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THE BOOK OF BRIAN: The top judge who set his sights on the media, and then quietly detained transparency at his lordship’s pleasure

25 Apr

Transparency is unwelcome in Lord Gill’s court. SCOTLAND’S top judge is not a big fan of transparency – that much is clear.

Lord President Lord Brian Gill (73) is not much keen on change, governments, politicians, political process, legal reforms, accountability, the Scottish Parliament, Freedom of Information, the media, journalists, Julian Assange, Wikileaks, protesters standing on the Heart of Midlothian, or anyone else who does not fit into the judicial world of legal vested interests.

But, Gill does like classical music – blaring out over all eight octaves.

Our top judge also enjoys his ‘diplomatic commitments’ – even if sometimes his Judicial Office officially deny Gill and colleagues secretly travelled to the far east for the judiciary’s version of a good old ‘Top Gear’ style lads day out – lasting eight days.

The courts – as Gill told last week’s Commonwealth Law Conference – are his courts, not ours. We pay for it all, but that is as far as it goes.

Do not expect accountability, or transparency for near on a hundred million pounds a year – for that will infringe on Judicial Independence – claims Gill.

Last week at the Glasgow Conference event, the ageing Gill even went so far as to publicly define transparency, along with well meaning governments & politicians – as “insidious”.

Gill just had to get in some digs against anyone and everyone – right before he, Lord Neuberger and other judicial figures fled the conference after learning of the booking of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

According to last week’s latest instalment of the Book of Brian – strewn across seventeen pages of – the hangman’s noose, cops, lawyers are lovely, even a recipe for cooking the ideal judge, and behold – evil itself – the audience were treated to a spectacle of Nostradamus Gill implying the world would stop turning, if the judiciary were required to declare their vast secret wealth in a well meaning Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

If people found out judges are little more than “Victorian” bankers cloaked in 18th Century ermine gowns – life, and Scotland as we know it – would cease to exist.

The sheer sums of judicial wealth, the efforts gone into hiding it, the connections, the links, the business, the money, the property, the assets, the travel, and the criminal records of judges – are simply too much to disclose – for Gill.

But seriously, would anyone be surprised to learn the judiciary are collectively hiding billions under their beds – after we all witnessed the spectacle of a 73 year old judge waging a two year war with the Scottish Parliament in a bid to halt MSPs investigations and hearings on accountability and transparency in the judiciary?

The answer of course is No. Everyone gets the argument that judges should, like everyone else, declare their interests.

Transparency is good, even if Gill says it is not. The more Gill protests, the more we know there is something to hide.

One abiding theme of the mounting chapters of the Book of Brian and his battle with transparency, are his Leveson inquiry style attacks on journalists and the media.

What could possibly be the motive for a top judge to demonise journalists, the media, well meaning reforms and all things transparency?

The answer to this is an easy one.

Lord Gill and his closed shop Scottish Court Service – are about as open and transparent as a brick wall.

If you ask too many questions, you are liable to get clobbered by an ageing judge holding one of those bricks.

Last year – in between state visits to Qatar, authorising dodgy media guides on how court staff should reply to journalists, and churning out edicts on judicial travel – but only after being rumbled as a big time jet setter funded by public cash – Lord Gill cast his aim at the media and threatened to block journalists from his courts.

The terms of Gill’s anti-media proclamation were clear – journalists were only in court at his pleasure. If his displeasure was incurred, the media would be denied access to his courts.

Gill’s fit of pique was a little bit sad, certainly a bit bad, and definitely, a bit mad.

The following report from the Scottish Sun newspaper is how Lord Gill’s stand against the press was viewed by the media.

Mr Big of the judicial world sets his sights on the media

by Russell Findlay. The Scottish Sun

HE jets around the world to be feted by wealthy tyrants involved in organised killings and corruption.

He rose from the shadow of Barlinnie prison in Glasgow’s east end to mix with the elite of Scotland’s chattering classes.

Far from the tenements of post-war and gang-infested Riddrie, his fortune is funnelled into a complex network of property and shares.

With a razor-sharp mind, he treats critics with a barely concealed contempt.

Now in his 70s, and with two sons following in his footsteps, the white-haired father-of-six retains a tight grip on his empire.

Despite the CV, Brian Gill is not some Mr Big from the sewer of organised crime.

He’s Scotland’s top judge whose wealth, status and overseas connections are from life on the other side of the law.

But our two-bob crooks can but dream of the power wielded by Brian – or (according to society bible Debrett’s) the Lord Justice-General and Lord President of the Court of Session.

Take last week for example.

From his book-lined office in Parliament Square, Brian quietly issued a 216-word public pronouncement on a single sheet of A4.

It amounts to a cloak of judicial ermine being placed over the workings of our criminal courts.

He believes that us grubby hacks – and you, our readers – already know too much, saying “it is now clear that the information being disclosed is excessive”.

He cites the Data Protection Act 1988 as his motive, when that law clearly exempts information relating to legal proceedings.

Perhaps Lord Air Miles was inspired by his recent jolly to Qatar, whose oil-rich emirs know all about keeping the pesky media in check.

Brian’s anti-transparency fatwa would be laughable were it not so serious.

The free press in this country has valiantly resisted a sustained attack culminating in the tedious Leveson Inquiry – led by another judge called Brian.

Our Brian has already overseen a creeping tightening of the media’s access to civil court cases.

So when the police, NHS and councils pay out vast sums of taxpayers’ cash in grubby compo deals, the public are kept in the dark.

Brian’s regressive bid to curtail access to criminal cases will be music to the ears of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, an ex-lawyer addicted to cheap headlines about falling crime.

The European Commission revealed two years ago that in Scotland 59 per cent of crimes reported by police to prosecutors didn’t get to court. That compares to just nine per cent in England and Wales.

Our civil and criminal courts are in danger of becoming little more than private playgrounds for lawyers to strike secret deals.

Eric McQueen, Scottish Court Service chief executive, should be telling his board chairman Brian to get a grip.

In the US – where the public right to know runs through the heart of the justice system – they have the PACER website.

Anyone, from anywhere in the world, can access 500 million court documents from all 50 states.

Brian’s chilling 216-word edict ought to send shockwaves through the Scottish Parliament.

He has already shown contempt for Holyrood by refusing to discuss a proposed register of interests for him and his brethren.

Let’s hope that some of our 129 MSPs have some fire in their belly.

It’s time for Brian and his judicial chums to learn about scrutiny and accountability.

And perhaps his next foreign junket should be to land of the free rather than a despotic Middle East regime.

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