Extraordinary rendition case found in Scotland

Amnesty's Scottish office has uncovered evidence of a case of extraordinary rendition in Scotland.

Admittedly the extra-judicial transfer for the purposes of torture took place in 1684. And the barbaric state willing to sanction the torture of this poor soul was, err, Scotland itself. Still, made you look !

I came across the story in a review of the position of human rights across the history of Scotland's legal and political systems, produced by Aidan O'Neill QC for a forthcoming conference at Strathclyde University.

Aidan will be leading a session on "A Scottish Human Rights Culture" and I have agreed to join a panel of the great and the good (hope they don’t mind me sitting in with them) giving our responses to an opening presentation from him. "Nae bother", I thought, when they agreed to send the presentation in advance.

Alas O’Neill is a clever and well read man. His paper arrived a whopping 44 pages long, sprinkled with latin and opening with the daunting "In his work of 1324 CE, Defensor Pacis, Marsilius of Padua….". Eek.

But to return to extraordinary rendition, I learned from O'Neill's paper that England banned torture before Scotland did, leading to the case of one Robert Baillie of Jerviswood. He was named in evidence (extracted under torture) from one William Spence, suggesting that he was involved in a plot against the government of Charles II. Baillie was arrested in London and taken to Edinburgh (presumably in a rendition cart rather than a flight) where he was tortured before being executed.

I should stress that Scotland’s historic connections to human rights did not always centred around the violation of them. Us Scots (for whom the word "truculent" was tailor-made) were world leaders in setting limitations on the power of rulers, with the Declaration of Arbroath – "the first time in European history that Power and Rights were declared by the People".

And I am glad to say that things have moved on in the last few centuries, with torture and execution banned and the Scottish Government taking a relatively firm line on rendition.

I am also indebted to O’Neill’s paper for a more recent story of how the US Supreme Court, in ruling that Guantanamo detainees did possess certain Habeus Corpus rights, did so on the basis of misunderstanding of the difference between the Scottish and English legal systems following the union of parliaments in 1707. But I’ll save that for another day.

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