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QUESTION TIME, M’LORD: Top judge Lord Carloway to face MSPs on his opposition to judicial transparency & proposal to create a register of judges’ interests

03 Oct

Lord Carloway called to Scottish Parliament on judicial register. SCOTLAND’s top judge – Lord President Lord Carloway has been invited to appear before the Scottish Parliament to face questions on his opposition to proposals requiring the judiciary to declare their interests.

The invitation to the top judge has been issued by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – who are conducting a four year investigation on a call for full judicial transparency –  contained in the widely backed petition – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

During last Thursday’s meeting of the Public Petitions Committee – Deputy Convener Angus MacDonald MSP (SNP) led calls to keep the petition open and called for Lord Carloway to face questions on his known opposition to the judicial transparency proposals.

Deputy Convener Mr MacDonald – who also chaired the meeting – said “I would be interested to ask if he [Lord Carloway] would be keen to come in and give oral evidence to back up his earlier submission.”

Speaking on the background of the petition, the Deputy Convener said: “I have some background to the issue. There was a debate in the chamber on the matter in the previous session, and the petition received quite a lot of support from members. Also in the previous session, the former Lord President, Lord Gill, appeared before the Public Petitions Committee.”

Mr MacDonald continued: “We have received a submission from the current Lord President, Lord Carloway, who is basically opposed to the suggestion, and I would be interested in asking whether he would be keen to come in and give us oral evidence to back up his earlier submission.”

Angus MacDonald also reiterated his support for the idea of a judicial register – keenly expressed by the SNP MSP during the earlier Holyrood debate in 2014.

The Deputy Convener also called for legal academic Professor Alan Paterson to be invited to give evidence before the committee.

Mr MacDonald said: “I note Professor Alan Paterson’s comments and criticisms in relation to the perceived inadequacies of the current recusals register. It could be helpful to take oral evidence from him, too.”

Earlier this year Professor Paterson – of the University of Strathclyde – provided written evidence to MSPs in which the legal academic issued stinging criticisms of the current “Recusal Register” – set up by Lord Gill as a result of a private meeting with MSPs.

Writing in a letter to the Petitions Committee – Professor Paterson said: “The Public Register of Judicial Recusals is indeed to be welcomed but it only records the cases in which Scottish judges have actually recused themselves, not the cases in which they have been asked to recuse themselves and have declined to do so, far less those in which they might reasonably have been asked to recuse themselves but were not.”

“In short, we cannot always tell if judges are recusing themselves or declining to recuse themselves in the right cases. One measure which might assist with that issue is to ask whether the decision as to recusal should be left to the judge who has been challenged.”

As the meeting continued – Brian Whittle MSP (Scottish Conservatives) added: “I think the petition is not unreasonable. I would be quite keen.”

The committee had earlier heard from MSP Maurice Corry (Scottish Conservatives) – who initially said the judicial register “would be no bad thing” – then moved an unsuccessful motion to close the petition.

After the session ended, the Public Petitions Committee published their decision to call in further witnesses: “PE1458 by Peter Cherbi on register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. The Committee agreed to invite the Lord President and Professor Alan Paterson to give oral evidence at a future meeting.”

However, Carloway – who earns £225K a year as Lord President – along with significant pension perks and jet set junkets – is already on record as being against the judicial transparency proposals

Lord Carloway – who succeeded Lord Brian Gill as Lord President – claimed in written evidence earlier this year to the Petitions Committee the justice system 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.”

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.

More on the full debate in Holyrood’s main chamber is reported with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges

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

Video footage of the meeting & transcript follows:

Petition PE1458 Public Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 29 Sept 2016

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Deputy Convener: PE1458, is by Peter Cherbi and calls for the establishment of a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. Members will have seen the note by the clerk and submissions from the petitioner and Professor Paterson. Members will also be aware of further information that was provided by Mr Cherbi in respect of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

The action that is called for in Mr Cherbi’s petition received support from a number of MSPs in the previous session of Parliament, but neither the Scottish Government nor the current or former Lord President supports the introduction of such a register.

Do members have any views on what we should do with the petition?

Maurice Corry: I personally do not think that the proposed register would be the worst thing but, since the views of those who decide on the matter are set, the petition should be closed.

Rona Mackay: I have sympathy with Mr Cherbi and agree that there should be a register. However, I am not sure how much further we can take the petition or what road we could go down to progress it.

The Deputy Convener: I have some background to the issue. There was a debate in the chamber on the matter in the previous session, and the petition received quite a lot of support from members. Also in the previous session, the former Lord President, Lord Gill, appeared before the Public Petitions Committee. We have received a submission from the current Lord President, Lord Carloway, who is basically opposed to the suggestion, and I would be interested in asking whether he would be keen to come in and give us oral evidence to back up his earlier submission.

I note Professor Alan Paterson’s comments and criticisms in relation to the perceived inadequacies of the current recusals register. It could be helpful to take oral evidence from him, too.

I also note Mr Cherbi’s suggestion that we should invite the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Gillian Thompson, to give her thoughts on the proposal to create a register of judicial interests. However, we took evidence from her on the petition in the previous session and I am unsure whether she has changed her view, which was that there should be a register.

Would members be interested in hearing from Lord Carloway and Professor Paterson?

Maurice Corry: That seems pretty fair.

Brian Whittle:The petition is not unreasonable, and I would be keen to explore the issue further.

Rona Mackay: I agree. I would be happy to hear more evidence, as it is a big subject.

Maurice Corry: I am happy with that.

The Deputy Convener: We can ask the Lord President whether he is prepared to give oral evidence to the committee—there was a difficulty with the previous Lord President agreeing to do that. If he does not agree to do that, we will have to refer to his written submission.

Do we agree to that suggested course of action?

Members indicated agreement.

Today, the Judicial Office for Scotland refused to give any comment on their behalf or from Lord Carloway.

The Sunday Herald newspaper reported on latest developments in the long running petition here: MSPs to grill new Lord President on judicial register of interest

And, the Sunday Mail newspaper reported on the invitation to Lord Carloway here:

 Judge Lord Carloway faces demands from MSPs over judges’ register

2 Oct 2016 By Mark Aitken

THE Lord President has been asked to appear before Holyrood’s petitions committee, who are considering a submission for a judicial register of interests.

JUDGE Lord Carloway is facing demands from MSPs to explain why his colleagues’ business and financial secrets shouldn’t be made public.

The Lord President has been asked to appear before Holyrood’s petitions committee, who are considering a submission by campaigner Peter Cherbi for a judicial register of interests.

Details could include gifts, property, shares and criminal convictions.

Public petitions committee deputy convener Angus MacDonald said: “We’ve had a submission from the Lord President, who is basically opposed to the suggestion.

“However, I would be interested to ask if he would be keen to come in and give oral evidence to back up his earlier submission.”

A Judicial Office spokesman said: “We’re not in a position to comment as the Lord President has not received any such invitation.”

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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