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JUDICIAL REPORTS AXED: Reports by trailblazing Judicial Investigator exposing lack of accountability & power of Scottish judges – removed in bid to silence debate on judicial transparency

27 Sep

Key reports on judges by crusading Judicial investigator removed from public view. GROUND BREAKING reports written by a trailblazing Judicial investigator on the inner workings of the Judiciary of Scotland have been removed from public view  by the Scottish Government – in an apparent bid to wipe evidence of the lack of accountability of Scotland’s elite, secretive and all-powerful judiciary.

The three hard hitting reports – authored by Moi Ali – Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) are no longer available on the JCR’s website after they were removed by the Scottish Government – who control the website.

The key reports cover the years 2011-2014 – when Lord Arthur Hamilton, and subsequently Lord Brian Gill – served as Lord President & Lord Justice General. Gill (75) – who was Lord Justice Clerk in 2011, succeeded Lord Hamilton to the top judicial post in June 2012.

The ground-breaking insight into Scotland’s judiciary also formed part of evidence submitted to a Scottish Parliament investigation into proposals to create a Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary: Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The disappearance of the three highly acclaimed and critical reports on heavy handed secretive Scottish judges was revealed in an investigation this week by the Sunday Herald newspaper.

Diary of Injustice has republished the JCR annual reports making them available to the public once more here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2011-2012, Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2012-2013 and Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2013-2014

The Sunday Herald investigation also revealed Gillian Thompson OBE – who took over the role  of Judicial Complaints Reviewer from Moi Ali in late 2014 – has not produced an annual report in the two years since she was appointed to the post.

Gillian Thompson is known to support calls to create a register of interests for judges.

During the summer of 2015, Ms Thompson appeared before the Public Petitions Committee and fully backed proposals to require judges to declare their interests.

In response to questions from members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, JCR Gillian Thompson OBE told MSPs: “I do not see that there is a reasonable argument to be made against people who are in public service—I might go further and say, in particular, people who are paid by the public pound—providing information, within reason, about their other activities.”

A full report and video footage of Gillian Thompson’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament and her support for a register of judicial interests can be found here: Judicial watchdog tells MSPs – Judges should declare their interests in public register.

However, little has been heard from the JCR since Ms Thompson’s 2015 Holyrood appearance and the Sunday Herald article states the current JCR “could not be reached”.

And the lack of an annual JCR report since 2015 comes despite a Ministerial Directive to the JCR to produce an annual report which former JCR Moi Ali described as “an important form of public accountability”.

The Ministerial directive – listed in page four of the 2012-2013 annual report, states : “Appointed Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer in 2011, I published my first annual report in January 2013 for the period to August 31st 2012. The JCR has no independent power to publish reports and may do so only if directed by Scottish Ministers. This year I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Justice for an open-ended direction to publish an annual report, which he issued. Now, successive JCRs will have a clear requirement to report annually. Stakeholders have a right to know about the work of public appointees: the publishing of an annual report is an important form of  public accountability.”

Serving as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013.

Ms Ali gave a full account of her role as Judicial investigator to MSPs, and went on to describe oversight of Scottish judges as “Window Dressing”.

At the hearing, Ms Ali also backed proposals before the Scottish Parliament calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

The full transcript of evidence from Moi Ali during her tem as Judicial Complaints Reviewer can be found here: Evidence from Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali to Public Petitions Committee on Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary, video footage of the hearing can be viewed here:

JCR Moi Ali gives evidence to Scottish Parliament on a proposed Register of Judicial Interests

Writing in a further letter to the Public Petitions Committee Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali told MSPs of the “incredibly powerful” nature of the judiciary and why a register of judicial interests would help judicial transparency and public confidence in the justice system.

Moi Ali stated: “I write not from the viewpoint of the judiciary, who have a vested interest in this issue. I write from the perspective of the Scottish public. I write not on behalf of those who hand down justice, but those who are on the receiving end. It is important that their voice is heard. They have a right to know that justice is being done, an essential component of which is that it is seen to be done. A register of interests is a tangible way of showing that justice is being done.”

“Given the position of power held by the judiciary, it is essential not only that they have absolute integrity but crucially, that they are seen to have absolute integrity. Again, a register of interests is a way of demonstrating that a judicial office holder is impartial and has no vested interest in a case –financially, through family connections, club/society membership or in any other way. Conversely, the refusal to institute a register of interests creates suspicion that in turn undermines judicial credibility. So once more, a register of interests is good for the judiciary and good for the public.”

If the judicial transparency proposal becomes reality, all members of Scotland’s judiciary – instead of just the elite few who sit on the board of the Scottish Courts – will be required to declare their vast and varied interests including their backgrounds, personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land interests, 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.

The proposal to require all members of the judiciary to declare their interests gained cross party support from msps during a debate on the petition – held at the Scottish Parliament on 7 October 2014, and reported along with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges. MSPs overwhelmingly supported a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests.

The Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee is due to hear Petition PE1458 on Thursday 29 September 2016.

A submission from the petitioner to MSPs asks the Committee to invite Professor Alan Paterson to give evidence in a public session.

Writing in evidence to MSPs earlier this year, Professor Patterson heavily criticised the “Recusal Register” – which was set up by Lord Gill as a result of a private meeting with MSPs in a bid to head off the intense probe by MSPs into judicial interests and transparency.

A full report on Professor Patterson’s written evidence to MSPs can be found here: Law Professor – room for widening transparency to include more than pecuniary interests, current recusals register is not complete.

MSPs have also received a request to take forward earlier recommendations to invite the new Lord President – Lord Carloway – to appear before the Public Petitions Committee and face questions on his opposition to judicial transparency and declarations of judicial interests.

Lord Carloway is known to oppose opening up a register of judicial interests. In an earlier letter to MSPs, the latest in a long line of Lord Presidents blasted calls for judicial transparency.

The top judge – who succeeded Brian Gill as Lord President – claimed in a letter to the Petitions Committee that justice could be brought to a halt if judges were forced to declare their wealth and interests.

Lord Carloway (real name: Colin Sutherland) told MSPs: “The proper administration of justice could be inhibited by the disclosure of the judiciary’s otherwise confidential financial arrangements. In that connection, there is the possibility that an individual judge may be the subject of misconceived criticism, deriving from the disclosure of personal financial information, where those interests are tangential and de minimis.”

A full report on Lord Carloway’s opposition to judicial transparency can be found here: Top judge Lord Carloway hits out at judicial interests register proposal

A suggestion has also been passed to MSPs to contact current JCR Gillian Thompson to establish if there are any further views she wishes to put forward in terms of support for the petition already given by Ms Thompson during an evidence session held at the Scottish Parliament during June 2015.

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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