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Scots judges emerge from ‘Victorian veil’ as judiciary’s expenses claims set to be published online from November 2010

28 Sep

Diary of Injustice covers Judges expenses claimsDiary of Injustice reveals Scotland’s Court of Session judges & Sheriffs claimed £535K expenses on top of huge salaries. MEDIA ENQUIRIES into the lavish expenses claims & perks of Scotland’s already highly paid judiciary, revealed in two investigations on the costs of Scotland’s “Victorian” justice system, appear to have brought a new level of public openness from the new Judicial Office for Scotland with the sudden announcement that all expenses claims made by Scotland’s top judges, Sheriffs, Sheriff Principals & part-time Sheriffs will now be published online, as has been the case for some time in England & Wales.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office said : “I can confirm that the Scottish Court Service intends to make available to the public the information that you seek. Details of travel and subsistence expenses claimed by individual salaried judicial office holders since 1 April 2010 will be published on 1 November 2010 and thereafter on a quarterly basis. The information will be published in the Judiciary of Scotland website www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk

The spokesperson went onto comment that since expenses claims are now to be published online, all Freedom of Information requests regarding judicial expenses have now been invalidated under section 27 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 given that the information on expenses claims will be published within the next 12 weeks.

The decision by the Judicial Office to publish expenses claims of Scotland’s judicial office holders comes after my earlier investigations into the expenses claims of Scotland’s judiciary, reported in August : The costs of Scotland’s ‘Victorian’ Justice System : Court of Session judges paid £6.1 million as litigants struggle to obtain hearing dates & here : Justice Delayed ? Not when it comes to expenses claims as high earning Scots judges rake in at least £78K in ‘travel’ claims

As the decision was being taken to publish the expenses claims of judges & sheriffs, the Scottish Government released a final set of statistics in response to a Freedom of Information request, showing the total expenses claims made by all of Scotland’s judicial office holders over the past two years.

Expenses Claims of Scotland's JudiciaryScottish Government FOI release of Judicial Office holder’s expenses claims. The newly released figures reveal that while a Sheriff receives an annual salary of around £128,296 per annum, Scotland’s Sheriffs collectively claimed a further £176,431.37 in expenses in the last financial year 2009/2010, while part time sheriffs who are paid a daily fee of around £575 for each day of service claimed an additional much larger figure of £281,085.07 in expenses. The figures also reveal earlier & current expenses claims of £106,367.09 & £77,259.31 respectively for Scotland’s Court of Session judges (Senators) on salaries ranging from £172,753.00 to the Lord President’s staggering £214,165.00.

The figures make for grim reading in recession hit UK, where it seems expenses claims for high salaried public positions are far from “under control” while the delivery of access to justice in our courts is still at a snail’s pace, as are the now one year old moves to reform Scotland’s “Victorian” justice system, which I reported on recently, here : Civil Courts Review one year on : Scotland’s out-of-reach justice system remains Victorian, untrustworthy and still controlled by vested interests

The Scottish Government admitted in FOI responses there were no details held of the individual expenses claims for judges on a central database as the accounts system only recorded the totals charged against headings such as Travel and Subsistence. However the new policy of publication of all judicial office holder’s expenses claims in Scotland will bring transparency in expenses into line with England & Wales, details of which can be viewed on the English Judiciary’s website, here : Judicial Expenses for England & Wales

A legal insider today admitted some were uneasy over the publication of judicial expenses, although he indicated it was felt in view of media & public interest in expenses claims, there was little option left other than to publish the amounts on the new Judiciary for Scotland website, which I reported on earlier, here : Judiciary of Scotland website launched, expect more break-neck speed judicial reforms around the next ‘Victorian’ corner …

It was also indicated the expectation was that expenses claims ‘would be better managed and hopefully fall in the wake of publication’.

Again … another thumbs up for the new Judicial Office for Scotland. Little did this Law journalist expect the ‘next Victorian corner’ would be turned in a remarkable, break-neck speed of just seven days later !

This only leaves attending to all the recommendations of the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill’s CIVIL COURTS REVIEW, ensuring an equally speedy implementation of all the reforms our “Victorian” Civil Justice system requires to ensure all Scots have access to justice, unobstructed by those elements of the legal profession who still consider the courts their own business domain, rather than a justice system which should always be open to all.

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