Top judge – I would like to take the jet because … SCOTLAND’S top judge, the Lord President & Lord Justice General Brian Gill has signalled his ire over recent media exposes on his judicial colleagues use of publicly funded overseas jet travel with the issuing of an edict requiring all judges to seek permission from his own office before embarking on future international travel junkets.
The document, finally released in a Freedom of Information request after weeks of delays by the Judicial Office for Scotland, reveals Lord Gill – himself no stranger to the travel circuit after a now-not-so-secret six day state visit to Qatar – is to require his judicial colleagues to write up a short story on why they feel they need to take a taxpayer funded trip abroad instead of carrying judicial duties in Scotland’s overstretched courts.
Costs, numbers of judges attending, an explanation of the wider benefit of the trip to the judicial system and details of what may be learned must feature in any essay now required to be written up by all members of Scotland’s judiciary if they want to fly off into the sunset to law conferences & business meetings – all of which are mostly held at posh venues including golf courses, saunas and gala dress balls, followed by tours around museums, and off the books meetings at the personal haunts of the world’s rich, powerful elite.
The clampdown over overseas trips by Scotland’s judiciary appears to have been sparked after investigations by the Scottish media into the jet set lifestyle of Scotland’s secretive judiciary.
Reports first appearing in the Sunday Mail newspaper during June 2013, and more recently an investigation by the Scottish Sun – which included references to Lord Gill’s state visit to Qatar – sparked concerns Scots judges have lost sight of their station in court, instead appearing to prefer the jet set lifestyle to hearing what some judges refer to as “boring mundane cases” in Scotland’s courts.
I have been reviewing the arrangements to control expenditure to meet attendance at conferences by the judiciary, especially where the conference is taking place outwith the United Kingdom. I have also been considering the arrangements for the authorisation of all other overseas travel to be paid from public funds. With immediate effect the following arrangements are to apply to future requests.
Requests for funding for attendance at conferences and for all other overseas travel should be sought only from the Judicial Office  . No request for support to meet attendance at conferences, or other overseas travel should be made to any other part of the Scottish Court Service.
In all cases where funding is being sought I require a business case to be produced by the judicial office holder or the judicial representative body that is seeking funding. The business case does not need to be long, but it must:
(i) identify the nature of the conference;
(ii) the number of judicial office holders it is suggested should attend;
(iii) why that number is necessary if it is more than one;
(iv) the benefit either to those attending or to the judiciary more widely from attendance at the conference;
(v) the likely costs of attendance ; and
(vi) the likely impact on the efficient administration of business.
The business case should be sent to the Executive Director of the Judicial Office for Scotland, Stephen Humphreys. He will assess whether funds are available to meet the costs of attendance and if so pass the business case to me.
I will then consider all requests and respond directly to the judicial office holder. I will need a clear justification for any overseas travel. As a general rule it should only be necessary for one judicial office holder to attend a conference overseas. It will only be in exceptional cases that I am likely to consider it necessary for more than one person to attend.
Where support is provided to attend a conference a report is to be prepared and sent to the Executive Director within one month of the end of the conference. The report will be placed on the Judicial Hub and the Judicial website. It is important that as many of the judiciary as possible are able to benefit from the investment of public money in attending the conference.
 In respect of attendance at events by Sheriffs, the Sheriffs Association will continue to consider the need for attendance by sheriffs at conferences before preparing the business case and seeking funding. The Association undertakes this activity on behalf of all sheriffs and it considers applications equally from both its members and non-members. If a sheriff wishes to attend a conference he or she should in the first instance contact the Secretary to the Sheriffs’ Association. I am grateful to the Association for undertaking this function.
 When considering the costs of attendance at a conference, Judicial Office Holders should consult the Judicial Office for an estimate of the likely travel and accommodation costs, if required. Travel and subsistence rules apply to all travel whether inside or outside the UK.
While the clampdown on overseas trips is a welcome move by the Lord President, the Judicial Office for Scotland and Scottish Court Service are currently REFUSING to reveal any details of hundreds of trips taken by Scottish judges around the UK.
When enquiries were made regarding domestic UK destinations of Scottish judges, staff at the Scottish Court Service switched destinations of Scotland’s second most powerful judge – Lord Carloway from Bristol in England, to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland – in an attempt to avoid having to disclose the information on UK judicial travel via Freedom of Information legislation.
Full details of trips undertaken by Scottish judges were previously published by Diary of Injustice here: Overseas Travel of Scotland’s Judges 2013-2014 & Judicial trips & extra expenses claims 2010-2013