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TO PLAY THE PRESIDENT: Transparency, diversity & judicial reform on the cards as hunt begins for Scotland’s next top judge & Lord President of the Court of Session

06 Aug

The hunt for Scotland’s next top judge. APPLICATIONS to be Scotland’s next top judge are now being considered under a closed door process & selection panel set up to find a new Lord President of the Court of Session –  some three months after the sudden retirement of Scotland’s longest serving judge – Lord Brian Gill.

The selection panel who will interview, shortlist and then recommend a suitable candidate for the position of Lord President to the First Minister by – no later than Friday 30 October – is made up of: Sir Muir Russell – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, Mrs Deirdre Fulton – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, The Rt Hon Lord Reed – Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, The Rt Hon Lady Dorrian – Senator, Inner House of the Court of Session.

The position of Lord President – with a salary of £220,655 a year, including perks such as access to international travel and unrivalled power to challenge the Scottish Parliament – is responsible for leadership of the entire Scottish judiciary, in addition to chairing the Board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. The office holder is the most senior judge in Scotland, with authority over any court established under Scots law, apart from the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

The previous holder of the office – Brian Gill (73) retired abruptly in May 2015 after serving across three decades on the bench. Gill ended his last three years as a member of the judiciary on the top spot as Lord President & Lord Justice General from 8 June 2012 to 31 May 2015.

Brian Gill was widely respected as a reforming judge for his work on the Scottish Civil Courts Review – which saw the then Lord President issue a scathing condemnation of Scotland’s Civil justice system as “Victorian” and that of a legal system which Lord Gill said, with long experience – was “failing the litigant and it is failing society”.

However, the top judge eventually came unstuck after waging a controversial two year battle against the Scottish Parliament in an effort to thwart proposals to require members of the judiciary to declare their vast and varied interests.

The judicial transparency proposal – which provoked the now retired top judge to use loopholes within the Scotland Act against the Scottish Parliament – call for 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.

Now, the process begins where applications must now conform to a deadline for referees – Monday 24 August 2015 (midnight), then are subject to sifting – taking place on Wednesday 2 September 2015, invitation to interview by Monday 7 September 2015, with interviews held on Monday 5 October 2015 and finally – recommendations to First Minister by Friday 30 October 2015.

The Lord President is the senior judge in Scotland and the head of the Scottish judiciary. In addition to its judicial duties, the office carries with it responsibilities for the administration of justice in Scotland. These responsibilities include the general supervision of the business of the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary, the initiation and preparation of all subordinate legislation made by those Courts, and an important role in the development of policy concerning the courts and the judiciary in Scotland. In addition, the Lord President has various statutory functions, for example, in relation to the membership and rules of procedure of various tribunals, the regulation of the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland and, along with the Lord Justice Clerk, the removal from office of sheriffs.

The Lord President also acts as chairing member of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) which provides administrative support to the Scottish Courts and judiciary, and to the Scottish Tribunals and members. It is for the Lord President, along with the other SCTS members, to provide visible leadership and strategic direction to drive the necessary reform and continuous improvement which will enable the SCTS to develop.

This week, the Scottish Sun on Sunday newspaper featured an in depth two page report on the hunt for a new Lord President:

 Who’ll be the judge?

REFORMS CALL AS LEGAL ELITE CHALLENGE FOR TOP JOB

By: RUSSELL FINDLAY 2 August 2015 Scottish Sun

THE hunt is on for Scotland’s new top judge — and applicants have until tomorrow to throw their wigs in the ring.

If chosen as Lord President of the Court of Session, they will be handed a £220,655 salary and enormous power.

But here, The Scottish Sun on Sunday’s RUSSELL FINDLAY finds out why tackling the judiciary’s secrecy and vested interests should be the top priority for our next top Lord — or Lady.

THE historic title dates back to 1532 when its first holder wasn’t just in charge of every Scots judge but also a community of monks.

Alexander Mylne, abbot of Cambuskenneth Abbey, near Stirling, was given the grand title of Lord President of the Court of Session by King James V. Since then bishops, barons, lords, earls and viscounts have all had turns in the lofty post.

But campaigners insist the next top beak must be prepared to do what no other Lord President has done — put an end to our legal system’s culture of secrecy and drag it into the 21st century.

The vacancy at the top of the judicial tree was created in May when the previous incumbent announced he was retiring after an astonishing public spat with Holyrood.

Lord Gill, 73, twice refused to attend the parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to discuss a proposed register of interests.

MSPs wanted him to explain his fierce opposition to moves that would require judges to reveal their personal, business and financial secrets.

He claimed the principle of judicial independence from political interference meant he could not be forced to attend.

But critics insist the law is meant to stop judges being quizzed on court verdicts, not administrative issues.

And Lord Gill’s snub united all parties in anger.

Scots Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw has since secured the issue of a fresh invite to the retired judge.

Fellow committee member John Wilson said: “It’s not up to politicians to meddle in court decisions but proper independent scrutiny of judges’ undeclared interests and conduct is long overdue.

“Their business dealings have to be absolutely clear.

“Anyone appearing in front of a judge — for a criminal or civil case — needs to know if they have any direct or indirect vested interests.”

Mr Wilson believes our legal elite should be embracing reform, not opposing it.

The independent MSP said: “This is about strengthening the credibility of our judiciary so no one can point a finger and say they were unfairly treated because a judge did not declare an interest.”

The public petition being discussed by MSPs was lodged by Peter Cherbi. The campaigner, from Edinburgh, claims he was stung by lawyers and the self-regulation which he believes protects them.

And he thinks that, after almost 500 years of men, a woman is needed at the top.

Mr Cherbi said: “It’s time for the old boys’ club to be rocked by a Lady President.

“I’d want her to maintain the judiciary’s independence and integrity while bringing it into the 21st century for both transparency and accountability.”

The role as the 45th nor-Lord President would normally be expected to go to Lord Carloway, 61, our secondmost senior judge.

But insiders say the Lord Justice Clerk is tainted by his backing of the SNP government’s failed bid to scrap corroboration in Scots Law.

The proposal was opposed by his judicial colleagues.

Another contender is Lady Smith, 60.

She could make history as first female presiding judge of the College of Justice and the Court of Session. Lady Smith would also take up the titles of Lord Justice General of Scotland and the head of the High Court of Justiciary.

But first she’d have to win approval from a selection panel, then be nominated by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, right, and the Prime Minister before being formally appointed by the Queen.

The Lord President hears complex appeals, runs our courts, makes reforms and is consulted by the UK and Scottish governments. Based at Parliament House in Edinburgh, he or she can shun MSPs down the Royal Mile at the new Parly building and is exempt from freedom of information laws.

The Lord President also cannot be held to account by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

That was one of many reasons that persuaded Moi Ali to quit after she became the first person appointed to the role. Ms Ali stood down last year because she was unable to alter the system of our judges regulating their own conduct.

She would like to see the Scottish Government give the public the same powers to scrutinise them as exists in England and Wales.

Ms Ali said: “The government should but I don’t think they will because the judiciary here is incredibly powerful. They will not be challenged. England and Wales are light years ahead in terms of holding judges to account.

“That surprises me as our government says it believes in social justice and putting citizens first, not vested interests.” Ms Ali, a Scottish Police Authority board member, also blasted Lord Gill’s snubbing of Holyrood’s Petitions Committee.

She said: “It brought into focus how out of touch he was.

“It’s about coming up to the standards expected in every other sphere of public life. He did the judiciary a great disservice because he confirmed the stereotypes.”

As for Lord Gill’s replacement, Ms Ali added: “It would be nice for it to be a woman to help redress the balance of the past 500 years.

“But it should be the right person for the job, someone who will bring about change. If that is a man, that’s fine by me.”

SCANDAL OF VICE, BOOZE AND BRAWLS

By: RUSSELL FINDLAY 2 August 2015 Scottish Sun

Disgraced … sheriffs Neilson, Lothian and Anthony all resigned

SHAMED lawmen have landed in the dock for violence, drink driving and fraud — with others forced to quit after being caught in a brothel.

Sheriff Hugh Neilson was found in a sex sauna in Glasgow during a police raid in 2004.

He said he was only there for a shave but later resigned and was last year convicted of drink driving.

Sheriff Andrew Lothian quit in 2008 over claims that he had regular sex sessions with prostitutes at an Edinburgh sauna.

And Sheriff Robert Anthony QC was forced to leave his post in 2010 when cops caught him driving on the M8 while more than three times the legal booze limit.

Justice of the Peace Peter Drummond was convicted in April of punching a man in a pub fight in Cowdenbeath.

Another dodgy law chief was convicted of benefit fraud.

But his or her identity was kept secret from the public.

Former Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali highlighted cases of alleged misbehaviour by mystery judges.

One was accused of a “tyrannical rant” at a female dog walker who was left “shaking with nerves” and felt “very intimidated”.

And an unnamed sheriff was accused of secretly recording conversations after being branded a bully.

BEAKS URGED FOR CLARITY OVER SHARES

By: RUSSELL FINDLAY 2 August 2015 Scottish Sun

CRITICS have called on judges to declare their private shares in big businesses to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Peter Watson was suspended from sitting as a sheriff by law chief Lord Gill in February.

The lawyer — whose clients included former First Minister Alex Salmond — was briefly a director of Mathon, run by tycoon Gregory King.

King was a director of hedge fund Heather Capital that was the subject of a massive fraud probe after its collapse.

Heather Capital’s liquidators Ernst & Young filed a multi-million court demand against Watson’s former law firm Levy & McRae.

We later revealed that Watson, below, had also been a director of a private bank which King planned to launch in Gibraltar — and held shares in new Edinburgh-based private bank Hampden & Co.

Last year a Scottish Sun investigation found Sheriff Principal Alastair Dunlop owned shares in a company hit with a £13.9million proceeds of crime bill for bribing Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The same sheriff also heard a case involving Tesco despite having shares in the supermarket chain.

There was no suggestion of wrongdoing but it fuelled calls for transparency.

Judges are subject to self-regulating system and take an oath to “do right” by people “without fear or favour”.

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