A GRAND DAY IN: Judicial attendance & walkout over Wikileaks founder at Commonwealth Law Conference and Lord Gill’s ‘transparency is insidious’ speech ends up costing taxpayers £15K

05 Jun

Judges splurged £15K on Glasgow Law gathering then fled at sight of Wikileaks transparency advocate. THE COST of sending nine Scottish judges including Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill from Edinburgh to a law conference held in the remote, far away city of Glasgow – cost taxpayers fifteen thousand pounds – according to information released this week by the Judicial Office.

However, Lord Gill’s grand day out to the Commonwealth Law Conference (CLC2015) – where Scotland’s top judge grimaced & growled, hurling jibes at everyone & everything, from transparency to the political process – was cut short when Gill (73) led a hastily arranged judicial walkout after it was revealed Julian Assange – founder of Wikileaks – was booked to talk live at the event via a digital link.

The information, released by the Judicial Office in response to a Freedom of Information request reveals one booking for 9 judicial office holders to attend the Commonwealth Law Conference 2015 cost £14,823.66.

The following judicial office holders were originally booked to attend the conference: Lord President, Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Armstrong, Lord Woolman, Lord Mathews, Lady Dorrian and 3 Sheriffs were authorised to attend on behalf of the Sheriffs Association (names unknown at time of booking).

Following the bookings being made, the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian and Lord Armstrong were unable to attend due to court commitments.

Sir Muir Russell was invited to attend the conference and agreed to chair a session entitled “A model form for judicial appointments in the 21st century Commonwealth”. That session was scheduled to take place on the morning of Thursday 16 April.

Book them in – Judicial Office release details of CLC 2015 costs. Sheriff Principal Scott agreed to chair a session entitled “Human trafficking and migration”, which was scheduled to take place on the morning of Wednesday 15 April.

In respect of the Sheriffs that were booked to attend the conference on behalf of the Sheriffs Association, it became clear in the lead up to the conference that not all could attend for the full conference due to court commitments. Agreement was therefore reached with the conference organisers that different sheriffs could attend for certain days and sessions.

The following sheriffs represented the Sheriffs Association at the conference: Sheriff Liddle; Sheriff Wood; Sheriff Di Emidio; Sheriff Jamieson; Sheriff Shead; and Sheriff Pettigrew.

1. The total figure quoted is for attendance at the conference only and includes VAT.  One judicial office holder has claimed travel expenses.

On 19 May the Judicial Office received a T&S claim that related to travel to the conference.  This was in respect of rail costs and travel by private car (mileage costs reimbursed).  The total amount claimed is £17.05.  No accommodation was booked for anyone attending the conference.

2. There was a set fee for attendance at the conference.  The fee was: £1400 plus VAT (£1680) per booking.  This was the “early bird” rate. One other fee was charged at £1144 plus VAT and a service charge of £34.86 (£1,383.66) as the booking was paid by credit card.  There was a discount applied to this booking as SP Scott, who the booking was made for, agreed to chair a session at the event.

Lastly, in respect of the subsequent withdrawal by members of the judiciary relating to the conference booking of Mr Assange, the only information released by the Judicial Office was a copy of a statement that was issued on 16 April 2015 following a press enquiry.

The statement read: “The conference programme was changed to include Mr Assange’s participation at short notice and without consultation. Mr Assange is, as a matter of law, currently a fugitive from justice and it would therefore not be appropriate for judges to be addressed by him. Under these circumstances the Lord President, Lord Gill and the other Scottish judicial office holders in attendance have withdrawn from the conference.”

However, Scotland’s top judge managed to blast his critics in his opening speech – given prior to Lord Gill ordering judicial colleagues to evacuate the event.

Launching a fierce attack on calls for judicial transparency, the political process and the Scottish Parliament – who are investigating accountability and transparency within the judiciary amid calls for a register of judges interests, Lord Gill told his audience: “The threats to judicial independence do not always come with a knock on the door in the middle of the night.  In a society that prides itself on the  independence  of  its  judiciary,  the  threat  may  come  in  insidious ways, even at the hands of well-meaning governments and legislators, in the name of efficiency and, ironically,  in the name of  transparency.”

Gill, clearly not a fan of Wikileaks, or judicial transparency, or judges declaring their interests – is more used to jet setting off to law conferences held around the world in venues far removed from Scotland.

In 2013, Lord Carloway – who is currently standing in for the now retired Lord Gill – flew off to Cape Town, South Africa to attend the Commonwealth Law Conference at a cost of £5541.37. Lord Gill also took the jet to the same venue, his ticket costing  taxpayers a little less at £3233.31.

More on the jet set lifestyle of Scotland’s judiciary can be read here LORD FLY-BYE: Scotland’s courts in the slow lane as judges prefer law conferences, business & ‘diplomatic’ trips to life on the bench

In 2014, Lord Gill splurged £2855 on a ticket for his five day state visit to the positively honest, reputable middle eastern dictatorship of Qatar – reported here: LORD JET SET: Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill takes 5 day STATE VISIT to Qatar as investigation reveals judiciary’s international travel junkets spree


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