Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 – in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.
The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.
In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.
This article focuses on the closing speech given by Jackson Carlaw MSP (West Scotland) (Scottish Conservative). Jackson Carlaw is a member of the Finance Committee, Health & Support Committee, Standards, Procedures & Public Appointments Committee and the Public Petitions Committee. Mr Carlaw is also a member of a number of Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament.
Jackson Carlaw: I will deal with the contributions that have been made to what has been an interesting debate. Angus MacDonald said that Lord Gill had delivered a snub to the Public Petitions Committee. I think that what he did was more of a snub to the Scottish people. The committee is the Public Petitions Committee of the Parliament. The whole point of it is to allow the petitions that are raised by members of the public to receive a proper airing, and for the arguments to be tested. In a sense, we were not able to test the arguments of the Lord President, because he would not engage.
John Wilson is absolutely right. I have here a copy of the 16-page speech that the Lord President gave in Qatar, incorporating the very issues that we addressed. Had the committee known, we could have applied to the parliamentary authorities to go to Qatar to hear the speech in person and tackle the Lord President there. If he did not come to the committee, the committee could have gone to him.
I wonder if Lord Gill has reflected on his non-appearance and on how he feels when someone does not turn up to his court.
I shall not stray there, although I am tempted.
Anne McTaggart articulated, as a number of members did, why there is a perfectly balanced argument in favour of a register. David Torrance talked, too, about how they are commonplace. He went on to touch on the subject of the register of recusals, which David Stewart also mentioned. That arose as a result of informal conversations that David Stewart and the committee’s deputy convener had with the Lord President. For that, I suppose that we must be grateful.
David Torrance said, however, that the register does not meet the petitioner’s concerns. I would say to him that the job of the Public Petitions Committee is not necessarily to uphold the petition or the petitioner’s concerns; it is to evaluate the evidence underpinning a petition and then to form a judgment. Again, we have been slightly prevented from our obligations in that respect.
Neil Findlay spoke about the perception of transparency, and he listed various things. Therein lies some of my concern. Were it the case that judges had to register their religion, and if that was thought by people who were appearing before a judge to be a reason to suggest that there might not be impartiality in the proceedings, we would paralyse the court system with endless reasons to object to the appointment of any particular judge.
I hope that she will not find it inexcusable of me, but I found that I agreed almost entirely with the points that Joan McAlpine made in her speech. She talked about the letter that Lord Gill presented, which discussed the practicalities and consequential issues. The consequential issues that he identified were the perfectly legitimate counterargument to the natural assumption that, in the modern age, there should be a register. I again say that, had Lord Gill subjected his reasons to the open test of committee discussion, which would have been perfectly friendly and informed, they would, most likely, have persuaded the committee that, on balance, they represented the correct position.
John Wilson referred to my doing an impression of one of my colleagues. He might suggest that I did that, but I could not possibly recognise it as such.
Stewart Stevenson spoke about the modern argument in all this but then, to my astonishment, I heard this Roman—whoever it was from all those years ago—being quoted for a second day in a row in the Parliament. It was exactly the same quotation. That somewhat brought back the fact that nothing is modern and everything is timeless when we are dealing with such judgments and issues.
I am not, on balance, persuaded that a register is necessary. I refer back to the safeguards that exist. Mind you, I would point out that we, too, swear an oath, but we nonetheless still subscribe to a register. There is a balance, but that balance, that argument and that judgment are much more likely reliably to stand the test of public scrutiny if they are subject to proper public debate, and I feel that we are having this debate today because we have not been able to provide that.
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 can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary