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ANYTHING TO DECLARE, M’LORD ? Holyrood Petition calls for a Register of Judicial Interests for Scotland’s Judges & Sheriffs

08 Nov

Courts Judges Scotland montageJudges wealth, links to big business, banks, law firms etc should be declared in register of interests. SCOTTISH JUDGES should be required to declare their financial wealth along with money making ventures, business & professional relationships & any other relevant links including those impacting on criminal trials, in a published REGISTER OF JUDICIAL INTERESTS, according to A PETITION filed at the Scottish Parliament by legal blogger & contributor to Diary of Injustice, Peter Cherbi

Petition PE01458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary which is now open for signatures from the public, calls for the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to create a Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill (as is currently being considered in New Zealand’s Parliament) or amend present legislation to require all members of the Judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests & hospitality received to a publicly available Register of Interests.

Diary of Injustice has featured coverage of the petition in earlier reports, Register of Interests for Judges.

The petition goes on to report how the Parliament of New Zealand is debating legislation to create a register of interests for the judiciary. Mr Cherbi says he believes it is time for Scotland to move in the same direction and create a similar register of interests for the judiciary of Scotland and all its members, increasing the transparency of the judiciary and ensuring public confidence in their actions & decisions.

The full details of the New Zealand Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill, should be looked at for a model of similar legislation in Scotland, can be viewed online here  Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill.

New Zealand MP, Dr Kennedy Graham’s bill on judicial interests 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.”

Mr Cherbi said in his petition : “I believe the same aims of the New Zealand legislation as quoted above, are compatible with the public interest in Scotland and to promote the due administration of justice by providing the public with greater transparency within the judicial system.”

The Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill is an example of similar legislation for a register of judicial interests in New Zealand, bought to the New Zealand Parliament by Dr Kennedy Graham.When asked whether a register of interests existed for Scottish judges, the Judicial Office for Scotland said “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.”

However in an age of transparency where the decisions of Scottish judges affect all our lives, whether the case be criminal or civil, there must be a requirement for all public servants particularly those in positions of such importance as the judiciary to submit their interests to a publicly available register of interests.

Towards a New Courts Act - A Register of Judges Pecuniary InterestsNew Zealand’s Law Commission issued paper supporting a register for judges interests. In New Zealand, the New Zealand Law Commission has argued for a wider remit to include all officials whose positions given them potential to influence a case to be included in such a register of interests.

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)

In comparison to New Zealand’s effort to ensure transparency in the judiciary, Scotland’s judges and the Scotish Government have, unsurprisingly backed away from any similar measures, even concealing criminal charges and convictions of Scottish judges, where in one case a Scottish judge was charged with fiddling benefits claims, exposed in a Diary of Injustice investigation into Judge’s financial fiddles, here : CAREER CROOKED : Investigation reveals Scottish judges are CONVICTED CRIMINALS, Drunk Drivers,Tax Dodgers & alleged BENEFITS CHEATS

In response to an earlier Freedom of Information Request from Diary of Injustice, the Head of Strategy & Governance for the Judicial Office for Scotland pointedly REFUSED to provide any details of information disclosing whether any members of the judiciary in Scotland have declared or informed the Scottish Court Service in the past three years of :

Any offshore investments, Unrecorded cash transactions, Payments for outside work, Any application of “tax efficient” schemes to avoid paying taxes, Associations or meetings with convicted criminals, Vehicle accidents,  criminal charges, or being interviewed by Police.

The reasons given by the Judicial Office for refusing to disclose key details on what Scots judges are getting up to, are that much of the information requested is held by an ‘arms length body’ created by the Scottish Court Service which holds such information on behalf of the Lord President, rather than passing it directly to him.

The on-going investigation by Diary of Injustice into members of Scotland’s judiciary has already revealed a series of judges appear to be involved in OFFSHORE TAX AVOIDANCE schemes, associations with convicted criminals & organised crime, prostitution rackets, accepting hospitality & payments from well known corrupt solicitors representing dodgy law firms while others on the bench are engaging in questionable investments & duties which appear to be in conflict with their positions as members of the judiciary. More on these findings can be read 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

The Sunday Mail newspaper has reported on the petition for a register of Judicial Interests, here :

Petition to hold judges to account Sunday Mail November 04 2012Petition to hold judges to account

by Russell Findlay

Sunday Mail November 04 2012

A legal campaigner has urged MSPs to create a register of interests for Scotland’s judges.

Peter Cherbi has secured a Scottish Parliament petition calling for all sheriffs and judges to declare financial interests and hospitality.

The legal blogger from Edinburgh, said: “Like those in other areas of public life, members of the judiciary should be required to disclose their interests, financial or otherwise.

“This would increase transparency and help to ensure public confidence in their actions and decisions.

“It has been suggested to me some judges have offshore investments for the purpose of tax avoidance while others may have shares or other connections to businesses.”

Cherbi was inspired by a similar proposed law which is being debated in New Zealand.

The closing date for the online petition is December 7.

Judges were issued with ethical guidelines which were drawn up by senior judges headed by Lord Osborne two years ago.

The Judicial Office for Scotland: “We do not hold a register of hospitality for members of the judiciary and there are no plans to do so.”

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