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One year as Lord President, little change in Scotland’s courts as top judge fights on against register of judicial interests transparency proposal

24 Jun

Courts remain a mess, transparency not for us says top judge. ONE YEAR ON from being appointed as the country’s top judge, the reality is that few in the way of productive changes to help Scots access justice have occurred in the courts ruled over by Lord Brian Gill, Scotland’s Lord President of the Court of Session.

A year ago this month, Brian Gill was elevated from his former position of Lord Justice Clerk, to succeed the media savvy Lord Arthur Campbell Hamilton who served as Lord Justice General & Lord President from November 2005 to June 2012.

While publicly priding himself in putting on the air miles as Scotland’s top judge, flying around the globe on “diplomatic” commitments representing the Scottish judiciary in destinations from Uganda to Taiwan, little of the civil justice reforms Brian Gill called for as author of the Scottish Civil Courts Review have so-far made it to Scotland’s justice system, and those that have, have inevitably been watered down to an almost ineffectual state.

More worryingly, in spite of a continuing stream of questions surrounding the integrity of Scotland Prosecution Service, the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), and numerous failures in his own Scottish Court Service which have contributed to Civil cases needlessly dragging on for decades in Scotland’s courts, little criticism has come from the top. This lack of top down discipline has seemingly allowing Prosecutors a free hand to botch up case after case, and even shred files before MSPs could request sight of them, while some Court of Session senators have allowed personal weakness, bias and even vitriol to creep into opinion after opinion.

The current unwillingness of the Commander in Chief of our Courts to bring the system into line with public expectation of justice, and more importantly fairness, compares strangely with previous examples where the integrity of the justice system was at stake, for example, when Lord Gill’s predecessor clashed with a former Lord Advocate over the collapse of the World’s End murder trial.

Willing to tackle an institution recently dubbed “institutionally corrupt”, Lord Hamilton as Lord President wasted no time publicly castigating the Crown Office, accusing it’s then Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini (nee McPhilomy) of attacking the independence and reputation of the judiciary after Angiolini directly addressed the Scottish Parliament stating she was disappointed with the trial judge Lord Clarke’s ruling  there was insufficient evidence for the jury to convict and threw the case out.

As matters stand one year on, this Lord President has so far, remained almost mute in publicly combating what many perceive as the vested interests of the current legal establishment, who appear to be more interested in the continuing disruption to access to justice rather than it’s expansion to serve all Scots instead of those selected on a whim by the legal profession.

Of much concern currently, is Lord Gill’s hostility towards proposals put before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament to create a statutory register of interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

As has been widely reported in the media, by the Sunday Mail newspaper and others, and by Diary of Injustice, Lord Gill has now twice refused to attend the Scottish Parliament to give evidence on, and answer questions in public relating to the so-far hidden, undeclared interests of Scotland’s judges.

Lord Gill has taken the fight against transparency to the extremes, refusing to provide detailed, analytical evidence on how judges have (or have not) recused themselves over the years, and in what circumstances these recusals took place, in response to repeated written requests from MSPs.

The Lord President has gone so far as to cast an EU report in the face of Holyrood, as an excuse for refusing to attend the Public Petitions Committee and has alleged any attempt to require judges to disclose their hidden wealth along with other interests, would compromise the independence of the judiciary. Yet bizarrely, with his conviction set against openness, Lord Gill apparently feels he cannot answer questions in public about this same EU report he has used in his defence.

Could Lord Gill’s refusal to answer questions in public on the very evidence he puts forward for doing nothing on a register of judicial interests be because his EU report was written by retired judges who themselves have a vested interest in not creating a register of interests for the judiciary?

Tomorrow, Tuesday 25 June, MSPs at the Scottish Parliament will again discuss Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary which calls on the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a requirement that all members of the Judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests & hospitality received to a publicly available Register of Interests

In a response provided to the Public Petitions Committee, MSPs have been asked to arrange evidence sessions on the petition as has previously been suggested by Committee members, and would welcome others joining the debate, be they members of Consumer Protection organisations, the Scottish Government, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, the Lord Advocate and representatives of the media who might wish to participate in public evidence sessions.

Previous reports from Diary of Injustice including video footage of previous 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

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