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MSPs seek detailed views from ‘scripted’ top judge & Justice Secretary as Holyrood Committee move for full Parliament debate on Register of Judicial Interests

24 May

Moi Ali Scottish Parliament Petitions CommitteeMSPs seek more details from scripted responses of Lord Gill & Kenny MacAskill. IN the latest round of debate on proposals contained in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – calling for the creation of a register of interests for Scotland’s judges, members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee have again written to Scotland’s top judge, the Lord President Lord Brian Gill and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, seeking their detailed views on new written evidence received from Moi Ali, Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – who supports proposals to create a register of judicial interests.

The move comes after JCR Moi Ali recently wrote to Holyrood’s Petitions Committee, supplying MSPs with eye opening evidence relating to how poorly the system of judicial complaints handling has operated in Scotland over the past two years, revealing that “..In the first 25 months of the new complaints regime, the Judicial Office’s published statistics show that of 221 complaints there were 12 investigations, one judicial office holder apologised for his or her conduct and no judicial office holders were disciplined.”

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament Public Petitions

Speaking during the latest debate at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, SNP MSP John Wilson said “We seem to be at an impasse in relation  to  the  petition.  However,  the  latest submission  from  Moi  Ali  opens  up  a  number  of issues.  From  her  unique  position  as  the  Judicial Complaints  Reviewer,  she  has  certainly  brought forward  more  evidence—in  my  view,  anyway—with regard to the current situation.”

Mr Wilson continued: “We  have  had  a  response  from  the  Lord President  and  the  Cabinet  Secretary  for  Justice. However, I am keen that we get their current views in response to the latest information from Moi Ali. I hope that it will  be more than the one-page, three paragraph response that we seem to get from the Lord  President  and  the  cabinet  secretary—it  is almost  as  if  it  is  scripted.  The  Lord  President comments  that  neither  he  nor  the  cabinet secretary is minded to open the matter to review.”

“It  would  be  useful,  prior  to  the  debate  in  the chamber,  for  the  committee  to  ask  the  cabinet secretary and the Lord President for their detailed views  on  the  issues  that  the  Judicial  Complaints Reviewer  has  raised.  Her  submission  raises  a number  of  issues,  in  addition  to  those  that  she raised in oral evidence, that require more detailed scrutiny  and  a  more  detailed  response  from  the Lord President and the cabinet secretary.”

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali has gone on record supporting the creation of a register of interests. Writing in her letter to the Petitions Committee, Moi Ali said: “The position of the judiciary is incredibly powerful. They have the power to take away people’s assets, to separate families, to lock people away for years. Some of these people will not have committed a crime. They may be women who want protection from abusing partners, fathers who want access to their children, or people whose home is at stake due to various legal or family wrangles. People going through the court system face stress and anxiety, perhaps financial pressures, and fear about the future. Their perspective is important and must be a consideration in this matter.”

The JCR continued: “Given the position of power held by the judiciary, it is essential not only that they have absolute integrity but crucially, that they are seen to have absolute integrity. Again, a register of interests is a way of demonstrating that a judicial office holder is impartial and has no vested interest in a case –financially, through family connections, club/society membership or in any other way. Conversely, the refusal to institute a register of interests creates suspicion that in turn undermines judicial credibility. So once more, a register of interests is good for the judiciary and good for the public.”

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee  during September 2013 on proposals to create a register of judicial interests, reported previously 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

After debating the latest evidence & responses to the petition, the Committee agreed to seek further detailed responses from the Lord President and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and a full debate is planned in the Scottish Parliament on the proposal to create a register of judicial interests.

The official record of the Public Petitions Committee consideration of Petition 1458 on 6 May 2014 is published below:

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The  Convener:  Our  first  current  petition  for consideration  today  is  PE1458,  by  Peter  Cherbi, on  a  register  of  interests  for  members  of Scotland’s judiciary. Members have a note by the clerk, which is paper 4, and the submissions.

Members  will  know  that  we  sought  permission from  the  Conveners  Group  to  get  a  date  for  a plenary  debate  on  the  subject.  The  Conveners Group  looked  at  that  request  and  a  date  will  be allocated in due course. Once we have it, we will ensure that members are informed. Members will also  know  that  the  Judicial  Complaints  Reviewer has  supported  the  petition  and  that  the  petitioner urges  us  to  ask  Lord  Gill  for  hysterical  data  on recusals, which we are still to follow up.

Chic Brodie: “Hysterical”?

Anne McTaggart: “Historical”.

The Convener: I meant “historical”.

Chic  Brodie:  You  were  probably  right  the  first time. [Laughter.]

The  Convener: The  next  step  is  to  consider how  we  will  deal  with  the  petition.  I  suggest  that we  continue  the  petition  until  we  have  had  a  full debate  on  the  matter  in  the  chamber. I  invite members to comment.

John Wilson:  We seem to be at an impasse in relation  to  the  petition.  However,  the  latest submission  from  Moi  Ali  opens  up  a  number  of issues.  From  her  unique  position  as  the  Judicial Complaints  Reviewer,  she  has  certainly  brought forward  more  evidence—in  my  view,  anyway—with regard to the current situation.

We  have  had  a  response  from  the  Lord President  and  the  Cabinet  Secretary  for  Justice. However, I am keen that we get their current views in response to the latest information from Moi Ali. I hope that it will  be more than the one-page, three paragraph response that we seem to get from the Lord  President  and  the  cabinet  secretary—it  is almost  as  if  it  is  scripted.  The  Lord  President comments  that  neither  he  nor  the  cabinet secretary is minded to open the matter to review.

It  would  be  useful,  prior  to  the  debate  in  the chamber,  for  the  committee  to  ask  the  cabinet secretary and the Lord President for their detailed views  on  the  issues  that  the  Judicial  Complaints Reviewer  has  raised.  Her  submission  raises  a number  of  issues,  in  addition  to  those  that  she raised in oral evidence, that require more detailed scrutiny  and  a  more  detailed  response  from  the Lord President and the cabinet secretary.

The  Convener:  Do  members  agree  with  John Wilson’s suggestion?

Members indicated agreement.

Angus MacDonald:  I place on record that I am grateful  for  the  additional  information  that  the Judicial  Complaints  Reviewer  has  provided.  It certainly  presents  us  with  some  issues  that  we need to follow up, and I am happy to second John Wilson’s suggestion.

The  Convener: If  there  are  no  further comments, are members happy with the proposed course  of  action?  We  will  continue  the  petition, and there will be a plenary debate, with the date to be  resolved.  We  need  to  chase  up  a  couple  of other  issues  with  Lord  Gill,  in  addition  to addressing the points that John Wilson raised. Are members agreed?

Members indicated agreement.

Chic  Brodie:  Is  the  letter  from  the  Judicial Complaints Reviewer on the website?

The Convener: Yes.

TOP JUDGE OPPOSES TRANSPARENCY OF JUDICIAL INTERESTS:

Scotland’s top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill fiercely opposes calls for a register of judicial interests which would reveal the judiciary’s vast personal, undeclared wealth, extensive family and business connections throughout the legal profession, links to big business, offshore trusts & investments, ownership of numerous and high value properties through a variety of ‘creative’ arrangements, directorships, shareholdings, and even unpublished criminal records of members of the judiciary.

Lord Gill has previously refused two invitations to appear before the Scottish Parliament to give evidence and face questions on his opposition to the proposal to create a register of judicial interests. The top judge has also used the Scotland Act as a loophole to avoid further scrutiny on the matter.

Lord Gill’s use of Scotland Act against MSPs was reported in the media. Writing in a letter to msps, Lord Gill implied cooperation with Parliament would be withdrawn over calls to make judges more transparent in register : “Section 23(7) of the Scotland Act provides inter alia that the Parliament may not require a judge to attend its proceedings for the purposes of giving evidence. This is not a loophole. It is a necessary part of the constitutional settlement by which the Parliament is established. Its purpose is to protect the independence of the judiciary, a vital constitutional principle that is declared in section 1 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008”

The judge continued: “When a committee invites a judge to give evidence before it, I have to decide whether the subject matter might infringe the principle of judicial independence; and whether the evidence required could be satisfactorily given in writing.”

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee deliberations on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

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