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FIRE SALE: AIB face sequestration probe as files reveal Trustee was paid £20K by vulture fund to sell home & firebombed farm five days after targeted attack on couple at centre of land case linked to top Scots judges, an ex-Sheriff, an asbestos dumping building company & law firm Levy and Mcrae

Richard Dennis, Kenneth Pattullo face probe. AN ONGOING probe of a case linked to Scotland’s top judge Lord Carloway – has revealed a Trustee acting in a sequestration of a couple who won a court action – relied on his appointment on the basis of a typo in a court document – to go on to strip the couple of all their assets.

And – files now reveal Kenneth Pattullo was paid £20,000 by offshore vulture fund Promontoria – to sell off a firebombed farm and home belonging to a couple who initially won the Court of Session case then lost out when their counsel – John Campbell QC deliberately removed most of their claim after Lord Woolman said Mr Nolan had a case against the building company – Advance Construction Scotland Ltd .

In documents now disclosed to journalists, Nicola Donnelly – a senior manager at Begbies Traynor in Glasgow – admitted in an email to the couple that Promontoria – a vulture fund which bought loans & mortgages from banks including the Clydesdale – paid Trustee Kenneth Pattullo £20,000 – to sell properties belonging to Melanie Collins, and Donal Nolan – which were once valued in the millions – for the sum of £655K.

Records from the very unusual sequestrations of both Ms Collins & Mr Nolan – show their properties were seized by Mr Pattullo of Begbies Traynor on behalf of Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd – after the building company lost a Court of Session action raised by Mr Nolan in which Advance Construction admitted dumping toxic waste on land owned by the retired National Hunt jockey.

However, after Begbies Traynor had retained the properties on their books for four years – during which time the Clydesdale Bank sold their interest in the properties to Promontoria – the titles suddenly changed hands only a few days after PoliceScotland were called in to investigate a targeted firebombing of Mr Nolan’s farm – which saw four horses die after being torched with petrol by unknown persons.

The couple say Police Scotland believe the targeted arson attack is connected to events related to the court case and the ‘extremely motivated’ bankruptcy which then followed.

Records of land titles obtained from Registers of Scotland reveal Morningside Farm – the target of the firebombing – was sold by Kenneth Pattullo to an Andrew Kenneth Hill of Carluke, Lanarkshire on 22 May 2019 for a purchase price of £380,000 – some five days after the targeted arson attack.

Meanwhile the home of the couple – a house with land – in Newmains, Wishaw, was sold by Mr Pattullo to a “SIPS Homes Scotland Ltd” on 20 May 2019 with a purchase price listed as £255,000

Companies House reports that SIPS Homes Scotland Ltd was created on 4 March 2019 with a registered office at Crossway, Donibistle Industrial Estate, Dalgety Bay, Fife, United Kingdom, KY11 9JE – and has three directors – Mark William Dalziel, Caroline Ann Hynds and Patrick Leaonard Hynds.

A section of land at Branchal, Wishaw – belonging to the retired jockey was sold by Mr Pattullo to the same “SIPS Homes Scotland Ltd” for £20,000 on 4 June 2019.

Begbies Traynor were asked to confirm if Mr Pattullo was in charge of the properties as Trustee – during the events of the targeted arson attack, but they refused to comment.

Susan Reid of Harrogate based Appeal PR – who claim to handle all Public Relations for Begbies Traynor in Scotland stated: “Sorry to be unhelpful, but unfortunately Begbies Traynor is unable to give any information about personal insolvency cases. However, the information is a matter of public record, so you should be able to find it from official sources.”

The sequestrations of both Mr Nolan and his partner – Melanie Collins – after they had effectively won the Court of Session claim against Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd – came about after John Campbell QC stripped out most of their financial claims for damage & legal expeses – after Court of Session judge Lord Woolman told the couple they had a case against the building company for loss of the use of the use of their property.

A full report on how John Campbell QC reduced his own client’s financial claim almost to zero and without any instruction or consultation – can be found here: CASHBACK QC: Legal regulator’s files reveal senior QC reduced claim without instructions, withheld key evidence & witnesses including Cabinet Secretary from Court of Session case

Commenting on Campbell’s move – the judge said he had never seen this happen in a case previously – and a probe of events has established John Campbell had not sought permission or consultation with his client to strip out the financial damages and legal expenses claims.

Mr Nolan and his partner Ms Collins were then targeted by Advance’s lawyers Levy & Mcrae – who then turned around Advance’s loss in court – and the building company’s admission of dumping toxic waste on Mr Nolan’s land – to go after the couple for hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal expenses.

Levy and Mcrae then petitioned the court for sequestration of Ms Collins on 30 March 2015 – and Mr James Robb (now at Brechin Tindall Oatts solicitors) sought sequestration of Ms Collins and the appointment of the Accountant in Bankruptcy as Trustee in her estate.

The interlocutor from Hamilton Sheriff court dated 30 March 2015 reads as follows:

The sheriff, having heard parties’ solicitors, on the opposed motion of the Petitioner, having
considered the foregoing petition, together with the productions, and being satisfied that the
petition has been presented in accordance with the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985, and that:
* proper citation has been made to the debtor
* the requirements of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Act 1985 relating to apparent insolvency have been fulfilled.

Sequestrates the estate now belonging or which shall hereafter belong to the debtor Ms Melanie Collins before the date of the debtor’s discharge and Declares the same to belong to the debtor’s creditors for the purposes of the said Act;
Finds the respondent liable to the petitioner in the expenses as taxed, Allows an accountant thereof to be given in and Remits same, when lodged, to the auditor of court to tax and to report;
and Appoints Accountant in Bankruptcy, 1 Pennyburn Road,Kilwinning KA136SA
to be trustee; the whole estate of said Ms Melanie Collins at 07 January 2015 is vested in and now belongs to said trustee, for the benefit of the said debtors creditors

According to financial experts, the appointment of the AIB as trustee in a sequestration is a normal move – and leads to the AIB handing the case to one of their agents – which in this case – was given to auditors KPMG.

However, after KPMG took on the sequestration, and began their work – lawyers acting for Advance approached Sheriff T Millar of Hamilton Sheriff Court – and claimed there had been a typo (administrative error) in their original petition appointing the Accountant in Bankruptcy as Trustee for Ms Collins.

In a closed hearing at Hamilton Sheriff Court on 2 April 2015 – Levy and Mcrae asked Sheriff Millar to swap out the AIB & auditors KPMG for their own preferred Trustee – Kenneth Pattullo of Begbies Traynor.

The interlocutor for the hearing before Sheriff Millar reads as follows:

The Sheriff, having seen and considered the letter of 2nd April 2015 from Levy and McRae Solicitors and it having been noted that an administrative error has been made on the interlocutor of 30th March 2015 in that the Accountant in Bankruptcy was appointed as trustee in error; Allows amendment of said interlocutor by appointing Kenneth Pattulo of Begbies Traynor (CentralLLP), FinlayHouse,10-14 West Nile Street, Glasgow, G12PP as Trustee in the Sequestration of Melanie Collins in place of the Accountant in Bankruptcy

However – according to both financial and legal experts – there was no error whatsoever in the original application to appoint the Accountant in Bankruptcy in the sequestration of Mr Nolan’s partner – Ms Collins.

And – a legal expert has said the court did not actually have the power to amend an error in a petition, rather the court could only ammend an error if the Sheriff had erred in his original decision to appoint the Accountant in Bankruptcy – which is standard practice in sequestrations,

When asked for more information on what happened in this case, and why Levy and Mcrae were able to force s Sheriff to swap the Accountant in Bankruptcy as Trustee for their own choice of Trustee – Mr Pattullo – Hamilton Sheriff Court have consistently refused to provide substantive explanations to these events and a number of addition, unusual rulings related to the sequestration of Ms Collins.

Now, Ms Collins has been told she should approach the court to recall her sequestration, on the basis the court had no power to alter the original Trustee – the Accountant in Bankruptcy – to that of Levy and Mcrae’s preference – Mr Pattullo.

However, in what has now become a battle to secure legal representation to recall the sequestration – multiple law firms have initially worked on the case, confirmed the events at Hamilton Sheriff Court are in error and should be addressed – but later the same law firms have mysteriously withdrawn from acting for Ms Collins after receiving ‘briefings’ or ‘communications’ from those with a vested interest in the case – including Begbies Traynor – the Trustees appointed by Levy and Mcrae.

In the latest attempt to recall the sequestration, Ms Collins approached solicitor Alan Cox of law firm Barton and Hendry in Cumbernauld.

Notes of a meeting between Mr Cox and Ms Collins reveal the solicitor took on the work, and wrote to Begbies Traynor.

However, in an email – dated 15 August 2019 – from Nicola Donnelly – a senior insolvency manager at Begbies Traynor to solicitor Alan Cox of Barton and Hendry – Ms Donnelly told Alan Cox in no uncertain terms that no matter who his clients approached for help – including elected politicians – there would be no change in how events would unfold – which have since led to the sale of all the couple’s properties.

In the email to Alan Cox, Nicola Donnelly states: “I would comment that your clients have instructed previous solicitors [as you are aware] and made complaints to the AiB and their MSP previously as they dispute the validity of the sequestrations. The position obviously will remain the same irrespective of how many different organisations are contacted to act on their behalf.”

Nicola Donnelly also added in her email to Mr Cox: “Eviction actions and forced asset sales are steps taken by a trustee as a last resort. Unfortunately, your clients continued lack of cooperation resulted in the trustee having no other option other than to initiate eviction actions.”

However, an ongoing media investigation has now established the eviction actions referred to by Nicola Donnelly – were undertaken by Addleshaw Goddard – a law firm where Alexander Sutherland – the son of Scotland’s top judge – Lord Carloway was based – but Carloway – real name Colin Sutherland – concealed this conflict of interest in his evidence to the Public Petitions Committee during which he faced questions from Mr Nolan’s MSP – Alex Neil.

After solicitor Alan Cox was contacted by Begbies Traynor – like all other solicitors engaged by the couple to attempt a recall sequestration – Mr Cox later said he could no longer assist in the case.

It should be noted, after Ms Collins was sequestrated in April 2015 – her partner – Mr Nolan – was then targeted by Levy and Mcrae on behalf of Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd in an action at Hamilton Sheriff Court on 1 September 2015.

In the action to sequestrate Mr Nolan – Levy and Mcrae hired Mr Gavin Walker QC – currently of Axiom Advocates – to attend Hamilton Sheriff Court with instructions to seek the appointment of Mr Pattullo to seize the assets of Mr Nolan – despite the fact he had won the Court of Session claim against Advance Construction for dumping toxic waste on his land.

The couple are now seeking new legal representatives to take on their request to recall the sequestration of Ms Collins, and the Accountant in Bankruptcy has been asked to launch an independent investigation of events in the sequestrations of Ms Collins and her partner, Mr Nolan.

The following questions on this case were put to the Accountant in Bankruptcy (AIB) and it’s boss – Richard Dennis:

Does the Accountant in Bankruptcy have any comment on these targeted incidents of a criminal nature on Ms Collins & Mr Nolan and their farm – which led to the death of four horses and the couple being placed in a state of alarm and fear for their life?

Does the Accountant in Bankruptcy have any comment on the transfer of the titles and sale of the Morningside Farm property, and the fact these titles changed hands to persons of interest – during or only after the targeted fire attack?

Does the Accountant in Bankruptcy have any comment on the sale of this land and the main home & land at Bonkle to SIPS Homes (Scotland) Ltd, and how this sale came about?

Does the Accountant in Bankruptcy have any comment on why Mr Pattullo and Begbies Traynor have not interacted with the couple and their legal agents on various and numerous occasions?

Does the Accountant in Bankruptcy have any comment on the transactions in relation to the securities held by the Clydesdale Bank – during the sequestration of Mr Nolan & Ms Collins, and when the security was transferred during the sequestration from Clydesdale to Promontoria?

Can you clarify what are the AIB & Mr Dennis’ responsibilities and liabilities – regarding the actions of trustees, agents administering sequestrations, companies & individuals employed by, and acting on their behalf.

Cam you also clarify what are the AIB & Mr Dennis’ responsibilities and liabilities regarding any investigation process into the activities of trustees acting in sequestrations.

Can the AIB confirm if Mr Kenneth Pattullo and Begbies Traynor were the trustee in the sequestration of Mr Donal Nolan, and also the sequestration of his partner Ms Melanie Collins – during the dates of 17/18 May 2019 – these dates correspond to targeted fire attacks (currently under investigation by Police Scotland) which were made on Mr Nolan’s farm at Morningside, Wishaw.

Richard Dennis – the Accountant in Bankruptcy – has refused to issue any comment on the above questions put to his office.

CASE BROKE ALL JUDICIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST RULES:

Nolan v Advance Construction Scotland Ltd [2014] CSOH 4 CA132/11 is the same case which exposed serious conflicts of interest in Scotland’s judiciary – notably where Lord Malcolm (Colin Campbell QC) failed to disclose on multiple occasions – the fact Lord Malcolm’s son – Ewen Campell – represented the defenders in the same court.

Since the sequestration of Mr Nolan and his partner took place after the conclusion of their court case – the couple have been the victim – of what some view as revenge for daring to take on a company with public contracts who illegally dumped hazardous waste on their land, where this same company was and is represented by law firms directly linked to senior figures in Scotland’s judiciary.

Mr Nolan and his partner have been evicted from their own home, lost their farm and land.

And – a deliberate, targeted fire attack on Mr Nolan’s stables at a farm in 2019 which resulted in the death of several horses –  is still under investigation by Police Scotland.

Sources believe the deliberate arson attack on the couple’s Morningside Farm which featured in news reports of the tragic discovery of burned bodies of dead horses – is linked to the couple’s sequestration and setbacks in court.

The investigation into the Lord Malcolm case of serious failures to declare conflicts of interest, is reported in further detail here: CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Papers lodged at Holyrood judicial interests register probe reveal Court of Session judge heard case eight times – where his son acted as solicitor for the defenders.

It is also worth noting the Nolan v Advance (Scotland) Ltd case drew in a series of sheriffs and judges – from not easily explained hearings at Hamilton Sheriff Court involving Sheriff Millar, Peter Watson & Levy & Mcrae – and Lord Malcolm’s son – Ewen Campbell – to Court of Session judges including Lord Brodie, Lord Menzies, Lord Woolman, Lord Bracadale (and a concealed recusal) and Lord Hodge – who later prevented the case being appealed to the UK Supreme Court without declaring he had already ruled on the case while in Edinburgh on multiple occasions.

A recent development in the ongoing media probe of this case saw publication of a witness statement from Advocate Ewen Campbell – Lord Malcolm’s son –  which directly contradicts evidence given by  Lord Carloway – to the Public Petitions Committee and MSP Alex Neil in a hearing on 29 June 2017.

A further development saw a court-sourced witness statement of solicitor and ex-Sheriff Peter Black Watson to the Court of Session – which confirmed Watson employed the son of Lord Malcolm in the case to represent the client – Advance Construction Scotland Ltd – which ended up being heard by Lord Malcolm – who concealed his link to his son during multiple court hearings.

During the evidence session – Lord Carloway faced questions from Mr Neil on the Court of Session case – where judge & Privy Councillor Lord Malcolm (real name Colin Campbell QC) – heard a land contamination case – up to EIGHT TIMES while his own son represented the defenders – Advance Construction Scotland Ltd in the same court room.

In response to questions from the MSP, Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) furiously claimed that Lord Malcolm’s son DID NOT have any “active involvement with the case whatsoever.”

However – the witness statement dated May 2013 – signed by Ewen Campbell – covering the time Campbell worked for Glasgow law firm Levy & Mcrae – contains a written admission Mr Campbell confirming he did in-fact represented the construction company, alongside lawyer Peter Black Watson – who was at the time a Sheriff and partner at the same law firm.

A full report on the publication of evidence contradicting Lord Carloway’s testimony at the Scottish Parliament can be found here: DISHONESTY, LORD: Files reveal Lord Carloway misled Holyrood Committee on involvement of judges’ relative in Court of Session claim – witness statement exposes direct role of Ewen Campbell in £6M land case heard by his father – judge & privy councillor Lord Malcolm

Further material sourced from the Court of Session, including digital evidence in relation to the ongoing media probe of Nolan v Advance – will be published in upcoming articles.

 

 

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ADVANCE, SHERIFF: Lord Carloway’s evidence to Holyrood faces probe – Statement of ex- sheriff suspended for Heather Capital writ confirms Lord Malcolm’s son worked on Court of Session judicial conflict of interest case linked to top judge

Ex-Sheriff Watson statement confirms judges’ son on conflict case. COURT PAPERS obtained in an ongoing probe of claims made by Scotland’s top judge at Holyrood – now reveal Peter Watson – a judicial colleague of Lord Carloway – ran the case for a construction company at the centre of a land contamination scandal linked to Court of Session judges who concealed conflicts of interest in court.

The court-sourced witness statement of solicitor and ex-Sheriff Peter Black Watson to the Court of Session – confirms Watson employed the son of Lord Malcolm in the case to represent the client – Advance Construction Scotland Ltd – which ended up being heard by Lord Malcolm – who concealed his link to his son during multiple court hearings.

The new material is a further blow to Lord Carloway – who demanded MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee accept his version of events in that there was no active involvement of Lord Malcolm’s son in the case whatsoever – a claim also contradiced by a witness statement from Lord Malcolm’s son: Ewen Campbell – Witness Statement – Nolan v Advance Construction

In the opening lines of Watson’s witness statement – ex Sheriff Peter Watson states: “I have been instructed by Advance Construction (Scotland) Limited (“Advance”) in relation to Mr Nolan’s action against the company. I have been running this case and acting on behalf of Advance since. I was approached by Advance in relation to defending an action raised against them by the Pursuer in this case Mr.Donal Nolan and accepted those instructions.”

Critical to the ongoing probe of Lord Carloway – Watson goes on to confirm he asked Lord Malcolm’s son – Ewen Campbell – to work alongside him in representing Advance Construction.

Watson states: ”Throughout these proceedings, I have been assisted by Mr. Ewen Malcolm Campbell and latterly, Mr. James Anthony Robb. During their involvement, both Mr Campbell and Mr Robb were also enrolled solicitors employed by the firm.”

Curiously, at no point in Mr Watson’s witness statement to the Court of Session does he refer to himself as a Sheriff and member of Scotland’s judiciary. Instead, Mr Watson refers to himself as “Professor Peter Black Watson”.

However, the admission by Watson that he employed Lord Malcolm’s son on a case in which Lord Carloway claimed Ewen Campbell had no active involvement – raises more questions of the Lord President’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee at a crucial hearing during their six year probe of judicial interests and the creation of a register of judges’ declarations of interests.

At the time of the case – Nolan v Advance Construction Scotland Ltd [2014] CSOH 4 CA132/11 – Peter Watson was a Sheriff on the judicial bench alongside Lord Carloway (Colin Sutherland) – and Lord Malcolm (Colin Campbell QC).

Working alongside Peter Watson on the same case was Roderick William Dunlop QC of Axiom Advocates, and Ewen Campbell of Axiom Advocates – who was employed by Levy and Mcrae during the events of Nolan v Advance.

Lord Malcolm’s son later left Levy and Mcrae to join the current Vice Dean of the Faculty of Advocates Roddy Dunlop QC in Axiom Advocates.

Watson was later suspended for a record three years plus over his links to a £28M writ involving the £400M Heather Capital Hedge Fund collapse in an order issued by former Lord President Brian Gill in February 2015

An earlier investigation of this case revealed when Lord Woolman (who heard the proof after the case was passed to him by Lord Malcolm) – stated in court papers that Mr Nolan had a case, John Campbell QC removed – without instruction – most of his client’s own case including over £4million and a claim for legal costs – after he had discussions with the current vice dean of the Faculty of Advocates – Roddy Dunlop QC.

A full report on how the couple’s legal representative in court – John Campbell QC reduced his own client’s financial claim almost to zero and without any instruction or consultation – can be found here: CASHBACK QC: Legal regulator’s files reveal senior QC reduced claim without instructions, withheld key evidence & witnesses including Cabinet Secretary from Court of Session case

In an earlier article – DOJ revealed Lord Carloway had made false and misleading claims to the Public Petitions Committee and a guest MSP – Alex Neil – during a hearing where Lord Justice General Lord Carloway – as he prefers to be known – demanded an end to calls for judicial transparency. The report is featured here: DISHONESTY, LORD: Files reveal Lord Carloway misled Holyrood Committee on involvement of judges’ relative in Court of Session claim – witness statement exposes direct role of Ewen Campbell in £6M land case heard by his father – judge & privy councillor Lord Malcolm

During the evidence session – Lord Carloway faced questions from Mr Neil on the Court of Session case – where judge & Privy Councillor Lord Malcolm (real name Colin Campbell QC) – heard a land contamination case – up to EIGHT TIMES while his own son represented the defenders – Advance Construction Scotland Ltd in the same court room.

In response to questions from the MSP, Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) furiously claimed that Lord Malcolm’s son DID NOT have any “active involvement with the case whatsoever.”

However – a witness statement dated May 2013 – signed by Ewen Campbell – covering the time Campbell worked for Glasgow law firm Levy and Mcrae contains a written admission Mr Campbell confirming he did in-fact represented the construction company, alongside lawyer Peter Black Watson – who was at the time a Sheriff and partner at the same law firm.

During the hearing, Alex Neil – MSP for Airdrie & Shotts – asked Lord Carloway: “If, in any case—without referring to a specific case—a close relative of a judge is participating in the case, rightly or wrongly, the perception is that there may be a degree of prejudice.”

Mr Neil said there were concerns the reputation of the judiciary should be protected and added: “I would argue that, certainly in at least one case recently, which we have referred to briefly, the perception is that there may have been unfairness and prejudice in the way in which the matter was conducted, particularly as the judge concerned was involved in the case not once but on a number of occasions.”

In response – a clearly flustered Lord Carloway claimed no such events had taken place.

Carloway took a strong line against the questions, and replied to the MSP stating: “I disagree entirely with your analysis of that particular case and I repeat what I said earlier. The case that you refer to did not involve the judge’s son having any active involvement with the case whatsoever.”

However – on page one of the released witness statement of Ewen Campbell – Mr Campbell confirms he did work for the defenders – Advance Construction.

Ewen Campbell states: “In September 2011 I was asked by Professor Peter Watson (witness) to assist in a new case in which we were to act for Advance Construction (Scotland) Limited (“Advance”).”

Ewen Campbell goes on to admit he worked on the case for nearly a year: “I assisted with this case until Friday 15th June 2012. At this point I ceased assisting Professor Watson as I was informed by Senior Counsel that I was a potential witness in the matter.”

The released witness statement of Ewen Campbell – the contents of which call into question the honesty of Lord Carloway’s evidence to MSPs, can be found here: Ewen Campbell – Witness Statement – Nolan v Advance Construction

Within the statement, Lord Malcolm’s son – who Carloway told MSPs had no involvement in the case – goes on at length to document numerous on-site visits he undertook at the behest of Carloway’s then judicial colleague – ex Sheriff Peter Watson, and on behalf of the client – Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

In just one example, Ewen Campbell states: “At approximately 4 p.m. I left Levy and McRae’s offices and attended at Branchal Road. I was driven by Ian Butler, a colleague at Levy Sc McRae. On arrival at the site I observed that a number of vehicles were at the gate of the site. Mr Butler and I therefore parked our vehicle just round the comer from the entrance of the site.”

Ewen Campbell is later forced to account for allegations a Grangemouth based firm – IKM Consulting Ltd – employed by Levy and Mcrae as their ‘experts’ in the case – dumped contaminated materials at a site owned by the pursuer – Mr Nolan.

Despite Lord Carloway’s abrupt statement that Lord Malcolm’s son did not have “any active involvement with the case whatsoever” – Ewen Campbell goes on to say in his witness statement he personally talked to a legal representative of the pursuer – and talked the solicitor down from his client’s initial allegation IKM Consulting Ltd dumped contaminated material during their on-site activities for Levy and Mcrae & Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

Ewen Campbell states: “I contacted [solicitor] regarding this who detailed that his clients had originally stated to him that IKM had dumped contaminated materials on the site but after further questioning reduced the allegation to having dumped soil like materials on site.”

Bizarrely, Lord Malcolm’s son adds within his statement he did not instruct IKM Consulting Ltd to dump any materials during their on-site activities under his supervision.

Campbell also admits to accepting additional instructions to work on the case in which Carloway claimed he played no active role in.

Ewen Campbell further stated: “Before I ceased assisting Professor Peter Watson in relation to this case, I was instructed on a number of occasions to prepare and send letters and emails to those acting on behalf of Mr Nolan.”

It should be noted that despite Ewen Campbell’s ‘account’ of events around the IKM Consulting incident – Advance Construction were subsequently forced to admit in the Court of Session before Lord Woolman that they had in-fact illegally dumped contaminated materials on Mr Nolan’s land.

The video footage and transcript of Alex Neil’s questions to Lord Carloway can be found here:

Alex Neil questions to Lord Carloway Register of Judges interests Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): I apologise for being slightly late. I had to go to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. I apologise in advance if I cover ground that has already been covered.

Lord Carloway, as an issue of principle, do you think that it should be left only to a judge to decide whether they are going to recuse themselves, or should you or the keeper of the rolls be able to insist on recusal if you believe that there is a potential conflict of interest?

Lord Carloway: The short answer is that I do not believe that there is any problem with the current system, which is that the judge, who knows what his connection is to the case or the parties to it, should make the initial decision. That decision is made in open court, when the parties are present, and it is subject to review on appeal. In other words, if somebody is dissatisfied with that decision and if the litigant eventually loses the case, the decision will come before three judges who will review whether it was correct. If it was incorrect, the decision on the case would fall.

Alex Neil: The person bringing the case to court may not be aware of any conflict of interest that the judge may have and may never find out that there was one, but the judge may well have been influenced by a particular interest. Surely that is not right. If there is any potential conflict of interest, surely there should be a declaration or commitment by the judge, making an explicit statement that there is no conflict of interest. People may not have the resources to appeal, for example. Is the system not balanced against people who come to court for justice?

Lord Carloway: No, it is not. I go back to something that I mentioned earlier, which is very important. Scotland does not have a corrupt judiciary. The matter has been examined by independent persons, notably the GRECO anti-corruption body that operates under the auspices of the Council of Europe, which examined the UK judiciary, including the Scottish judiciary. It was clear that, fortunately, we, as distinct from many other countries, do not suffer from corruption in the judiciary. For that reason, it did not consider that a register of interests was necessary. If one introduces such a measure, one has to be satisfied that it is necessary and also that it is proportionate. If one analyses its proportionality, one has to look at what exactly we are guarding against. If the situation were to be that there was corruption in the Scottish judiciary—which we would discover at some point or another—of course we would have to consider measures to prevent that, one of which might be a register of certain interests. Until such time as it is demonstrated that there is corruption in the Scottish judiciary, I am entirely satisfied that there is no requirement for a register of interests and that it would be positively detrimental to the administration of justice, particularly in relation to the recruitment of judges and especially at the higher level of the judiciary.

Alex Neil: I want to draw a parallel with the register of interests that members of the Scottish Parliament have to sign and regularly update. That came about not because of any allegations or belief that the system was corrupt or that members of the Scottish Parliament are corrupt. In the 18 years that we have been here, I have not heard one allegation of corruption. The register is there not because of allegations of corruption but to ensure that there is no prejudice. If I participate in a debate and I have an interest that I have not declared, I will be open to an allegation not of corruption but of prejudice. Because there is a register of interests and because I have to declare interests in a debate or in a committee meeting such as this one, there is a transparency to ensure that I do not act in a prejudicial fashion.

To go back to the case that Mr MacDonald cited as I came in—the case of Advance Construction and Donal Nolan, in which Lord Malcolm’s son was involved as a lawyer for one of the parties—the issue there was not an allegation of corruption but one of possible prejudice or perception of prejudice. That is a very good example of why either a register of interests or a more robust system of recusal—or perhaps both—might serve the judiciary very well.

Lord Carloway: I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s actions were entirely honourable and that he acted in accordance with the code of judicial ethics. I am not sure what is—

Alex Neil: Have you investigated it?

Lord Carloway: I am aware of the background to it.

Alex Neil: No, but have you investigated it?

Lord Carloway: I have read the papers that it involves.

Alex Neil: With all due respect, Melanie Collins and Donal Nolan have written to you on numerous occasions, and at no time have you replied to them, let alone met them, so you have not heard the other side of the case.

Lord Carloway: I am sorry, but I am not aware of letters to me by those particular persons.

Alex Neil: Your office—

The Convener: Alex, let us be careful that we do not get into anything specific on that.

Alex Neil: Yes—absolutely. My point is about how Lord Carloway can reach that conclusion if he has not heard the other side.

Lord Carloway: I have read documents emanating from the persons that you have mentioned. As far as I am aware, they were not addressed to me, but I could be wrong about that. The position is that I am aware of the circumstances of the case. I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s conduct was entirely correct in the circumstances. That is part of the problem that you have perhaps highlighted. That case has nothing to do with a register of pecuniary interests. The suggestion is that we should start registering what our relatives are doing, where they are working and matters of that sort, which I suspect would go way beyond even what is expected of politicians.

Alex Neil: No—we have to register what close relatives do.

Lord Carloway: Can I deal with the difference between MSPs and the judiciary, which I think I dealt with earlier this morning? It is quite a different function. A politician is by nature someone who is not independent in the sense that the public expect the judiciary to be. That is not a criticism; it is a reality. As a generality, judges do not deal with the type of issues that politicians deal with. Politicians have executive power. They are dealing with major economic interests of one sort or another. As a generality, judges are not dealing with that type of thing. They are dealing with issues that are usually between private individuals but can be between private individuals and Government or others. Judges are not dealing with the type of issues that politicians are dealing with such as planning inquiries and so on at a local level or major economic development in society as a whole.

The need for independence in the judiciary is different from the kind of independence that a politician requires, because with a politician it is primarily, as Alex Neil has pointed out, about issues of a pecuniary nature. Those are not the issues that arise in most of the recusal cases with which we are concerned. What we are concerned with as judges is that we appear to be independent of all connection with the case. It is not a question of having a pecuniary interest.

If one looks at the register of recusals in the past year, I do not think that any of them were to do with pecuniary interest at all. They were to do with social connections with people—whether someone is a friend; whether a party to the litigation is a friend of a friend; and matters of that sort. Those are the types of situations that are raised by people in the practical reality of litigation and those are the issues that are being dealt with. Unless you are suggesting a register of one’s friends—and presumably, therefore, one’s enemies—the real issue with recusal in the judicial system would not be addressed.

The Convener: Last question, please, Mr Neil.

Alex Neil: If I can just finally draw the parallel between our register and what has been talked about in terms of either recusal or financial interest, MSPs—as individuals and collectively—do not have executive power per se unless they are ministers, but what is very important is the perception of fairness and the perception that justice is being carried out.

If, in any case—without referring to a specific case—a close relative of a judge is participating in the case, rightly or wrongly, the perception is that there may be a degree of prejudice. It might be very unfair, but the point is to try to ensure that the excellent reputation of the judiciary down the years in Scotland is retained. That reputation is not just for not being corrupt, which we all accept—we are not accusing anybody of corruption. The perception of fairness and the perception of not being prejudiced are also extremely important. I would argue that, certainly in at least one case recently, which we have referred to briefly, the perception is that there may have been unfairness and prejudice in the way in which the matter was conducted, particularly as the judge concerned was involved in the case not once but on a number of occasions.

Lord Carloway: I disagree entirely with your analysis of that particular case and I repeat what I said earlier. The case that you refer to did not involve the judge’s son having any active involvement with the case whatsoever. We have very clear rules in our statement of principles of judicial ethics on how to deal with such matters and it is made very clear in that statement that if a relative is the advocate in the case before one, the modern approach is that the judge should not hear the case, or one could put it another way round—the relative should not be presenting the case. Whichever way it happens to be put, the situation that we had 20 or 30 years ago, when it was commonplace for the relatives of judges of one sort or another to be advocating the case, no longer exists.

That practice no longer exists not because it was thought that there was any actual problem with the decision making but, as you say, because of a perception of unfairness. There is a clear judicial rule about that and I am not aware of any case in which it has been breached. I myself have been in a situation in which my son was involved in a firm that was litigating before me. In such a case, the judge would be expected to declare it and the parties would then decide whether to take the point. However, if they took the point and the relative just happened to be a member of the same firm operating in a different department, I would not encourage the judge to recuse himself.

The Convener: There are no final questions, so I thank you very much for your evidence. It has been helpful to clarify many of the issues that you presented to us in written evidence and to have an opportunity to explore some of the issues around prejudice, for instance.

ADVANCE SHERIFF AT COURT: Ex-Sheriff Peter Watson resigned from judicial bench in 2018

Peter Black Watson a former partner in Glasgow based law firm Levy and Mcrae – who was named in a £28million writ linked to the collapse of bust hedge fund Heather Capital – resigned his commission as a part time Sheriff on 10 October 2018.

The information was released by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service in response to a Freedom of Information request in 2019 – SCTS – Sheriff Watson resignation

The SCTS stated: “I can advise that Mr Peter Watson resigned his commission as a part-time sheriff on 10 October 2018. Mr Watson did not hear any cases between the lifting of the suspension on 12 July 2018 and his resignation. Mr Watson has not submitted any claims for expenses, nor attended any events, nor carried out any judicial functions, since the suspension was lifted.”

Watson’s resignation came less than three months after Lord Carloway had lifted Mr Watson’s record suspension from judicial office of over three years – imposted by Lord Brian Gill in February 2015

Mr Watson was suspended from the Judiciary of Scotland on February 16, 2015 – after the then Lord President, Lord Brian Gill, was informed by a journalist of the claims in the case against Levy and McRae, and specifically against Watson, over Heather Capital’s collapse in 2010.

The move came after allegations surfaced in a £28million writ naming part time Sheriff Peter Black Watson – and his former law firm Levy and Mcrae, and a number of individuals under investigation in connection with the collapsed Heather Capital hedge fund.

In response to queries from the media in February 2015 on the contents of the writ – the Judicial Office subsequently issued a statement confirming Lord Brian Gill  had suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson (61) on 16 February 2015.

The suspension came after Gill demanded sight of the writ.

Responding to the Lord President’s request, Watson then offered to step aside temporarily – while the litigation concluded – however a Judicial Office spokesperson said “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”

A statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland read as follows: Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

“On Friday 13 February the Judicial Office was made aware of the existence of a summons containing certain allegations against a number of individuals including part-time sheriff Peter Watson.

The Lord President’s Private Office immediately contacted Mr Watson and he offered not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings.

Mr Watson e-mailed a copy of the summons to the Lord President’s Private Office on Saturday 14 February.

On Monday 16 February the Lord President considered the matter.

Having been shown the summons, the Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.

Mr Watson was therefore duly suspended from office on Monday 16 February 2015.”

A fulll report on Mr Watson’s suspension from the judiciary in 2015 can be found here: CAPITAL JUDGE: As top judge suspends sheriff over £28m law firm writ alleging links to £400m Heather Capital collapse, what now for Lord Gill’s battle against a register of interests & transparency for Scotland’s judiciary

In 2018, after matters relating to the Heather Capital writ came to a conclusion, it fell to Scotland’s current top judge – Lord Carloway (Colin Sutherland) to consider the ongoing suspension of Watson – reported in further detail here: CAPITAL NUDGE: Scotland’s top judge Lord Carloway to consider status of de-benched Sheriff Peter Watson – suspended for a record THREE YEARS over £28million writ linked to collapsed £400m hedge fund Heather Capital

Later in July 2018. a statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland on the continuing suspension of part-time sheriff Peter Watson stated:

Following the extra judicial settlement of the Heather Capital action in which part-time sheriff Peter Watson was named as one of the defenders, the Lord President has lifted the suspension imposed upon him in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008. Sheriff Watson will resume part-time judicial duties with effect from 12 July 2018.

Sheriff Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

Watson’s former law firm –  Levy & McRae, was one of several companies being sued by Heather’s liquidator, Ernst & Young, after the fund’s collapse in 2010.

Watson was also a director of a company called Mathon Ltd – a key part of the Heather empire.

The collapsed hedge fund Heather Capital – run by lawyer Gregory King was the subject of a Police Scotland investigation and a FIVE YEAR probe by the Crown Office.

The Crown Office later admitted there would be no prosecutions in the cases of the four individuals  – lawyers Gregory King & Andrew Sobolewski, accountant Andrew Millar and property expert Scott Carmichael – who were charged by Police Scotland in connection with a Police investigation of events relating to the collapse of Heather Capital.

Peter Watson now has his own law business, PBW Law.

Watson, and his former law firm named in the Heather Capital writ – Levy and Mcrae –  also represent the Scottish Police Federation.

Responding to queries from reporters, a  spokesperson for the Judicial Office said: “The action, in which suspended part time Sheriff Peter Watson was among the defenders, has settled.  An interlocutor to that effect has been issued.  The Lord President will consider what, if any, steps now require to be taken‎.”

Watson subsequently resigned from the judicial bench.

Despite EY’s withdrawal of the £28million claim against Levy and Mcrae & Peter Watson, detailed claims in the Court of Session revealed the following:

[21]      In the Levy Mcrae case:

  • On 4 January 2007, HC transferred £19 million to its client account with LM (Lord Doherty paragraph [5]).

  • On 24 January 2007, HC transferred £9.412 million to its client account with LM (Lord Doherty paragraph [5]).

  • The money was intended to be loaned to a first level SPV Westernbrook Properties Ltd (WBP) for onward lending to second level SPVs (Lord Doherty paragraph [5]).

  • On 9 January 2007, LM transferred £19 million to a Panamanian company (Niblick) owned and controlled by Mr Levene:the money was not therefore transferred to WBP.The transfer was undocumented and without security (Lord Doherty paragraph [5], and Condescendence 6 and 17, pages 20 and 44 of LM reclaiming print).

  • By a memorandum dated 17 March 2007, HC’s auditors KPMG “identified a number of concerns relating to the documentation provided in respect of these loans”.Further work and information was required (Condescendence 5, page 13 of LM reclaiming print).

  • On 29 March 2007, LM transferred £9.142 million to Hassans, solicitors, Gibraltar, under the reference “Rosecliff Limited” (a company controlled by Mr King):the money was not therefore transferred to WBP.The transfer was undocumented and without security (Lord Doherty paragraph [5], and Condescendence 6 and 17, pages 20 and 44 of LM reclaiming print).

  • In April to June 2007, amounts equivalent to the loans thought to have been made to WBP (including accrued interest) were “repaid” to HC via Cannons, solicitors, Glasgow.The directors were unable to ascertain the source of these repayments (Lord Doherty paragraph [7]).

  • Approaches made by HC to Mr Volpe and Triay & Triay, a firm of solicitors in Gibraltar, were met with a total lack of co-operation (Lord Doherty paragraph [8]).

  • At a board meeting on 6 September 2007, “KPMG could not approve HC’s accounts … Santo Volpe had executed certain loans to SPV companies where non‑standard procedures had been followed which meant that inadequate security had been given for some loans … Gregory King stated that the loans to the SPVs had been repaid in full in May 2007” (Condescendence 5, page 13 of LM reclaiming print).

  • By email to a non‑executive director of HC (Mr Bourbon) dated 7 September 2007, Mr McGarry of KPMG referred to the previous day’s board meeting, and expressed concerns about the situation.He asked for further information, namely “all possible evidence regarding the movement of monies out of Heather Capital into these SPVs and onwards to whatever purpose the funds were applied – ie, sight of bank statements, payment/remittance instructions, certified extracts from solicitors clients’ money accounts etc”.(It should be noted that, contrary to HC’s averment in Condescendence 5 at page 13C‑D of LM reclaiming print, the email did not restrict the inquiries requested to “explaining what information was required from Santo Volpe”:the request was much broader.)

  • In October 2007 the non‑executive directors of HC met with the Isle of Man Financial Services Commission (FSC) to discuss “the issues” (Lord Doherty paragraph [8]).A director also disclosed the suspicious activity and Mr Volpe’s obstruction to the Isle of Man Financial Crime Unit (FCU), who said they would investigate (Condescendence 5 page 14 of LM reclaiming print).The auditors KPMG carried out an additional full scope audit.

  • By letter dated 18 October 2007, FSC wrote to the directors of HC setting out further information which they required.

  • By letter dated 26 November 2007 Mr King advised the HC board that “some sort of fraud had been deliberately introduced with invalid land registry details on a number of the loans”.He stated that he had applied pressure to Mr Volpe and Mr Cannon, whereupon there had been “full repayment of the loans with relevant interest” which meant that “investors were secure”.

  • On 17 December 2007, KPMG signed the accounts and added a completion note using language such as “The risk of fraud increased to high as a result of the documentation issues surrounding the SPVs, where some form of fraud appeared to have been attempted”.In their audit report opinion, they stated “We have been unable to verify where funds advanced to the SPVs were invested.In addition, we were supplied with false documentation in relation to the SPVs which appears to have been a deliberate attempt to mislead us.Given these loans were repaid in the period, we consider that the effect of this is not so material and pervasive that we are unable to form an opinion on the financial statements [opting instead for express qualifications that loan and security documentation could not be validated] … There is uncertainty as to where the monies lent to the [SPVs] were then subsequently invested … Investigations continue to determine what party (or parties) were involved in and were accountable for these events, and whether any action should be taken against them …” (Lord Doherty paragraph [9]).

  • By letter to HC dated 4 January 2008, KPMG gave serious warnings about their inability to validate loan and security documentation, and lack of evidence as to the purpose for which the money advanced to SPVs was applied.In their words:

“ … Our report is designed to … avoid weaknesses that could lead to material loss or misstatement.  However, it is your obligation to take the actions needed to remedy those weaknesses and should you fail to do so we shall not be held responsible if loss or misstatement occurs as a result … [Having explained the disappearance of the funds and the apparent repayments, on which legal advice had been received, KPMG warned] … these matters are extremely serious … an attempted fraud appears to have been perpetrated … We would recommend that the Board continue their investigation into this matter and formally document their decision as to whether or not to inform the criminal justice authorities …”

A full copy of a court opinion detailing these and other claims with regards to a further case against Burness Paull LLB  – which coincidently also collapsed earlier last year – can be viewed here: Court of Session allows proof against Levy & Mcrae and Burness Paull LLP in Heather Capital case as liquidators attempt to recover cash from collapsed £280m hedge fund.

In the motion of abandonment filed by EY & Heather Capital, heard in the Court of Session on 28 February before Lord Glennie, Lady Paton & Lady Clark of Calton, Lord Glennie’s opinion sums up matters in relation to issues in the Heather Capital case, which linked claims of financial wrongdoing directly to Scotland’s judiciary – who, ultimately heard and ruled on the case.

The Scottish Sun reported on the serving of the £28million civil writ which named lawyer Peter Black Watson – back in February 2015, here:

WRIT HITS THE FAN

FIRM FIRM SLAPPED WITH COURT SUMMONS – Top legal outfit in megabucks lawsuit

Practice is linked to bust hedge fund – Briefs with ties to big business and high-profile clients

By RUSSELL FINDLAY Scottish Sun 15 February 2015

A TOP law firm has been hit with a multi-million pound writ linked to a finance company at the centre of a fraud investigation.

Legal practice Levy & McRae — which acts for footballers, politicians, cops and newspapers — faces the claim over its role in connection with £400million investment scheme Heather Capital.

It’s claimed millions of pounds went missing following the collapse of the hedge fund. And The Scottish Sun told last week how four men — including tycoon Gregory King — have been reported to prosecutors probing the allegations.

King, 46, ran Heather subsidiary Mathon, where Sheriff Peter Watson — a former senior partner at Levy & McRae — was also briefly a director.

The Court of Session summons was served on the firm six months after he left the legal firm.

Watson is one of the country’s most high-profile lawyers and spent 33 years with Levy & McRae before quitting to set up his own business.

The visiting Strathclyde University professor sat on an expert panel created by former First Minister Alex Salmond to look into media regulation in Scotland.

Watson also acted for former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini after she was harassed by a campaigner who was later jailed.

‘Their clients are a who’s who of Scotland’ And he includes ex-Glasgow City Council chief Steven Purcell among his list of clients, as well as senior police and prison officers.

The legal expert, 61 — chairman of Yorkhill Sick Kids’ Hospital charity — has also acted for former Rangers owner Sir David Murray.

And a Gers supporters’ group closed down its website following legal threats from Watson, who was working for under-fire directors Sandy and James Easdale.

A source said: “Watson and Levy & McRae are very well known and their clients are a who’s who of Scotland.”

Investors from around the world sunk their cash into Gibraltar-based fund Heather Capital, which launched in 2004.

Some of the cash was loaned to Mathon to bankroll developments across Scotland. But many of the Mathon-funded plans did not happen — and some of the cash was not repaid.

Liquidator Paul Duffy of Ernst & Young has been battling to recover investors’ cash since 2010 and is suing Heather’s auditors KPMG for negligence over their role. Isle of Man court documents — acquired by The Scottish Sun — claim Heather was operating a “Ponzi” scheme to dupe investors.

They alleged that as early as December 2006, senior KPMG staff feared that Heather Capital “may have been perpetrating a fraud”.

And in August 2007, KPMG employee Raymond Gawne told a colleague that he was “very uncomfortable” acting for the fund which “may have acted in a criminal manner”.

The claim also alleges that millions of pounds of loans passed through the client account of Glasgow lawyer Frank Cannon who acted for Heather. KPMG senior executive David McGarry sent an email to Gregory King stating: “Frank Cannon has been uncooperative, either in providing some form of explanation for all of the security documentation prepared by his firm, or in agreeing to facilitate access to Cannon’s clients’ money account”. McGarry added he did not accept “that this is due” to Cannon.

Watson declined to comment on the writ and Levy & McRae and Cannon did not respond to our requests for comment.

The Police Scotland report naming Mr King and his associates Andrew Sobolewski, Andrew Millar and Scott Carmichael is now being considered by the Crown Office.

A spokesman for Ernst & Young confirmed: “Heather Capital, via Ernst & Young, has made a claim against Levy & McRae.” And a KPMG spokesman said: “The passages in the plaintiff’s summons provide a selective and misleading picture and are drawn out simply to seek to make what is a wholly unsubstantiated case.

“The allegations are completely unfounded and are being fully contested by KPMG.”

GREGORY KING MARBELLA-based former Glasgow Academy pupil, 46, was a lawyer and taxi firm boss before launching Heather Capital in 2004. Family business dynasty includes nightclub boss cousin Stefan King.

PETER WATSON GREENOCK-born solicitor advocate, 61, carved out a fearsome reputation as a media lawyer during 33 years at Levy & McRae. He also dishes out justice as a part-time sheriff across Scotland.

KING’S £400million hedge fund Heather Capital loaned millions of pounds to Glasgow-based Mathon, of which Watson was briefly a director.

TOP lawyer and part-time sheriff Watson has acted for a string of high profile celebrity, political, sport and media clients in a glittering legal career:

Watson’s clients included Alex Salmond, Stephen Purcell, Elish Angiolini, Yorkhill Hospital Board, Rangers Chiefs.

and a further development reported by the Scottish Sun on the suspension of Sheriff Peter Watson:

Bench ban for sheriff linked to fraud probe

Lawman, 61, suspended

By RUSSELL FINDLAY 25th February 2015, Scottish Sun

A SHERIFF was suspended after he was linked to a collapsed finance firm at the centre of a massive fraud probe.

Peter Watson, 61, was barred from the bench by judges’ boss Lord President Lord Gill following an inquiry by The Scottish Sun.

Watson, whose past clients include ex-First Minister Alex Salmond, was briefly a director of Mathon, a company run by Glasgow bookie’s son Gregory King, 46.

It received millions in loans from King’s hedge fund Heather Capital which crashed owing a seven-figure sum.

Watson’s suspension came 24 hours after we revealed Heather liquidators Ernst & Young filed a multi-million court demand against his former law firm Levy & McRae.

Lord Gill, 73, can suspend sheriffs and judges if it’s “necessary for the purpose of maintaining public confidence”.

Watson forged a fearsome reputation as a media lawyer over 33 years with Levy & McRae before he left the firm six months ago.

King is one of four men named in a police report which is being considered by the Crown Office.

The Judicial Office for Scotland said last night: “Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on February 16.”

Watson subsequently resigned from the judiciary later in October 2018 – which was confirmed in an FOI response from the Judicial Office in 2019.Earlier reports on the Heather Capital writ, and subsequent collapse of prosecutions in the collapsed £400M hedge fund can be viewed here: The collapsed £400M Hedge Fund with direct links to Scotland’s judiciary

 

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DISHONESTY, LORD: Files reveal Lord Carloway misled Holyrood Committee on involvement of judges’ relative in Court of Session claim – witness statement exposes direct role of Ewen Campbell in £6M land case heard by his father – judge & privy councillor Lord Malcolm

Lord Carloway misled MSPs on judicial probe. DOCUMENTS released to an ongoing probe of claims made by Scotland’s top judge at Holyrood – now reveal Lord Carloway deliberately misled MSPs in evidence relating to the involvement of a relative of a senior Court of Session judge in a £6million court case.

The files – in the form of a witness statement from Advocate Ewen Campbell – who is Lord Malcolm’s son –  directly contradict statements by Lord Carloway – to the Public Petitions Committee and MSP Alex Neil in a hearing on 29 June 2017.

During the evidence session – Lord Carloway faced questions from Mr Neil on the Court of Session case – where judge & Privy Councillor Lord Malcolm (real name Colin Campbell QC) – heard a land contamination case – up to EIGHT TIMES while his own son represented the defenders – Advance Construction Scotland Ltd in the same court room.

In response to questions from the MSP, Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) furiously claimed that Lord Malcolm’s son DID NOT have any “active involvement with the case whatsoever.”

However – a witness statement dated May 2013 – signed by Ewen Campbell – covering the time Campbell worked for Glasgow law firm Levy & Mcrae – contains a written admission Mr Campbell confirming he did in-fact represented the construction company, alongside lawyer Peter Black Watson – who was at the time a Sheriff and partner at the same law firm.

During the hearing, Alex Neil – MSP for Airdrie & Shotts – asked Lord Carloway: “If, in any case—without referring to a specific case—a close relative of a judge is participating in the case, rightly or wrongly, the perception is that there may be a degree of prejudice.”

Mr Neil said there were concerns the reputation of the judiciary should be protected and added: “I would argue that, certainly in at least one case recently, which we have referred to briefly, the perception is that there may have been unfairness and prejudice in the way in which the matter was conducted, particularly as the judge concerned was involved in the case not once but on a number of occasions.”

In response – a clearly flustered Lord Carloway claimed no such events had taken place.

Carloway took a strong line against the questions, and replied to the MSP stating: “I disagree entirely with your analysis of that particular case and I repeat what I said earlier. The case that you refer to did not involve the judge’s son having any active involvement with the case whatsoever.”

However – on page one of the released witness statement of Ewen Campbell – Mr Campbell confirms he did work for the defenders – Advance Construction.

Ewen Campbell states: “In September 2011 I was asked by Professor Peter Watson (witness) to assist in a new case in which we were to act for Advance Construction (Scotland) Limited (“Advance”).”

Ewen Campbell goes on to admit he worked on the case for nearly a year: “I assisted with this case until Friday 15th June 2012. At this point I ceased assisting Professor Watson as I was informed by Senior Counsel that I was a potential witness in the matter.”

The exchange between Alex Neil and Lord Carloway can be viewed here:

Alex Neil & Lord Carloway on conflict of interest case Scottish Parliament June 29 2017

The released witness statement of Ewen Campbell – the contents of which call into question the honesty of Lord Carloway’s evidence to MSPs, can be found here: Ewen Campbell – Witness Statement – Nolan v Advance Construction

Within the statement, Lord Malcolm’s son – who Carloway told MSPs had no involvement in the case – goes on at length to document numerous on-site visits he undertook at the behest of Carloway’s then judicial colleague – ex Sheriff Peter Watson, and on behalf of the client – Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

In just one example, Ewen Campbell states: “At approximately 4 p.m. I left Levy and McRae’s offices and attended at Branchal Road. I was driven by Ian Butler, a colleague at Levy & McRae. On arrival at the site I observed that a number of vehicles were at the gate of the site. Mr Butler and I therefore parked our vehicle just round the comer from the entrance of the site.”

Ewen Campbell is later forced to account for allegations a Grangemouth based firm – IKM Consulting Ltd – employed by Levy and Mcrae as their ‘experts’ in the case – dumped contaminated materials at a site owned by the pursuer – Mr Nolan.

Despite Lord Carloway’s abrupt statement that Lord Malcolm’s son did not have “any active involvement with the case whatsoever” – Ewen Campbell goes on to say in his witness statement he personally talked to a legal representative of the pursuer – and talked the solicitor down from his client’s initial allegation IKM Consulting Ltd dumped contaminated material during their on-site activities for Levy and Mcrae & Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

Ewen Campbell states: “I contacted [solicitor] regarding this who detailed that his clients had originally stated to him that IKM had dumped contaminated materials on the site but after further questioning reduced the allegation to having dumped soil like materials on site.”

Bizarrely, Lord Malcolm’s son adds within his statement he did not instruct IKM Consulting Ltd to dump any materials during their on-site activities under his supervision.

Campbell also admits to accepting additional instructions to work on the case in which Carloway claimed he played no active role in.

Ewen Campbell further stated: “Before I ceased assisting Professor Peter Watson in relation to this case, I was instructed on a number of occasions to prepare and send letters and emails to those acting on behalf of Mr Nolan.”

It should be noted that despite Ewen Campbell’s ‘account’ of events around the IKM Consulting incident – Advance Construction were subsequently forced to admit in the Court of Session before Lord Woolman that they had in-fact illegally dumped contaminated materials on Mr Nolan’s land.

Melanie Collins, partner of Mr Donal Nolan – who was the pursuer in Nolan v Advance – said: “I found Lord Carloway’s evidence to be entirely dishonest during his responses to out MSP Alex Neil. I was astounded by how he misled Mr Neil and the entire committee on what happened in our case and how we were treated very badly by Lord Malcolm and others.”

Last night, a legal expert who viewed the material and video footage from the Committee hearing, suggested it was difficult to see how Lord Carloway could make such a false statement to the Scottish Parliament and not expect to be asked to explain himself.

Commenting on the new evidence, the legal expert said: “I am concerned Scotland’s top judge feels secure enough in the environment of a Scottish Parliament hearing – and public expectation of transparency – to make such false and egregiously misleading claims.”

He continued: “The written evidence and records of multiple court hearings suggest Lord Carloway is entirely wrong, and is determinedly at odds with the facts of this case, in his account of events to the Public Petitions Committee and Mr Alex Neil.”

Now, Carloway’s account of events to Mr Neil and the Petitions Committee is to be submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee alongside a report on conflicts of interest of key stakeholders in Scotland’s justice system.

A full investigation into Ewen Campbells’s father – Lord Malcolm – and his  role in the Nolan v Advance case – including serious failures to declare conflicts of interest, is reported in further detail here: CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Papers lodged at Holyrood judicial interests register probe reveal Court of Session judge heard case eight times – where his son acted as solicitor for the defenders.

The further revelations of Lord Carloway’s links to the land contamination case come after an earlier investigation revealed Lord Carloway failed to declare his own son – Alexander Colin Maclean Sutherland – also worked for the merged law firm of Addleshaw Goddard-HBJ Gateley – which was trying to evict a couple at the centre of the case raised by Mr Alex Neil during the Committee hearing in 2017.

Mr Neil was invited to attend Committee hearing to quiz Lord Carloway on what legal experts say is one of the most serious cases of judicial conflict of interest in Scotland’s courts – Nolan v Advance Construction Scotland Ltd [2014] CSOH 4 CA132/11.

In the outburst from the top judge, Lord Carloway said to Mr Neil: “The suggestion is that we should start registering what our relatives are doing, where they are working and matters of that sort, which I suspect would go way beyond even what is expected of politicians.”

Alex Neil replied to Lord Carloway, stating: “No—we have to register what close relatives do.”

Lord Carloway – clearly rattled by questions from Alex Neil and fellow MSPs about another top judge who concealed he heard a case involving his own son – hit out at Mr Neil and members of the Public Petitions Committee in video footage which can be viewed here: Lord Carloway –  Judges should not declare relatives interests   Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

The terse exchange – one of many in the evidence session – led to material obtained during a probe by journalists which revealed Lord Carloway’s son – Colin Alexander Maclean Sutherland – worked at the time for the merged law firm Addleshaw Goddard & HBJ Gateley – who became key players in the aftermath of Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

However – Lord Carloway did not declare this conflict of interest during the Holyrood hearing.

Instead; the top judge went on to attack other Committee members and Mr Neil – over their backing for a cross party supported petition to require judges to declare and register all their interests.

Minutes before the exchange, Carloway had even denied even receiving any communications from the couple at the centre of the case – however records show Carloway’s legal secretary – Roddy Flinn – now himself a Sheriff – sent acknowledgements to the couple on 24 May 2016.

Papers show Addleshaw Goddard & HBJ Gateley were acting on behalf of Kenneth Pattullo of insolvency practitioners Begbies Traynor – who were appointed by Advance Construction’s lawyers – Levy and Mcrae – to seize the home, land, a farm, and all assets of Ms Melanie Collins & retired National Hunt jockey Donal Nolan.

The couple took on Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd – over a land contamination incident on their land in Wishaw.

The construction company – owned by businessman Seamus Shields was ultimately forced to admit illegal dumping of material in the Court of Session case before judge Lord Woolman.

Roderick William Dunlop QC of Axiom AdvocatesEwen Campbell of Axiom Advocates and Peter Watson – now formerly of Glasgow based Levy & Mcrae – represented Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

It should be noted Peter Watson – who ran the case for Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd was later suspended for a record three years plus over his links to a £28M writ involving the £400M Heather Capital Hedge Fund collapse – and then resigned in 2019.

An earlier investigation of this case revealed when Lord Woolman (who heard the proof after the case was passed to him by Lord Malcolm) – stated in court papers that Mr Nolan had a case, John Campbell QC removed – without instruction – most of his client’s own case including over £4million and a claim for legal costs – after he had discussions with the current vice dean of the Faculty of Advocates – Roddy Dunlop QC.

A full report on how the couple’s legal representative in court – John Campbell QC reduced his own client’s financial claim almost to zero and without any instruction or consultation – can be found here: CASHBACK QC: Legal regulator’s files reveal senior QC reduced claim without instructions, withheld key evidence & witnesses including Cabinet Secretary from Court of Session case

A full report on Watson’s suspension from the judicial bench can be found here: CAPITAL JUDGE: As top judge suspends sheriff over £28m law firm writ alleging links to £400m Heather Capital collapse, what now for Lord Gill’s battle against a register of interests & transparency for Scotland’s judiciary

Watson’s suspension from the judicial bench lasted for over three years – a record term of suspension of a member of Scotland’s judiciary and ended with Watson’s resignation in 2019, reported in further detail here: SHERIFF WALKS: Scottish Courts confirm lawyer & part-time Sheriff Peter Watson – who was named in £28M Heather Capital writ linked to collapsed £400M hedge fund – resigned from the judiciary in 2018

The full exchange between Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) and Alex Neil MSP at the Public Petitions Committee can be viewed, with transcript, below:

Alex Neil questions to Lord Carloway Register of Judges interests Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): I apologise for being slightly late. I had to go to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. I apologise in advance if I cover ground that has already been covered.

Lord Carloway, as an issue of principle, do you think that it should be left only to a judge to decide whether they are going to recuse themselves, or should you or the keeper of the rolls be able to insist on recusal if you believe that there is a potential conflict of interest?

Lord Carloway: The short answer is that I do not believe that there is any problem with the current system, which is that the judge, who knows what his connection is to the case or the parties to it, should make the initial decision. That decision is made in open court, when the parties are present, and it is subject to review on appeal. In other words, if somebody is dissatisfied with that decision and if the litigant eventually loses the case, the decision will come before three judges who will review whether it was correct. If it was incorrect, the decision on the case would fall.

Alex Neil: The person bringing the case to court may not be aware of any conflict of interest that the judge may have and may never find out that there was one, but the judge may well have been influenced by a particular interest. Surely that is not right. If there is any potential conflict of interest, surely there should be a declaration or commitment by the judge, making an explicit statement that there is no conflict of interest. People may not have the resources to appeal, for example. Is the system not balanced against people who come to court for justice?

Lord Carloway: No, it is not. I go back to something that I mentioned earlier, which is very important. Scotland does not have a corrupt judiciary. The matter has been examined by independent persons, notably the GRECO anti-corruption body that operates under the auspices of the Council of Europe, which examined the UK judiciary, including the Scottish judiciary. It was clear that, fortunately, we, as distinct from many other countries, do not suffer from corruption in the judiciary. For that reason, it did not consider that a register of interests was necessary. If one introduces such a measure, one has to be satisfied that it is necessary and also that it is proportionate. If one analyses its proportionality, one has to look at what exactly we are guarding against. If the situation were to be that there was corruption in the Scottish judiciary—which we would discover at some point or another—of course we would have to consider measures to prevent that, one of which might be a register of certain interests. Until such time as it is demonstrated that there is corruption in the Scottish judiciary, I am entirely satisfied that there is no requirement for a register of interests and that it would be positively detrimental to the administration of justice, particularly in relation to the recruitment of judges and especially at the higher level of the judiciary.

Alex Neil: I want to draw a parallel with the register of interests that members of the Scottish Parliament have to sign and regularly update. That came about not because of any allegations or belief that the system was corrupt or that members of the Scottish Parliament are corrupt. In the 18 years that we have been here, I have not heard one allegation of corruption. The register is there not because of allegations of corruption but to ensure that there is no prejudice. If I participate in a debate and I have an interest that I have not declared, I will be open to an allegation not of corruption but of prejudice. Because there is a register of interests and because I have to declare interests in a debate or in a committee meeting such as this one, there is a transparency to ensure that I do not act in a prejudicial fashion.

To go back to the case that Mr MacDonald cited as I came in—the case of Advance Construction and Donal Nolan, in which Lord Malcolm’s son was involved as a lawyer for one of the parties—the issue there was not an allegation of corruption but one of possible prejudice or perception of prejudice. That is a very good example of why either a register of interests or a more robust system of recusal—or perhaps both—might serve the judiciary very well.

Lord Carloway: I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s actions were entirely honourable and that he acted in accordance with the code of judicial ethics. I am not sure what is—

Alex Neil: Have you investigated it?

Lord Carloway: I am aware of the background to it.

Alex Neil: No, but have you investigated it?

Lord Carloway: I have read the papers that it involves.

Alex Neil: With all due respect, Melanie Collins and Donal Nolan have written to you on numerous occasions, and at no time have you replied to them, let alone met them, so you have not heard the other side of the case.

Lord Carloway: I am sorry, but I am not aware of letters to me by those particular persons.

Alex Neil: Your office—

The Convener: Alex, let us be careful that we do not get into anything specific on that.

Alex Neil: Yes—absolutely. My point is about how Lord Carloway can reach that conclusion if he has not heard the other side.

Lord Carloway: I have read documents emanating from the persons that you have mentioned. As far as I am aware, they were not addressed to me, but I could be wrong about that. The position is that I am aware of the circumstances of the case. I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s conduct was entirely correct in the circumstances. That is part of the problem that you have perhaps highlighted. That case has nothing to do with a register of pecuniary interests. The suggestion is that we should start registering what our relatives are doing, where they are working and matters of that sort, which I suspect would go way beyond even what is expected of politicians.

Alex Neil: No—we have to register what close relatives do.

Lord Carloway: Can I deal with the difference between MSPs and the judiciary, which I think I dealt with earlier this morning? It is quite a different function. A politician is by nature someone who is not independent in the sense that the public expect the judiciary to be. That is not a criticism; it is a reality. As a generality, judges do not deal with the type of issues that politicians deal with. Politicians have executive power. They are dealing with major economic interests of one sort or another. As a generality, judges are not dealing with that type of thing. They are dealing with issues that are usually between private individuals but can be between private individuals and Government or others. Judges are not dealing with the type of issues that politicians are dealing with such as planning inquiries and so on at a local level or major economic development in society as a whole.

The need for independence in the judiciary is different from the kind of independence that a politician requires, because with a politician it is primarily, as Alex Neil has pointed out, about issues of a pecuniary nature. Those are not the issues that arise in most of the recusal cases with which we are concerned. What we are concerned with as judges is that we appear to be independent of all connection with the case. It is not a question of having a pecuniary interest.

If one looks at the register of recusals in the past year, I do not think that any of them were to do with pecuniary interest at all. They were to do with social connections with people—whether someone is a friend; whether a party to the litigation is a friend of a friend; and matters of that sort. Those are the types of situations that are raised by people in the practical reality of litigation and those are the issues that are being dealt with. Unless you are suggesting a register of one’s friends—and presumably, therefore, one’s enemies—the real issue with recusal in the judicial system would not be addressed.

The Convener: Last question, please, Mr Neil.

Alex Neil: If I can just finally draw the parallel between our register and what has been talked about in terms of either recusal or financial interest, MSPs—as individuals and collectively—do not have executive power per se unless they are ministers, but what is very important is the perception of fairness and the perception that justice is being carried out.

If, in any case—without referring to a specific case—a close relative of a judge is participating in the case, rightly or wrongly, the perception is that there may be a degree of prejudice. It might be very unfair, but the point is to try to ensure that the excellent reputation of the judiciary down the years in Scotland is retained. That reputation is not just for not being corrupt, which we all accept—we are not accusing anybody of corruption. The perception of fairness and the perception of not being prejudiced are also extremely important. I would argue that, certainly in at least one case recently, which we have referred to briefly, the perception is that there may have been unfairness and prejudice in the way in which the matter was conducted, particularly as the judge concerned was involved in the case not once but on a number of occasions.

Lord Carloway: I disagree entirely with your analysis of that particular case and I repeat what I said earlier. The case that you refer to did not involve the judge’s son having any active involvement with the case whatsoever. We have very clear rules in our statement of principles of judicial ethics on how to deal with such matters and it is made very clear in that statement that if a relative is the advocate in the case before one, the modern approach is that the judge should not hear the case, or one could put it another way round—the relative should not be presenting the case. Whichever way it happens to be put, the situation that we had 20 or 30 years ago, when it was commonplace for the relatives of judges of one sort or another to be advocating the case, no longer exists.

That practice no longer exists not because it was thought that there was any actual problem with the decision making but, as you say, because of a perception of unfairness. There is a clear judicial rule about that and I am not aware of any case in which it has been breached. I myself have been in a situation in which my son was involved in a firm that was litigating before me. In such a case, the judge would be expected to declare it and the parties would then decide whether to take the point. However, if they took the point and the relative just happened to be a member of the same firm operating in a different department, I would not encourage the judge to recuse himself.

The Convener: There are no final questions, so I thank you very much for your evidence. It has been helpful to clarify many of the issues that you presented to us in written evidence and to have an opportunity to explore some of the issues around prejudice, for instance.

An earlier investigation revealed Lord Carloway failed to declare his son was linked to the same case: JUDGE OF CONFLICT: Top judge who attacked MSPs over judicial interests probe – failed to declare relative’s role at law firm targeting MSP’s constituents’ home & farm in £6M court case linked to Lord Malcolm conflict of interest scandal

A report being compiled for an investigation of judges’ conflicts of interest by Holyrood’s Justice Committee –  has revealed Scotland’s top judge – Lord Carloway –  concealed a critical conflict of interest while giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament on a proposal to create a register of judges’ interests.

Lord Carloway’s failure to declare his own link to a case he initially claimed to know little of – while answering questions from MSP Alex Neil – was made all the more serious after the top judge himself openly attacked Mr Neil and other members of a Holyrood committee –  for daring to suggest judges should declare their relatives interests in a planned register of judges’ interests.

The report on Lord Carloway’s testimony to Holryood’s Public Petitions Committee will reveal that Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) did NOT declare to MSPs that his own son – Alexander Colin Maclean Sutherland – also worked for the merged law firm of Addleshaw Goddard-HBJ Gateley – which was trying to evict a couple at the centre of the case raised by Mr Alex Neil during the Committee hearing in 2017.

The exchange between Lord Carloway and Alex Neil – one of many in the evidence session – led to material obtained during a probe by journalists which revealed Lord Carloway’s son – Colin Alexander Maclean Sutherland – worked at the time for the merged law firm Addleshaw Goddard & HBJ Gateley – who became key players in the aftermath of Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

However – Lord Carloway did not declare this conflict of interest during the Holyrood hearing.

Instead; the top judge went on to attack other Committee members and Mr Neil – over their backing for a cross party supported petition to require judges to declare and register all their interests.

Minutes before the exchange, Carloway had even denied even receiving any communications from the couple at the centre of the case – however records show Carloway’s legal secretary – Roddy Flinn – now himself a Sheriff – sent acknowledgements to the couple on 24 May 2016.

Papers show Addleshaw Goddard & HBJ Gateley were acting on behalf of Kenneth Pattullo of insolvancy practitioners Begbies Traynor – who were appointed by Advance Construction’s lawyers – Levy and Mcrae – to seize the home, land, a farm, and all assets of Ms Melanie Collins & retired National Hunt jockey Donal Nolan.

A recent perusal of Mr Sutherland’s online legal biography at Ampersand Advocates and the Faculty of Advocates – does not mention his time at the merged firm of Addleshaw Goddard-HBJ Gateley in his online legal career:

Alexander Colin MacLean Sutherland BIO:

Year of Call: 2018; Since calling to the Bar in June 2018, Alex has developed a general practice centred on commercial law and public law, including judicial review and planning. He has appeared in the Court of Session, sheriff court and Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal. He has also provided Opinions on a wide range of matters, including contractual disputes, insolvency and property.

Before calling to the Bar, Alex trained with a commercial firm in Edinburgh. He completed his LLB at Glasgow University in 2014 and the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at Edinburgh University in 2015. Before then, he studied German and English Language at Edinburgh University, during which time he spent a year studying in Vienna.

He speaks fluent French and German and is well placed to undertake work involving consideration of documents in those languages.

Selected recent cases: Community Windpower Ltd v Scottish Ministers (ongoing): Inner House, Court of Session; For the appellants. Appeal against a Reporter’s decision. With Ailsa Wilson QC.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh v (1) Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal and (2) Council of the Law Society of Scotland [2019] CSOH 104; 2020 SLT 1: Outer House, Court of Session; For the petitioner. Judicial review of the first respondent’s decision on expenses.

Saadi v Whiterock Investments Ltd: Outer House, Court of Session; For the defenders. Pursuer seeking reduction of the decree awarding his sequestration.

Ford v The Firm of W&AS Bruce [2020] SC KIR 9: Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court; For the pursuer. Action of damages against a firm of solicitors for failing to advise the pursuer to include a survivorship destination when disponing half of his property to his partner. Debate on prescription.

NCS Office Services (Scotland) Ltd v Emtelle UK Ltd: Glasgow Sheriff Court (Commercial Action); For the defenders. Proof before answer on whether one of the defenders’ employees had authority to enter into a contract with the pursuers on behalf of the defenders.

Law Society of Scotland v WM: Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal; For the respondent. Preliminary hearing on whether the complaint should be dismissed due to excessive delay.

However, when Ampersand Advocates welcomed Alexander Sutherland to their stable in 2018 – Mr Sutherlands spell at Addleshaw Goddard did gain a mention, without reference to his father being Scotland’s top judge – here: Ampersand welcomes Alexander Sutherland

HOLYROOD SUPPORT FOR  REGISTER OF JUDGES’ INTERESTS:

Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – originally lodged at the Scottish Parliament in 2012 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on all judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

 

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JUDGE OF CONFLICT: Top judge who attacked MSPs over judicial interests probe – failed to declare relative’s role at law firm targeting MSP’s constituents’ home & farm in £6M court case linked to Lord Malcolm conflict of interest scandal

Lord Carloway failed to declare link to judicial conflict case. A REPORT being compiled for an investigation of judges’ conflicts of interest by Holyrood’s Justice Committee – will reveal Scotland’s top judge – Lord Carloway –  concealed a critical conflict of interest while giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament on a proposal to create a register of judges’ interests.

Lord Carloway’s failure to declare his own link to a case he initially claimed to know little of – while answering questions from MSP Alex Neil – was made all the more serious after the top judge himself openly attacked Mr Neil and other members of a Holyrood committee –  for daring to suggest judges should declare their relatives interests in a planned register of judges’ interests.

The report on Lord Carloway’s testimony to Holryood’s Public Petitions Committee will reveal that Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) did NOT declare to MSPs that his own son – Alexander Colin Maclean Sutherland – also worked for the merged law firm of Addleshaw Goddard-HBJ Gateley – which was trying to evict a couple at the centre of the case raised by Mr Alex Neil during the Committee hearing in 2017.

Mr Neil was invited to attend Committee hearing to quiz Lord Carloway on what legal experts say is one of the most serious cases of judicial conflict of interest in Scotland’s courts – Nolan v Advance Construction Scotland Ltd [2014] CSOH 4 CA132/11.

In the outburst from the top judge, Lord Carloway said to Mr Neil: “The suggestion is that we should start registering what our relatives are doing, where they are working and matters of that sort, which I suspect would go way beyond even what is expected of politicians.”

Alex Neil replied to Lord Carloway, stating: “No—we have to register what close relatives do.”

Lord Carloway – clearly rattled by questions from Alex Neil and fellow MSPs about another top judge who concealed he heard a case involving his own son – hit out at Mr Neil and members of the Public Petitions Committee in video footage which can be viewed here:

Lord Carloway –  Judges should not declare relatives interests   Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

The terse exchange – one of many in the evidence session – led to material obtained during a probe by journalists which revealed Lord Carloway’s son – Colin Alexander Maclean Sutherland – worked at the time for the merged law firm Addleshaw Goddard & HBJ Gateley – who became key players in the aftermath of Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

However – Lord Carloway did not declare this conflict of interest during the Holyrood hearing.

Instead; the top judge went on to attack other Committee members and Mr Neil – over their backing for a cross party supported petition to require judges to declare and register all their interests.

Minutes before the exchange, Carloway had even denied even receiving any communications from the couple at the centre of the case – however records show Carloway’s legal secretary – Roddy Flinn – now himself a Sheriff – sent acknowledgements to the couple on 24 May 2016.

Papers show Addleshaw Goddard & HBJ Gateley were acting on behalf of Kenneth Pattullo of insolvancy practitioners Begbies Traynor – who were appointed by Advance Construction’s lawyers – Levy and Mcrae – to seize the home, land, a farm, and all assets of Ms Melanie Collins & retired National Hunt jockey Donal Nolan.

The couple took on Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd – over a land contamination incident on their land in Wishaw.

The construction company – owned by businessman Seamus Shields was ultimately forced to admit illegal dumping of material in the Court of Session case before judge Lord Woolman.

However – the couple’s £6million damages claim – led by John Campbell QC – ended badly after a series of undeclared conflicts of interest by some of Scotland’s most senior judicial figures, instances where judges were switched from hearing to hearing, a series of refusals of legal costs claims, and denied requests to appeal in Edinburgh, and at the UK Supreme Court in London.

In a sequence of discussions and a meeting between Campbell and defenders counsel Roddy Dunlop QC which took place after Lord Woolman stated in court that Mr Nolan had a valid claim – John Campbell QC embarked on a series of unauthorised actions – and destroyed his own client’s case – by removing most of the financial claim – without consultation or obtaining permission to do so.

A recent probe established John Campbell – who agreed to act on a no-win-no-fee basis in the case – then went on to scam his client Mr Nolan for hundreds of thousands of pounds in unexpected legal fees, while also demanding thousands of pounds at a time – in cash – which the senior QC and now Edinburgh Quaich Project Charity Boss insisted on collecting in person

A full investigation of Campbell’s fee scam and the Faculty of Advocates role in concealing undeclared cash payments to Campbell is reported in further detail here: CASH ADVOCATE: £9K consultations & £75K meetings – Edinburgh Quaich Project Charity QC Boss scammed clients on no-win-no-fee deal – Faculty of Advocates files reveal extent of Advocates cash-for-fees HMRC tax dodge scam

Mr Nolan and his partner remain constituents of MSP Alex Neil – who has followed and supports their efforts to have the case re-opened, as well as an investigation into events.

Since the sequestration of Mr Nolan and his partner took place, after the conclusion of their court case, the couple have been the victim – of what some view as revenge for daring to take on a company with public contracts who illegally dumped hazardous waste on their land, where this same company was and is represented by law firms directly linked to senior figures in Scotland’s judiciary.

Mr Nolan and his partner have been evicted from their own home, lost their farm and land.

And – a deliberate, targeted fire attack on Mr Nolan’s stables at a farm in 2019 which resulted in the death of several horses –  is still under investigation by Police Scotland.

Sources believe the deliberate arson attack on the couple’s Morningside Farm which featured in news reports of the tragic discovery of burned bodies of dead horses – is linked to the couple’s sequestration and setbacks in court.

And, recently, evidence has come to light of burned out vehicles possibly connected to the incident which were photographed located at a premises linked to potential suspects.

Now, there are calls for an independent, public inquiry into events which occurred during the case, the role of Advance Construction, and events in the Court of Session including involvement of certain law firms and members of the judiciary who – according to court files – deliberately concealed conflicts of interest across multiple court hearings in the case.

The case – Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd has attracted significant publicity in the press and is part ongoing probe into judicial conflicts of interest – resulting in the naming of several judges who failed to declare documented conflicts of interest in the case

Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee, and recently, the Justice Committee have received and considered evidence in relation to the actions of Lord Malcolm (Colin Campbell QC) who himself failed to declare he heard the case up to eight times while his own son – Ewen Campbell – was in the same court, representing the defenders – Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

The investigation into the Lord Malcolm case of serious failures to declare conflicts of interest, is reported in further detail here: CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Papers lodged at Holyrood judicial interests register probe reveal Court of Session judge heard case eight times – where his son acted as solicitor for the defenders.

Minutes before Lord Carloway hit out at Alex Neil over suggestions judges declare links to their relatives interests, the top judge snapped at the MSP stating: “I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s actions were entirely honourable and that he acted in accordance with the code of judicial ethics.”

However, the court record does show Lord Malcolm heard the case on multiple occasions while his son was in court – and new evidence has emerged from witness statements indicating Lord Malcolm’s son had also visited the site of the land contamination incident – which contradicts claims from the top judge & judicial office that Ewen Campbell had nothing to do with the case.

The original papers from Hamilton Sheriff Court in 2011 indicate that when a Sheriff Millar transferred the case to the Court of Session to be heard by Lord Malcolm – Ewen Campbell – Lord Malcolm’s son – was also present at that same hearing on 30 September 2011, along with Gavin Walker – who is a QC at Axiom Advocates.

An ongoing investigation into the case has now revealed Levy and Mcrae, representing Advance Construction in their pursuit of Mr Nolan & his partner – then sought a hearing on 14 April 2015 – to swap the original appointment of the Accountant in Bankruptcy in the sequestration of the elderly couple – to Begbies Traynor and Mr Pattullo.

That hearing took place at Hamilton Sheriff Court before the SAME Sheriff Millar – who heard the couple’s initial claim against Advance Construction in 2011 and then transferred it to be heard by Lord Malcolm in the Court of Session.

However, records show that by the time of this hearing in 2015 – accountants KPMG had already been appointed by the Accountant in Bankruptcy to handle the sequestration of Mr Nolan and his partner Ms Collins – and it can not be easily explained away by the Accountant in Bankruptcy as to why KPMG were swapped out of the sequestration for Levy and Mcrae’s choice of Begbies Traynor and Kenneth Pattullo.

Events around Levy & Mcrae’s motivated appointment of Begbies Traynor and Mr Pattullo – are now the subject of calls for an investigation by the couple’s MSP and legal experts – after it emerged assets owned by the couple which were held by the Clydesdale Bank, were transferred without notification to an offshore vulture fund known as Promantoria Ltd.

And – information has now come to light that land and assets formerly owned by the couple which were seized by Mr Pattullo & Begbies Traynor on behalf of Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd – are now in the ownership of several persons of interest in relation to ongoing investigations of events which have occurred around Mr Nolan and his partner as a result of the collapse of their valid Court of Session claim.

The Judicial Office for Scotland were asked for comment on the following media enquiry:

“In relation to claims made by Lord Carloway to MSP Alex Neil at yesterday’s Public Petitions Committee in relation to declaring the interests of close relatives, and Lord Carloway’s mention of a son in the legal profession, can the Judicial Office confirm if Lord Carloway’s son currently works at Addleshaw Goddard LLP which has merged with HBJ Gateley.”

“On being provided with information HBJ Gateley is a pursuer in relation to obtaining decree with a view to evicting a Ms Melanie Collins & a Mr Donal Nolan from properties in Wishaw, does the Judicial Office or Lord President wish to comment on Lord Carloway’s testimony yesterday that entering the details of close relatives work in a register is going way beyond what is being proposed in terms of a register of interests for members of Scotland’s Judiciary.”

“And, in view of the claims made in relation to above, does the Judicial Office or Lord President see this as a matter which should be made clearer to the Petitions Committee after yesterday’s mention of the case during open session and Lord Carloway’s comments?”

“Finally, does the Judicial Office or Lord President have any further comment on Lord Carloway’s evidence to the Petitions Committee, and any further comment on the Petition itself?

Baktosch Gillan, who was the Acting Head of Judicial Communications at the time, gave the following reply: “In relation to your first question, the Judicial Office does not hold that information.”

Mr Gillan added: “We have nothing further to add to the Lord President’s evidence to the committee.”

To confirm Mr Sutherland’s position at Addleshaw Goddard during the time Lord Carloway gave his evidence to Holyrood in 2017, a search of the Law Society of Scotland’s online database of solicitors was made.

Days before the query to the Judicial Office in relation to Lord Carloway’s son – the name of Alexander Sutherland appeared in the Law Society of Scotland’s online search results.

However, some time after the Judicial Office issued the statement denying they held any information on the Lord President’s son’s involvement with HBJ Gateley & Addleshaw Goddard, and a potential conflict of interest – a new search of the Law Society of Scotland’s database revealed they had removed the name of Alexander Sutherland and references to his service at Addleshaw Goddard from their online database search results – which are now published as part of this report here:

The full exchange between Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) and Alex Neil MSP at the Public Petitions Committee can be viewed, with transcript, below:

Alex Neil questions to Lord Carloway Register of Judges interests Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): I apologise for being slightly late. I had to go to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. I apologise in advance if I cover ground that has already been covered.

Lord Carloway, as an issue of principle, do you think that it should be left only to a judge to decide whether they are going to recuse themselves, or should you or the keeper of the rolls be able to insist on recusal if you believe that there is a potential conflict of interest?

Lord Carloway: The short answer is that I do not believe that there is any problem with the current system, which is that the judge, who knows what his connection is to the case or the parties to it, should make the initial decision. That decision is made in open court, when the parties are present, and it is subject to review on appeal. In other words, if somebody is dissatisfied with that decision and if the litigant eventually loses the case, the decision will come before three judges who will review whether it was correct. If it was incorrect, the decision on the case would fall.

Alex Neil: The person bringing the case to court may not be aware of any conflict of interest that the judge may have and may never find out that there was one, but the judge may well have been influenced by a particular interest. Surely that is not right. If there is any potential conflict of interest, surely there should be a declaration or commitment by the judge, making an explicit statement that there is no conflict of interest. People may not have the resources to appeal, for example. Is the system not balanced against people who come to court for justice?

Lord Carloway: No, it is not. I go back to something that I mentioned earlier, which is very important. Scotland does not have a corrupt judiciary. The matter has been examined by independent persons, notably the GRECO anti-corruption body that operates under the auspices of the Council of Europe, which examined the UK judiciary, including the Scottish judiciary. It was clear that, fortunately, we, as distinct from many other countries, do not suffer from corruption in the judiciary. For that reason, it did not consider that a register of interests was necessary. If one introduces such a measure, one has to be satisfied that it is necessary and also that it is proportionate. If one analyses its proportionality, one has to look at what exactly we are guarding against. If the situation were to be that there was corruption in the Scottish judiciary—which we would discover at some point or another—of course we would have to consider measures to prevent that, one of which might be a register of certain interests. Until such time as it is demonstrated that there is corruption in the Scottish judiciary, I am entirely satisfied that there is no requirement for a register of interests and that it would be positively detrimental to the administration of justice, particularly in relation to the recruitment of judges and especially at the higher level of the judiciary.

Alex Neil: I want to draw a parallel with the register of interests that members of the Scottish Parliament have to sign and regularly update. That came about not because of any allegations or belief that the system was corrupt or that members of the Scottish Parliament are corrupt. In the 18 years that we have been here, I have not heard one allegation of corruption. The register is there not because of allegations of corruption but to ensure that there is no prejudice. If I participate in a debate and I have an interest that I have not declared, I will be open to an allegation not of corruption but of prejudice. Because there is a register of interests and because I have to declare interests in a debate or in a committee meeting such as this one, there is a transparency to ensure that I do not act in a prejudicial fashion.

To go back to the case that Mr MacDonald cited as I came in—the case of Advance Construction and Donal Nolan, in which Lord Malcolm’s son was involved as a lawyer for one of the parties—the issue there was not an allegation of corruption but one of possible prejudice or perception of prejudice. That is a very good example of why either a register of interests or a more robust system of recusal—or perhaps both—might serve the judiciary very well.

Lord Carloway: I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s actions were entirely honourable and that he acted in accordance with the code of judicial ethics. I am not sure what is—

Alex Neil: Have you investigated it?

Lord Carloway: I am aware of the background to it.

Alex Neil: No, but have you investigated it?

Lord Carloway: I have read the papers that it involves.

Alex Neil: With all due respect, Melanie Collins and Donal Nolan have written to you on numerous occasions, and at no time have you replied to them, let alone met them, so you have not heard the other side of the case.

Lord Carloway: I am sorry, but I am not aware of letters to me by those particular persons.

Alex Neil: Your office—

The Convener: Alex, let us be careful that we do not get into anything specific on that.

Alex Neil: Yes—absolutely. My point is about how Lord Carloway can reach that conclusion if he has not heard the other side.

Lord Carloway: I have read documents emanating from the persons that you have mentioned. As far as I am aware, they were not addressed to me, but I could be wrong about that. The position is that I am aware of the circumstances of the case. I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s conduct was entirely correct in the circumstances. That is part of the problem that you have perhaps highlighted. That case has nothing to do with a register of pecuniary interests. The suggestion is that we should start registering what our relatives are doing, where they are working and matters of that sort, which I suspect would go way beyond even what is expected of politicians.

Alex Neil: No—we have to register what close relatives do.

Lord Carloway: Can I deal with the difference between MSPs and the judiciary, which I think I dealt with earlier this morning? It is quite a different function. A politician is by nature someone who is not independent in the sense that the public expect the judiciary to be. That is not a criticism; it is a reality. As a generality, judges do not deal with the type of issues that politicians deal with. Politicians have executive power. They are dealing with major economic interests of one sort or another. As a generality, judges are not dealing with that type of thing. They are dealing with issues that are usually between private individuals but can be between private individuals and Government or others. Judges are not dealing with the type of issues that politicians are dealing with such as planning inquiries and so on at a local level or major economic development in society as a whole.

The need for independence in the judiciary is different from the kind of independence that a politician requires, because with a politician it is primarily, as Alex Neil has pointed out, about issues of a pecuniary nature. Those are not the issues that arise in most of the recusal cases with which we are concerned. What we are concerned with as judges is that we appear to be independent of all connection with the case. It is not a question of having a pecuniary interest.

If one looks at the register of recusals in the past year, I do not think that any of them were to do with pecuniary interest at all. They were to do with social connections with people—whether someone is a friend; whether a party to the litigation is a friend of a friend; and matters of that sort. Those are the types of situations that are raised by people in the practical reality of litigation and those are the issues that are being dealt with. Unless you are suggesting a register of one’s friends—and presumably, therefore, one’s enemies—the real issue with recusal in the judicial system would not be addressed.

The Convener: Last question, please, Mr Neil.

Alex Neil: If I can just finally draw the parallel between our register and what has been talked about in terms of either recusal or financial interest, MSPs—as individuals and collectively—do not have executive power per se unless they are ministers, but what is very important is the perception of fairness and the perception that justice is being carried out.

If, in any case—without referring to a specific case—a close relative of a judge is participating in the case, rightly or wrongly, the perception is that there may be a degree of prejudice. It might be very unfair, but the point is to try to ensure that the excellent reputation of the judiciary down the years in Scotland is retained. That reputation is not just for not being corrupt, which we all accept—we are not accusing anybody of corruption. The perception of fairness and the perception of not being prejudiced are also extremely important. I would argue that, certainly in at least one case recently, which we have referred to briefly, the perception is that there may have been unfairness and prejudice in the way in which the matter was conducted, particularly as the judge concerned was involved in the case not once but on a number of occasions.

Lord Carloway: I disagree entirely with your analysis of that particular case and I repeat what I said earlier. The case that you refer to did not involve the judge’s son having any active involvement with the case whatsoever. We have very clear rules in our statement of principles of judicial ethics on how to deal with such matters and it is made very clear in that statement that if a relative is the advocate in the case before one, the modern approach is that the judge should not hear the case, or one could put it another way round—the relative should not be presenting the case. Whichever way it happens to be put, the situation that we had 20 or 30 years ago, when it was commonplace for the relatives of judges of one sort or another to be advocating the case, no longer exists.

That practice no longer exists not because it was thought that there was any actual problem with the decision making but, as you say, because of a perception of unfairness. There is a clear judicial rule about that and I am not aware of any case in which it has been breached. I myself have been in a situation in which my son was involved in a firm that was litigating before me. In such a case, the judge would be expected to declare it and the parties would then decide whether to take the point. However, if they took the point and the relative just happened to be a member of the same firm operating in a different department, I would not encourage the judge to recuse himself.

The Convener: There are no final questions, so I thank you very much for your evidence. It has been helpful to clarify many of the issues that you presented to us in written evidence and to have an opportunity to explore some of the issues around prejudice, for instance.

A recent perusal of Mr Sutherland’s online legal biography at Ampersand Advocates and the Faculty of Advocates – does not mention his time at the merged firm of Addleshaw Goddard-HBJ Gateley in his online legal career:

Alexander Colin MacLean Sutherland BIO:

Year of Call: 2018; Since calling to the Bar in June 2018, Alex has developed a general practice centred on commercial law and public law, including judicial review and planning. He has appeared in the Court of Session, sheriff court and Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal. He has also provided Opinions on a wide range of matters, including contractual disputes, insolvency and property.

Before calling to the Bar, Alex trained with a commercial firm in Edinburgh. He completed his LLB at Glasgow University in 2014 and the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at Edinburgh University in 2015. Before then, he studied German and English Language at Edinburgh University, during which time he spent a year studying in Vienna.

He speaks fluent French and German and is well placed to undertake work involving consideration of documents in those languages.

Selected recent cases:
Community Windpower Ltd v Scottish Ministers (ongoing):
Inner House, Court of Session;
For the appellants. Appeal against a Reporter’s decision. With Ailsa Wilson QC.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh v (1) Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal and (2) Council of the Law Society of Scotland [2019] CSOH 104; 2020 SLT 1:
Outer House, Court of Session;
For the petitioner. Judicial review of the first respondent’s decision on expenses.

Saadi v Whiterock Investments Ltd:
Outer House, Court of Session;
For the defenders. Pursuer seeking reduction of the decree awarding his sequestration.

Ford v The Firm of W&AS Bruce [2020] SC KIR 9:
Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court;
For the pursuer. Action of damages against a firm of solicitors for failing to advise the pursuer to include a survivorship destination when disponing half of his property to his partner. Debate on prescription.

NCS Office Services (Scotland) Ltd v Emtelle UK Ltd:
Glasgow Sheriff Court (Commercial Action);
For the defenders. Proof before answer on whether one of the defenders’ employees had authority to enter into a contract with the pursuers on behalf of the defenders.

Law Society of Scotland v WM:
Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal;
For the respondent. Preliminary hearing on whether the complaint should be dismissed due to excessive delay.

However, when Ampersand Advocates welcomed Alexander Sutherland to their stable in 2018 – Mr Sutherlands spell at Addleshaw Goddard did gain a mention, without reference to his father being Scotland’s top judge – here: Ampersand welcomes Alexander Sutherland

Ampersand is delighted to welcome Alexander Sutherland to the stable who called at the Bar today.

Before calling to the Bar, Alex trained with Addleshaw Goddard LLP, formerly HBJ Gateley. During his seat in the firm’s dispute resolution department, he gained experience of a wide range of litigation in both the Court of Session and the sheriff court, including real estate and insolvency litigation. He also had seats in the real estate and corporate recovery departments.

Alex completed his LLB at Glasgow University in 2014 and the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at Edinburgh University in 2015. Before then, he studied German and English Language at Edinburgh University, during which time he spent a year studying in Vienna.

Alex’s interests lie primarily in the fields of commercial and public law. As a devil he also gained experience of planning. His principal devilmaster was Ampersand’s Laura-Anne van der Westhuizen.

He speaks fluent French and German and is well placed to undertake work involving consideration of documents in those languages.

On Alex’s arrival, Head Clerk Alan Moffat said “I am delighted that Alex has joined us. He comes with a great reputation from his time at a top firm and has been highly praised during his time on the devils course. I am very sure he will continue to impress at the Bar and expect him to be a great addition to the stable.”

In the first part of the time-honoured two-stage admission ceremony, the Dean of Faculty, Gordon Jackson, QC, said the public office of advocate carried real privileges and corresponding responsibilities.

“You have become part of a great national institution which has played, throughout its existence, a very significant role in the legal and cultural life of this nation. As a member of Faculty you will play your own particular part in the future of that institution,” he added.

In the second part of the ceremony, before Lord Clark in the Court of Session, Alex along with 6 other new calls made the declaration of allegiance.

Lord Clark said: “It is a genuine pleasure and a privilege to welcome you as members of the Faculty of Advocates and to congratulate you on this great achievement. The Faculty has long been an important and distinguished organisation. It has commonly attracted some of the ablest minds of each generation, and it continues to thrive.

“It is truly one of the great features of our society that the general public, businesses and other organisations have at their disposal people like you – independently-minded advocates who will take on and fight their causes.

“I very much hope that you thoroughly enjoy your work at the Bar and the camaraderie of your colleagues.”

Alex is a welcome addition to the depth of counsel on offer at Ampersand.

HOLYROOD QUEST FOR A REGISTER OF JUDGES’ INTERESTS

Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – originally lodged at the Scottish Parliament in 2012 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on all judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

 

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REGULATOR SCRUTINY: Scots Legal Complaints Commission cost consumers & taxpayers £30M – rogue lawyers ordered to pay ONLY £963K over TWELVE YEARS, probe reveals law firms buy secrecy from financially ruined clients with Non Disclosure Agreements

Legal services regulator faces scrutiny. SCOTLAND’S legal services regulator – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – created in response to evidence of bias by Law Society of Scotland control of solicitors self- regulation – has cost taxpayers & clients a staggering £30 Million since 2008.

And, amid renewed media interest in continuing pro-lawyer bias in the regulation of Scotland’s legal sector – data obtained from the SLCC now reveals pittance levels of compensation paid out to thousands of financially ruined clients – amounting to less than £963,000 over TWELVE years.

Evidence has also emerged that corrupt Scots law firms are using the same Non Disclosure Agreements used by corrupt businessmen and jailed ex-Holyrood moguls such as Harvey Weinstein to buy secrecy from financial scandal which could impact on their business reputation & brand.

Cases brought to the attention of the media indicate several well known law firms, and even High Street solicitors have forced financially ruined clients into accepting pitiful amounts of compensation – while imposing strict secrecy agreements to ensure the details of financial scandals and identity of the law firm will never be revealed.

In response to a Freedom of Information request – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission admitted at least 377 cases of serious complaints against Scottish lawyers in ONLY three years – were subject to conditions of strict secrecy agreements between mediators, law firms and clients who eventually signed up to Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs).

FUNDING LEGAL COMPLAINTS:

The cost of funding the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission comes from a general complaints levy – which is funded by legal fees taken from clients.

After the funds are collected from clients, the levy is then is paid to the SLCC by all practising solicitors, advocates, QCs and other legal representatives in Scotland.

The figures from 2008 to 2019 – sourced from the SLCC’s budget reports – list a total of around £27,812,965. collected from the complaints levy since 2009.

A further sum of at least £2million in public cash was paid to the SLCC by the Scottish Government in 2008-2009  – making a total income of around £29,812,965 since the legal regulator began investigating complains against rogue lawyers some twelve years ago.

The SLCC’s accounts from 2008-2019 reveal the following figures: 2008-2009 £2,000,000 (received from Scottish Govt), 2009-2010  £2,142480; 2010-2011 £2,661999 2011-2012  £2,714,918 (actual intake – £1,724,624 after SLCC forced to use £1m cash reserves to reduce levy) 2012-2013 £2,792,779; 2013-2014 £2,889,679; 2014-2015 £2,679,500; 2016-2017 £2,808,300; 2017-2018 £3,163,700; 2018-2019 £3,326,199; 2019-2020 £3,623,705 proposed levy & income.

COMPENSATION DOES NOT COVER ACTUAL CLIENT LOSS:

Confirming the total amount of compensation paid to clients who suffered huge financial losses, the response from the SLCC in relation to an FOI request stated: The total amount of compensation directed by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to be paid to complainers since its creation to 31 January 2020 is £963,277.38.”

The response added: “This figure includes compensation awarded for inconvenience and distress and compensation for actual loss.”

However, and importantly – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission did not provide figures for any actual financial losses suffered by clients – or financial losses quantified by clients.

The FOI disclosure also revealed the Scottish Legal Complaints Complaints Commission does not record actual sums paid to complainants.

And, the legal regulator admitted tens of thousands of pounds in compensation have still not been paid to clients, by solicitors already ordered to do so by the legal regulator.

The SLCC stated in it’s FOI disclosure: “Whilst the SLCC does not record the actual sums paid, we do record where we are notified that compensation is not paid. This figure is currently £41,516.89.”

Additionally, new data recovered via a Freedom of Information request reveals at least 377 cases of serious complaints brought against Scottish lawyers in the past three years – were subject to conditions of secrecy agreements between mediators, law firms and clients who signed up to Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)

BUY SECRECY – LAW FIRMS FORCE NON DISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS TO CONCEAL SCANDAL:

On the subject of Non Disclosure Agreements between clients, and their solicitors and law firms who were the subject of complaints – the SLCC stated: “In summary, in the last three operational years (1 July – 30 June) and up to 31 January 2020,
there have been 377 cases which have been subject to such a confidentiality agreement.”


“The SLCC process allows parties to a complaint to resolve matters between themselves at any
point prior to a Final Determination being issued by the SLCC so it possible that such
agreements could be negotiated between parties out with our process to resolve a complaint.”

“It is not within the powers of the SLCC to recommend a NDA or similar as part of a resolution to
a complaint and the SLCC would not enter into such agreements to settle a complaint.”

“This information is provided to the SLCC as part of an informal resolution, and the parties to the
complaints are under no obligation to provide us with such information. Therefore it would not
be recorded in a readily accessible way on the SLCC system. I am unable to provide you with
exact figures in respect of these types of Non-Disclosure Agreements.”

“There have been approximately 2 instances of such agreements being recorded against
complaints settled out with the SLCC process within the last three years to the date of this FOI
request.”

While the SLCC does not itself pay compensation to clients – many of whom have suffered life changing and enormous financial losses at the hands of their own legal representatives – the legal regulator does order law firms to pay compensation and other payments to complainants.

However, in just a small snapshot of cases looked at by journalists – where solicitors helped themselves to their client’s assets, emptied bank accounts, appropriated land titles and property from deceased estates & fleeced millions of pounds from clients in investment scams – there are clear indications the current system to compensate for actual and quantifiable financial losses is still heavily weighted in the solicitor’s favour.

In some instances – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Faculty of Advocates and Law Society of Scotland have clearly, and continually turned a blind eye to multi million pound losses attributed to clear, and documented examples of dishonesty & negligence on the part of legal representatives.

However – Diary of Justice has recently been approached by several clients who were forced to register complaints to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after losing considerable sums to rogue solicitors and several well known Scots law firms.

Once complaints were filed with the legal regulator, several clients alleged they felt that they were being intimidated into the mediation process – and forced to accept outcomes and settlements far short of their expectations or actual financial losses.

Some clients who entered the SLCC’s mediation process have also alleged they were denied the right to seek independent advice on mediation and settlement offers – which in some cases were time barred to ensure clients were forced to accept little or nothing in return for – in some cases – hundreds of thousands of pounds in actual financial losses.

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission has so far not listed actual financial losses or financial losses quantified by clients in any statement from it’s creation in 2008 to publication of this article.

In response to queries from a DOJ journalist, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission released a copy of their Agreement to Mediate.

The Agreement to Mediate – contains contains numerous conditions, including strict terms of confidentiality – for mediation to occur between clients, mediators & lawyers accused of wrongdoing.

On the issue of Settlements, the SLCC’s Agreement to Mediate states the following:

SETTLEMENT

11. When/if the Participants agree on how to resolve the dispute, the Participants will draw up a Settlement Agreement with the assistance of the Mediator, for the Participants to sign and date. The Settlement Agreement will be legally binding when it is in writing and executed by the Participants. The Participants will be legally bound by the Settlement Agreement once executed and undertake to give effect to the Settlement Agreement.

12. In the event that the Settlement involve actions by one Participant over a period of time, the other Participant will inform the SLCC’s Mediation Co-ordinator when all terms have been met.

13. In the event that a Participant does not fulfil the terms of the Settlement Agreement, the other Participant:

a) may be released from the Settlement terms if they so wish, by giving written notice to that effect to the other Participant; and

b) shall inform the SLCC of the failure to fulfil the terms of the Settlement Agreement.

14. All Participants to the dispute reserve their respective rights should a Settlement not be reached through mediation.

CONFIDENTIALITY

15. The Participants, the Mediator and the SLCC agree that the discussions at mediation will be kept confidential, including the terms of any settlement Agreement.

This paragraph shall not apply where:

i) The Participants consent to specific disclosure;

ii) Disclosure is necessary to implement and enforce the Settlement Agreement;

iii) The Participants are, or any other person is, required by law to make disclosure;

iv) The Mediator reasonably considers that there is serious risk to the safety of any person if the Mediator does not make such a disclosure;

v) There is any allegation of a breach of the Settlement Agreement and disclosure is required for the purposes of taking further action.

16. A Participant may disclose information or documents obtained during the mediation to a person not present at the mediation where that Participant needs to do so in order to obtain professional advice or where the person is within that party’s legitimate field of intimacy. A Participant disclosing information or documents in these circumstances must inform the professional advisor or any such person that the information or documents are confidential.

17. In the event of breach of the obligations contained in paragraph 15 of this Agreement by any Participant, the Mediators, the SLCC and the Participant(s) who have not caused the breach shall no longer be bound by the terms of this paragraph but their rights to take further action in respect of any such breach of this Agreement shall be preserved.

18. Neither Participant may have access to the Mediator’s notes nor SLCC Mediator Review Form nor call the Mediator nor the SLCCas a witness in any proceedings related to any of the issues between them. The Mediator’s opinion will be inadmissible in any subsequent proceedings, which may take place between the Participants concerning the subject matter of the mediation.

The SLCC Agreement to Mediate also contains a key section which removes any liability from mediators should they be considered to have acted negligently or omit to consider issues within the scope of the mediation.

EXCLUSION OF LIABILITY

20. Neither the SLCC nor any Mediator, nor any body with whom the Mediator is professionally associated, shall be liable to the Participants for any act or omission, whether negligently or otherwise, in connection with the performance or purported performance of any of the services provided by them or the obligations arising under this Agreement. This Agreement may be produced and relied upon as a defence to any claim made by a Participant against the SLCC, any mediator or body with whom the Mediator is professionally associated.

Commenting on issues relating to mediation, a spokesperson for the SLCC provided the following statement: “We know that mediation is an unfamiliar process for some parties, but our experience is that, once people take part, it has very high resolution rates, receives higher customer satisfaction scores from both lawyers and complainers, and is more efficient. It allows both parties to take control of the outcome of the complaint, and find an agreed solution that resolves the complaint to both parties’ satisfaction, is often quicker than a full investigation, and is less costly to administer.”

“Of course, not all cases will be suitable for mediation, and mediation only proceeds where both parties agree to attend. Where mediation does not help parties reach an agreed outcome, or where it is not appropriate, cases progress to investigation.”

“We do ask for feedback from everyone who takes part in mediation, and we use this to take action on any concerns raised, and to consider what improvements we might be able to make to our processes.”

The SLCC also provided the following information:

These figures are from our last annual report year (2018-19): Outcomes at mediation: Before we start investigating a service complaint, we give the complainer and the lawyer or firm an opportunity to attend a mediation meeting, led by an independent external mediator.

Number of complaints resolved by mediation: 65

Agreed to mediation when offered: 39% (both parties need to agree to participate for mediation to proceed – if one party does not wish mediation then the matter is progressed to investigation instead)

Mediation was successful: 71% (mediation does have a high success rate in delivering agreed outcomes, but in 29% of cases parties either did not reach or accept an outcome, which they are entitled to do, and so the case proceeded to formal investigation and, if required, determination).

We have a page on our public facing website devoted to mediation (https://www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk/your-complaint/our-process/mediation/), which explains the process for both complainers and lawyers, and includes an information booklet and a video featuring some of our mediators, to help people understand what mediation is and how it might help them to reach a consensual resolution.”

“The Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 provides that the SLCC may offer mediation as way of resolving service complaints.  This is set out in section 8 of the Act. The objective of mediation is to enable the parties to resolve the service issues complained about quickly, if they choose.

Mediation can be offered at any stage after a service issue is deemed an eligible complaint (mediation is not considered appropriate where there is an eligible conduct issue to be investigated).  It is voluntary, and requires the acceptance of both parties. Mediation is a confidential process which gives the complainer and the firm the opportunity to meet together with an independent third-party so they can both decide how to sort out the service complaint.  The mediator is a neutral person who helps them talk through the problem to see if they can agree a fair and reasonable solution.

If the parties reach an agreement at mediation and if all the settlement terms are fulfilled, that is the end of the complaint process. If the parties reach an agreement but for whatever reason, the settlement terms are not fulfilled, the complaint may proceed to Investigation, after the nature of the alleged breach has been considered by the SLCC. If the complainer alleges that the solicitor breached the terms of the Settlement Agreement, they can submit a new complaint to the SLCC about this. If the parties do not reach an agreement at mediation, the complaint moves to Investigation. Mediation is confidential to the parties of the mediation, the mediator and the SLCC.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

 

 

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