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SUPREME, LORD: Scotland’s ex top judge Brian Gill who opposed Holyrood on judicial transparency & judges’ interests register – joins subs bench of UK Supreme Court

04 Sep

Lording it – Brian Gill moves to London. SCOTLAND’S former top judge – Lord Brian Gill who surprised the Scots legal world with the announcement of his sudden retirement in May 2015 – has been appointed to the supplementary panel of judges of the UK Supreme Court.

The UK Supreme Court today confirmed the appointment of Lord Gill to the panel of supplementary judges who sit on the London based UK Supreme Court.

A UKSC spokesperson said: “The supplementary panel on which Lord Gill is now a member has only been called upon once or twice in the last legal year. “

He added: “It is quite rare for the UKSC to invite Acting Justices to sit.”

Earlier this year, Brian Gill was invited to join the supplementary panel of judges – which can be called upon by the President of the Supreme Court to sit on specific cases where necessary.

The legislative framework for ‘Acting Justices’ on the UK Supreme Court states a person who holds the office of a senior territorial judge can be invited to act as a judge of the court at the request of the President of the Supreme Court. The legislative framework & conditions for such appointments is here: Acting judges & supplementary panel of UK Supreme Court

Now a UKSC supplementary judge – Brian Gill (73) – who became Scotland’s longest serving judge – served a short three year term as Lord President.

Gill unexpectedly stood down from the role as head of Scotland’s judiciary after waging  a bitter two year battle with the Scottish Parliament over plans to create a register of interests for judges – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

The judicial transparency petition which enjoys cross party support – has been the subject of a two year investigation by Holyrood and proposes the creation of a publicly available register of judicial 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.

Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – Moi Ali gave the judicial transparency proposal her full backing.

During the evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013 – Moi Ali provided a first hand, honest and highly detailed account of the workings of Scotland’s judiciary and lack of judicial transparency & accountability.

Current JCR Gillian Thompson OBE gave further support for the plan to create a register of interests for judges during an evidence session with msps at Holyrood in June 2015.

Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill did not take kindly to the transparency proposal – or the public debate around openness and accountability of the judiciary.

Gill branded the media & court users as “aggressive” and demanded judges be allowed to keep their wealth and connections to big business – a secret.

Lord Gill then refused two invitations to appear before MSPs to face questions on his hostility towards judicial transparency.

The top judge – who took increasingly aggressive positions in his hard line letters to Holyrood – also hinted he may have to reconsider how judges interact with the Scottish Parliament and claimed loopholes in the Scotland Act prevented elected politicians from calling judges to account over their hidden interests.

Previous Lord President & Lord Justice General Lord Hamilton – who was highly respected while in the role as Scotland’s top judge – joined the UKSC supplementary panel after his retirement as Lord President in 2012. Lord Hamilton has not yet sat on the panel.

In stark comparison to Lord Gill’s anti-judicial transparency policy, Lord President Lord Hamilton moved to increase transparency around judicial expenses & travel during 2010 after law journalists from Diary of Injustice – the previous version of this law blog – submitted freedom of information requests asking for judicial expenses (routinely published in England & Wales) to be made available in Scotland.

The FOI request was made to the Scottish Courts Service under the then Lord President Lord Hamilton – after the Scottish Government denied any figures existed for judicial expenses.

Some weeks after the DOI report on judicial expenses, featured in August 2010 – expenses claims of high earning Scots judges rake in at least £78K in ‘travel’ claims, Lord Hamilton amended Scottish Courts policy to publish judicial expenses figures on a quarterly basis.

The welcome move by Lord Hamilton was featured in a further article here: Part-time Sheriffs beat full-time colleagues & senior judges in expenses claims as Scots judiciary finally publish judicial expenses online.

TOP JUDGE WHO SAID NO TO TRANSPARENCY & SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT:

Scotland’s top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill fiercely opposes calls for any form of transparency & public accountability of the judiciary and Scotland’s Courts.

Over the course of nearly two years, Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill waged an aggressive campaign against a Scottish Parliament investigation into calls for a register of judicial interests. The register proposal would reveal the judiciarys’ vast personal, undeclared wealth, extensive family and business connections throughout the legal profession, links to big business, offshore trusts & investments, ownership of numerous and high value properties through a variety of ‘creative’ arrangements, directorships, shareholdings, and even unpublished criminal records of members of the judiciary.

Lord Gill refused at least two invitations to appear before the Scottish Parliament to give evidence and face questions on his opposition to the proposal to create a register of judicial interests. The top judge has also used the Scotland Act as a loophole to avoid further scrutiny on the matter.

Lord Gill’s challenge to MSPs declared judicial opposition to transparency. In Lord Gill’s opening letter to MSPs on the call for a register of judicial interests, the judge claimed “In practical terms it would be impossible for all judicial office holders to identify all the interests that could conceivably arise in any future case. The terms of the Judicial Oath and the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics ensure that such a difficulty does not arise and that the onus is on the judicial office holder to declare any interest at the outset.”

In what was a hint of the sheer hostility felt by the judiciary against a call to bring transparency to judges interests, Lord Gill went onto accuse the media, press, litigants, court users and just about everyone else with an interest in transparency of being potentially hostile and aggressive, simply because someone may wish to raise questions of judges interests similar to the same kinds of questions which are raised of interests in other public officials and those in public life, politics & government.

And, if MSPs were unsure of the depth of Lord Gill’s attitude towards transparency, the top judge went on to refuse to appear before the Scottish Parliament, and used a loophole in the Scotland Act to justify his sweeping declaration he did not require to answer questions from Scotland’s democratically elected politicians.

Lord Gill’s use of Scotland Act against MSPs was reported in the media. Writing in a letter to msps, Lord Gill implied cooperation with Parliament would be withdrawn over calls to make judges more transparent in register : “Section 23(7) of the Scotland Act provides inter alia that the Parliament may not require a judge to attend its proceedings for the purposes of giving evidence. This is not a loophole. It is a necessary part of the constitutional settlement by which the Parliament is established. Its purpose is to protect the independence of the judiciary, a vital constitutional principle that is declared in section 1 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008”

The judge continued: “When a committee invites a judge to give evidence before it, I have to decide whether the subject matter might infringe the principle of judicial independence; and whether the evidence required could be satisfactorily given in writing.”

As  Scotland’s top judge continued 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, which saw 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 along with  video footage & the official record, here: Debating the Judges & here : Top judge & Scottish Government told to rethink refusal on declarations of judges as Holyrood MSPs support calls to create a register of judicial interests

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Justice Diary 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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