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As Scotland’s top judge battles on against transparency, Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life

19 Sep

Moi Ali Scottish Parliament Petitions CommitteeScottish Parliament hears support for register of judges’ interests MOI ALI, Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) told MSPs at the Scottish Parliament earlier this week she supports a Register of Judicial Interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. Detailed evidence provided by Moi Ali in response to questions from members of Holyrood’s Petitions Committee came as a stark contrast to the ‘vested interest’ protests of the now twice Committee no-show Lord President Lord Brian Gill, who has declared his opposition against proposals to require judges to declare their interests.

Several times during the Parliamentary hearing, the independent reviewer of judicial complaints took issue with the lack of transparency surrounding the judiciary, also drawing attention to the fact most others in public life must comply with Registers of Interest. Ms Ali also gave examples of critical cases & issues brought to her attention alleging a complete lack of judicial impartiality and failures of judges to recuse themselves when interests clearly conflicted with cases before them.

JCR Moi Ali gives evidence to Scottish Parliament on a proposed Register of Judicial Interests (Click image to view video)

Speaking to members of the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee on Tuesday, Moi Ali also challenged the Lord President’s insistence that the judicial oath to assess whether a judge should recuse themselves on a case should be enough to instil confidence in the legal process.”It clearly isn’t,” she said in response to questions from MSPs.

Moi Ali went onto say “We are not talking large numbers but issues have been raised about undeclared family relationships and memberships of a variety of organisations.”

Ms Ali continued : “It is difficult to argue that politicians and other public figures should have registers of interests but the judiciary should not.”

Included in the debate were questions relating to a man who was falsely accused & convicted of an armed robbery, previously reported by the Sunday Mail newspaper, and on Diary of Injustice here : Failure to Recuse : Evidence handed to MSPs in judicial register of interests proposal reveals judges who blocked injustice appeal failed to declare interests in court

Moi Ali told the Committee : “One complainant said his appeal was heard by the son of the judge who presided over the trial, while it is suggested that judges “change their names to hide their family links to other judges”.

In response to further questions, Ms Ali revealed the Lord President and the judicial office have not kept her informed on cases she has asked questions on.

On the subject of a lack of judicial cooperation with the role of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, previously reported by Diary of Injustice and the Sunday Mail newspaper HERE , Ms Ali said: “My concern is I might feel that the rules haven’t been followed, send it back to the Lord President and then never know what happens. I feel somewhat as if my hands are tied because I can make suggestions but I can’t do anything more than that.

Ms Ali continued : “Recently there was a case I referred back which, I was told, would be reinvestigated but I didn’t hear anything more. I asked the judicial office what had happened and they said they couldn’t tell me because it was a matter for the Lord President.

“I’ve written to the Lord President asking what I can expect, because I am unhappy about referring things back and not knowing what happened.”

Moi Ali also revealed to MSPs that the Lord President is exempt from Freedom of Information legislation.

In further points put to the JCR, Jackson Carlaw MSP said: “From this committee’s perspective, I think that what has been the focus of our attention here has been the Lord President’s Edwardian establishment disdain for the hoi polloi, as I think the petitioner sees it, in terms of us having any right to understand these matters.

Mr Carlaw continued : “I wonder if you would put it more politely, but it does seem to me that you’re not a million miles away from characterising it this way. Is it still the case that the swish of judicial ermine and velvet should cow into deference both the public and the legislature in terms of our right to understanding these issues?

“In this day and age, the reason that the Lord President appears to be against it is that it has not been so to date.”

Ms Ali responded: “I’d like to be as colourful as you are but I feel I can’t at the moment. In any institution, in any sector, change is not always welcome, particularly change that is seen to be quite challenging. Most institutions resist that as it is seen as something of a threat, when actually I prefer to see it as an opportunity.

“More transparency in any area of life can only be a good thing. I know that there can be a downside, and I have read the judiciary’s response to the petition which is that it is ‘intrusive and could attract negative media reaction’, but that goes hand in hand with accountability.”

Commenting on a recent submission to the Petitions Committee made by the petitioner, Mr Carlaw backed calls to involve the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service and Scottish Court Service who both operate Registers of Interests & Hospitality for their staff.

Mr Carlaw said : “The petitioner in raising the issue of the crown office and procurator fiscal service having a register of interests and specifically dealing with the issues of harassment privacy and undue harm to the justice system which appear not to have materialised it would it useful to get some sort of confirmation of that as the operational outcome as it does go to the heart of the Lord President’s assertions … as it directly contradicts in a relevant way the concerns advanced in opposition to the petition.”

Commenting on the Lord President’s refusals to attend the Petitions Committee to discuss the Register of Interests petition, Committee Convener David Stewart MSP commented : “We did ask the Lord President to appear before us and the Scotland Act has a provision which states that the judiciary cannot be required to appear before the committee.”

Mr Stewart continued : “The Lord President is next door at another committee. If the Lord President wishes to go voluntarily that is entirely up to him. However, we have made arrangements for myself and the deputy convener to meet the Lord President in a few weeks’ time.”

On concluding the evidence session, the Committee agreed to write to Dr Kennedy Graham MP, New Zealand Parliament, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Scottish Court Service and the Scottish Government. The Committee also agreed to consider the debate that took place during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998 on section 23.

The full transcript of the meeting which includes many important points raised by members of the Public Petitions Committee will be published on Diary of Injustice next week.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations of the judiciary by Diary of Injustice including reports from the Sunday Mail newspaper, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

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