Summaries of opinions (judgments) provide a short explanation of judicial decisions in order to assist understanding and may be published in cases where there is wider public interest. They provide the main findings, but do not form part of the reasons for the decision.
The judgment published on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals website is the only authoritative document.
Appeal against conviction by John Watt v HMA
Feb 3, 2023
Mr Watt was convicted of five charges of historical sexual abuse against four complainers. He committed the offences between 1973 and 1987, when the complainers were aged from 7 to 13 years of age. The trial judge imposed a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, reduced from 11 years to reflect time spent in custody awaiting trial.
Mr Watt was granted leave to appeal on one ground, which related to two charges concerning complainer M. Charge 1 involved lewd, libidinous and indecent practices and charge 2 was one of rape. Leave to appeal against sentence was also granted, but only in the event that the appeal against conviction was successful.
Section 274 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, often termed the ‘rape shield’ legislation, imposes strict limitations on the use of evidence relating to the sexual history or character of complainers in sexual offence trials; and protects them from irrelevant and invasive questioning.
Section 275 of the Act provides that the court may admit such questioning in specific limited circumstances. If a party wants to lead this type of evidence, they must make an application to the court.
Prior to the trial in this case, the defence submitted a s275 application seeking permission to lead evidence that:
- M’s late father sexually abused her during childhood, headed a paedophile ring involving prominent legal professionals and instigated her abuse by members of the ring
- M made allegations against individuals as early as 2000 (whom the defence wished to name to the jury), yet did not name Mr Watt until 2014
- Mr Watt’s career path meant he did not move to Edinburgh until the late summer of 1978 and did not meet M’s father until 1979
The judge in the Preliminary Hearing allowed the defence to elicit evidence on the timing of M’s allegations and the details of Mr Watt’s professional background and move to Edinburgh. However, he refused to allow the evidence on the alleged paedophile ring or the names of other alleged abusers, finding that these were collateral matters which would inappropriately intrude into M’s dignity and privacy.
Mr Watt contended that he was deprived of a fair trial by not being allowed to elicit certain evidence, including that:
- M had previously made disclosures of abuse and named the abusers
- she named members of the legal profession
- she could have known them
- the other alleged abusers attended parties where abuse was said to take place
- Mr Watt was among the last persons to be named
- M did not remember Mr Watt until the latest stages of her disclosure.
The Appeal Court found that the Preliminary Hearing judge made the correct decision in allowing only limited parts of the s275 application. The opinion states that any evidence about a supposed paedophile ring or other alleged abusers was “plainly collateral, irrelevant and inadmissible”. The appeal judges were not persuaded that any unfairness arose from the s275 decision and found there was no miscarriage of justice.
As the appeal against conviction was refused, there was no need to consider the sentence appeal.
The opinion published on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals website is the only authoritative document.