TRIBUTE TO A TRIBUNE: As Lord Gill stands down, courts salute career of top judge who used Scotland Act loophole against Holyrood over calls to declare judicial interests

26 May

Top judge who resisted transparency praised for long career. FAREWELL tributes have been paid in court today to Scotland’s top judge, Lord President Lord Brian Gill as he retires after serving three years as Lord Justice General, accumulating some 21 years on the bench.

Brian Gill – now aged 73, was Lord Justice Clerk from 2001 until 2012 when he was appointed Lord President after the retirement of Lord Hamilton.

At a ceremony earlier today in the First Division courtroom in Parliament House, a full bench of judges heard Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice Clerk, say that Lord Gill’s legal career had spanned half a century and “his distinguished path from passing advocate in 1967 to Lord President is a matter of record if not legend”.

Lord Carloway added: “We will all miss his leadership and his friendship on and off the bench. He will be a great loss to Parliament House. However, on behalf of the bench and staff, we all wish him well in retirement, knowing he has a life beyond the law.”

Gill had a vision of an inclusive approach, along with a deep concern for the common man and woman, said Lord Carloway – who only a few weeks ago gave a speech accusing lawyers of derailing his own plan to abolish corroboration – a safeguard in Scots law where evidence must be corroborated by two independent sources.

Speaking at a conference of Commonwealth Law Reform Agencies in Edinburgh, Lord Carloway said that his proposals to abolish corroboration has been met with “real hostility” from some lawyers.

Lord Carloway said: “Reactionary or excessively defensive forces among the legal profession can, and often do, behave in a manner obstructive to progressive law reform, especially where there is transparent perceived financial self-interest.”

As it turns out, Lord Gill, along with just about every other member of the judiciary opposed the removal of corroboration. In November 2013, Lord Gill gave testimony to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee who were considering the abolishment of corroboration.

Subsequently, the Justice Committee voted against abolishment of corroboration and the politically motivated plan to abolish it – led by the Crown Office, Police Scotland and the now sacked Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill – was thankfully abandoned.

James Wolffe QC, Dean of Faculty, praised Lord Gill’s commitment to Scotland’s outward-looking legal heritage.

Wolffe – who’s wife is Court of Session judge Lady Sarah Wolffe – referred to court reports of the past 20 years as “filled with your judgments, expounding and applying the law in your characteristically lapidary prose”.

Mr Wolffe – who heads the Faculty of Advocates – the governing body for advocates recently revealed to have plundered the land titles to Parliament House – added: “Your presidency of this court has been characterised by a major campaign of civil justice reform… it aims to effect nothing less than a transformation in the way that we secure civil justice in this country in the 21st century.”

Referring to music – another of Lord Gill’s great passions, Wolffe recalled that he had written an anthem, “Populus Sion”, for the Faculty of Advocates Choir which was performed by the choir, under his direction, in the Basilica of St Peter in Rome in 2006.

Wolffe added: “I speak on behalf of the Faculty, as its Dean, in expressing the hope that, as the law releases its claims upon you, as you lay aside the burdens of office, you will find great enjoyment doing the things about which you care and spending time with the people whom you love”

Alistair Morris, President of the Law Society of Scotland, hailed Lord Gill as one of the most distinguished, pragmatic and reforming holders of the offices of Lord Justice Clerk and Lord President.

Morris, who recently wrote in the media about a rigged Law Society poll claiming lawyers were well regarded – said Gill had brought great judgment to the posts, and, importantly, “Glaswegian wit and good humour.”

Lord Gill, who devised the sweeping, now sadly watered down reforms to the civil courts as authored in his Scottish Civil Courts Review – thanked everyone for their kind words, which “mean more to me than I can say”.

He said he had enjoyed two great privileges in his career.

The first was to be admitted to the Faculty of Advocates, through which he had the good fortune to make a living doing what he loved, and to make “many and lasting friendships through the camaraderie of the bar”.

The second was to have been appointed to the bench, and over 20 years he had been learning all the time from his colleagues and from the gifted pleaders who appeared in his court.

Gill said: “To have been Lord President has been an honour. I have tried to live up to the responsibilities of the job in a fitting way… to enhance the reputation of the court… and to make the work of my colleagues more congenial and fulfilling.I leave office with only the happiest of memories of my time as a pleader and my time as a judge.”

On the thorny issue of judicial declarations, legal insiders outside court praised Gill for his input on a proposal calling for judges to declare their secretive wealth, connections and links to big business.

For the past two years, Lord Gill fought a very public and bitter battle with the Scottish Parliament concerning MSPs investigations of transparency and accountability in the Scottish judiciary, amid plans to create a register of judicial interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

The proposals to create a register of judicial interests 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.

Gill refused three invitations to appear before MSPs to give evidence on his intense opposition to a register requiring judges to declare their significant wealth and links to big business.

Faced with a no-show of Scotland’s top judge, members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee took evidence from Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) Moi Ali. During questions at the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee, Moi Ali told msps there was little transparency or accountability in Scotland’s judiciary.

At the conclusion of a debate at the Scottish Parliament in October 2014, msps overwhelmingly backed a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests – reported along with video footage & the official record, here: Debating the Judges

Of Gill’s policy against judicial transparency, one legal insider said: “The public required to see first hand the reaction from the judiciary when they were asked to declare their interests. Lord Gill fulfilled this role perfectly and himself made the case for increased transparency and accountability of judges.”

In response to calls from MSPs to attend the Scottish Parliament, the top judge fired off a barrage of angry letters and refused at least three invitations to face MSPs in public and face questions on his hostility to judicial transparency. The saga led to Gill receiving the nickname Lord No-No.

At a recent hearing of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, one MSP said Gill had protected vested interests of the judiciary during a two year probe on judicial transparency & accountability.

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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