Look who’s Victorian now – Lord Gill criticised over conduct towards Judicial Complaints. SCOTLAND’S top judge, the Lord President Lord Brian Gill, who once branded Scotland’s Civil Justice system as “Victorian”, a failure to Scots society, unfit for purpose, and went onto proposed wide ranging reforms which have not been implemented some five years on, has himself come in for severe criticism over the judiciary’s attitude towards complaints made against judges after it was revealed that Moi Ali, the independent Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) tasked with looking into complaints made against Scottish judges has been “frozen out” of the process by angry members of the judiciary who despise independent scrutiny of their own activities.
The revelations, coming from Moi Ali’s first annual report as Judicial Complaints Reviewer were published only last week after the Scottish Government ignored a series of Freedom of Information requests made byDiary of Injustice journalists over the course of 2012 asking for the disclosure of information about the Judicial Complaints Reviewer’s appointment, her activities over the past year, and costs of her office.
Ms Ali’s first annual report, which can be read online here : Judicial Complaints Reviewer Annual report 20011- 2012 or on the JCR’s website HERE reveals a series of incidents where her office has been blocked by the Lord President from accessing communications, internal memos and reports between the office and the judges about complaints.
Ms Ali has also revealed in her report that, staggeringly, she has not even been able to meet the current Lord President, Lord Gill, or the previous Lord President Lord Hamilton.
In one particular case, Ms Ali revealed in her report “When the Judicial Office made an initial assessment of this complaint, it was not reasonable for them to conclude that the behaviour complained about, which left the complainer “insecure and scared”, fell into the category of judicial decision/case management/court programming. According to the Rules, they should have referred that element of the complaint to the disciplinary judge for consideration. This did not happen, and instead the complaint, in its entirety, was dismissed. For that reason I made a referral to the Lord President, who then revoked that part of the original determination and referred it to the disciplinary judge, who then dismissed the complaint.”
Clearly Scotland’s judiciary have operated in a closed world for too long, and have become used to writing their own rules, and living above expectations of transparency which the rest of us – even the Prime Minister, have to adhere to. In this regard, Lord Gill also attacked proposals put before the Scottish Parliament in the form of a Public Petition calling for a register of interests of Scotland’s judiciary, more on which can be read here : DECLARE YOUR INTERESTS M’LORDS : Scottish Parliament seek views on Public Petition calling for a Register of Interests of Scotland’s wealthy Judges & Sheriffs
Lord Gill heavily criticised the plans for a register of interests of judges, claiming he and his fellow colleagues should have their significant wealth & assets shielded from public disclosure in case “aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants” were to find out the true state of judges wealth and their connections to big business, including financial connections with insurance companies, offshore tax-dodging trusts, and somewhat odd property ownership schemes.
Lord Gill’s full letter to the Scottish Parliament on Petition PE01458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary will be reported further on Diary of Injustice later this week.
The Sunday Mail newspaper has featured a report on Moi Ali’s difficulties with the Scottish Judiciary, and Lord Gill’s attack on plans to make Scotland’s judiciary more transparency & accountable. Since yesterday’s report in the press, sources within the Scottish Government have this afternoon informed DOI journalists that “officials had operated a policy of deliberately ignoring FOI requests relating to the Judicial Complaints Reviewer’s office from Diary of Injustice.”.
For the record, Rosemary Agnew, the Scottish Information Commissioner was made aware of the Scottish Government’s refusal to answer any Freedom of Information requests relating to the Judicial Complaints Reviewer during 2012 and the SIC were copied in on the relevant FOI requests made to the Scottish Government at the time.
The Sunday Mail reports :
May the watchdog appointed by the Scottish Government to investigate complaints against judges have leave to approach the bench, Your Honours?
NO.. SHE MAY NOT
SILENCE IN COURT Lord Gill has not met judicial investigator so far.
EXCLUSIVE, By Russell Findlay, Sunday Mail 10 Feb 2013
A watchdog appointed to look into complaints against Scotland’s judges fears she is being frozen out.
Moi Ali has accused the country’s most senior judge, Lord President Lord Gill, of undermining her work by blocking access to vital documents.
She revealed her frustration in her first annual report since taking up the newly-created role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer.
Ali said she was only seeing the correspondence between the Judicial Office, who act for the judges, and the complainers.
But she was not allowed to see the internal memos and reports between the office and the judges about complaints.
She said: “I believe that in order to conduct a review, and to make wider recommendations on complaints handling, I need to see files in their entirety. “Without this, it is difficult to satisfy myself, let alone complainers, as to the fairness of the process. “I have continued to complete reviews but have made it clear to complainers that I have not had access to all documentation in their complaint file.”
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill defied judicial opposition to create the part-time job to monitor how complaints against judges, sheriffs and justices of the peace are handled.
And Ali fears there is still resistance from within the judiciary to her role as an independent investigator.
She said: “With any profession, there’s a feeling that regulation should come from within. “But this is the first time that the judiciary have been exposed to this kind of scrutiny, which other professional groups are more used to. “Most have accepted there is some kind of mechanism to scrutinise their conduct. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a free and independent judiciary.”
Ali also revealed that she has still not met 70-year-old Lord Gill, who was appointed to his £214,165-a-year post last June, and did not meet his predecessor Lord Hamilton.
She said: “I’m not overly concerned but I’m slightly surprised that the Lord President did not proactively suggest a meeting. I don’t need to meet him but I think it would have sent out a positive message.”
Ali is more concerned at the decision to block her access to documents.
She said: “This came to light because in review number one I was sent all the documents but then I didn’t get the same ones for the second review. “At that point I discovered that I had been given them in error the first time. “I can’t see any reason why and that worries me because I can’t understand it.”
Ali also voiced concerns that judges being investigated could evade punishment by quitting before the probe is complete. And she found there has been a breach in the rules in the way one of the four complaints she reviewed had been handled. Ali also urged the judiciary staff to use plain English when dealing with the public.
Her lack of administrative support was also highlighted – on her first day, she did not have a computer, printer, phone, email address or stationery – and she said it meant she was “unable to give the level of service that I would like to provide”.
A Judicial Office for Scotland spokeswoman said: “In the short time the JCR has been in the post, we have worked very closely with Ms Ali in implementing, developing and reviewing the rules and how they are applied.
“With any new system, there is always a period of adaptation and adjustment and we are grateful to Ms Ali for the helpful suggestions and recommendations she has put forward and which, for the most part, have been implemented.
“A review of the rules is due to take place shortly and the Lord President is committed to working constructively to ensure the complaints procedure develops effectively.”
TOP JUDGE REJECTS REGISTER OF INTERESTS
Lord Gill has rejected calls for judges to register their interests – because he fears they may be harassed by “aggressive media”.
A petition lodged with the Scottish Parliament is calling on the judiciary to reveal any commercial, business or legal links in case they raise possible conflicts with their cases.
But in a letter to the public petitions committee, Scotland’s most senior judge said current safeguards are enough.
Lord Gill said: “In practical terms, it would be impossible for all judicial office holders to identify all the interests that could conceivably arise in any future case.
“The terms of the judicial oath and the statement of principles of judicial ethics ensure that such a difficulty does not arise and that the onus is on the judicial office holder to declare any interest at the outset.”
He said details held on a register could be abused by “aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants”.
The call for a register has also been rejected by the Law Society of Scotland.