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LORD NO-NO: Scotland’s top judge spends one year ‘in-hiding’ over Scottish Parliament proposal to create register of judiciary’s vast secret wealth, business connections & vested interests

02 Jun

Top judge Lord Gill bitterly resists calls for judicial wealth & connections to be declared. ONE YEARon from persistent refusals to appear before MSPs to give evidence on the judiciary’s undeclared interests, Scotland’s top judge, Lord President Lord Brian Gill continues to oppose any call for him to attend the Scottish Parliament and publicly explain his bitter opposition to calls for judicial transparency contained in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to legislate for a requirement that all members of the Judiciary in Scotland to declare their sizeable financial wealth, hidden family & business connections within the legal profession, criminal records, directorships, secret earnings from law firms & big business and offshore ‘tax efficient’ trusts and investments. The proposals would see a publicly available Register of Judicial Interests available for all to inspect – a move the Lord President Lord Gill has bitterly resisted to-date.

The Sunday Mail’s coverage of 2 June 2013 reported on Lord Gill’s second refusal to show up at the Scottish Parliament. The exclusive report also features an article exposing the round the world travels of Scotland’s judiciary on the taxpayer, the very same Scottish judiciary who, after nearly eighteen months of discussion on judicial interests, still refuse to travel a few hundred yards to our sovereign Scottish Parliament and account for their secretive interests. The Sunday Mail reports :

LORD NO NO - Scotland's top Judge refuses second Parliament invite over Register of Interests - Sunday Mail 2 June 2013Scotland’s top judge refuses to appear before MSPs for a second time to explain his opposition to a register of interests

EXCLUSIVE : LORD NO-NO : Gill snubs second invite from Holyrood Committee

By Russell Findlay 2 Jun 2013 Sunday Mail

SCOTLAND’S top judge has snubbed MSPs for a second time after they asked him to give evidence at Holyrood.

The Lord President, Lord Gill previously declined to attend the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee to explain his opposition to a register of interests for judges. MSPs wrote asking him to reconsider his refusal to attend. But last week, in a letter to the committee’s chairman, Labour’s David Stewart, he rejected their second request to appear.

The top lawman, who earns £214,000 a year, cited the Scotland Act which prevents parliament from forcing judges to give evidence. He justified his refusal saying: “I do so for the reasons of constitutional principle. I intend no discourtesy to your committee. 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 row follows a petition by legal reform campaigner Peter Cherbi which calls for judges to declare interests such as hospitality, gifts, property plus any links to outside bodies.

In February, Lord Gill wrote to say a register was not needed and that it might mean judges would be harassed by “aggressive media”. His refusal to elaborate on that stance in person angered the committee. In April, they issued a second invitation but he has again refused to travel the 700 metres from his office to parliament to give evidence.

In his letter, sent to Stewart on Tuesday, Lord Gill did offer to meet committee members in private. Stewart now plans to meet Lord Gill along with deputy committee convener Chic Brodie. He said: “I’m disappointed but we will try to meet as soon as possible to get the information we require to deal with this very interesting petition.”

SNP MSP Brodie said: “He is at least willing to have discussions with representatives of the committee.”

Sources at Parliament say the judge has added insult to injury by agreeing to give evidence to the Justice Committee on Tuesday to defend heavily criticised cost-cutting reforms that will mean the closure of one in five sheriff courts.

WATCHDOG WHY SHOULD JUDGES BE EXEMPT?

Lord Gill’s insistence that he will not appear in front of MSPs comes as a legal watchdog revealed two judges were investigated for alleged conflicts of interest last year. Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali, left, revealed the probes as she backed calls for a register.

Her submission to the committee said: “One review I undertook last year concerned a complaint about a judge who had allegedly used their judicial position to promote a body that was alleged to have breached international law.” Another was a sheriff who allegedly participated in a social function organised by the defender during the proof hearing.

Ali – who was appointed by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill in 2011 – can review how the the Judicial Office for Scotland have handled a complaint but can only pass on her concerns to the Lord President.

She added “Registers of interest are a normal part of public life.”It seems right that the judiciary should not be out of line with what is required of others who hold high public office.”Better transparency would enhance the standing of that judiciary.”

JET-SETTING LAWMEN NOTCH UP £83K BILL

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.”

Sunday Mail Opinion on Lord Gill No Show 2 June 2013Mail Opinion: Lord Gill has missed an opportunity to portray our justice system as open and accountable

2 Jun 2013 11:32

NO JUSTICE IF IT CANOT BE SEEEN : SENIOR judge’s refusal to give evidence to MSPs shows a lack of transparency, says Mail Opinion.

WE’RE possibly not clever enough but it is difficult to understand the terribly important point of principle Lord Gill is defending when he refuses to give evidence to our elected representatives.

Scotland’s most senior judge insists that he cannot amble down the Royal Mile to Holyrood to appear before the petitions committee because he must maintain the crucial separation between our courts and the Government.

The Lord President told them that, with the greatest respect, MSPs cannot compel a judge to appear. This is not a legal loophole, he said, but a vital bulwark of our democracy.

Fine. We get it. But they are not compelling him to appear. They did not issue an order but an invitation.

Since he has apparently agreed to appear in front of the justice committee on Tuesday to discuss the closure of a fifth of our sheriff courts, we must assume that he is picking and choosing which MSPs might be given his valuable time.

You could be forgiven for suspecting that he believes MSPs scrutinising the calls for judges to register their interests are wasting their time – and is not allowing them to waste his. Fair enough but his disinclination to pitch up before the people who represent the people who pay his £214,000-a-year salary might look a little high-handed and disrespectful. It might and, to be honest, it does.

This wasn’t an ambush. It was an opportunity for Scotland’s top judge to go to Parliament and talk about how our legal system works and might work better. It would have added, as the public relations executives and politicians like to say, a little transparency.

It was a window of opportunity that Lord Gill politely, but very firmly, nailed shut.

By taking every opportunity to speak to MSPs, Lord Gill could do more to show our legal system is a modern, receptive institution than any number of gimmicks and sound bites.

Instead, his refusal has only hardened the suspicion that our judges live and work in a bubble smelling of horse hair wigs, vintage port and even more vintage attitudes.

But his decision is only one disappointing straw in what is becoming a mighty wind of official secrecy and needless silence gusting around every part of our justice system.

Police and prosecutors might not be using Lord Leveson’s criticism of newspapers to chill potential whistle-blowers and curb information being given to journalists, officially or unofficially, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so.

These days, the most simple, straightforward requests for the most simple, straightforward information from our law enforcement and legal authorities hit stonewall after stonewall.

It is a disgrace that Scottish journalists – and, through them, the Scottish public – are not being given basic information that would be passed on as a matter of course in, for example, England and the United States.

It is a disgrace and one that our MSPs should be discussing and debating. Not least because journalists are clearly not the only people our legal establishment are happy to keep in the dark.

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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