Secret Video chat – Top judge requested help to defeat judicial interests register. KEY EVIDENCE given by Scotland’s former top judge Lord Brian Gill to a Scottish Parliament probe on secretive judicial interests during an evidence session held in November 2015 – received the assistance of a key Judicial Office employee at the request of his former boss during a secret video conference.
Documents now released to the media under Freedom of Information legislation reveal Lord Gill – who had since retired as Scotland’s top judge – requested help from his former legal secretary – Roddy Flinn – to attend a key evidence session at Holyrood in which the judge demanded closure of a three year investigation by MSPs of proposals to require judges to declare their interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.
The request for Flinn’s personal attendance – came during a previously undisclosed secret video conference held between Gill and his former member of staff on 5 November – just days prior to the meeting with MSPs at Holyrood on 10 November 2015.
During the stormy evidence session with MSPs on the complete lack of judicial transparency on interests, Lord Gill faced questions from John WIlson MSP on the appearance of his former legal secretary Roddy Flinn.
Gill (73) – who remains bitterly opposed to proposals requiring the judiciary to declare their interests – angrily denied Mr Flinn was present at the hearing as a witness – even though papers prepared by the Petitions Committee and published in advance said so.
In response to a grilling from MSPs on Mr Flinn’s status, the top judge incredibly claimed the agenda for the meeting – prepared by the Parliament team – was “wrong”.
And, during the entire evidence session, Mr Flinn did not take or answer any questions from MSPs – despite Gill’s insistence Flinn attend the hearing with him.
The revelation in the documents – of top judges arranging their former staff to show up at Parliamentary hearings in order to oppose calls for increased judicial transparency indicates how concerned the judiciary are on proposals to require judges to declare their financial investments and links to business.
Earlier today, the Judicial Office for Scotland confirmed Mr Flinn – who assisted Lord Gill during the former Lord President’s two year battle against Petition PE1458 – is now the legal secretary to the new Lord President, Lord Carloway.
An internal letter from Roddy Flinn to Judicial Office Policy Chief, released via FOI, states: May I advise, firstly, that I am the Lord President’s Legal Secretary, not his Private Secretary; that is a different role, currently held by Mr Paul Gilmour. I continue in my role as Legal Secretary notwithstanding the fact that we are currently awaiting the appointment of a Lord President, as section 4(2) of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 provides that while of the office of Lord President is vacant his functions are exercisable instead by the Lord Justice Clerk, I therefore work to the direction of the Lord Justice Clerk,
I have no documents or other written communications relating to my appearance, with Lord Gill, before the Petitions Committee.
The matter was mentioned briefly in a video-linked discussion with Lord Gill on 5 November, when he indicated that it would be helpful if I attended with him, to assist him in referring to the documentation relevant to the petition under discussion. It is not the sort of detail one would formally record.
I had no difficulty in agreeing to do so.
I considered it important to provide assistance to Lord Gill, and therefore to Parliament, given that I was familiar with the issues and documentation pertaining to the petition.
At the time of the previously undisclosed video conference, Lord Gill was no longer Lord President.
Mr Flinn had ceased to be his legal secretary after his former boss unexpectedly walked out of the top judicial post in May 2015 – giving First Minister Nicola Sturgeon 30 days notice he intended to quit the role as Scotland’s top judge.
Lord Gill – who spent two of his three year term fighting the judicial transparency proposals – was dubbed “Lord No-No” for his refusals to give evidence to MSPs on judges’ undeclared links to big business, secret criminal records & hidden wealth, handed the claim to the Scottish Parliament.
Preferring not to attend the Petitions Committee in person, the top judge sent a series of letters to MSPs – demanding the judiciary remain exempt from the public’s expectation of transparency in Government and those in public life.
As the petition was debated at Holyrood in the Lord President’s absence, it was revealed Lord Gill billed taxpayers for a five day state visit to Qatar. The top judge also travelled to numerous other international destinations – all charged to taxpayers.
An investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper also revealed Scotland’s top judges spent £26,000 on thirty three international trips funded by taxpayers – including journeys to destinations such as Russia, Israel, Switzerland,Germany, France, Bulgaria, Lithuania.
JUDICIAL INTERESTS ON THE BLOCK:
During tough exchanges between the ‘retired’ Lord Gill and MSPs last November at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – Lord Gill became embroiled in arguments with MSPs on lines of questioning – reflecting Gill’s underlying aggressive tone at being hauled before MSPs he twice refused to meet.
In an angry exchange with MSP Jackson Carlaw, Lord Gill demanded to control the kinds of questions he was being asked. Replying to Lord Gill, Mr Carlaw said he would ask his own questions instead of ones suggested to him by the judge.
And, in responses to independent MSP John Wilson, Lord Gill dismissed media reports on scandals within the judiciary and brushed aside evidence from Scotland’s independent Judicial Complaints Reviewers – Moi Ali & Gillian Thompson OBE – both of whom previously gave evidence to MSPs in support of a register of judges’ interests.
Inn a key moment during further questions from committee member Mr Wilson on the integrity of the judiciary, Lord Gill angrily claimed he had never suspended any judicial office holders.
The top judge was then forced to admit he had suspended judicial office holders after being reminded of the suspension of Sheriff Peter Watson.
A statement issued by Lord Gill at the time of Watson’s suspension said: “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”
Several times during the hearing, the retired top judge demanded MSPs show a sign of trust in the judiciary by closing down the petition.
During the hearing Lord Gill also told MSPs Scotland should not be out of step with the rest of the UK on how judges’ interests are kept secret from the public.
Questioned on the matter of judicial recusals, Gill told MSPs he preferred court clerks should handle information on judicial interests rather than the details appearing in a publicly available register of interests.
Lord Gill also slammed the transparency of judicial appointments in the USA – after it was drawn to his attention judges in the United States are required to register their interests.
In angry exchanges, Lord Gill accused American judges of being elected by corporate and vested interests and said he did not want to see that here.
However, the situation is almost identical in Scotland where Scottish judges who refuse to disclose their interests, are elected by legal vested interests with hidden links to corporations.
The proposals to require judges to declare their interests have received widescale cross party backing from MSPs after the issue was debated in the Parliament’s main chamber last October 2014 – Debating the Judges.
The proposals call for 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.
Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations on judicial interests 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