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‘Better Transparency would enhance Judiciary’ as Scotland’s independent Judicial Complaints Reviewer issues support for Register of interests for judges

14 Jun

Lord Gill Moi AliSecretive Judge trumped by transparency as Judicial Complaints Reviewer supports register of judge’s interests. SCOTLAND’S independently appointed Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) Moi Ali, has told MSPs of her support for a public petition currently being discussed at the Scottish Parliament which seeks to create a statutory register of interests for Scotland’s highly secretive judiciary. The JCR’s support for Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary has previously been reported in the Sunday Mail newspaper and Diary of Injustice, here : HERE

Moi Ali, Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer has told MSPs in her letter to Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee that “Better transparency would enhance the standing of that judiciary and bring judicial office holders into line with other holders of important roles in public life.”. Ms Ali went on in her response to dispel arguments put forward by the vested interests of the Lord President, Law Society of Scotland & others against the proposal.

In a move which contrasts sharply with the bitter hostility of Scotland’s top judge, the Lord President Lord Brian Gill to Petition PE1458, Ms Ali has taken a radical approach to issues put forward in the petition by creating a register of interests for the office of Judicial Complaints Reviewer, a register which is to be published soon on the JCR’s website.

Ms Ali told MSPs in her submission : “Registers of interest are now a normal part of public life and it seems right that the judiciary should not be out of line with what is required of others who hold high public office. I have completed registers of interest for my roles on public boards such as the Scottish Ambulance Service and Scottish Police Authority. It is not onerous to update this annually or when any changes in circumstance occur. Members of the Petitions Committee will have undertaken something similar themselves in their parliamentary life. Although not required to do so, I have prepared my own register of interest and will shortly be publishing it on my website. I believe that the JCR should be required to do this, either by legislation or as a requirement set out in their letter of appointment from the Minister.”

In a further bold move, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer told the Petitions Committee that any register of interests for judges should be expanded to include non financial interests and other links. Moi Ali stated : “Should a register of interests be limited to pecuniary interests? I believe that it should also encompass non-financial interests such as memberships, unpaid trusteeships, and any relevant close family/friendship links that may be perceived as a potential conflict of interest. One review I undertook last year concerned a complaint about a judge who had allegedly used their judicial position to promote a body that was alleged to have breached international law. Another concerned a sheriff who allegedly participated in a social function organised by the defender during the proof hearing.

Speaking to Diary of Injustice earlier today, law journalist Peter Cherbi said he was grateful for the support of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, and commended her approach to transparency. Scotland’s legal system clearly needs more people like Moi Ali.

The full response from Moi Ali, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer to the Public Petitions Committee, Scottish Parliament :

Consideration of Petition PE1458

Thank you for your letter of 25th April seeking my views on the above petition.

I am supportive of a register of interests, for the reasons outlined below. I believe that it would be beneficial for any register to encompass more than pecuniary interests. I have set out my thinking on this matter below, but I want to begin with a brief summary of the role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR), as it is still relatively new.

JCR Background Information

The Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) was established under The Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 to review the handling of complaints investigations into members of the judiciary, to ensure that they have been dealt with in accordance with the Complaints about the Judiciary (Scotland) Rules 2011(the Rules).

I was appointed in September 2011 as the first JCR. My service is free, independent and impartial. It is open to those who have complained about a member of the judiciary, and to those who have been the subject of a complaint.

Unlike my counterpart in England and Wales, who is an Ombudsman, the legislation allows me only to review the handling of investigations into complaints about members of the judiciary. I cannot review the outcome of those investigations, cannot get decisions overturned and cannot get redress (such as an apology or compensation). If I find that the Rules were not followed, I can make a referral to the Lord President, but thereafter the matter is in his hands.

Response to Petition: View of JCR

The petitioner states that a register of interests would increase the transparency of the judiciary and ensure public confidence in the judiciary’s actions and decisions. I agree. Transparency tends to increase trust; conversely, lack of transparency is more likely to create suspicion.

Some of those responding to the petition (such as the Lord President, the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Government), argue that a register of interests is unnecessary, referring, among other things, to the complaints process as a safeguard.

In my role as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, I am part of that process. As is the nature of my role as a reviewer, I deal with dissatisfied people. It might be argued that they are not representative of the wider public, although that is not a view that I would take. Some people who contact me write of the judiciary sticking together, defending its own interests, and lacking transparency. If that view is a representative one, anything that increases judicial transparency is good both for the public and also for the judiciary. Greater transparency can only boost public trust and confidence and enhance the standing of the judiciary.

One argument put forward against a register of interests is that it is unnecessary, as there is provision under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 to regulate and investigate the conduct of judicial office holders, that a complaints process is in place and to date there have been no substantiated complaints alleging judicial bias. I have received requests to review complaints in which allegations of judicial bias have been raised.  It may be that no “substantiated” complaints have been made, but that is not to say that no complaints of this nature have been made. I received one such review request a few months ago via a Member of Parliament, and I completed another one in the last few weeks, and there have been others too.

Registers of interest are now a normal part of public life and it seems right that the judiciary should not be out of line with what is required of others who hold high public office. I have completed registers of interest for my roles on public boards such as the Scottish Ambulance Service and Scottish Police Authority. It is not onerous to update this annually or when any changes in circumstance occur. Members of the Petitions Committee will have undertaken something similar themselves in their parliamentary life. Although not required to do so, I have prepared my own register of interest and will shortly be publishing it on my website. I believe that the JCR should be required to do this, either by legislation or as a requirement set out in their letter of appointment from the Minister.

Should a register of interests be limited to pecuniary interests? I believe that it should also encompass non-financial interests such as memberships, unpaid trusteeships, and any relevant close family/friendship links that may be perceived as a potential conflict of interest. One review I undertook last year concerned a complaint about a judge who had allegedly used their judicial position to promote a body that was alleged to have breached international law. Another concerned a sheriff who allegedly participated in a social function organised by the defender during the proof hearing.

We are very lucky in this country to have an independent judiciary. Better transparency would enhance the standing of that judiciary and bring judicial office holders into line with other holders of important roles in public life.

I am happy to provide any further information that you require.

Yours sincerely,

Moi Ali

Judicial Complaints Reviewer

Previous articles from Diary of Injustice including video footage of the Petitions Committee meetings and further information on the drive to create a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary can be viewed here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

A further report in the Sunday Mail newspaper featured details of further resistance to transparency from Scotland’s secretive judges, where it was reported Scotland’s Judiciary have refused to cooperate with the Judicial Complaints Reviewer on a number of occasions, also reported by Diary of Injustice, here : HERE

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