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DECLARE THE JUDGES: New Judicial Complaints Reviewer supports proposal to Scottish Parliament to create a register of interests for judges

20 Jan

New Judicial Investigator Gillian Thompson follows Moi Ali in support for judges register. SCOTLAND’S new Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) Gillian Thompson OBE has told a Scottish Parliament Committee she supports proposals currently before MSPs to create a register of interests for Scotland’s judges.

JCR Gillian Thompson’s backing for Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary comes after Moi Ali – Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer – quit her role as JCR after describing the job as “window dressing” during an evidence session with MSPs in September 2013, reported 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

In responses to MSPs questions, Moi Ali revealed she had no statutory powers over judicial complaints, and received no cooperation from Scotland’s top judges.

Now, the new JCR – Gillian Thompson – who also authored a report on undeclared interests of Scottish Court Service staff in relation to how interests are recorded in the Scottish Court Service – has given her full backing for the judges register petition, writing in a letter to MSPs stating: “As a general principle I am in favour of those in public life, whether paid or unpaid, being required to maintain a register of interests including hospitality given or received.”

Ms Thompson continued: “We live in an age in which transparency about interests and activities of those in the public eye is regarded as good practice. There is a perception that anything less is the result of attempts to hide things. In the case of Judges, it is clear that court users and the public more widely seek reassurances of fairness and impartiality.”

Ms Thompson has also disclosed her own interests to MSPs, following on from the example set by Moi Ali – who created her own register of interests while in the office of JCR.

The Sunday Mail newspaper reports:

BACK IN THE DOCK – NEW BROOM WANTS JUDGES TO OPEN UP

Second legal watchdog says judges’ refusal to support register of interests looks suspicious

Jan 18, 2015 By Mark Aitken

NEW judicial complaints reviewer Gillian Thompson has given backing for register despite protests from Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill.

A LEGAL watchdog who quit after supporting a register of interest for judges has been backed by the woman who replaced her.

Moi Ali was appointed as the country’s first judicial complaints reviewer in 2011 but resigned last year claiming she had no power and got no co-operation from law chiefs.

She was also criticised by Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill, over her support for a register of interest for judges.

But her successor Gillian Thompson has also given her backing for a register.

Holyrood’s petitions committee are considering a submission by legal campaigner Peter Cherbi for a judicial register of interests which could details gifts, hospitality and links to outside bodies such as law firms.

In a letter to the committee, Thompson wrote: “We live in an age in which transparency about interests and activities of those in the public eye is regarded as good practice.

“There is a perception that anything less is the result of attempts to hide things.

“In the case of judges, it is clear that court users and the public more widely seek reassurances of fairness and impartiality.”

Lord Gill has repeatedly dismissed calls for a register of interests.

But Cherbi said: “Two judicial complaints reviewers in a row have supported a register while Lord Gill suspiciously clings to secrecy and refuses to accept transparency must be applied equally to judges as it is to everyone else in public life.”

Submission from JCR Gillian Thompson to Public Petitions Committee: I have seen the evidence provided to the Committee by my predecessor Moi Ali in May 2013, what was said by the Lord President in his written submission of 21 November 2014 and previously, the evidence provided by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs on 9 December 2014.

As a general principle I am in favour of those in public life, whether paid or unpaid, being required to maintain a register of interests including hospitality given or received.

We live in an age in which transparency about interests and activities of those in the public eye is regarded as good practice. There is a perception that anything less is the result of attempts to hide things. In the case of Judges, it is clear that court users and the public more widely seek reassurances of fairness and impartiality. I think it is difficult for those outside the Judiciary to understand the notion that the Oath taken by Judges on appointment should be regarded as sufficient evidence of their commitment to uphold the principles of public life.

Of course a register as called for by this petition would require to be kept up to date and the burden of cost and responsibility would have to be borne by, most likely, the public purse. It seems to me however that the costs attached would be offset to a degree by an increase in confidence and, conceivably, a drop in complaints.

In respect of the Annual Report by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) for the period 1 September 2013 to 31 August 2014, the Report is now on the JCR website. It was sent in draft to the Lord President prior to publication.

Finally, I have undertaken to publish my own register of interests on my website. Currently in addition to my appointment as JCR for which I am paid a daily fee of £213 over a restricted number of days annually,  I am a non- executive director of Registry Trust Ltd a not- for-profit company based in London (fee of £8,200 paid for 10 days work a year), I am a Scottish Trustee of Stepchange Debt Charity (unpaid), a Scottish Ambassador for Tomorrow’s People a charity that works with disadvantage young people to find employment (unpaid). For each body I am required to provide regular updates of my interests. I am a member of the English Speaking Union Scotland and the Scottish Dachshund club. I make a monthly payments in support of Cancer Research, the RSPB and the SSPCA.

I hope this is helpful in the Committee’s on going consideration of petition PE1458.

While Scotland’s top judge continues to oppose the creation of a register of interests, MSPs held a debate in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber on Thursday 7 October 2014. The debate resulted in cross party support for the proposal. MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 – in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458, urging the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The parliamentary debate was reported by Diary of Injustice along with video coverage here: TRANSPARENCY TIME: Top judge & Scottish Government told to rethink refusal on declarations of judges as Holyrood MSPs support calls to create a register of judicial interests. The coverage of individual MSPs who spoke in the debate along with video footage & the official record, is here: Debating the 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

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