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SILENCE IN COURT : Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill summoned to Parliament over ‘vested interests’ attempt to block Register of Judicial Interests petition

11 Mar

Lord Gill to appear before msps over objections to register of judges interests. SCOTLAND’S Lord President Lord Brian Gill is set to appear before the Scottish Parliament to explain why he is so committed to blocking a register of judicial interests which would reveal judges’ wealth, business connections and other relationships including high earning jobs outside of the court and even criminal records which have so far been kept secret from the public scrutiny.

The move by the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to summon Lord Gill comes after a candid debate last Tuesday 5 March on the strength of the Lord President’s written opposition to a law journalist’s PUBLIC PETITION calling for a Register of Judicial Interests.

Petition PE01458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary, which 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.

During last week’s meeting of Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee, MSPs engaged in a substantive debate on the merits of the petition and gave their reaction to the Lord President’s strongly worded letter to Committee members in which he attacked plans to call for a register of interests for judges. Lord Gill also criticised the petitioner as “naive” and “misguided” over his call to make judges declare their interests in a public register. Lord Gill’s letter followed two others from the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Government’s Justice Department who are also attempting to shut down debate on the issue.

Petition PE1458 Register of Judges Interests 5 March 2013 Scottish Parliament (click image below to watch video footage of Holyrood debate)

Committee member Jackson Carlaw MSP (Scottish Conservative), said “When I first saw this petition I wasn’t terribly impressed. But I’m more impressed as a consequence of the responses we received.The student anarchist in me slightly smells the whiff of vested interests closing doors and backs being slapped in an effort to shut the whole matter down.”

Mr Carlaw continued : “I would very much like us to commission an evidence session and invite the Lord President, if that’s within our competence, and other vested interests who believe we should close this down to justify their position to the committee. Since it’s quite clear no other area is examining this at present, I think that, on behalf of the petitioner, this is an issue that should be aired in public rather than just in writing.”

Committee chairman and Labour MSP David Stewart (Scottish Labour) said: “The petitioner put quite an interesting argument forward to say that there’s no real evidence here. I mean, how many judges are declaring an interest and recusing during the course of a case? Or are there any judges holding a case in which they’ve got an interest and they’re not declaring an interest? Also, lots of other public groups have to have a register of interests – why are judges any different?”

Chic Brodie MSP (SNP) also took issue with some of the terms of Lord Gill’s protestations in which the Lord President claimed judges should be shielded from the media and more public scrutiny. Mr Brodie said: “If you want to take out ‘judges’ and put in ‘politicians’, why are they different?”

Mr Brodie agreed with Jackson Carlaw’s suggestion the Lord President be called to attend Holyrood, and also went further, asking whether the Committee could look at the wider interests of judges and not just pecuniary interests as proposed in the New Zealand bill which is being used as a comparison for the introduction of a similar register for Scottish judges.

Mr Brodie’s suggestion of a wider investigation into judges interests falls in line with proposals made by the New Zealand Law Commission’s discussion paper on a register of judicial interests, which recommends inclusion of court staff in a register of interests. The New Zealand Law Commission proposals can be downloaded here : NZLC IP21 – Towards a New Courts Act: A Register of Judges pecuniary interests? (pdf)

John Wilson MSP (SNP) also agreed with the invite to Lord Gill to attend, and to also seek further information on exactly how the current system functions where judges are supposed to declare their interests if a conflict arises, and for the Lord President to explain why he wrote to the Committee in such opposing terms to the petition.

The Sunday Mail newspaper reported on developments at the Scottish Parliament, here :

Scotland's top judge summoned to appear before MSPs after trying to block register of interestsScotland’s top judge summoned to appear before MSPs after trying to block register of interests

M’Lud, you’ve a pleading cheek : MSPs demand top judge explains why he tried to block register of interests

EXCLUSIVE : By Russell Findlay, Sunday Mail 10 Mar 2013

A HOLYROOD committee want the law chief to explain why he tried to halt a register which would reveal judges’ business, professional and financial links.

SCOTLAND’S top judge is to appear before MSPs after he tried to block a judicial register of interests. Lord Gill – the £214,000-a-year Lord President – dismissed the need for judges to reveal business, professional and financial links.

The identity of a judge convicted of benefit fraud would also be likely to be revealed if such a register existed.

Holyrood’s petitions committee want Gill, 71, to explain his opposition to the transparency motion by legal reform campaigner Peter Cherbi.

Committee member Jackson Carlaw, Scottish Conservative deputy leader, said: “When I first saw this petition I wasn’t terribly impressed. But I’m more impressed as a consequence of the responses we received.

“The student anarchist in me slightly smells the whiff of vested interests closing doors and backs being slapped in an effort to shut the whole matter down.

“I would very much like us to commission an evidence session and invite the Lord President, if that’s within our competence, and other vested interests who believe we should close this down to justify their position to the committee.

“Since it’s quite clear no other area is examining this at present, I think that, on behalf of the petitioner, this is an issue that should be aired in public rather than just in writing.”

Committee chairman and Labour MSP David Stewart plans to ask Gill how many judges have “recused” themselves – stepped down – from cases in which they have an interest.

Stewart said: “The petitioner put quite an interesting argument forward to say that there’s no real evidence here.

“I mean, how many judges are declaring an interest and recusing during the course of a case? Or are there any judges holding a case in which they’ve got an interest and they’re not declaring an interest?

“Also, lots of other public groups have to have a register of interests – why are judges any different?”

Members of the judiciary, including judges, sheriffs and JPs, adhere to various rules including an oath of office. In his written opposition, Gill said he and his colleagues could be abused by “aggressive media or hostile individuals”.

But the SNP’s Chic Brodie said: “If you want to take out ‘judges’ and put in ‘politicians’, why are they different?”

Last year, we revealed that a judge had been convicted of benefit fraud but his or her identity was kept secret. Cherbi believes that a register would have forced the crooked judge to declare his or her conviction. He was inspired by similar moves in New Zealand which were sparked by a judge failing to declare that he owed money to a lawyer involved in a case.

A register could be created by the Scottish Parliament or by the Judicial Office for Scotland, which incorporates the Lord President’s office. Typically, such registers reveal details of hospitality, gifts, property ownership, shareholdings and personal or financial connections to outside organisations.

Cherbi, from Edinburgh, who campaigns against Scotland’s legal self-regulation and secretive justice, said: “Lord Gill’s style might have worked in 1813 but clearly does not work in 2013.” In a written submission to the committee, Cherbi said: “It is plainly wrong to suggest that, just because someone is a judge, they are above transparency and accountability.”

The Judicial Office for ­Scotland said: “The Lord President has not received any approach from the committee following its consideration of the relevant ­petition, and while the members’ comments are noted it would not be appropriate to comment at this stage.”

Last month, the country’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali, accused Gill of blocking access to vital documents. Three years ago, he delivered a damning report on Scotland’s “Victorian” civil courts. That led to last month’s Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill, which it is hoped will make access to justice cheaper and faster.

Lord Gill factfile

BRIAN GILL was raised in Riddrie, Glasgow, and was educated at the fee-paying Jesuit Catholic school St Aloysius’ College. After studying at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities, he became a law lecturer. As a farming law expert, he became a QC in 1981 and a judge 13 years later. He quickly caused controversy by branding Scotland’s civil justice a “relic of a vanished age”. Those views were echoed in his 2009 report which has sparked an overhaul of the civil courts.

The dad of six has featured in many high-profile cases. He let the widow of a lung cancer victim pursue a damages claim against a cigarette firm without putting up a penny in security. He ruled that two gay men could not adopt a handicapped boy. He also rejected a compensation claim over a failed vasectomy. Gill presided over the appeal court’s quashing of the convictions of Tommy Campbell and Joe Steele for the Ice Cream Wars murders.

In 2011, then Cardinal Keith O’Brien presented him with the Papal Knighthood for outstanding service to public life”. Gill has a love of church music and his other interests include children’s and youth charities and architecture.

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