate and defuse opposition to the cuts. The article notes that while the government no longer represents lawyers as ‘fat cats’, lawyers are instead portrayed as professionals who are an obstacle to common-sense decisions.

The government has launched a legal bid to overturn the European Court’s decision that a blanket ban on prisoner’s right to vote is unlawful. The British government will argue the court should take into account last month’s vote which although not binding on ministers showed MPs’ overwhelming support for the current ban on votes for inmates. Following the controversy over the issue the BBC programme ‘The Record Europe’ has devoted an episode to the ECHR, details of how to watch it can be found here.

This week there have also been protests against a European Court ruling that from December 2012, insurers will be prevented from charging different premiums on the basis of an insured person’s gender. Insurance companies and customers have objected to the ruling, saying that it will result in a rise in premiums, especially for young women, who normally pay less on the basis that they are safer drivers. However, as Adam Wagner points out ‘The decision may ultimately lead to insurers charging more for insurance. It may not. It may also lead to greater equality…And it is quite possible that the women-are-safer-drivers narrative has been used as an excuse to charge young men, who often have more disposable income, at a significant premium.

Finally, with the prospect that as a result of legal aid cuts resulting in an increase in litigants in person, the BBC has published a handy guide to becoming an amateur lawyer.