Secretive judge : Lord Gill snubs Holyrood over questions on register of judicial interests. SCOTLAND’S most senior judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill has abruptly REFUSED an invitation to appear before the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to give evidence on why he is trying to block a proposal to create a register of interests for all members of the Scots judiciary.
Lord Gill had been invited to give evidence at Holyrood on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary after msps raised serious questions over the strength of the Lord President’s protestations against declaring judges financial & other interests.
During the 5th March meeting of the Petitions Committee which saw intense debate about the register of judicial interests idea, Jackson Carlaw MSP told colleagues : “The student anarchist in me smells the whiff of vested interests closing doors and turning their backs in an effort to shut the matter down. In fact, the protest was so great that I found myself thinking, “Methinks the Lord President doth protest too much. I would like us to invite the Lord President to give evidence to the committee, if that is within our competence, along with other vested interests who think that we should close the petition, so that we can ask them to justify their position.”
Several MSPs on the Petitions Committee raised further key points regarding Lord Gill’s furious opposition to the register of interests proposal, reported in full HERE, and an invitation was sent out to the Lord President to attend Holyrood, an invitation Lord Gill has now pointedly refused.
Lord Gill’s letter to MSPs refusing to attend Parliament. In Lord Gill’s letter to MSPs dated 2 April 2013, the Lord President said : “Thank you for your invitation to attend the committee to provide oral evidence. I hope that you will not think it discourteous of me to decline your invitation. As your fellow members noted in their discussion, I have provided a detailed response. On reflection, I think that I could not add any material points to the terms of my response.”
Lord Gill went on to provide references to a European report on corruption within the judiciary, a report which itself has been prepared and written by judges. The report, available here : GRECO FOURTH EVALUATION ROUND Corruption prevention in respect of members of Parliament, Judges and Prosecutors unsurprisingly claims there is no need for a register of interests and Lord Gill used its vague, unspecific findings to back up his opposition to Petition 1458.
However, what Lord Gill DID NOT tell msps on the Public Petitions Committee was that the same EU report contains references to claims their investigative team interviewed members of Scotland’s judiciary and the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), although no identities of those in Scotland allegedly interviewed were disclosed.
In a written response from the petitioner to Lord Gill’s refusal to attend the Scottish Parliament, and the revelations that members of the Scots legal establishment had spoken to an EU body, law journalist Peter Cherbi told msps : “I am somewhat surprised Lord Gill, the Lord President chooses not to attend the Scottish Parliament to give evidence on a register of interests for the judiciary, while he is apparently content for his colleagues in the judiciary and others in the legal system speak to an European body on the subject of transparency and corruption within the judiciary, and then uses the resulting, if flawed, GRECO report to justify his stance against the petition.”
Peter continued : “Respectfully, if members of the judiciary and prosecution service of Scotland (Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service) have made themselves available to be interviewed by GRECO, a European body, these same members of the judiciary and prosecution service, including the Lord President should come forward and make themselves available to attend Scotland’s democratically elected Parliament and give testimony on this petition, as well as share with MSPs and the PPC any evidence, submissions interviews or material disclosed to the GRECO Evaluation Team.”
The petitioner’s response also cited the failure of Lord Gill to address or answer questions seeking clarification regarding precisely how the current system of rules & oaths relating to Scottish judges recusing themselves operates.
Drawing attention to the fact there is currently no statistical or analytical information published or made available by the Judiciary of Scotland to document whether such declarations of conflict of interest are being made or can be independently verified to assure their authenticity the petitioner asked the Petitions Committee to again request this information from the Lord President and in the light of any shared information, consider matters further.
Diary of Injustice reported on the Petitions Committee’s meeting of 5th March where Petition 1458 was discussed, here : SILENCE IN COURT : Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill summoned to Parliament over ‘vested interests’ attempt to block Register of Judicial Interests petition.
Video footage of the Petitions Committee meeting is also available online here : Petition PE1458 Register of Judges Interests 5 March 2013 Scottish Parliament and Petition 1458 will again be debated at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 16 April 2013.
The Sunday Mail newspaper has reported on Lord Gill’s refusal to attend the Scottish Parliament, here :
Me, Scotland’s most senior judge turn up to be questioned by MSPs about why I won’t entertain a register of interests? GOOD LORD, NO
EXCLUSIVE By Mark Aitken 14 Apr 2013 Sunday Mail
SCOTLAND’S top judge has refused to answer MSPs’ questions on why he tried to block a register of interests for his legal colleagues.
The Lord President, Lord Gill, was asked to attend a Holyrood hearing on the matter. But he refused and the Parliament will not be able to insist on his attendance – because a loophole makes judges exempt from being forced to attend.
Holyrood’s petitions committee wanted to question the Lord President on his opposition to judges having to reveal business, professional and financial links.
MSPs expected the £214,000-a-year judge to appear in person to explain why he was opposed to the transparency motion. But the 71 year-old rejected their request, insisting he had given a full written response and had nothing more to add.
Peter Cherbi, the campaigner who brought the petition, was angry at the snub. He said: “Surely it cannot be correct that the most senior member of the Scottish judiciary can refuse to appear before the democratically elected Parliament’s perfectly proper inquiries into issues which directly concern and involve the judiciary.”
Committee chairman and Labour MSP David Stewart said: “We’re disappointed as Lord Gill would have been the key individual to cast some light on the pros and cons of a register for judges. “It is a setback for us but I’m sure the committee will look at all other aspects to give the petitioner the full rub of the green.”
He added: “Scottish Parliament committees can effectively compel witnesses to attend before them. “My experience is that you don’t normally need to use these powers because ministers, other MSPs and public bodies attend out of courtesy when you invite them. We’ve never had any difficulty there. “However, I’ve had our officials check the Scotland Act and there is a clause that judges can’t be compelled to attend. We have no legal powers to insist judges appear before us.”
Mr Cherbi believes that a register would have forced crooked judges into the open. Similar moves in New Zealand were sparked by a judge failing to declare he owed money to a lawyer involved in a case.
Lord Gill said he objected to the register because he and his colleagues could be abused by “aggressive media or hostile individuals”.
In his letter to the petitions committee, he wrote: “I hope that you will not think it discourteous to decline your invitation. As your members noted in their discussion, I have provided a detailed response.”
Two months ago, the Sunday Mail revealed how a watchdog looking into complaints against Scotland’s judges feared she was not being given enough help by Lord Gill.
Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali accused him of undermining her work by blocking access to vital documents. She said she was only seeing the correspondence between the Judicial Office, who act for the judges, and the complainers. She said she was not allowed to see the internal memos and reports between the office and the judges.