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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Scottish Parliament move forward on FIVE YEAR judicial interests probe as Ex-Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil calls on MSPs to create legislation for a register of judges’ interests

12 Dec

Petitions Committee moves forward on judicial register. A COMMITTEE of MSPs conducting a FIVE YEAR Scottish Parliament investigation of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – have decided to move ahead on proposals requiring judges to declare their interests in a publicly available register.

The move by Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee who met on Thursday 7 December to look for a way forward – comes after the petition secured powerful backing of former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP (SNP).

In an interview with The National newspaper, and a posting on Mr Neil’s Facebook page, Alex Neil said : “It is now time for the Petitions Committee itself to look at using the powers of parliamentary committees to introduce a Bill to set up a judicial register of interests.”

Alex Neil added: ““There is no doubt in my mind at all that it is long overdue. I do not see why judges should be any different from ministers or MSPs, and they should need to declare interests as most people in public service do these days.

“A Bill of this nature is badly needed, and if it can be done on an all-party basis through the Petitions Committee, then the committee’s members should not wait and should act now to sponsor a Bill.

“I am very supportive of the Petitions Committee, which I think is a very good committee, and it is now time for them to seriously consider bringing forward their own Bill on this matter, as I have no doubt that the case for such a register has been thoroughly made out.”

The Public Petitions Committee have now decided to consider the position in private at a later meeting – and formulate letters to Lord Carloway and Justice Secretary Michael Matheson which will be published in due course.

During the short hearing last Thursday, Deputy Convener Angus MacDonald MSP (SNP) who is known to support the petition, commented: “..we must move forward. We have been considering the petition for five years and Mr Cherbi’s latest submission shows a degree of frustration, which I share.”

The published decision states: PE1458 by Peter Cherbi on Register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. The Committee agreed to consider a letter to the Lord President and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in private at a future meeting.”

The latest developments in the 22nd hearing of Petition PE1458 on calls to create a register of judges’ interests comes after MSPs previously heard over sixty two submissions of evidence, during twenty one Committee hearings, including a private meeting between two MSPs and a top judge, and fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate spanning from 2012 to 2017.

The judicial interests petition – 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 report containing video footage of every hearing, speech, and evidence sessions at the Scottish Parliament on Petition PE1450 can be found here: Scottish Parliament debates, speeches & evidence sessions on widely supported judicial transparency petition calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland’s judiciary

A report on the Public Petitions Committee meeting of 7 December 2017 & video coverage follows:

Register of Judicial Interests – Petition PE 1458 Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 7 December 2017

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener: The fourth and final item today is consideration of five continued petitions. The first petition for consideration under this item is PE1458, from Peter Cherbi, on a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

We last considered the petition in June, when we took evidence from Lord Carloway, the Lord President. We agreed to reflect on that evidence and we have a briefing note that summarises the issues that came up in that evidence session. We also have two submissions from the petitioner that convey his response to the evidence and provide information about additional developments in relation to the recusal of judges.

As members are aware, the petition has been under consideration for five years and we have a good understanding of the arguments for and against the introduction of a register of interests for judges. There has been some movement on that.

Do members have any comments on what we should do next?

Angus MacDonald: As you say, convener, the petition has been on-going for five years. It is worth noting that it was originally based on the consideration of the Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill in New Zealand, which was dropped after we started to take evidence on Peter Cherbi’s petition.

We have taken extensive evidence on the petition over the past five years, including from the former Lord President, Lord Gill, the current Lord President, Lord Carloway, as well as the former Judicial Complaints Reviewers Moi Ali and Gillian Thompson. We appreciate the time that they have all given to the committee.

The petition has already secured a result, to the extent that there is more transparency because judicial recusals are now published, which did not happen previously. It is worth pointing out that that still does not happen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We should be proud that the petition has achieved that.

However, I note that the petitioner has suggested that we take evidence from Baroness Hale, President of the UK Supreme Court, as well as from the new Judicial Complaints Reviewer. It would stretch the bounds of the petition to take evidence from Baroness Hale, as the petition urges the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests in Scotland. I am not sure that our remit extends to the UK Supreme Court. Mr Cherbi should perhaps take that aspect of the matter to the UK Parliament Petitions Committee, which may have the remit.

The Convener: I sense that we have agreement to the approach outlined by Angus MacDonald, which is not to take further evidence, but to bring together our conclusions and write to the Scottish Government, recognising that there has been some progress. Do we agree to draft a letter on our conclusions in private, although the final letter will be in the public domain?

Members indicated agreement.

Angus MacDonald: I agree, but we must move forward. We have been considering the petition for five years and Mr Cherbi’s latest submission shows a degree of frustration, which I share.

The Convener: We understand that, but there should also be recognition of the fact that there has been some progress.

Do members agree to send the letter to the Lord President as well as the cabinet secretary?

Members indicated agreement.

The National reported on the latest developments and support from former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP:

Call for Scottish judges to register interests gets backing from MSP

Martin Hannan Journalist 7th December 2017

A PETITION calling for judges to openly register their financial and other interests has received its biggest boost to date.

Five years to the day after it was lodged at the Scottish Parliament, former minister Alex Neil MSP will today call on Holyrood’s Petitions Committee to start the process of bringing a Bill before Parliament.

The transparency petition was lodged by legal affairs journalist and campaigner Peter Cherbi on December 7 2012, and it will be considered again today — the 22nd time it has gone in front of the Holyrood committee.

The SNP’s Alex Neil has followed the petition with interest and has actively campaigned for the judicial register of interests to be introduced.

He told The National yesterday: “It is now time for the Petitions Committee itself to look at using the powers of parliamentary committees to introduce a Bill to set up a judicial register of interests.

“There is no doubt in my mind at all that it is long overdue. I do not see why judges should be any different from ministers or MSPs, and they should need to declare interests as most people in public service do these days.

“A Bill of this nature is badly needed, and if it can be done on an all-party basis through the Petitions Committee, then the committee’s members should not wait and should act now to sponsor a Bill.

“I am very supportive of the Petitions Committee, which I think is a very good committee, and it is now time for them to seriously consider bringing forward their own Bill on this matter, as I have no doubt that the case for such a register has been thoroughly made out.”

Both Lord Carloway and Lord Gill, the current and former Lord Presidents of the Court of Session respectively — the senior judge position in Scotland — have opposed such a register of interests.

At least two High Court judges — Lord Carloway and Lady Smith — already declare their interests because they are members of the board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service.

They did so for the first time last month, along with Sheriff Duncan L Murray, after a Freedom of Information request.

Welcoming Alex Neil’s intervention, Cherbi said: “For five years, the Scottish Parliament has considered a petition calling for a register of judicial interests.

“In this time, the petition has generated more than 62 submissions of evidence, 21 committee hearings, a private meeting between MSPs and a top judge, 15 speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate, and two appearances by judicial investigators — who both support the petition.

“In two of those meetings, two top judges were left grasping at straws when asked why the judiciary should be above public expectations of transparency.

“This proposal to create a register of interests for judges applies the same level of transparency to the judiciary which already exists in other parts of the justice system such as the police, prosecutors and court administration and will bring judges into line with all others in public life who are required to register their interests.

“Along the way, the petition has gained wide cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament, wide support in the media, and the invaluable and fantastic support of two judicial complaints reviewers — Moi Ali, and Gillian Thompson.

“There is significant public interest in this petition going ahead into legislation, and if the Lord President is still against the idea of judges declaring their interests, our sovereign Parliament must act and set in law what the public expect — that judges register their interests.”

A further report from the National featured developments from the hearing and the decision to move ahead on the petition:

Committee nears decision on register of interests for judges five years after petition

Martin Hannan Journalist 9th December 2017

A PETITION to the Scottish Parliament calling for judges and sheriffs to publicly register their interests seems to be nearing a successful outcome – five years after it was submitted.

The Public Petitions Committee has agreed to finalise its conclusions on the list of signatories submitted in December 2012 by legal campaigner and journalist Peter Cherbi.

The Holyrood committee agreed to consider those conclusions in private at a future meeting before writing to Scotland’s senior judge, Lord Carloway, the Lord President, as well Justice Secretary Michael Matheson.

Committee convener Johann Lamont said members would be aware the petition had been under consideration for five years and they had a “good understanding” of the arguments for and against a register.

Angus MacDonald, SNP MSP for Falkirk East, called for a “move forward” and told the committee: “This petition has been ongoing for five years to this date exactly. It’s fair to say we have taken extensive evidence on this petition over the last five years, not least from the former Lord President Lord Gill and the current Lord President Lord Carloway, as well as judicial complaints reviewers Moi Ali and Gillian Thompson.

“It’s fair to say this petition has already secured a result, to the extent that there is now more transparency, with the publication of judicial recusals [judges excusing themselves from a case due to conflict of interest] which didn’t happen before, and it’s worth pointing out that this still doesn’t happen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, so Mr Cherbi should be proud that his petition has achieved that.”

Cherbi told The National: “It has taken five years for the petition to travel through 22 committee hearings and a full debate in 2014 – during which it was evident from the 15 speeches by MSPs that cross-party support exists for the creation of a register of judicial interests.

“The case has been made for judicial disclosures – there is no rational case against it – now it is time for Holyrood to legislate to require judges to register their interests. What struck me during the public debate and contact with people was that many thought judges already declared their interests and published their recusals.

“People I talked with over the course of these five years were genuinely shocked when they found out the judiciary did neither, instead preferring to duck and dive behind oaths and guidelines the judiciary wrote and approved themselves.

“The public are entitled to expect the highest standards of transparency from all those in public life, and the judiciary are no different.

“Judges must face up to the fact that those who hold the power to take away freedoms, to change or alter the lives of others, to overturn legislation from our elected parliaments – and to do all this without any reasonable scrutiny – must now be brought up to the same, or higher, levels of transparency and accountability as the public expect of those in public life, the justice system, and government.

“Perhaps the move to open up scrutiny of a very closed shop judiciary will also lead to the opening up of judicial appointments and an increased role for the Scottish Parliament in hearing in public from those who want to become members of the judiciary.”

JUDICIAL REGISTER MUST GO FORWARD:

The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, is widely supported in the media and  in public debate as a result of media coverage.

The petition secured early support of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali, and her successor as JCR – Gillian Thompson.

Moi Ali – who served as Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013, giving early backing to the proposals 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.

Scotland’s second Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also supported  the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

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.

A report on Lord Brian Gill’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament in November 2015 can be found here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests – Petitions Committee Chief brands Lord Gill’s evidence as “passive aggression”

A report on Lord Carloway’s widely criticised evidence to the Scottish Parliament in July 2017 can be found here: REGISTER TO JUDGE: Lord Carloway criticised after he blasts Parliament probe on judicial transparency – Top judge says register of judges’ interests should only be created if judiciary discover scandal or corruption within their own ranks

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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