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LORD TO PARLY: Top judge Lord Carloway to face Parliament probe on register of judges’ interests, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP also to be heard on judicial transparency proposals

07 Apr

Lord Carloway – offer to give evidence accepted by MSPs. SCOTLAND’S top judge is set to appear before the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee after MSPs accepted an offer he made to give evidence in connection with calls to create a register of judicial interests contained in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Lord President Lord Carloway – who earns £220,655 a year and counts among his titles that of “Lord Justice General”  as head of Scotland’s judiciary – made the offer in a detailed letter offering some concessions to MSPs which has now been published by the Scottish Parliament.

In his letter to MSPs, Lord Carloway said: “I indicated in previous correspondence that I felt I could add little more to the views previously expressed. That remains my view. However, if the Committee wishes me to provide this evidence orally, I will do so.”

However, while Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) gave concessions to calls for expanding an existing “register of recusals” in which judges are now required to publish details of cases in which they step aside, the top judge maintained his grim opposition to judicial transparency and the creation of a register of judges’ interests for members of Scotland’s elite, wealthy judiciary.

Lord Carloway’s offer to attend the Petitions Committee was welcomed by the petitioner, reported earlier here: TO PARLY, M’LORD: Scotland’s top judge Lord Carloway finally offers to give evidence to Scottish Parliament probe on register of judges’ interests.

Carloway’s offer to give evidence was further welcomed by Angus MacDonald MSP (SNP, Falkirk East) – who proposed taking up Lord Carloway’s offer to give evidence to the long running, and widely supported proposal to create a register of judicial interests.

Mr MacDonald said: “I have followed this petition from day 1 – I think that it was lodged in December 2012 – and have deliberated on it for more than four years. It is encouraging and refreshing to note that the Lord President has offered to provide oral evidence to the committee, given the difficulties that we had with arranging for the previous Lord President to give evidence to us. We should take up Lord Carloway’s offer.”

Members of the Committee  unanimously backed Mr MacDonald’s proposal to call in the top judge.

The Public Petitions Committee has since indicated an invitation will be issued to Lord Carloway to attend a future hearing to give evidence.

At the same meeting, the Committee Convener Johann Lamont MSP (Scottish Labour, Glasgow)  informed members the Committee had received a request from former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP (SNP, Airdrie & Shotts) to appear before the Committee.

Ms Lamont and members of the Committee backed the request from Alex Neil, who will join the hearing when Lord Carloway attends the Petitions Committee at a date to be decided.

The proposal to bring greater transparency to Scotland’s judiciary – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, 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.

A full debate on the proposal to require judges to declare their interests was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was overwhelmingly supported by MSPs from all political parties.

The meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee is reported, with video footage here:

Register of Judicial Interests PE 1458 Public Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 30th March 2017

 Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener: The next petition is PE1458, by Peter Cherbi, which calls for the introduction of a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. When we last considered the petition, we agreed to seek further information from the Lord President and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer. Responses have been received from both and we also have submissions from the petitioner and a member of the public, Melanie Collins.

Members will recall that, when we wrote to the Lord President, we repeated our invitation to him to provide oral evidence, which he has now indicated that he would be willing to do. We express our gratitude for that.

Do members have any comments on further action to take on the petition?

Brian Whittle: I am glad that the Lord President has agreed to give evidence. That seems like what we should do next.

Angus MacDonald: I have followed this petition from day 1—I think that it was lodged in December 2012—and have deliberated on it for more than four years. It is encouraging and refreshing to note that the Lord President has offered to provide oral evidence to the committee, given the difficulties that we had with arranging for the previous Lord President to give evidence to us. We should take up Lord Carloway’s offer.

The Convener: We should also note that Alex Neil MSP has expressed an interest in speaking to this petition but is unable to be here today. It might be that he could attend the meeting with the Lord President. Angus MacDonald is right that this is a step forward.

Do we agree to invite the Lord President to give evidence at a future meeting, and see what comes out of that?

Members indicated agreement.

Lord Carloway’s impending attendance at the Public Petitions Committee was featured in “The National” newspaper.

The report also carried concerns from members of the legal profession they may be next in having to fill out registers of interest for clients to inspect.

 Judiciary chief to face MSPs over register of interests

Martin Hannan, Journalist

SCOTLAND’S most senior judge Lord Carloway, the Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General, is to be quizzed in public by MSPs for the first time on the issue of a register of interests for judges.

The head of the Scottish judiciary will appear at a future meeting of the Public Petitions Committee which has been investigating the matter since December 2012 after legal campaigner Peter Cherbi called for a public register of judges’ interests.

Also appearing before the committee will be Alex Neil MSP, the former Scottish Government minister who recently told The National: “I don’t see why judges should be operating to a standard that’s inferior to that which MSPs have to follow.”

Previous Lord President Lord Gill refused to appear in public before the committee, but did give evidence later, arguing against a register.

At the latest committee meeting, deputy convener Angus MacDonald, SNP MSP for Falkirk East, said: “Having followed this petition from day one and having deliberated on it for over four years, it’s encouraging and refreshing to know that the Lord President has offered to provide oral evidence to the committee, given the difficulties that we had with the previous Lord President.”

The National understands the main fear among senior legal figures is that the register would eventually be extended to advocates and possibly even solicitors, and that judges would also have to declare their shareholdings in companies, thereby indicating their personal wealth.

In a letter to the committee, Lord Carloway stated: “One possible inhibitory effect on the administration of justice is that judges may start to decline positions on important public bodies such as these if that requires the disclosure of financial interests.

“In the same way, a register of judicial interests may have a damaging effect on judicial recruitment. You may be aware that, partly because of major changes to pension arrangements, difficulties have arisen in the recruitment of the senior judiciary. Revealing personal financial information is likely to act as a further powerful disincentive.”

He added: “I am concerned that, at a time when online fraud is becoming increasingly sophisticated, a dissatisfied litigant, or a convicted person, may choose to retaliate by these means. A register of judicial interests may provide a starting point for that.”

However, the official Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Gillian Thompson, wrote to the committee saying: “I recognise that every judicial decision leaves a party that is dissatisfied and that a complainant may feel he or she did not get a fair hearing because the decision went against them.

“Although I have no evidence to support my view I do believe that if court users felt that judges were transparent in their publication of interests there might be a drop in such complaints.”

Petitioner Peter Cherbi said: “I am delighted MSPs have taken up Lord Carloway’s offer to give evidence on the widely supported proposal to create a register of judicial interests.

“As the Petitions Committee have also decided to invite Alex Neil MSP to the same meeting, I am hopeful of significant lines of questions being put to the Lord President on failures within the judiciary to recuse themselves and declare interests when it counts in court.

“Perhaps, if Lord Carloway realised the extent of support for the register, and the public’s expectation of transparency within the judiciary as well as all other branches of government, he will do the right thing and create the register of interests using his power as Lord President, giving Scotland a chance to teach the rest of the UK a thing or two in judicial transparency and declarations of interest.”

The Sunday Herald reports:

 Top judge to reform judicial conflict of interest rules after Holyrood scrutiny

Paul Hutcheon, Investigations Editor

SCOTLAND’s top judge has said he will strengthen the rules on judicial ethics amid concerns over the system for declaring conflicts of interest.

Lord Carloway has agreed that publishing details of when judges and sheriffs have declined to “recuse” themselves [stand down] from cases may provide “additional transparency”.

However, he has stopped short of supporting a full register of interest on the grounds that criminals could use the information to target his colleagues.

Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee has for four years been considering whether judicial office holders should be compelled to publish details of their outside interests.

Under the plan, judges would be required to declare details of shareholdings, directorships and membership of bodies.

The previous Lord President, Lord Gill, was against the proposals as he feared judges’ privacy could be compromised by “aggressive media or hostile individuals including dissatisfied litigants”.

He also initially refused to give oral evidence in front of MSPs – citing a legal exemption – before eventually appearing after he left office.

However, on Gill’s watch, the Judicial Office for Scotland (JOFS) introduced a register of recusals which reveals when judges and sheriffs came off a case due to a potential conflict of interest.

Since 2014, there have been over 70 instances declared on the JOFS website, but campaigners believe the disclosure requirements do not go far enough and want a mandatory register of interest.

In a letter to the Public Petitions committee, Carloway has signalled he will beef up the register: “I would have no difficulty with the proposition that the register of recusals could be extended to cover instances when a judge has recused himself, and when he has declined to do so. The additional burden, which will fall upon the clerks of court, should not be great, and I agree that this may provide additional transparency.”

He has also agreed to provide oral evidence to MSPs, if they still feel it is necessary, but he stepped up his criticism of a register of interest.

He wrote: “All senators and all sheriffs exercise a civil and criminal jurisdiction. I am concerned that, at a time when online fraud is becoming increasingly sophisticated, a dissatisfied litigant, or a convicted person, may choose to retaliate by these means. A register of judicial interests may provide a starting point for that.”

He added: “One possible inhibitory effect on the administration of justice is that judges may start to decline positions on important public bodies such as these, if that requires the disclosure of financial interests. In the same way, a register of judicial interests may have a damaging effect on judicial recruitment.”

Peter Cherbi, the campaigner who introduced the petition to Holyrood, said: “I welcome Lord Carloway’s agreement to my earlier suggestions to MSPs to include further details on recusals and whether a judge recuses themselves or not.”

However, he added: “A register of interest for Scotland’s judges would be a significant step forward in helping court users and legal teams ensure fair hearings of cases in our justice system. Lord Carloway could take the next step and authorise the creation of such a register.”

Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw said: “It seems that the judiciary may now be ready to respond to the calls made for some time and come into line with other elements of public life when it comes to declaring interests. It’s a move that’s been resisted for too long, and people are growing impatient about the ongoing prevarication.

“We want Scotland to be as transparent a place as possible and, while progress has been made in areas like politics, it’s essential that is matched elsewhere.”

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office for Scotland said: “The Lord President intends to amend the register of recusals to include details of cases where a judge has declined to recuse, and this change will be implemented as soon as the necessary guidance is drafted and issued”.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the Sunday Herald and Sunday Mail newspapers, 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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