THE coronavirus crisis has changed everything. If it were not for this epidemic we’d currently be in the middle of a leadership crisis at the very top of the SNP. The Alex Salmond trial was a political earthquake, which could only be eclipsed by an event of the magnitude of the current epidemic.

But nevertheless feelings run high, emotions are bruised. The Former First Minister was cleared in the High Court of all the charges against him, but it appears that that’s not good enough for some people, especially in the press. Ever since the verdict was announced there’s been a constant sniping against him, and aspersions cast upon him by people who were clearly rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of a guilty verdict and who now are frustrated and angry that they’ve been deprived of a much longed for scalp.

Yet since they cannot get the conviction that they sought in court, they now seek a conviction in the court of public opinion.

It is of course right and proper that anyone who alleges that they are the victim of a sexual assault it guaranteed anonymity. It’s that guarantee of anonymity which has been instrumental in encouraging victims to come forward and to report abuse. It is imperative that we do nothing which would set back the clock and make it more difficult – as it is already extremely difficult – for victims of sexual assault to come forward, to report their experiences, and to seek justice. However that same guarantee of anonymity is not extended to those who are accused of sexual crimes. This creates an imbalance in justice, as we have seen with the fall-out from the Alex Salmond trial.

Despite the fact that he left the court in Edinburgh an innocent man with no legal stain upon his character, his political opponents have continued to say “ah but”.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond considering legal actions against media claims

There have been those who have claimed that in effect he might not be criminally guilty, but nevertheless he’s still guilty. Dozens of stories have been published in the press maligning his character, subverting the verdict of the court by asserting that while the former First Minister’s behaviour may not have been criminal, he remains in their eyes a person who should be condemned and rejected by the public. While those who made the allegations against him remain anonymous, he himself is left exposed to the full glare of media coverage.

Given that the charges against him were unanimously rejected by the jury, this is a grave injustice. A verdict of not proven on one of the charges does not mean “Well we think he’s guilty anyway but we’re going to let him off with it”. A majority verdict for not guilty does not mean “We think he’s a little bit guilty”. It means that the prosecution failed to prove their case and the accused has been found not guilty, 100% not guilty.

The fundamental basis of criminal justice in this country is that an accused person is believed to be innocent until the prosecution proves their guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. The prosecution in the Alex Salmond trial failed to do so. They failed to do so on every single one of the charges that they brought against him.

The only legal or moral verdict is then that Alex Salmond is innocent, totally innocent – not “innocent but a bit guilty really”. There is no shade of grey in the verdict in a criminal trial, an accused person is either convicted or they leave the court a free and innocent person.

It is unseemly in the extreme for people involved in the case or for those who have commented upon it to try to gainsay the jury after the fact of the verdict.

Everyone involved has already had their day in court. Everyone has had their chance to make their case, to state their complaints, and to air their grievances. It merely undermines public trust in the justice system to second guess or to undermine the verdict of the jury.

It is wrong and dangerous to seek justice by alternative means once a jury has ruled. That is the path to mob justice, not the rule of law.

Once the dust has settled on this case, it is time that Scotland considered extending anonymity to those accused of sexual crimes as well as to those who make the accusations.

While the anonymity of alleged victims should, rightly, be permanent, the anonymity of the accused can be lifted should they be convicted. If they are not convicted, then they will be able to resume their lives as free people, without any stain upon their character – as the law expects and demands.

The way in which Alex Salmond has been treated by the media shows us the necessity of extending that protection to those who have found themselves in his position. It’s the only way in which to ensure equity in the justice process.

In Spain, where I lived for many years, it is normal to extend anonymity to those accused of crimes until such time as they are convicted, or the court rules that it’s permissible to identify them.

It is a system which ensures that those who are accused and then acquitted are able to return to their lives without suffering any damage to their characters or reputations.

It is an effective brake on the trial by media circus which is all too often a feature of high profile cases in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

There is of course the elephant in the room here. It is widely believed that this case came about because there was a faction within the SNP which opposed Alex Salmond’s return to politics. This is a case which involved not only Scotland’s former First Minister, but which also involves alleged victims who themselves are influential individuals closely aligned to the seat of power in Scotland.

This means that, rightly or wrongly, there are many in Scotland who suspect that statements made about Alex Salmond after the verdict are attempts to pursue a political goal by other means. Like any other member of the public I am not privy to the internal goings on within the SNP so cannot comment on the truth or otherwise of those suspicions.

However we can all note that had anonymity been extended to Alex Salmond as well as to his accusers, none of this would currently be an issue.

And we can all note that justice demands that Alex Salmond is given the due of an innocent man without a stain on his character.