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INSPECT YOUR ROGUE: Check your solicitors’ record in England, but not in Scotland – UK Solicitors Regulation Authority ‘years ahead’ of pro-lawyer Scots legal watchdogs

Check the regulatory history of your lawyer, not for Scotland. FAR REMOVED from the haven of corrupt and dodgy law firms which shape the landscape of Scotland’s greedy, overbearing legal services market, clients of lawyers in England & Wales have the opportunity to check any solicitor’s record – before shelling out tens of thousands of pounds to a hard working lawyer – or a lazy crook.

The Check your solicitor’s record service – operated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) allows anyone to find out if a solicitor or law firm operating in England & Wales has regulatory decisions made against them in relation to complaints of ripping off clients or providing poor legal services to UK consumers.

However, no such service is on offer in Scotland, due to lobbying from the powerful, shady clique of the Law Society of Scotland and other Scots legal vested interests – who are determined to maintain anonymity of corrupt and incompetent legal practitioners north of the border.

And, instead of providing consumers with a verifiable means of checking up on Scottish solicitors and law firms, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) publish only a selection of heavily edited and censored descriptions of cases which pass through the anti-consumer revolving doors of the Law Society-controlled pro-lawyer regulator.

Diary of Injustice recently reported on how the Scottish legal complaints regulator avoids identifying corrupt and dodgy lawyers within determination decisions – which are only published after being approved by members of the Law Society of Scotland : FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: SLCC refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings.

Admittedly, the service on offer from the SRA in England & Wales does have some drawbacks – for example, not all regulatory decisions are published, and there are time limits to their publication scheme.

However, the facility is a huge advantage over what prospective and existing clients of Scottish solicitors face in efforts to find an honest lawyer north of the border – which some have likened to entering into a game of Russian Roulette with a six barrelled shotgun.

Recent regulation decisions made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to law firms and solicitors operating in England and Wales can be found here Recent Decisions – Solicitors Regulation Authority

A helpful guide on how to use the SRA’s solicitor regulation search service lists the following tips:

You can use our solicitor record check search function to have a look at regulatory decisions that we have made against regulated individuals and firms.

You can search decisions by the name of the solicitor, firm, or other regulated individual, SRA ID number (also known as their roll number) date the decision was made, or type of decision.

You can also view a list of recently-published decisions.

To search for decisions about an individual or firm, enter their name and/or ID number in the search fields. To narrow your search, choose an outcome type and/or specify a date range.

To see all closures (also known as “interventions“) during May 2009, for example, leave name and ID fields blank, choose outcome type “closure” and specify the date range 1 May 2009 to 30 May 2009.

Only the most recent published decision against any firm will be displayed. To view a list of all published decisions against an individual made within the past three years (decisions are removed after three years), you will have to go into the record.

To check whether a law firm is regulated by us, use our Law firm search. To check whether an individual is regulated by us, use the Law Society’s Find a solicitor search.

We aim to ensure decisions we publish are accurate and up to date. However, this website does not offer a complete picture of an individual’s or firm’s regulatory record. For example, it is possible that, since publication, a firm has ceased to practice or a solicitor is no longer on the roll of solicitors. Most published decisions are removed from our website three years from the date they were published.

We have published a large number of Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) findings, dating from early 2005 to 1 July 2011.

We do not publish findings made by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal; these are published by the Tribunal itself.

Please note that the Tribunal publishes findings resulting in a strike off, indefinite suspension or revocation of authorisation of a firm indefinitely. Decisions to suspend for a fixed period remain on its website for the duration of the suspension or three years (whichever is the greater). All other decisions remain on its website for three years. If you are unable to find a decision on the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal website please contact Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority began publishing some decisions in January 2008 – the same year the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was created by the Scottish Government.

In comparison, since the SLCC came into being in 2008, the Scots legal services regulator has not identified one solicitor in any complaint investigated by the Law Society controlled quango – leading to a significant imbalance in the rights of Scots consumers to find out just how crooked their lawyer really is.

And, more often than not, the same Scottish law firms and same solicitors are subject of similar complaints in relation to professional misconduct, negligence, dishonesty, unashamed theft of client funds and some of the worst excesses which in any other arena would rate as criminal behaviour.

Yet, no one in Scotland is able to find out the regulatory history of their solicitor. No one. Unless by chance, clients who find themselves in the position of having to make a complaint against their solicitor decide to publicise their case and name the lawyers concerned.

A recent media investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission recently revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

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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CROWN CORRUPTED: More corrupt Prosecutors revealed – New Lord Advocate clamps down on transparency amid call to release more details of criminal records of Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service staff

Media investigation exposes criminal records of Scots Prosecutors. AMID THE charm offensive around the appointment of James Wolffe QC to the position of Lord Advocate – the centuries old position in charge of what is now the £112m a year Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – it has emerged transparency has been given the axe after the Crown Office refused to release further details of serous criminal offences committed by COPFS staff and prosecutors.

Among the criminal charges against Scots Prosecutors – revealed earlier  this year in a media investigation– are charges relating to misuse of drugs – thought to relate to the use of, or potential dealing of Class A substances such as cocaine, assaults against Police Officers, threats, perverting the course of justice, and breaches of the Official Secrets Act.

Journalists again approached the Crown Office again for information relating to specific charges against COPFS staff including those relating to Misuse of drugs offences, what kind or type of drugs related to the charges, and information contained in what specific charges were made against COPFS staff in relation to “offences against the police”.

However, the Crown Office refused to release any further details of the criminal offences committed by their own team –  on the basis disclosure of the information may lead to the identification of those found guilty of serious criminal offences.

The shocking move by the Crown Office under the charge of newly fast-tracked QC & Solicitor General Allison Di Rollo, and Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC – comes as figures emerge of even more criminal convictions of Crown Office Prosecutors and staff.

In addition to 15 cases of criminal charges raised against Prosecutors & COPFS staff already revealed in an investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper in March 2016, the Crown Office have now been forced to admit a further 15 cases of criminal charges against their own team – between 2010 and 2013.

And, only 4 out of the 15 cases of newly revealed criminal charges against Crown Office employees & Prosecutors were taken to court.

In the new data released by the Crown Office in response to a Freedom of Information request, COPFS disclosed:

Between January 2010 and November 2013, we retain records showing 15 cases reported to COPFS containing allegations of criminal offences by COPFS staff. Court proceedings were taken in four of those cases, eight cases were dealt with by non- court disposal and no proceedings were taken in three cases.

The charges brought against staff include assault; road traffic offences; breach of the peace and computer misuse.

Guilty verdicts were recorded in the four cases where court proceedings were raised.

The new information comes after COPFS previously admitted it retained records from November 2013 to November 2015 showing 15 cases reported to COPFS containing allegations of criminal offences by COPFS staff.

Court proceedings were taken in 11 cases, three cases were disposed of by non-court disposal and no proceedings were taken in one case.

The charges brought against staff include assault and vandalism; road traffic offences; threatening and abusive conduct; breach of the peace; Misuse of drugs/offences against the police; data protection offences/attempt to pervert the course of justice.

In the 11 cases where court proceedings were raised, these were concluded as follows: Guilty plea accepted (4); accused found guilty after trial (1); case marked for no further action (1); court proceedings active (4).

And – the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) – who was asked to review the Crown Office refusal to disclose further details – said it could not become involved in the investigation, citing rules which allow the Lord Advocate to deem secret any information or data he so choses.

The SIC said it could not act because “Section 48 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 states that no application may be made to the Commissioner following on from such a request for review where information held by the Lord Advocate as head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland. This includes any information held by the Crown Office in connection with the investigation and/or prosecution of crime, or the investigation of sudden deaths and/or fatal accidents.

It has now been suggested internal COPFS processes governing which staff are assigned to cases have broke down on many occasions, resulting in Crown Office employees with criminal records working on key prosecution cases – some of which suspiciously collapsed.

A legal insider has backed up the notion certain high profile criminal cases and prosecutions resulting in significantly less sentences, and plea deals – instead of big time hits against well known crime figures – may have been affected by defence teams ‘familiarity’ with certain Crown Agents and staff

Speaking to Diary of Injustice earlier this week, a leading Criminal Defence solicitor suggested it may now be worth asking Procurators Fiscal to declare – in court- any criminal charges or convictions before they proceed to represent the Crown in a prosecution.

The solicitor said: “If my client is being prosecuted for a particular type of criminal offence, I believe it is in the interests of justice for the court to be made aware the Procurator Fiscal may have a criminal conviction for the same, or a potentially more serious offence.”

In certain cases, prosecutions may well have been compromised after Crown Office personnel leaked information to criminals – as occurred in one case (among others) where a COPFS employee was found guilty of breaking the Official Secrets Act and passing details to known crooks.

The revelations of Crown Office informants handing over key files and tips on COPFS investigations to crooks are a considerable blow to law enforcement organisations such as Police Scotland and international law enforcement organisations from other countries – who share evidence with the Crown Office in the hopes of putting away criminals, drug dealers and gangsters.

PROSECUTORS CRIMINAL RECORDS REVEALED:

Crooks among Them – Prosecutors own crime gang revealed. The only case where a COPFS employee was found guilty after trial relates to that of Iain Sawers, 27, from Edinburgh, who was found guilty of passing information to the criminal fraternity – during a seven-day trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in September 2014.

A jury found Sawers guilty on a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice, the Official Secrets Act and nine under the Data Protection Act.

Sawers joined the Productions Office of the Procurator Fiscal Service in Chambers Street in the city in 2008.

His induction covered security of information and the warning that any breach could lead to disciplinary proceedings. He was also told, under the Official Secrets Act, the unauthorised disclosure of documents was an offence.

The offences by Sawers came to light when police began an investigation into the case of 27-year old Calum Stewart on charges of breach of bail and attempting to pervert the course of justice by threatening his ex-partner, Kelli Anne Smillie, if she gave evidence in a trial in July, 2013.

Stewart paid for her and her mother to leave the country and go on holiday to Benidorm on the week of the trial.

The police investigations led them to a number of phone calls and text messages between Stewart and Sawers between 24 and 29 January 2014.

These led to Stewart phoning Kelli Anne threatening her and her mother. They were to be witnesses in the outstanding trial which has since been deserted by the Crown.

The police also recovered Sawers’ iPhone. Although many messages had been deleted, forensic experts were able to recover them and the telephone numbers of the senders and receiver. They showed that between April 2008 and January 2014, Sawers had passed on information to other people on nine occasions.

A check on the productions office computer showed shortly after receiving a call, Sawers’ secret personal user number was used to access the information.

The jury also found Stewart guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice and breach of bail. Neither men gave evidence during the trial – much to the relief of the Lord Advocate.

The Crown Office also admitted 40 staff  had been subject to disciplinary action, been suspended, dismissed or have been moved to other duties as a result of disciplinary action between January 2013 to late last year and  that 14 of those staff members were suspended in the period requested. The reasons for suspension included allegations related to potential criminal activity and/or charged by Police; and breach of trust.

Of the 40 members of staff who were suspended, 10 were dismissed from the Crown Office.

However officials refused to identify the reasons for their dismissal, insisting they wished to protect the identities of their colleagues and nature of the sackings.

A legal insider has since indicated former Crown Office staff including some of those who were sacked for disciplinary offences or had left COPFS in relation to allegations of criminal conduct or criminal charges – are back working with private law firms and public bodies with links to the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Sun newspaper reported further, here:

Crooks of the Crown: 15 legal staff on charges

EXCLUSIVE by RUSSELL FINDLAY 7 Mar 2016

COPS charged 15 Crown Office workers with crimes including drugs, police assault and perverting the course of justice.

Violence, vandalism, threats and data breaches were also among the alleged offences.

And 11 of those cases reported over the last two years went to court.

A source said: “The nature of the criminal charges are very serious.

“The Crown Office should be beyond reproach as it’s responsible for highly sensitive information about the most serious crimes and sudden deaths.”

Four of the 11 employees taken to court pleaded guilty, one case was dropped, four are ongoing and the outcome of one is unknown.

It’s thought Edinburgh procurator fiscal’s office worker Iain Sawers, 26, is the only one found guilty.

He was jailed for 18 months in 2014 for attempting to pervert the course of justice by leaking details of cases.

The information about staff charges from the two years to November 2015 was unearthed using freedom of information laws.

Similar data on police officers accused of crimes is published by the Scottish Police Authority.

Last night, Scottish Tory justice spokesman Margaret Mitchell said: “The Crown Office should be no different from Police Scotland in that they should routinely publish this information.”

The Crown Office is Scotland’s prosecution agency headed by the country’s most senior law officer Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland.

A spokesman said: “We employ more than 1,600 staff, the overwhelming majority of whom uphold our high standards of professionalism. Any breach of rules is dealt with swiftly and appropriately.”

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland’s Crown Office – in Crown detail

 

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INQUIRY OF THE CROWN: Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee launch inquiry into crime fighting ability of ‘institutionally corrupt’ Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service

Crown Crooked – MSPs to quiz £112m-a-year Scots prosecutors. OFTEN DESCRIBED as the most corrupt public body in all Scotland – the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – is to face a major investigation of it’s purpose and role in prosecuting crime – by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee who want to hear from you by Wednesday 19 October 2016

Accused of being a haven of deceit, institutionally racist, sectarian, bigoted, prejudiced, corrupt, woefully incompetent and staffed with prosecutors who will – with ease – lie to victims of crime, misrepresent the facts in court, twist evidence of victims, witnesses and accused alike – this collection of swaggering lawyers and Crown Counsel who are paid a staggering £112.5 million of public cash this budget year to go after criminals – will now face questions on their own gangster-like existence in the annals of Scots Law.

The inquiry – which will take evidence in public during sessions of the Justice Committee over the coming months at Holyrood – will focus on the core role and examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the Crown Office, how well it works with its stakeholders, and the support it provides to witnesses and victims of crime.

The Committee will also examine its responsiveness to new challenges and opportunities, such as the evolving nature of crime and advances in technology. As part of the inquiry it will examine the role and function of the independent Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland.

Beware however – this is an enquiry which appears to focus more on questions of whether the Crown Office has enough resources – or the budget – to be effective at ‘fighting crime’.

Hands up those of you (not vested legal interests please) who believe £112.5 million of public cash a year – as part of an ever increasing budget – makes the Crown Office under budget or under resourced.

MSPs have also clarified the Justice Committee inquiry will not consider two other roles of the Crown Office – relating to establishing the cause of sudden, unexplained or suspicious deaths or investigating allegations of criminal conduct against police officers, except in relation to the general issue of whether the COPFS has the resources it needs to carry out its purpose.

This is a Crown Office gone bad – a prosecution service so rotten – the Scottish Government was forced to remove the law on double jeopardy to allow incompetent, often strange prosecutors – some with their own secret criminal histories – to bring persons before the court time and time again until convictions are eventually secured in front of increasingly worn out judges and juries.

The same Crown Office which shredded statistics on sectarian crime principally against Catholics and other religious minorities in Scotland shredded – to avoid being asked questions by MSPs considering the hated Offensive Behaviour at Football Matches & Threatening Communications Act and the impact of Scotland’s criminal justice system’s oh-so-obvious endemic religious bigotry.

The same Crown Office run by Prosecutors who present the deceased on witness lists at criminal trials.

The same Crown Office staffed by Prosecutors & employees who themselves have secret criminal records – on everything from assault, threats & perverting the course of justice to drugs offences.

The same Crown Office compromised by criminal informants among staff who leak details to crooks targeted by Police Scotland and other law enforcement agencies.

The same Crown Office who pride bonuses, junkets and higher salaries before obtaining justice for victims of crime.

The same Crown Office whose Advocate Depute did a runner from the High Court in 2007 during a major trial which resulted in the collapse of the first World’s End murder trial.

The same Crown Office run by a Lord Advocate who called into question the state of the judiciary in order to distract the public from Crown Office failures over the collapse of the same World’s End Trial –Top judge accused Lord Advocate of undermineg the judiciary in statements Angiolini made to the  Scottish Parliament.

The same Crown Office which campaigned for the removal of Corroboration – one of the cherished few safeguards of Scots law which cuts across every and all criminal cases and evidence presentation in our courts and helps to guard against miscarriage of justice.

And by removing corroboration – not, for any lofty aim of upholding justice and protecting the public – mind you.

The singular vested interest of the Crown Office in removing corroboration from the justice system was, and remains simply because – the Crown Office are so inadequate at prosecuting crime, they must have multiple chances to parade people in court to secure convictions, no matter how much it costs taxpayers, the reputation of Scots law.

Enter the man – no less than the ex Dean of the Faculty of AdvocatesJames Wolffe QC – who wanted – and was handed the job of Lord Advocate – tasked with steering, spinning and manipulating the Crown Office through the choppy murky waters of Scotland’s criminal empires, and not forgetting his own staff’s secret criminal pasts.

The accompanying fanfare and typical public relations exercise of Wolffe’s appointment to succeed former Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, came with the usual fluff of a new broom to sweep away crime and criminality.

Yet Wolffe himself was – only a few months before his new commission of protecting Scots from big time crime barons – fretting with Scottish Ministers over his precious Faculty of Advocates spending of £320,000 on parts of Parliament House it had occupied without recorded title – yet somehow gained ownership of, reported here: WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

And Scotland’s criminal justice system is so tipped against the rights of victims and accused – as the legal eagles waft in and out of jobs, earlier this week – Wolffe’s replacement as Dean at the Faculty of Advocates – Gordon Jackson QC – a leading lawyer who has rightly represented some of Scotland’s most hardened criminals and gangsters – lectured the Lord Advocate on the creeping rights of victims in an open letter to the press.

Mr Jackson expressed his concern that the “admirable principle” of an independent prosecution service, acting in the public interest, “is being eroded in practice”. Advocates depute and junior fiscals alike, he writes, are seen as reluctant to make decisions but refer cases to their superiors, and prosecutors have admitted to him that they are not following their own judgment on what can be proved “because of the family’s position” – referring to the now common practice of meeting victims’ families.

So now you know the views of the legal profession – picture the following – for it could, or may have already happened to you.

Your loved one has been brutally, mercilessly murdered by a criminal – a criminal perhaps not unknown to the authorities.

Or a victim of crime or has fallen to an untimely end at the hands of deceitful public servants or an unscrupulous business more interested in profits than the safety of their workforce.

Now – right in front of you- you face someone from the very same Crown Office talking at you – not to you – or with you

As you may begin to observe – they ask you questions – often the wrong questions – depending on their scheming ahead to figure out if they can secure a conviction or a grubby plea deal spun out by their public relations department as a win for justice. They may even tell you something in a meeting, face to face, then lie about it later. A big fat lie of a lie. No matter. The Lord Advocate will cover it up.

They claim they are going to put away the killer, the murderer, the fraudster, the crook who ruined your life, wiped someone’s very existence from life – yet you just know – that same Crown Office career monger has liar written all over their face. Unmissable, isn’t it – like a house on fire.

You’ll know it was all true – when the killer, crook or villain gets seven years and out in two.

Are you a victim of crime? Are you a victim of a miscarriage of justice? Are you a solicitor performing the testy task of representing accused persons against a prosecution service gone mad?

All of you have an interest in making your voice heard to this inquiry. Don’t leave it to vested interests, or the legal profession or those who cloak themselves in good deeds while concealing crime.

Make your voice heard – in writing – to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee by 19 October 2016.

Those submitting are invited to restrict their submission, if at all possible, to the equivalent of approximately four sides of A4. Evidence should be submitted in electronic (preferably MS Word) format by email to justicecommittee@parliament.scot

Organisations and individuals who do not have access to a PC and the internet may submit a hard copy to: Clerk to the Justice Committee The Scottish Parliament Edinburgh EH991SP

For further information on this inquiry please contact the committee clerks by email at justicecommittee@parliament.scot or by phone at 0131 348 6241.

MSPs TO INVESTIGATE CROWN OFFICE:

The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee has agreed to hold its first major inquiry of this session into the role and purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), with this remit:

The COPFS is Scotland’s independent prosecution service, acting in the public interest to help bring offenders to justice.

The core role of the COPFS is to consider reports about crime from the police and other agencies, to decide whether it is in the public interest to prosecute them, and, if so, to deploy the resources that are necessary to help ensure that justice is done.

The Committee’s inquiry will focus on this core role, examining in particular—

The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee has agreed to hold its first major inquiry of this session into the role and purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), with this remit:

“The COPFS is Scotland’s independent prosecution service, acting in the public interest to help bring offenders to justice. The core role of the COPFS is to consider reports about crime from the police and other agencies, to decide whether it is in the public interest to prosecute them, and, if so, to deploy the resources that are necessary to help ensure that justice is done. The Committee’s inquiry will focus on this core role, examining in particular—

• The effectiveness and efficiency of the COPFS, and how well it works with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system;

• Whether the COPFS has the resources and skillsets it needs to carry out its core role;

• The COPFS’s responsiveness to new challenges and opportunities including the evolving nature of crime in 21st century Scotland, advances in technology, and changes in the delivery of court services that may affect access to justice;

• How the COPFS protects and supports witnesses and victims of crime.

The Committee will also take evidence on the role and function of the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland. (The IPS is the independent inspectorate for the COPFS.)

The inquiry will not consider the COPFS’s two other roles of establishing the cause of sudden, unexplained or suspicious deaths or investigating allegations of criminal conduct against police officers, except in relation to the general issue of whether the COPFS has the resources it needs to carry out its purpose.”

Questions to consider:

Organisations and individuals are invited to submit written views to the Committee in relation to the inquiry. Those submitting views should feel free to address issues raised in the remit in whatever manner they prefer, but it would be particularly appreciated if they could aim to address some or all of the questions set out below, providing specific examples, data or other evidence to back up their views whenever possible—

1. Please outline your views on the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the COPFS in its core role of considering reports about crime from the police and bringing prosecutions. Are there ways in which the services provided by the COPFS could be improved – for instance, through increased use of technology, further reforms to criminal procedure, or better case management? If so, do those changes also bring risks, in terms of the overall interests of justice or of access to justice (bearing in minds the differing needs of people across Scotland; urban and rural communities, economically disadvantaged people, vulnerable groups, etc)?

2. Please outline how well you consider the COPFS works with other stakeholders in the criminal justice system, so as to provide a “joined up” and complementary service that helps meet the ends of justice. Other stakeholders might, for instance, include the police, defence lawyers, the courts, the prison service, criminal justice social work, and third party organisations working with victims or offenders.

3. Does the COPFS as presently constituted have the resources and skillsets it needs to carry out its core role effectively? And is it appropriately “future-proofed” – for instance to deal with new technologies available to criminals, changes in the overall profile of crime in 21st century Scotland, or withdrawal from the European Union? If not, what additional capacities does the COPFS need?

4. How well does the COPFS respond to the needs of victims of crimes and to witnesses (especially vulnerable witnesses) in criminal cases and meet its legal obligations towards them?

5. The Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland is the independent, statutory inspectorate for the COPFS. What is your awareness of the existence and role of the IPS and of its effectiveness in carrying out that role? How effective has it been in carrying out its role? Does it appear to have the resources it needs?

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell MSP commented: “The Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service is absolutely fundamental to the operation of an effective justice system in Scotland. This is why this committee has chosen to make it the focus of its first major inquiry.

“MSPs on the previous Justice Committee raised several concerns about the additional pressures that the organisation faced in recent times – including an increase in complex historic sex abuse and domestic abuse cases and new requirements required by legislation.

“The COPFS’s responsibilities towards victims and witnesses have also been increasing – and rightly. This has all taken place against a backdrop of tight budgetary settlements in recent years.

“It is likely these significant pressures will continue, so fundamental to this inquiry will be to determine if the COPFS has the resources it needs to bring offenders to justice, and is ‘future proofed’ to deal with new challenges.”

If you feel the Scottish Parliament should be asking many more questions of our prosecutors, don’t forge to make your views known to your own MSP, even ask them to go along to the hearings and make your issues more aware to the Justice Committee.

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland’s Crown Office – in Crown detail

 

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WOLFFE’D HALL: Edinburgh Council admit defeat in Parliament House titles fiasco – officials no longer pursuing recovery of Scotland’s top court buildings to common good public ownership

Top court now owned by ‘public body’ run by judges. THE City of Edinburgh Council have this week confirmed no further action is being taken by the council to recover ownership to the common good of Parliament House – the seat of Scotland’s top courts.

In a statement issued to the media, a spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council said in relation to Parliament House: “We are not pursuing legal action regarding ownership of the Parliament House.The building, however,  remains in public ownership and is publicly accessible.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) now have full title to Parliament House – granted to them by Scottish Ministers.

However as the SCTS is a public body which is effectively controlled by a quango commanded by Scotland’s top judges – the status of “public ownership” may well fall to be a loosely applied term given how the titles came to be in the possession of the courts after Scottish Ministers took ownership of Parliament House from the common good.

The City of Edinburgh Council’s costly £53K legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was destined to be heard in the very same court buildings – was abandoned almost as instantly as papers were served by the council’s legal agents on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and Scottish Ministers- reported in further detail here:  WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Commenting on the Laigh Hall – a large area of building which runs underneath Parliament House and was ‘gifted’ to the Faculty of Advocates by the Scottish Government, a Council spokesperson, said: “Shortly after Scottish Ministers registered these buildings they transferred the title for Laigh Hall to the facility of advocates. We understand that this transfer is subject to Scottish Ministers having first refusal to reaquire the property in the event of a sale.”

A spokesperson for the council also confirmed earlier moves by Edinburgh Council to ‘persuade’ the SCTS & Scottish Government to voluntarily hand back ownership, were also at an end.

DOI has previously published documents released under Freedom of Information legislation which revealed lawyers representing trustees of the Faculty of Advocates informed Registers of Scotland (RoS) that the Laigh Hall – part of the Parliament House complex – had been occupied by the Faculty for some 150 years, with no recorded titles – yet Scottish Ministers and Registers of Scotland went ahead and granted ownership to the Faculty of Advocates.

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI also revealed the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) – refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates.

Records of titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stands in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scotland’s current First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon also weighed in on the debate, but only after being asked questions during a session of First Minister’s Questions.

The First Minister gave little indication the Scottish Government were willing to ensure titles were handed back to the City of Edinburgh Council : Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015 and as the Council have now confirmed, the matter is closed.

DOOMED TOP COURT TO UP STICKS?

Amid rumours of plans loosely based around the Scottish Government’s desire for “modern justice centres” to one day move the Court of Session out of Parliament House, questions remain on who will ultimately benefit financially from any redevelopment of the imposing, gargantuan buildings which make up Scotland’s top court and power seat of the judiciary.

The sprawling complex of high value, if aging buildings – located in the centre of Edinburgh – are described as “inaccessible” “Victorian” and “unfit for modern court needs” in loose discussions between interested parties and land developers.

However, development possibilities for Parliament House reveal a host of difficulties in turning “an overly ornate set of imposing buildings” into a mixture of office, business and residential units.

Concerns of resistance from the legal profession, elements of the judiciary and a “public outcry” appear to be uppermost in the minds of developers and politicians who may wish to move the judges out of their plush Parliament House headquarters to a “greenfield site”.

In the last few years, ‘improvements’ to Parliament House saw £58 million of taxpayers cash spent on updating the constantly crumbling court buildings – which also house the offices of Scotland’s powerful judicial clique and their top judge – the Lord President, currently Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland).

Some in the legal fraternity have since pointed to the recent multi million pound expenditure on improvements as part of a move to clean up Parliament House before a possible transfer of court staff and court functions and eventual sale of the buildings to the private sector.

It also emerged during hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in the summer of 2013 – the Scottish Court Service (SCS) – the predecessor to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) had previously demanded around £120 million of taxpayers cash be spent on renovating Parliament House.

£60M TO ‘IMPROVE’ PARLIAMENT HOUSE:

In the summer of 2013,  Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill – head of the Scottish Court Service Board, and the Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eric McQueen appeared before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on court closures and the millions spent on Parliament House – yet neither the judge nor the Courts chief mentioned their astonishing secret to the MSPs present – that the title to Scotland’s highest court buildings had been swiped by the Faculty of Advocates in a deal on the sly with Scottish Ministers.

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen gave evidence on the massive £60 million taxpayer funded spend on Parliament House.

The Court Service Chief told MSPs: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting beside Eric McQueen was Lord President Brian Gill, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Previous reports on the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court – Parliament House can be found here: Parliament House – The lost titles to the City of Edinburgh

 

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STILL BANKING, M’LORDS: Judicial quango in charge of Scotland’s Courts & Tribunals remains mired in financial links to Banks, investment funds, insurance, property & corporate vested interests

Banks & corporate interests are ‘quids in’ for judges. THE LATEST snapshot of financial investments held by a select few members of Scotland’s ultra secretive judiciary who sit on the judge-controlled body in charge of the courts – reveals banks convicted of rate-rigging, insurance cartels, property and corporate vested interests – remain favoured havens for judicial wealth.

Registers of Interests declaring the shareholdings of Scotland’s top judges – released by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) – in response to a Freedom of Information request – show minor changes in the pro-banks & big business investment structures of a handful of leading judges – since the issue was first revealed in the media and reported in further detail by Diary of Injustice in 2014.

However, Scotland’s top judge – Lord President Lord Carloway – who earns a salary of £220,655 a year – is listed under shareholdings in the register as holding “none”.

Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian – who earns £213,125 a year – is also listed under shareholdings in the same register as holding “none”.

Three other members of the judiciary who currently sit on the powerful Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service Board – also have nothing to declare in terms of shareholdings – leaving former Lord President Lord Brian Gill, Lady Smith and Justice of the Peace Johan Findlay as the only three remaining judges to declare any financial investments.

The existence of the shareholdings register of a select few judges came to the attention of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee who have been conducting a three year probe into proposals to create a judicial interests register – after details of judges’ shareholdings were revealed in an investigation published by the Sunday Herald newspaper.

The Sunday Herald investigation also revealed Sheriff Principal Dunlop QC – who presided over a court hearing involving Tesco – held shares in the supermarket giant yet did not absent himself because having shares in a company that is party to a court action does not require a member of the judiciary to step down from a case.

And, as a result of further investigations by the Scottish Sun newspaper – it was revealed the same Sheriff Principal Alistair Dunlop (who was also a member of the powerful Scottish Court Service Board until leaving this role in 2015) – held shares in companies which had been convicted of paying bribes in Iraq, and China – reported in further detail here: PROCEEDS OF CRIME: Judicial Interests investigation reveals top Sheriff Principal has shares in company fined £13.9million for Iraq bribes case & mining giant caught in China bribe scandal.

The current Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service Board Register of Shareholdings reveals the following declarations of shareholdings:

Lord President – Rt Hon Lord Carloway: None
Lord Justice Clerk – Rt Hon Lady Dorrian: None
President of Scottish Tribunals – Rt Hon Lady Smith: Artemis Fund Managers, Barclays, Blackrock AM, Brown Advisory, Goldman Sachs, Global Access, Henderson Investment, Ishares PLC, JP Morgan, Lazard Fund Managers, Pimco Global, Vanguard Funds PLC, Fundrock Management CO Gsquaretrix.
Sheriff Principal Duncan L Murray: None
Sheriff Iona McDonald: None
Sheriff A Grant McCulloch: None
Johan Findlay OBE JP: Aviva, Vodaphone, Santander, Unilever, Norwich Union, Legal & General, Fidelity Funds Network, Lloyds Banking Group, Thus Group, HBOS, Trafficmaster, Standard Life.
Dr Joseph Morrow QC: None
Lord President – Rt Hon Lord Gill (note: Lord Gill retired on 31 May 2015 and was succeed by Lord Carloway). :Henderson UK Growth Fund Retail Class Acc, Newton Global Equity Fund, Aviva Investors UK Equity Fund, Scottish Widows UK Growth Sub-Fund, HSBC Balanced Fund (Retail Acc), Royal Mail Plc, TSB Group Plc, Urban and Civil Plc, Vestry Court Ltd.

Among the non-judicial members of the same SCTS Board, declarations in their registers of interests, also disclosed via FOI legislation reveal:

Eric McQueen: None
Dr Kirsty J Hood QC: None
Simon J D Catto: Aberdeen Football Club PLC, Scottish Power UK Plc, Royal Mail PLC.
Joe Al-Gharabally: RBS, Ryanair, Aviva, AT & T
Professor R Hugh MacDougall: None
Colonel David McIlroy: None
Anthony McGrath: (note – Mr McGrath was a Board member until 31 December 2015 and was succeeded by Col David McIlroy, following completion of his term of office): Accys Technology, Alexander Mining, Apple, Ashley House, Asian Citrus, Augean, Avanti Comms, Barclays Bank Bond, Billings Services, Camkids, Cell Therapeutics, Centamin, Chariot Oil, Chemring, Coal Of Africa, Consolidated General Minerals, Correro, Cupid, East West Resources, Emblaze, Essenden, e-Trade Financial, Fox Marble, Globo plc , Goldenport Holdings, Goldplat, Heritage Oil, HSBC Holdings, Imic, Infrastrata, Interpublic, Jubilee Platinum, Lloyds Banking, Magnolia Petroleum, Mobile Streams, Norseman Gold, Polo Resources, Pure Bioscience, Quindell, Reach4entertainment, Resource Holdings, Royal Bank of Scotland, Saltire Taverns, Stagecoach, Standard Chartered, STV, Tanfield, Tower resources, Volga Gas, Westminster Group.

However, missing from any register is property ownership by judges and their relatives, together with interests in real estate, buy to let and property companies – a well known and profitable area of big business for members of the judiciary and their family members.

Big ticket items such as property are suspiciously omitted from the meagre financial declarations of high earning elite judges – who remain eager to keep their vast interests in property off the books and out of reach from potential accusations of conflict of interest in swathes of land & property related court hearings going through the courts.

The very limited disclosures of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service Board members also contain no references to outside earnings & work, relationships to law firms, big business and more detailed declarations which may be picked up by a fully published register of judicial interests as is currently being considered by MSPs.

The three year probe by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on proposals to create a register of judicial interests: Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary previously heard ‘claims’ from Scotland’s former top judge – Lord Brian Gill – that a register listing all financial interests of judges was “unworkable” for the entire judiciary.

However, some members of the Petitions Committee have voiced their unease during previous committee hearings that such a register as already exists for a handful of judges who sit on the SCTS Board – could not be implemented for the entire judiciary in Scotland.

If the judicial transparency proposal becomes reality, all members of Scotland’s judiciary – instead of just the elite few who sit on the board of the Scottish Courts – will be required to declare their vast and varied interests including their backgrounds, personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land interests, 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.

The proposal to require all members of the judiciary to declare their interests gained cross party support from msps during a debate on the petition – held at the Scottish Parliament on 7 October 2014, and reported along with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges. MSPs overwhelmingly supported a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests.

COMPANIES CONVICTED OF BRIBES, & SCOTTISH JUDGES WHO INVEST IN THEM:

The Scottish Sun newspaper reported how one judge – Sheriff Principal Alistair Dunlop – held shares in Weir Group – who were hit with a £13.9m Proceeds of Crime bill for bribing Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

JUDGE HAS SHARES IN BRIBE FIRM

Stocks Register Plea

EXCLUSIVE: by Russell Findlay
Scottish Investigations Editor The Scottish Sun on Sunday May 11 2014

A TOP judge holds shares in a firm hit with a £13.9million proceeds-of-crime bill for bribing Saddam Hussein’s regime,The Scottish Sun on Sunday can reveal.

Sheriff Principal Alastair Dunlop 62, has a stake in Glasgow based Weir Group, hammered in 2011 for paying kickbacks to land contracts in Iraq.

He also has shares in mining giant Rio Tinto, whose executives admitted bribery in China four years ago.

Sheriff Dunlop – the most senior sheriff in Tayside, Central and Fife – must declare his interests as a Scottish Court Service Board member but they are not made public.

Last night campaigner Peter Cherbi – who led calls for a register to improve transparency – said “I believe judges like Sheriff Principal Dunlop cannot hold investments in firms guilty of breaking the law”

Tory MSP John Lamont added “The public would fully expect judges to be transparent. A register would improve public confidence.”

Sheriff Dunlop declined to comment but the Judicial Office for Scotland said investments were “a matter for the individual”.

A full listing of Sheriff Principal Alistair Dunlop’s declared shareholdings – published by Diary of Injustice in August 2014 – revealed a significant list of companies caught up in allegations of corruption around the world.

Sheriff Principal R A Dunlop QC: Astrazeneca, BHP Billiton, Blackrock AM UK Gold & General, Bluescope Steel, BNY Mellon Newton Global, CG Real Return Inc, Close Brothers Group, Diageo, Findlay Park FDS American Smaller Cos., G4S, Henderson Global Invs, ING Global Real Estate Securities, Intercontinental Hotels, JP Morgan Private Equity, Lomond Shipping Co, Lloyds Banking, M&G (Guernsey) Global Leaders, National Grid, Oakley Capital Investments, Origo Partners, Pernod Ricard, Prudential, Rio Tinto, Royal Bank of Scotland, Royal Dutch Shell, Scottish Oriental Smaller Cos, Tesco, Vodafone, Weir Group.

Further details including information on criminal cases involving companies in the investment portfolios of Scotland’s judiciary is reported here: JUDICIAL RICH LIST: Register reveals top judges investments in dodgy justice system providers, companies linked to international bribes scandals.

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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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Scottish Parliament probe on judges’ register of interests hears from top Law Professor – room for widening transparency to include more than pecuniary interests, current recusals register is not complete.

Register of judges’ interests good for transparency. A TOP legal academic has told the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee there is room for improvement in proposals to create a register of interests for Scotland’s ultra secretive judiciary as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

In a written submission to MSPs, Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde told the Public Petitions Committee “in terms of accountability there is a clear link between the thinking behind calls for a Register of Judicial Interests and the concept of Judicial Recusal”.

However, the Law Professor criticised the weakness of content of the current “Recusal Register” – set up by Lord Gill as a result of a private meeting with MSPs.

Professor Paterson told MSPs: “The Public Register of Judicial Recusals is indeed to be welcomed but it only records the cases in which Scottish judges have actually recused themselves, not the cases in which they have been asked to recuse themselves and have declined to do so, far less those in which they might reasonably have been asked to recuse themselves but were not.”

“In short, we cannot always tell if judges are recusing themselves or declining to recuse themselves in the right cases. One measure which might assist with that issue is to ask whether the decision as to recusal should be left to the judge who has been challenged.”

The judicial transparency proposals – first debated at Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – call for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on 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.

A full debate in Holyrood’s main chamber was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was widely supported by MSPs from all political parties.

The written evidence from Professor Paterson to MSPs comes after the Petitions Committee were informed of the Law Professor’s work on judicial transparency.

Published as quotes on the Scottish Parliament Petition Committee’s website, references from a publication by Professor Paterson: “Lawyers and the Public Good: Democracy in Action” – give an account of how registers of interest could enhance judicial transparency.

In the book, Professor Paterson writes: “Slightly surprisingly, the justices of the UK Supreme Court, who have rightly in my view been praised for being more transparent on a range of fronts than the House of Lords, have chosen on this front to be less transparent than they were in the House. In the House they were subject to a Register of Interests, but  in  February  2010s5 they indicated that they  had  decided  not  to  have  a Register of Interests in the Supreme Court since (1) other judges in the United Kingdom do not have to complete a Register of Interests and (2) it would not be appropriate or indeed feasible for there to be a comprehensive register of the interests of all the justices. With the greatest of respect to the justices, I wonder if they have got this one right.”   

“The Supreme Court along with the rest of the (senior) judiciary is an arm of government, and democratic accountability normally means that we expect those who govern us to declare  their  interests  –  and not just on an as and when basis. A detailed Register of Interests might even have obviated the Pinochet affair.”

“My third route to enhancing the accountability of the judiciary is to introduce greater measures of disclosure and transparency. Each and every justice of the US Supreme Court has to complete a detailed annual return setting out all their financial interests, including all shareholdings and offices held in other organisations. Moreover, when they have been nominated for appointment they are  required to complete a very detailed questionnaire  about  their interests, publications and membership of organisations whether it be the masons, churches or golf clubs (single sex or otherwise).” 

“Recusal is a tricky area and I’m not sure that the answer is always to leave it to the judge who has been challenged to determine whether he or she has a disqualifying interest. I am confirmed in this   line of thinking by Grant Hammond, the judicial author of what is now the leading textbook in the area. The legal test is that laid down in Porter v. Magill* namely, would the hypothetical fair-minded, fully informed independent layperson having  considered the facts conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased. My difficulty  is  how  the  judges  are  to  know  the  answer to that question.”

PE1458/XX Judicial Register of Interests Petition PE1458

Writing in a letter to the Public Petitions Committee prior to the summer recess, Professor Patterson told MSPs: I refer to your letter of 18 March 2016 requesting that I write to you indicating my views on the action called for in the petition. I am not sure that I have a great deal to add to what I said in my Hamlyn lecture – A Paterson, Lawyers and the Public Good (Cambridge University Press, 2012) at pp.152-4. I indicated there, that at least at the level of final appeal courts there was an argument for enhancing the accountability of the judiciary by introducing greater measures of disclosure and transparency.

Each and every Supreme Court justice in the US Supreme Court has to complete a detailed annual return setting out their financial interests including gifts and hospitality. When appointed they also have to complete a comprehensive questionnaire about their interests, publications and memberships of clubs and organisations (including the Masons).  I am not aware that these requirements have caused particular problems in the USA.

When they were members of the House of Lords, the Law Lords had to complete a register of interests (which has since been considerably strengthened) and it was therefore a surprise to me that these same judges when they became UK Supreme Court Justices declined to have a Register of Interests, a position which they still adhere to. This despite the fact that Lord Hoffmann by failing to declare his involvement with Amnesty International (which might now appear in a Register of Interests) precipitated an unprecedented crisis in the House of Lords, the aftermath of which was felt for nearly a decade.

That said, whether a Register of Judicial Interests which is limited to pecuniary interests would be a worthwhile introduction for the Court of Session and the Sheriff Court is a difficult issue (as the evidence provided to the Petitions Committee has demonstrated) and one on which I am not sure I have a concluded view.

However, in terms of accountability there is a clear link between the thinking behind calls for a Register of Judicial Interests and the concept of Judicial Recusal. Here I think there is room for improvement in Scotland, particularly if there is to be no Register of Judicial Interests. 

The Public Register of Judicial Recusals is indeed to be welcomed but it only records the cases in which Scottish judges have actually recused themselves, not the cases in which they have been asked to recuse themselves and have declined to do so, far less those in which they might reasonably have been asked to recuse themselves but were not.

In short, we cannot always tell if judges are recusing themselves or declining to recuse themselves in the right cases. One measure which might assist with that issue is to ask whether the decision as to recusal should be left to the judge who has been challenged.

I am confirmed in this line of thinking by Grant Hammond, the judicial author of what is now the leading textbook in the area Judicial Recusal (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2009).

Just as we no longer leave decisions on contempt of court which relate to attacks on the judge to be decided by the judge in question, so it could be argued that requests for judicial recusal should be handled on an expedited basis by a bench of at least two different judges.    

I hope these thoughts have been of assistance. Yours sincerely Professor Alan Paterson OBE

While Professor Paterson said in his letter to MSPs he had no concluded view on whether a register limited only to pecuniary interests of judges would be worthwhile, it is widely understood in the media the proposals before the committee do actually call for a much wider and encompassing register of interests for the judiciary – similar to the same registers of interest which exist for politicians and public bodies across the country.

The petition’s call for a more complete register of interests was brought to the fore during an evidence session with Lord Brian Gill held in November 2015 – during which Committee member John Wilson made it clear in questions to the judge that any register of judicial interests proposed by the petition was expected to include much more than pecuniary interests.

The lengthy Scottish Parliament probe on judicial interests – now about to enter it’s fourth year – has previously heard evidence from key players in the justice system who all support the introduction of a register of judicial interests.

During an evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013 – Moi Ali, Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR)- backed the creation of a register of judicial interests – providing MSPs with a powerful first hand, honest and highly detailed account of the workings of Scotland’s judiciary and lack of judicial transparency & accountability.

Current Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson also backed plans to require judges to declare their interests, during an evidence  session of the Public Petitions Committee held in June 2015.

However, the move to create a register of judges’ interests was bitterly resisted by retired top judge Lord Gill, who spent two years of his short three year term as Lord President –  fighting the Petitions Committee on moves to have him appear before MSPs to give evidence.

Diary of Injustice recently reported on written evidence provided by Scotland’s latest top judge – Lord Carloway to the Public Petitions Committee on plans to require judges to declare their interests.

Lord Carloway (real name: Colin Sutherland) is a known opponent of the judicial transparency proposals.

Earlier this year, Lord Carloway told MSPs: “The proper administration of justice could be inhibited by the disclosure of the judiciary’s otherwise confidential financial arrangements. In that connection, there is the possibility that an individual judge may be the subject of misconceived criticism, deriving from the disclosure of personal financial information, where those interests are tangential and de minimis.”

The move by Scotland’s latest Lord President to undermine the Scottish Parliament’s efforts to increase judicial transparency follows a bitter three year campaign against the petition – led by Carloway’s former boss – Lord Brian Gill – which culminated in an ‘aggressive’ evidence session with the former top judge at Holyrood in November 2015.

Lord Gill – who spent two of his three year term fighting the judicial transparency proposals – was dubbed “Lord No-No” for his refusals to give evidence to MSPs on judges’ undeclared links to big business, secret criminal records & hidden wealth, handed the claim to the Scottish Parliament.

Refusing several invitations from MSPs to attend the Petitions Committee in person, the top judge sent a series of letters to MSPs – demanding the judiciary remain exempt from the public’s expectation of transparency in Government and those in public life.

As the petition was debated at Holyrood in the Lord President’s absence, it was revealed Lord Gill billed taxpayers for a five day state visit to Qatar. The top judge also travelled to numerous other international destinations – all charged to taxpayers.

An investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper also revealed Scotland’s top judges spent £26,000 on thirty three international trips funded by taxpayers – including journeys to destinations such as Russia, Israel, Switzerland,Germany, France, Bulgaria, Lithuania.

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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WOLFFE HALL: Edinburgh Council racks up £53K legal bill in failed bid to recover ownership of Parliament House – as papers reveal Faculty of Advocates “occupied” Laigh Hall for 150 years without recorded title deeds

Costs mount for return of Scotland’s top court buildingsAN UNSUCCESSFUL legal action by the City of Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of Parliament House – the sprawling, high value land estate situated in Edinburgh’s old town comprising Scotland’s top court buildings – has so-far cost taxpayers £52,991 – according to figures released to the media.

The costs of legal advice and other legal services provided to the council, revealed in a Freedom of Information disclosure, list law firm Burness Paul as the largest single expense at £38,726, followed by Counsel’s fees listed as £10,620K and ‘experts’ and other professional fees reaching a total of £2,400 after VAT.

However, the council’s legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was to be heard in the very same court buildings it had lost ownership of – was later abandoned – reported in further detail here:  WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI revealed the then Dean of Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) – refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In one letter dated 2 April 2015 to former Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice  Alex Neil MSP – James Wolffe told the Minister he did not object to a meeting between representatives of the City of Edinburgh Council and the Faculty of Advocates. However, Wolffe added to the same letter “At the same time I would not wish to give any expectation to you or the council as to the outcome of any discussion.”

In a separate email to a senior Scottish Government civil servant – James Wolffe added: “I am advised that the of refurbishing the Laigh Hall following the grant of title to the Faculty was £242,270 plus VAT, with professional fees of £33,537 plus VAT.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service also disclosed their own figures incurred following legal fees in the action against the City of Edinburgh Council regarding the titles of Parliament House, Parliament Hall and the Laigh Hall. The SCTS admitted it had incurred legal costs in respect of advice from solicitors amounted to £4,388.20 and costs of £3,980 in instructing Counsel.

The full listing of Legal Fees to City of Edinburgh Council: Parliament Hall Titles: Burness Paull 38,726.40, Charges/Diligence-Other Registers search fees 108.00, Counsel’s fees 10,620.00, Courier Charge 30.90, Court Dues 213.50, Court Officer fees 479.28, Experts/Other Professional fees 2,400.00, Registers Form Reports 60.00, Registers – Copy/Extract Dues 236.40, Registers Direct search fees 21.60, Travel Expenses 94.92, Totals £52,991.00

LAIGH HALL ‘OCCUPIED’ BY FACULTY OF ADVOCATES WITH NO RECORDED TITLES:

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates.

Additionally, the position of the Faculty of Advocates in relation to their ownership claim over the Laigh Hall becomes a little clearer in a chain of correspondence from the Edinburgh law firm of Shepherd and Wedderburn to RoS, which follows on from a letter from Registers of Scotland to a law firm marked “Destroy correspondence after archive”.

In a letter dated 19 January 2006, a solicitor – David A Smith of for Shepherd & Wedderburn appears to admit the Faculty of Advocates “occupied” a key part of Parliament House known as the Laigh Hall, but held no recorded title to it.

Mr Smith writes to Registers of Scotland, stating: The Disposition by The Scottish Ministers is stated to be for no consideration, and as I indicated to you In the course of our telephone conversation, the position with regard to the Laigh Hall is that the Faculty of Advocates has occupied the Laigh Hall for approximately 150 years, and the records of the Faculty indicate that although the Faculty did not have a recorded title to the Laigh Hall, the Senior Officer Bearers of the Faculty in the Nineteenth Century were of the opinion that the Faculty had “undoubted title” to the Laigh Hall.

Parliament House Is in the course of being redeveloped by The Scottish Court Service, and in the course of the redevelopment it became clear to all concerned that The Scottish Ministers did not have a registered title to the whole of Parliament House and it was agreed in the course of discussions between The Scottish Court Service and the Faculty that The Scottish Ministers would register a title to the entire building and they would then grant the Faculty a Disposition of the Laigh Hall in order to regularise the de facto position which has applied since the mid Nineteenth Century.

In the hope that this explanation will be sufficient for your purposes, I look forward to hearing from you with a receipted Form 4 and confirmation that the Registers of Scotland will now process the Faculty’s application for registration of its interest on the back of the application which was recently submitted on behalf of The Scottish Ministers in relation to the whole of Parliament House.

The solicitor at Shepherd  & Wedderburn acting for the ‘trustee’ for the Faculty of Advocates – David A Smith, was none other than David Alexander Smith – the husband of Court of Session judge Lady Anne Smith.

After his retirement from Shepherd & Wedderburn, David Smith served a term as a board member of the Scottish legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), where he sparked findings by Kevin Dunion – the then Scottish Information Commissioner – who demanded the release of censored comments by Smith targeting victims of corrupt solicitors who came before the pro-lawyer legal regulator.

PARLIAMENT HOUSE PUBLIC OWNERSHIP TITLE SWINDLE:

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it was clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

During an earlier check on the titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stood in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government’s position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

 

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