Ex Justice Secretary heads to Holyrood Petitions Committee. FORMER Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill, who was sacked by Scotland’s new First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in her recent cabinet reshuffle, has been moved to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, replacing transparency crusader Chic Brodie MSP.
The move was announced last week with little fanfare – Motion S4M-11738: Joe FitzPatrick, Dundee City West, Scottish National Party, On Behalf of Parliamentary Bureau, Date Lodged: 27/11/2014 – that Kenny MacAskill be appointed to replace Chic Brodie as a member of the Public Petitions Committee.
The former Justice Secretary, who has been the star of many controversies in Scotland’s justice system, from the ‘compassionate’ release of AbdelBaset Al Megrahi – convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988, to presiding over faked-up crime figures, massive hand-outs of £1 Billion in legal aid to lawyers since the financial crash of 2008, continuing scandals at Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service, failed reforms of Scotland’s civil & criminal justice system, court closures, attempts to remove requirements of corroboration of evidence in criminal trials, and the destruction of local Policing across Scotland, is now set to pass verdict on motions proposed by members of the public attempting to make Scotland a better place.
The unexpected move to slot MacAskill on the Petitions Committee comes after the same Committee agreed in late October to call MacAskill to give evidence on a proposal to create a register of judicial interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.
However, MacAskill refused to show up to the Committee Convener’s invitation, instead putting forward then Legal Affairs Minister Roseanna Cunningham – who urged the Scottish Parliament to reject judicial transparency during a debate in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber on the petition held on 9 October 2014.
Since then, Ms Cunningham has also been replaced in her legal affairs portfolio, now handed to Paul Wheelhouse who will appear before the Petitions Committee and, ironically – Kenny MacAskill – next Tuesday, December 9 and answer questions on why the Scottish Government has sided with secrecy and judges who are worried exposure of their mega riches and connections may damage their judicial privacy.
Petition PE1458 – a proposal to increase judicial transparency and 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.
The proposal to create a register of judicial interests is also widely supported in the media, and has the backing of Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali – who gave her support for the petition during an evidence session before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee last September, 2013.
However, top judge Lord Gill has waged a bitter two year war against the proposal. The Lord President branded media as “aggressive” and complained court users would end up invading the privacy of judges – who have since been revealed to have criminal records, offshore interests, and investments in companies convicted of bribes, industrial espionage, bid rigging and other offences around the world.
During the Petitions Committee’s meeting of 28 October, MSPs also demanded to see the unredacted 2014 annual report of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR), Moi Ali – who has since quit the judicial investigator role – comparing it to “window dressing”. The JCR’s anuual report has still not been passed to the Committee.
Mr MacAskill has previously stated his opposition to the creation of a register of judicial interests in letters to the Public Petitions Committee which always followed similar letters from Lord Gill.
MacAskill opposes register of judicial interests & judicial complaints reforms. IN previous letters to the Public Petitions Committee, Mr MacAskill slapped down the need for a register, and followed top judge Lord Gill’s line on judicial oaths, writing: “You ask whether the Scottish Government will review its position on whether members of the judiciary ought to register their interests. I note the evidence the Committee has gathered on this issue and, in particular, the arguments presented by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) that a register of interests would increase transparency and public trust in the judiciary.
The JCR considers that there is merit in a register of interests for members of the judiciary. I do not think it necessary to establish such a register. I continue to be of the view that there are already sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary. These have been set out in previous correspondence and comprise the judicial oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and the rules made under the 2008 Act. I do not consider that the case has been made that these existing safeguards are not effective.”
In another letter to the Petitions Committee Convener, David Stewart, Kenny MacAskill also refused to acknowledge the need for amendments to the powers of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer role, writing: “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.”
Mr MacAskill is also reported to have made private comments to msps against the creation of a register of judicial interests while he was Justice Secretary. Mr MacAskill also refused to grant further powers to the role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer, even after a stinging rebuke from Scotland’s first JCR – Moi Ali.
JUSTICE SECRETARY SAID NO TO JUDICIAL COMPLAINTS POWERS
JCR should have more powers – Moi Ali told Scottish Government. In her second annual report as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali called for the Scottish Government to give more powers to the JCR’s office to deal with errant judges. Ms Ali said: “I think fundamentally the problem is the legislation. “The way it’s created, it’s about self- regulation so you have judges judging judges’ conduct. There isn’t really an independent element.“I’m presented as the independent element but, without the powers, I can’t be independent. We have the appearance of independent oversight but not the reality.”
In response to calls for greater powers for the JCR, Justice Secertary MacAskill refused to grant any extra powers, and First Minister Alex Salmond supported MacAskill’s refusal during questions at FMQ’s by John Wilson MSP at the Scottish Parliament.
However, it can now be revealed Alex Salmond himself had a legal relationship with Francis Gill – the son of Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill – the same man politicians including the First Minister must consult and seek approval of, before changes to any powers of the office of Judicial Complaints Reviewer can be implemented. Mr Salmond made no mention of his relationship with Gill junior – which also involved representation on a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission – while he answered questions from MSP John Wilson during FMQ’s on 30 January 2014.
After MacAskill refused to consider new powers for the office of Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali signalled she was standing down from the role, reported here: No powers to make things better: Judicial Complaints Reviewer to stand down from MacAskill’s “window dressing” justice watchdog over errant judges
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