Wed 27 January 2021

McGarry was sobbing throughout today’s hearing, with the court being told that she had suffered from “serious mental health issues”.

Court 1 at Glasgow Sheriff Court isn’t the kind of courtroom you see on TV.

It’s in a small windowless basement with no jury box – juries don’t sit there – and no witness box, witnesses don’t give evidence there. It’s for procedural matters – in this case, the sentencing of former MP Natalie McGarry who had already pleaded guilty to embezzlement.

None of the reporters packed into the few seats available were expecting any great drama. We would be hearing the Crown’s narrative of events, a mitigation statement from McGarry’s lawyer and then the Sheriff would ask for reports. We’d all troop out, file our pieces and forget about the case until next month.

That’s not how it turned out.

After sacking the previous three, McGarry was back with a new lawyer, Allan McLeod. He made a dramatic start by proposing two motions.

Firstly, for Sheriff Crozier to recuse himself from the case because of “bias”, and secondly, to withdraw his client’s guilty plea. As one person in court said: “I hope a Sheriff never looks at me the way Crozier just looked at McLeod.”

The Sheriff was not a happy Sheriff, telling the defence advocate: “You are on extremely dangerous ground.”

Then the defence counsel made his case. He told the court that McGarry’s relationship with her previous lawyer had broken down after a phone call when he had said to her: “This is the deal that is on the table, if you go to trial, you’ll have to go by yourself.”  

It’s said justice must not only be done, but it must also be seen to be done. I didn’t see much of it today.

Mcleod said McGarry then had a panic attack: “She has problems with anxiety, and court proceedings are a stress on any individual. She felt she had no alternative but to plead guilty… she faced the prospect of a six-week trial without legal representation,” adding that his client was on medication for “serious mental health issues”, including post-natal depression.

At this point, the court was cleared as McGarry was sobbing in the dock – a sound we would hear throughout the hour-long hearing.

When proceedings resumed, the defence counsel turned to his motion that the presiding Sheriff step down from hearing the case. He reminded the court that Sheriff Crozier had made a statement about “not being blackmailed” by McGarry’s legal representation issues, and had refused his client time to find new counsel.

“Justice must be seen to be done,” he said, adding that “perceived criticism” of the Sheriff must mean he goes. Sheriff Crozier replied: “I am criticised all the time, it doesn’t bother me.”

Crozier then ruled. He noted that he had read McGarry the full charges she faced before she made her plea so “she knew what she was pleading to… she was under no illusions”.

He said McGarry only decided to plead guilty “as she was walking through the doors of the court”, but said he “had bent over backwards to help the accused”. He reminded the court that he had even offered the accused a pencil and paper to take notes – an offer she refused.

He then refused to allow McGarry to change her plea to not-guilty as “the legal test is not met”, he said. The defence responded: “We are not going to get to the stage where Ms McGarry accepts guilt”.

She knew what she was pleading to… she was under no illusions.

Sheriff Crozier

Nevertheless, that guilt is now legally established, and the former MP is going to be sentenced next month despite her appeal, despite her tears.

In court reporting, every day is a school day; you learn something new at even the dullest hearing. Today, though, felt different. We now have an accused fervently denying her guilt, but about to be treated by the court system in exactly the same way as someone who admits a crime with no reservations.

Legal sources tell me that the only path open to McGarry is to accept whatever punishment Sheriff Crozier chooses, possibly including imprisonment, then appeal to a higher court.

It’s said justice must not only be done, but it must also be seen to be done. I didn’t see much of it today.

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