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THE UNRECUSED: Not one financial recusal for £200K a year wealthy judges in six months leads to suspicion over ‘wigs list’ used by top judge to dodge questions on judicial interests

11 Oct

No recusals on financial grounds for wealthy judiciary. RECUSAL DATA published by Scotland’s top judge for the past six months appears to corroborate claims from within the legal system that high earning members of the judiciary typically on annual salaries of up to £220K a year are refusing to declare significant financial wealth & property holdings which could require judges to recuse themselves from hearing cases in the courts.

In the six months to October, beginning on April 1, Scotland’s top judge Lord President & Lord Justice General Brian Gill undertook to msps who sit on the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee that he would publish recusal data of judges standing aside in court cases after conflicts of interest became clear.

However, a glaring omission in the albeit limited number of fourteen recusals published to-date, show that out of hundreds of cases currently in the courts being heard by wealthy, property owning judges, there is not one recusal by a judge on financial grounds or any wealth linked reason.

Scotland’s judges, from Sheriffs to Senators on the Court of Session earn salaries of up to £220K a year accompanied by up to £1million pound pension pots, high value shareholding portfolios, earnings links to big business, banks & law firms and multi million pound property portfolios, yet not one judge has declared a financial interest, not even a declaration of using the same High Street bank that a litigant or even a law firm may well be suing in court.

Today, the figures currently published by the Judiciary of Scotland have been described by a solicitor as “Make believe written up during a lunch hour.”

He said “There are no references to the cases in question where the recusal allegedly took place, no reference of the subject matter of the case, no identification of legal agents or litigants, and the reasons listed for a recusal are at best, vague, bordering on dishonesty in at least one case I have been made aware of.”

He continued: “Is the Lord President operating a don’t ask don’t tell policy on recusals? Without specifics or accurate references to the cases in question, the data has little value to members of the public who have the right to know.”

The deal to publish recusal data was only arrived at earlier this year, after months of wrangling between Scotland’s top judge and the Scottish Parliament over a proposal to create a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Lord Gill previously ignored several requests from msps to provide the Petitions Committee with historical recusal data – to enable a more independent analysis of the information to understand if in fact judges were actually recusing themselves at all.

Gill was eventually forced to admit no information on recusals had ever been recorded in Scotland’s courts up to this year.

Now, six months on from the beginning of publication of recusal data, a slightly clearer picture is beginning to emerge of how Scotland’s judges treat conflicts of interest in court cases. Simply, they don’t.

And when a recusal issue is raised, it has been reported some judges have become angry, expressing an underlying hostility to litigants and solicitors who raise matters for recusal.

Members of Scotland’s judiciary, from justices of the peace – who are currently, conveniently excluded from the recusal list, right up to Senators of the Court of Session who are required to recuse, often regard conflicts of interest as a non-issue. They act as judge in their own cause, and routinely dismiss any suggestion an interest put to them could influence their decision or position in a case they are currently hearing.

Notable recusals currently published include Scotland’s top judge himself – the Lord President Lord Brian Gill who was forced to recuse himself from court after his own son appeared before him in a case which the Scottish Court Service refuse to identify.

Top judge Lord Gill stepped aside from case due to son’s involvement. SCOTLAND’S top judge, the Lord President Lord Brian Gill was forced to stand aside from hearing an unidentified case in the Court of Session because “a relative” – who turned out to be one of Lord Gill’s sons, represented a party involved in the court case.

However, the first ever recoded recusal of the country’s top judge published by the Judiciary of Scotland vaguely described Lord Gill’s withdrawal from the case as due to a “Relative of Senator acts for the respondent” – whereas the “relative” turned out to be the Lord President’s son, advocate Brian Gill.

Initially, the Judicial Office refused to confirm the identity of Lord Gill’s “relative”. A spokesperson for the Judicial Office then stated: “We cannot provide any comment or further details in addition to what has already been published, but we can confirm that the advocate is one of the Lord President’s sons.”

Judicial Recusals – April to August 2014 :

24 March 2014 Livingston Sheriff Court Sheriff Edington (Civil) Court report prepared by spouse of a resident sheriff.

8 April 2014 Forfar Sheriff Court Sheriff Veal (Criminal) Sheriff personally known to a witness.

10 April 2014 Selkirk Sheriff Court Sheriff Paterson (Civil) Sheriff had previously acted for a client in dispute against Pursuer.

23 April 2014 High Court Lady Wise (Criminal) Senator had previously acted for a relative of accused.

16 April 2014 Glasgow Sheriff Court Sheriff Cathcart (Criminal) Sheriff personally known to a witness.

13 May 2014 Haddington Sheriff Court Sheriff Braid (Civil) Known to pursuer’s family.

14 May 2014 High Court Judge MacIver Criminal (appeal) Conflict of Interest.

20 May 2014 Court of Session Lord Matthews (Civil) Senator personally known to a witness.

19 June 2014 Dingwall Sheriff Court Sheriff McPartlin (Criminal) Sheriff presided over a trial involving the accused, where the issue to which the new case relates was spoken to by a witness.

20 June 2014 Elgin Sheriff Court Sheriff Raeburn QC (Criminal) Accused appeared before Sheriff as a witness in recent trial relating to same incident.

24 June 2014 Glasgow Sheriff Court Sheriff Crozier (Criminal) Sheriff personally known to proprietor of premises libelled in the charge.

26 June 2014 Court of Session Lord President (Civil) Relative of Senator acts for the respondent.

27 August 2014 Court of Session Lord Brailsford (Civil) Senator personally known to husband of the pursuer.

28 August 2014 Oban Sheriff Court Sheriff Small (Civil & Criminal) Sheriff personally known to a party.

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