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NO MINISTER: Justice Secretary’s ‘scripted’ backing for wealthy top judge in register of secretive judicial interests row with Scottish Parliament

24 Sep

Justice Secretary says ‘No’ to msps in judges interests row. SCOTLAND’S Justice Secretary Kenny Macaskill has for the third time refused to support a plan to register all judges interests including secret wealth & links to big business in proposals currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Writing in his latest letter to the Convener of the Public Petitions Committee, one time High Street lawyer Kenny MacAskill, who, just two weeks ago handed new rights to rogue lawyers to complain about investigations into complaints, also ruled out any further powers for the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR), despite calls from Moi Ali – Scotland’s first JCR for a substantial increase in powers to the ‘toothless’ office which is tasked to look into how judges handle complaints about their own colleagues.

MacAskill’s almost ‘scripted’ letter, dated 4 June 2014 – one day before Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill issued his latest anti-transparency tirade against calls for more judicial accountability is little more than a repeat of previous correspondence from the Scottish Government to msps, ceding control of the issue to Lord Gill, who firmly opposes any transparency for Scotland’s secretly rich judges.

In keeping with previous scripted responses from Lord President & Lord Justice General Brian Gill and the Scottish Government to members of the Petitions Committee, MacAskill repeated his earlier line he was satisfied the arrangements of judicial oaths and rules written by other judges kept the judiciary in check – even though it has now been revealed several of Scotland’s top judges hold investments in multi national corporations convicted of criminal offences both at home and abroad.

A vested interest – MacAskill ‘s letter to MSPs investigating judicial transparency. Thank you for your letter of 8 May 2014 in relation to the above petition. I note that the Committee has agreed to seek time in the Chamber to debate the issues raised.

In advance of any debate you have asked for comments on the letter from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JcR) to the Committee of 23 April 2014. In that letter the JCR states that she considers it likely that the number of complaints against the judiciary would fall if there was a published register of interests for the judiciary. As I have said previously, it would be for the Lord President to establish such a register of interests in his capacity as Head of the Scottish judiciary. However, the Scottish Government does not consider there is currently any evidence to suggest that the existing safeguards – the judicial oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and the Rules made under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 – are not effective and does not therefore consider that such a register is necessary.

The JCR expresses a concern that the rules about complaints against the judiciary are not fit for purpose. As you know, the complaints and discipline process created by the 2008 Act has been running for a relatively short time. The Complaints About the Judiciary (Scotland) Rules have been in operation for just over 3 years, and the Lord President is currently considering amendments to these rules following a consultation last autumn to which the JCR contributed.

The JCR is due to step down at the end of her three year term of office on 31 August 2014. My officials are currently making the necessary arrangements for the recruitment of a new

JCR who will benefit from all the hard work carried out by the current JCR in setting up this office and carrying out reviews of complaints under the new complaints procedure. They will also work with the new JCR to provide support and to consider any thoughts or changes the new JCR feels appropriate in due course.

Moi Ali has since stood down as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, having written her final annual report, which is yet to be published by the Scottish Government.

Meanwhile, members of the Public Petitions Committee are still awaiting a date for a full debate on proposals to create a register in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber. Clerks to the Public Petitions Committee are also still trying to fix a date for the next committee debate on the petition itself, after having received requests for further issues to be discussed by msps.

JUDICIAL COMPLAINTS REVIEWER – Support for register transparency:

Last year, Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali attended the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee  to give evidence to msps 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

Writing in a recent letter to members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, Moi Ali, first Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer reiterated her strong support for the creation of a register of interests for Scotland’s judges, telling msps “a register of interests is good for the judiciary and good for the public”.

Moi Ali said: “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.”

And, responding to earlier claims from Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill that a register of judicial interests was not needed due to “safeguards” put in place by MacAskill in consultation with the same judges who now oppose a register of interests, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer told msps: “As the person appointed by the Cabinet Secretary to review complaints handled under these rules, I can say from experience over nearly three years that the rules are not fit for purpose.”

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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