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JUDGE OUR JUDGES : Petition seeks ‘judicial transparency’, asks Westminster require judiciary to ‘declare all’ to a Register of Interests

26 Oct

Britain’s highly paid judges are unaccountable & currently refuse to submit to a register of interests, so let’s change their minds in the public interest. A REGISTER OF INTERESTS FOR JUDGES will provide greater transparency within the judicial system, will assist in the administration of justice & public confidence in its procedures, and most of all, will avoid any conflicts of interest in the judiciary which currently go unnoticed due to the fact judges have until now REFUSED to hold themselves to a higher standard of transparency & accountability than most politicians & public servants who are required by Government or Parliamentary rules & even the law itself to register their financial & other interests & any hospitality received.

E-Petition to Downing Street Petitions website asks for judges to be required to declare all to a register of interests. An E-Petition, filed yesterday on the No10 website asks the following : This petition requests the Government bring about a Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill (as is currently being considered in New Zealand’s Parliament) or amend present UK legislation to require all members of the Judiciary to submit their interests & hospitality to a publicly available Register of Interests.

PLEASE CLICK THIS LINK AND SIGN THE PETITION : Register of Interests for UK Judiciary

In an age of public expectations of full accountability & transparency, it is time to end some or indeed all of the myths created around the judiciary by the legal establishment, vested interests and even the judiciary itself, by bringing the UK’s highly paid, if not always highly respected or respectable judges into line with all other public servants in requiring them to comply with a full register of interests & hospitality.

While this e-petition relates only to members of the judiciary in England & Wales, it does apply to members of the UK’s Supreme Court, who for now have said in an online document : “… The Justices have decided that it would not be appropriate or indeed feasible for them to have a comprehensive Register of Interests, as it would be impossible for them to identify all the interests, which might conceivably arise, in any future case that came before them. To draw up a Register of Interests, which people believed to be complete, could potentially be misleading”.

Politicians and other public servants simply cannot get away such a statement with excusing themselves from transparency & accountability via a register of interests & hospitality, so why should members of the judiciary. Judge our judges by signing the petition.

Here in Scotland, the judiciary have also REFUSED to submit to a register of interests or hospitality, however their reasons for refusing to bring greater transparency to the judicial process in Scotland may well have something to do with the fact no all Scottish judges have been honest in excusing themselves from cases where they have conflicting interests with vested interests before them in court or in their private lives, as I reported in an earlier article here : Offshore trusts, property holdings, insurance syndicates, hospitality from dodgy lawyers, yet no plans for a register of interests for Scottish judges

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office for Scotland, commenting on the lack of a register of interests for Scottish judges who receive up to £230K a year plus expenses & massive gold plated pensions, stated : “The Judicial Office for Scotland does not hold a register of hospitality for members of the judiciary and there are no plans to do so. The Lord President has set out formal guidelines to the judiciary in the STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES OF JUDICIAL ETHICS. Para 4.9 and 7.2 address this particular point.”

Lord Hamilton judicialLord Hamilton, Scotland’s Lord President has REFUSED to create a register of interests for Scottish judges. Lord President Lord Hamilton said in his statement : “While attempts to corrupt the judiciary are virtually unknown in this jurisdiction, a judge should be circumspect in the acceptance of any gift, hospitality, or favour from any private source. Where the benefit sought to be conferred upon the judge is not commensurate with an existing family or social relationship between him or her and the donor, or host, it should normally be declined. However, it is recognised that a judge may, from time to time, legitimately be entertained by legal, professional or public organisations or office-holders, in furtherance of good relations between them and the judiciary as a whole, or representatives of it. Furthermore, nothing said here should be understood as inhibiting judges from accepting invitations to give lectures, addresses, or speeches of a non-legal nature at dinners, or other occasions, or, in such an event, from accepting commensurate hospitality, tokens of appreciation for their efforts, or appropriate expenses of travel or accommodation.”

Lord Hamilton’s statement continues : “It is considered appropriate that a judge may write, lecture, teach and participate in activities concerning the law, the legal system, the administration of justice and related matters. However, to obviate the perception that judicial office is being exploited for personal gain, a judge holding a full-time appointment should not generally receive any remuneration for such activities, with the traditional exception of fees and royalties as an author or editor, although the acceptance of a modest gift in recognition of a service given would be unexceptionable. Where a judge is offered a substantial fee for the activities described, such fee should go directly to charity. There is, of course, no objection to a judge accepting reasonable reimbursement of the cost of any necessary travel or accommodation required in attending lectures, seminars, etc. In the event of a judge engaging in literary, or other creative or artistic activities, there can be no objection to that judge receiving the normal royalties, fees, or other payments in respect of the results of those activities.”

A similar petition has been filed with the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, which is now being discussed with Scottish Parliament officials prior to being published on the Scottish Parliament’s website, which Diary of Injustice will continue to report on.

A MODEL FOR OPENNESS : NEW ZEALAND MOVES AHEAD OF UK WITH JUDICIAL TRANSPARENCY

New Zealand’s Parliament will enact laws to require judges to comply with register of interests. In New Zealand, there is Member’s Bill in the New Zealand Parliament, known as the Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill, introduced in late 2010 by Dr Kennedy Graham of the Green Party to introduce a Pecuniary Register of Interests for all judges, after a scandal involving the resignation of Justice Bill Wilson rocked the New Zealand legal establishment and brought into question the interests & relationships between judges & others. Justice Wilson was forced to resign after it was reported he had failed to step down in a case or disclose his business and financial relationships with Auckland QC Alan Galbraith when sitting as a member of the Court of Appeal in an appeal in which Mr Galbraith successfully represented the Wool Board Disestablishment Company in their appeal against superfine wool producers Saxmere over wool board levies. There were allegations that Justice Wilson owed Mr Galbraith $242,804, which was not disclosed to the Court of Appeal hearing. The debt was denied by Justice Wilson. More on the scandal can be read HERE, HERE & HERE.

There are concerns similar relationships between members of the judiciary and law firms, lawyers & advocates have now been found to exist in Scotland and have now been found to significantly affect some cases where big business, members of professions including the legal profession and even the Law Society of Scotland itself have faced legal action in the courts, cases which all went the way of vested interests.

The full details of New Zealand’s intentions to bring about judicial transparency via a register of interests can be viewed online here Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill. Dr Graham’s bill states :

It is a time-honoured principle of Western democracy that public servants of every kind must be beyond reproach, and suspicion thereof. Public confidence in the standard of behaviour and conduct observed by leading servants of the people is a cornerstone of social harmony and political stability. A threshold of confidence to that end should ideally be enshrined in constitutional and legislative form. Little scope should be available for individual discretion or subjective perception.

The principle of transparency in this respect pertains in particular to issues of financial (pecuniary) interest. Nothing undermines public confidence in a nation’s institutions and procedures more than suspicion that a public servant may have, and especially proof that one has, suffered a conflict of interest arising from a pecuniary interest in a particular dealing in which he or she was professionally involved.

The correct balance in this respect appears to have been achieved over the years–the public interest in such annual statements is significant without appearing prurient, and few complaints have been voiced by those on whom the obligations are placed. There seems to be a general acceptance that such exercises are in the public interest and are neither unduly onerous nor revealing.

No such practice, however, has been observed in the case of the judiciary. Recent developments within New Zealand’s judicial conduct processes suggest that application of the same practice observed by the other two branches of government might assist in the protection of the judiciary in future.

Being obliged under law to declare pecuniary interests that might be relevant to the conduct of a future case in which one is involved would relieve a judge from a repetitive weight of responsibility to make discretionary judgements about his or her personal affairs as each case arises. Having declared one’s pecuniary interests once, in a generic manner independent of any particular trial, a judge may freely proceed in the knowledge that, if he or she is appointed to adjudicate, public confidence for participation has already been met. Yet care is to be exercised to ensure that the final decision is left to the individual judge whether to accept a case. There should be no intention of external interference into the self-regulation of the judiciary by the judiciary.

This is the reasoning behind this draft legislation–the Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill. The purpose of the Bill, as stated, is to promote the due administration of justice by requiring judges to make returns of pecuniary interests to provide greater transparency within the judicial system, and to avoid any conflict of interest in the judicial role.

Additionally, in the New Zealand lawyer online, it was reported New Zealand’s Law Commission discussed the possibility the planned register of interests should be expanded to include all judicial officials who could affect a case, saying in Chapter 8.25 of their discussion paper. The Law Commission stated : “If there is to be legislation, should it apply to all judges, or only to judges of some levels, or to all judicial employees and officials such as prosecutors and registrars? An argument can be made that if there is to be financial disclosure it should be required of all officials whose positions give them sufficient potential to influence the outcome of a case, whether as a result of a bribe or other improper influence.” The New Zealand Law Commission’s discussion paper on a register of judicial interests can be downloaded here : NZLC IP21 – Towards a New Courts Act: A Register of Judges’ pecuniary interests? (pdf)

The intentions of the New Zealand Parliament to move ahead with a register of interests for judges should serve as a model for a similar register of interests for all members of the UK’s judiciary, whether in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland. I also support the idea from the New Zealand Law Commission that all officials whose positions give them sufficient potential to influence the outcome of a case should be required to disclose their financial & other interests.

I therefore ask all of you who feel our judges should be more accountable, rather than being shrouded in myth & secrecy, to sign the Westminster version of the petition and the Scottish petition when it is published, to be featured on Diary of Injustice in the near future.

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