Jet set judges prefer life in the air to sitting in Scots courts. IF those of you stuck in Scotland’s “Victorian” courts for years have ever wondered what judges do in their spare time when they are not sitting on the bench or raising an eyebrow at the mutterings of counsel, one of the answers lies above the clouds, in the numbers of air miles Scottish judges clock up each year on a variety of jollies trips allegedly taken to represent the interests of Scotland’s justice system around the world.
As revealed in the Sunday Mail newspaper earlier in June, an investigation into the journeys of Scotland’s judiciary around the world revealed our overworked, over paid, stressed out and anti-transparency judges have been taking international trips to law conferences, and curiously titled “diplomatic missions” while the Scottish justice system lies in ruins.
Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the Scottish Court Service confirmed that £83,644 had been spent on overseas trips alone by Scottish judges between 2010 and 2013. While judges usually travel alone, or take a colleague, on at least two occasions last year, judges took their wives along on the taxpayer funded trips.
Scotland’s judges have racked up thousands of air miles on overseas trips, including jaunts to the US, India, Morocco and Malaysia.
Taxpayers have paid £83,644 to send judges and sheriffs around the world in the past three years. In 2010/11, the total was £14,430 which rose to £35,107 in 2011/12 followed by £34,167 last year.
The most expensive trip last year was to Kampala in Uganda. It cost £7300 for Sheriff Michael Fletcher and Lord President Lord Gill to attend a judges’ conference there. Lord Gill’s other trips since 2010 have included Dublin, Cape Town in South Africa, Slovenian capital Ljubljana and a £1050 trip to a conference in Canada.
One of the most widely travelled was Sheriff Andrew Normand who has been on 11 overseas trips in the last three years. The judges usually travel alone or with a colleague but on two occasions last year they were joined by their wives.
The figures were obtained by legal blogger Peter Cherbi. He said: “Instead of flying around the world, perhaps Scotland’s judges should focus on the problems within our own legal system.”
The Judicial Office for Scotland said: “Attendance at overseas events must be approved in advance and comply with agreed guidance.”
It was also revealed by the Sunday Mail newspaper that Lord Gill, who had been summoned to the Scottish Parliament to explain his hostility to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary, jetted off to a law conference in South Africa instead of attending the Scottish Parliament to answer questions from MSPs on the proposal to require Scottish judges to disclose their so-far secret and murky hidden interests in a published register of judicial interests.
While our judges appear to prefer the jet set lifestyle to sitting for endless days on the bench, here in reality Scotland where access to justice is little more than an expensive joke for most, our expensive, almost lavishly funded courts are not working for the country, and have become aloof from the public’s need of justice in the 21st Century.
Perhaps a few less air miles and a few more more ‘court miles’ coupled with a face to face meeting with transparency, may go some way to remedying the problems, delays, failures and lack of transparency & accountability of the Scottish justice system Lord Gill himself branded as “Victorian” and “unfit for purpose” in 2009, because here in the not so futuristic 2013, and a few million air miles later, the Scottish justice system remains just as “Victorian” and just as “unfit for purpose”, as it was five years ago, Mr Lord President.