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Vested Interests : Protests of Scotland’s anti-transparency top judge questioned as Courts Chief tells MSPs register of interests cause no problems for court staff

01 Nov

Courts Chief admission to Holyrood contradicts anti-transparency protests of top judge. CLAIMS made by Scotland’s top judge, Lord President Lord Brian Gill that forcing judges to disclose their hidden wealth, secret earnings, business & personal relationships, directorships, offshore finances, gifts & hospitality in a published register of interests may cause undue harm & harassment and made it difficult to recruit for the judiciary, have been dealt a blow by the Chief Executive of the Scottish Court Service (SCS) who has been forced to admit to MSPs that no problems have been caused to all other court workers who are required to declare their interests & hospitality.

Responding to queries from MSPs on the subject of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary, Mr Eric McQueen, Chief Executive of the SCS, who recently gave testimony to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee Parliament along with Lord Gill regarding court closures across Scotland, told the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee in a letter last week the SCS implementation of a register of interests & hospitality for its own employees “has not posed any difficulties and staff register their interests as appropriate.”

Court Chief tells MSPs in letter : No harm has come to staff who declare interests. Thank you for your letter of 25 September 2013 in which you seek the Scottish Court Service,s views on what the petition is seeking. You also asked whether there have been any issues for the SCS in operation a register of interests for the people within the SCS.

The Committee will be aware that the Scottish Courts Service is a body corporate established by the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008. The statutory function of the SCS is to provide the resources and support to the courts of Scotland and the judiciary in those courts. It also provides support to the Lord President and other members of the judiciary who have leadership functions.

The subject matter of the petition is not a matter which has been discussed by the Scottish Court Service Board. It is not a matter within the statutory responsibility of the SCS and as such it is not appropriate that the SCS expresses any view on the subject matter of the petition.

The Scottish Court Service has maintained a register of interests for staff for many years in line with standard practice across the civil service. It has not posed any difficulties and staff register interests, as appropriate.

The admission from the Chief Executive of Scotland’s courts that staff work within a register of their own interests without causing personal harm, raises serious questions over outlandish claims presented by Lord Gill in earlier written submissions to MSPs that bringing similar transparency to the judiciary and requiring judges to comply with a register of interests may have “unintended consequences” and somehow damage the judiciary.

Writing to MSPs earlier this year in February, Lord Gill – who opposes greater transparency of judges interests, said he feared judges could be harassed by the media and their privacy ruined. Diary of Injustice reported on Lord Gill’s attack against transparency calls, here : A MATTER OF TRUST : Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill attacks Scottish Parliament petition calling for a Register of Interests for Scots Judiciary

Top judge tells MSPs forcing judiciary to be honest about their interests may have unintended consequences. Lord Gill protested : “The introduction of such a register could also have unintended consequences. Consideration requires to be given to judges’ privacy and freedom from harassment by aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants. It is possible that the information held on such a register could be abused. These are significant concerns.

Lord Gill continued : “If publicly criticised or attacked, the judicial office holder cannot publicly defend himself or herself, unlike a politician. The establishment of such a register therefore may have the unintended consequence of eroding public confidence in the Judiciary. It also raises the question whether such a measure would have an adverse impact on the recruitment and retention of the Judiciary.”

In two further letters to MSPs, the Lord President went on to refuse to attend the Scottish Parliament to answer questions on his opposition to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary and even went so far as to inform MSPs they could not insist he attend an evidence session because of loopholes in the Scotland Act.

However, MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee have already heard from Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) Moi Ali – who supports a register of judicial interests, that increased transparency of the judiciary can only increase public confidence in the justice system. Moi Ali told MSPs in a letter : “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.”

Further reporting on JCR Moi Ali’s submission to the Petitions Committee was featured here : ‘Better Transparency would enhance Judiciary’ as Scotland’s independent Judicial Complaints Reviewer issues support for Register of interests for judges

Video footage of testimony given by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer has been previously reported here : As Scotland’s top judge battles on against transparency, Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life

Given the admission of the Chief Executive of the SCS, who’s job it is to keep the courts working, Lord Gill’s arguments that more transparency in the form of a register of interests could cause harm to the judiciary are now seriously in doubt, given the fact registers of interest are common in public life and that there is no honest reason why the judiciary should be exempt from declaring their interests.

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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