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TRIBUNAL INTERESTS: Calls for wealthy, well connected interests & professions who dominate tribunals & appeals system to be brought into line with transparency & declarations in published register of interests

Tribunals are dominated by wealthy, powerful individuals & professional groups. AMID an ongoing media probe into the undeclared, and significant interests of individuals and professional groups who dominate public tribunals, a call has been made for all tribunal members to declare and register their interests.

The manner in which tribunals are created and governed in Scotland, is a familiar model of professionals within the same groups and spheres of influence – awarding jobs to colleagues, the favoured, and vested interests.

A no expenses spared approach for tribunal members who tow the line is often the case, enhanced with office accommodation such as the new tribunals centre being created in Glasgow at 3 Atlantic Quay, a high-quality office development close to the River Clyde in the centre of the city.

Last week, the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) confirmed they and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) have decided to rationalise their accommodation and move jointly into the new centre – which is being rented out at nearly £2million a year from the Moorfield Group and partners Resonance Capital.

The moves planned to start next year will also mean that accommodation is ready for the tribunals that are going to be devolved to the SCTS.

Members of tribunals are recruited by the Judicial Appointments Board (JAB) during appointments rounds regularly held to fill vacancies in the murky world of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and Judiciary of Scotland.

Applicants face interviews from their peers across the legal, professional, charitable and public service world & industries awash with public cash, junkets, charity interests, coaching, arbitration & consultancy profits.

Successful candidates are subsequently appointed by Scottish Ministers.

An example of a recent appointments round run by the Judicial Appointments Board saw 30 new Legal Members and 19 Ordinary Members appointed by the Scottish Ministers to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and assigned to the Housing and Property Chamber by the President of Scottish Tribunals, Lady Smith.

A full report on the appointments can be found here: TRIBUNAL REGISTER: Calls for transparency as legal & wealthy, well connected interests dominate Tribunals system membership – Register of Recusals & Interests should be extended to cover all Tribunals in Scotland

The names of those appointed are:

Legal Members: Yvonne McKenna; Lesley-Anne Mulholland; Nairn Young; Shirley Evans; Alastair Houston; Steven Quither; Petra Hennig McFatridge; Colin Dunipace; Lesley Johnston; Anne Mathie; Kay Springham; Alan Strain; Aidan O’Neill; Jan Todd; Alison Kelly; Valerie Bremner; Eleanor Mannion; Virgil Crawford; Pamela Woodman; Lynsey MacDonald; Karen Kirk; Neil Kinnear; Fiona Watson; Nicola Irvine; Graham Dunlop; Andrew Upton; Joel Conn; Melanie Barbour; Lesley Ward; Andrew McLaughlin.

Ordinary Members: Eileen Shand; Elizabeth Williams; Janine Green; Jennifer Moore; Linda Reid; Angus Lamont; David Fotheringham; David MacIver; David Wilson; Gerard Darroch; Gordon Laurie; James Battye; Leslie Forrest; Tony Cain; Elizabeth Currie; Frances Wood; Jane Heppenstall; Melanie Booth; Sandra Brydon.

Not one of these members  – the thirty lawyers – or the nineteen ‘ordinary’ members – has declared any interests in a publicly available register of interests – as there is currently no requirement to do so.

The Judicial Appointments Board publish a version of a register of interests,- available here: Judicial Appointments Board – Register of Interests

However, the JAB register of interests leaves out any mention of property wealth and many other interests known to be held by those serving on the quango tasked with recruiting Scotland’s judiciary and tribunal members.

A legal insider commenting on the JAB register observed: “It appears as if members are poor souls sitting round a table with little to declare, whereas the undeclared financial wealth and status on this list is significant and ought to be declared”

The world of Disability Living Allowance appeals and PIP appeals has too come under the spotlight – after a study of appeal panels revealed members wealth and property totalling in the millions compared to disabled applicants who were being ‘knocked back’ on applications for a few extra pounds a month.

The tribunal structure which covers benefits appeals are riven with huge, wealthy interests, yet there is no register and no ability for those appearing before them to inspect those who sit in judgement upon their claims.

In one look at a DWP Tribunal comprising a surgeon, a lawyer and a ‘disabled’ tribunal member – accumulated wealth between the three, their partners and businesses and properties totalled well into the millions, yet claimants, some with no limbs who are struggling to claim an extra £30 a month and get knocked back while tribunal members are paid expenses & remuneration know nothing of it.

An adviser who assists those facing benefits appeal tribunals gave an example of a benefits tribunal membership:

A surgeon tribunal member – of 25 years experience as a medical practitioner owned several properties, has several positions on public bodies, has a long history of advising Government departments on medical legislation, has appeared as an expert witness on many occasions for NHS trusts and assisted Medical Defence Unions in the UK against hospital negligence claims.

His partner has a similar level of interests in terms of wealth and property, has a wide variety of positions in advising and acting for quangos,public bodies, professions, local and central government.

A solicitor member of the tribunal, who has over 20 years experience of a solicitor owns numerous properties, holds several other positions on tribunals and has made a lucrative career of advising and representing quangos, public bodies and has fought and won cases for professional groups.

However, the third member – the disability member of the tribunal – proved to be the most interesting.

The disability member, who is in receipt of DLA – holds significant assets and property well out of the reach of any typical DLA or PIP claimant.

This same disability member appears to hold several positions on public bodies and has frequently traveled on publicly funded junkets.

And, the same disability member has been the author of written reports on individuals – one which was described by a former local Government employee as “a personal vendetta” against a claimant from the same town in which the tribunal was held.

The former benefits adviser also recalled a recorded hearing – in which the same disability member became aggressive during a benefits appeal hearing – and demanded an assisted blind claimant remove their black glasses.

The net worth of the three members of this particular DLA tribunal was estimated at around £5.2m – taking into account the tribunal members partners, whose interests often coincided with public bodies, professions, local and central government.

It has also been alleged remuneration and expenses for benefits appeal tribunal members include payments for “knocking back applicants”.

A former Local Government employee who worked in the benefits section of a council told of how he had been part of a discussion at his former workplace where a senior member of staff claimed DLA tribunal members had on occasion been paid hundreds of pounds more for throwing out DLA applications.

Clearly, those before such a tribunal have the right to know who they face, and the interests of those who judge them.

The National reports further:

Call for change to tribunals – Legal campaigner says recusal register myst be extended

Martin Hannan Journalist 14 October 2017 The National

THE man who is leading the transparency campaign for Scotland’s judges to register their interests now says the idea should be extended to everyone who sits on a public tribunal.

Peter Cherbi will shortly pass the five-year mark in his campaign via the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee for there to be a judicial register of interests, similar to those registers already in existence to which all elected politicians and police officers must conform.

The register proposal has been strongly resisted by senior judges and other top lawyers, but is supported by politicians from all parties – the Petitions Committee has taken considerable amounts of evidence and is due to debate the plan again shortly.

Now Cherbi, who is well-known in Scottish legal circles for his blogging and campaigning for reform of the Scots law system, says that tribunal members should also have to declare their interests.

Under the present system of appointments to tribunals it is up to members themselves to declare an interest if, for example, they have personal relationships with those appearing before them, and step aside from a case – known as recusal.

There has been considerable re-organisation of the tribunal system in Scotland since the Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014 simplified the statutory framework.

The First-tier Tribunal is organised into a series of chambers. From December 1, 2016, the Housing and Property Chamber was established and took on the functions of the former Home Owner and Housing Panel and the Private Rented Housing Panel.

From April 24 this year, the Tax Chamber was established and took on the functions of the former Tax Tribunals for Scotland.

The Upper Tribunal hears appeals from the First-tier Tribunals and the head of the whole system is Scotland’s most senior judge, the Lord President, Lord Carloway, with the Rt Hon Lady Smith as president of the Scottish Tribunals.

Others tribunals include the Mental Health Tribunal, the Additional Support Needs Tribunal, the Council Tax Reduction Review Panel and the Lands Tribunal. More tribunals will come with greater devolved powers but employment tribunals are still under the control of the Westminster Government.

Cherbi says all such public tribunals should be open and transparent about their members’ interests and points out that there is no register of recusals for any of the tribunals.

He said: “As should the judiciary now declare their interests in a publicly available register, members of tribunals who are engaged in the business of judging others should declare their full interests and any instances of recusals in a publicly available register.

“The business of judging others – for it surely has become a business over the years – must now be subject to the same public expectation of transparency and accountability as tribunals apply to those appearing before them.

“The public, the media and our democratically elected politicians in our Parliament, as well as those who are judged, have the right to view, be informed about, and inspect those who judge society with unchallenged power in equal light.

“And this is not just about Scottish Tribunals. Take for instance DLA appeals and PIP appeals. The tribunal structure which covers those are riven with huge, wealthy interests, yet there is no register and no ability for those appearing before them to inspect those who sit in judgement upon their claims.

“I looked at a Department of Work and Pensions Tribunal comprising a surgeon, a lawyer and a ‘disabled’ tribunal member – accumulated wealth between the three, their partners and businesses and properties totalled well into the millions, yet claimants, some with no limbs who are struggling to claim an extra £30 a month, get knocked back while tribunal members are paid expenses and remuneration and we know nothing of it.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We consider that a specific register of interests is not needed. Existing safeguards, including the Judicial Oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Interests and the system of complaints against the judiciary, are sufficient to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary in Scotland.”

YOUR TRIBUNAL: A publicly funded adversarial environment full of vested interests:

Next year, tribunals will move to an expensive new home in the centre of Glasgow.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) are to rationalise accommodation in Glasgow and the new Tribunals Centre will be located at 3 Atlantic Quay.

The SCTS claim the 34 hearing rooms for cases to be heard, the design of the centre will provide excellent facilities for all tribunal users, and specific  support for young users with additional support needs.  Additionally, the centre will provide facilities for vulnerable witnesses to give evidence to both Glasgow Sheriff Court and the High Court.

During 2018, the SCTS-supported Housing and Property and Health and Education Tribunal Chambers will move into the new Centre. The HMCTS-operated social security tribunal will move at a similar time with other tribunals HMCTS services to follow at a later date.

The SCTS provides support to many of Scotland’s devolved tribunals and is making preparations for the future transfer of the UK reserved tribunals operations in Scotland, currently provided by HMCTS.

Lady Smith, President of Scottish Tribunals – who is in charge of the £7.8million Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry – claimed:  “The creation of the new Tribunals Centre in Glasgow is the latest important development in the evolution of the Scottish Tribunals. The premises will act as a hub for tribunals supported by SCTS, providing a range of modern facilities and services for tribunals users. They will also offer a separate, appropriately designed space, for vulnerable witnesses and users, including for witnesses providing evidence for Sheriff and High Court cases in Glasgow. This co-located approach to provision for the tribunals should be regarded as a flagship for the administration of justice in Scotland in the 21st century.”

Eric McQueen, Chief Executive, SCTS said: “This has been an exciting opportunity with SCTS and HMCTS working together to create a bespoke tribunals centre, improving the services we provide for tribunals, while reducing costs.  It also provides an early opportunity to bring together SCTS and HMCTS staff to prepare for forthcoming tribunal reforms.”

Kevin Sadler, Deputy Chief Executive, HMCTS said: “We are committed to improving people’s experience of the justice system by providing facilities that are modern, comfortable and accessible.We have worked collaboratively with SCTS on this opportunity and we look forward to creating a joint tribunals centre with them in the heart of Glasgow.”

If you have any experience before any of these Tribunals, or information in relation to cases, Diary of Injustice journalists would like to hear about it. All information and sources will be treated in strict confidence, contact us at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

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.

Previous reports on moves to publish judicial recusals in Scotland and a media investigation which prompted further reforms of the Scottish Register of Judicial Recusals can be found here: Judicial Recusals in Scotland – Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest

 

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LEGAL REGULATION PROBE: Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee seek views on replacing Scotland’s ‘lawyer-lawyer’ regulation – with ‘UK style’ fully independent regulation of solicitors & legal services

MSPs seek views on reform of legal regulation. TEN YEARS after the contentious passage of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 – which saw the creation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) as the lawyer-lawyer led regulator of legal services – MSPs are to seek views on creating a fully independent non-lawyer regulator of Scots legal services.

Two petitions calling for a complete reform of legal services regulation in Scotland have been debated by members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.

MSPs have now decided to call for views on bringing Scotland into line with the rest of the UK – where a much greater independent level of legal regulation exists compared to the current Law Society of Scotland & SLCC pro-lawyer regulation model.

Petition 1660 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission with a view to making the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent.

Petition 1661 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland, which is currently delegated to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, by creating a new independent regulator of legal services with powers equivalent to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Legal Ombudsman, Bar Standards Board and Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal which serve consumers and clients of legal service providers in England and Wales.

The move by MSPs comes after the Scottish Government announced a ‘review’ of legal services regulation in Scotland, back in April 2017.

However, the Scottish Government ‘review’ – will not report back until the end of 2018 and with non binding recommendations – and has come in for significant criticism after it was found there was only one consumer related interest among the legal related membership.

When the review was announced earlier this year, former Cabinet Minister & SNP MSP Alex Neil said the review remit should also include judges.

Alex Neil said: I hope it produces radical and robust proposals. I also hope it covers the judiciary as well as lawyers.”

Mr Neil also called for greater fairness in the panel’s membership, to include members from outside the legal establishment.

Mr Neil added: I hope the membership of this review panel will be expanded to get a better balance between lawyers and non-lawyers”

A full report on the Scottish Government’s review of legal services can be found here: REGULATED REVIEW: Scottish Government panel to look at self regulation of lawyers – Former Cabinet Minister calls for review to include judiciary, and panel membership to strike ‘better balance between lawyers & non-lawyers’

After members discussed the two petitions, the Petitions Committee agreed to join these petitions together for future consideration on the basis that they raise similar issues.

The Committee also agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Regulation of legal profession reform – Public Petitions Committee 21 September 2017

Legal Profession (Regulation) (PE1660 & PE1661)

The Convener: The next two new petitions are PE1660 by Bill Tait and PE1661 by Melanie Collins, both of which raise similar issues in relation to the current system for complaints about legal services in Scotland. Members have a copy of the petitions and the respective SPICe briefings.

PE1660 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to make the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent. PE1661 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland, which is currently delegated to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, by creating a new independent regulator of legal services with powers equivalent to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Legal Ombudsman, the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, all of which serve consumers and clients of legal service providers in England and Wales.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action on the petition?

Michelle Ballantyne: First of all, I note that there is a review under way. However, although it was launched in April, it is not due to report until the end of next year, which seems an awfully long time.

I am concerned about a turkeys voting for Christmas arrangement with regard to oversight of this matter. There needs to be some clear water between lawyers and those who review them, and this feels a bit close for comfort. We should check where the review is going and what it is looking at, because if it has been launched, the question is whether we need to be doing something parallel alongside it.

Angus MacDonald: Both petitions are extremely timely. Bill Tait and Melanie Collins have highlighted serious issues with regard to the legal profession and the way in which the SLCC operates in respect of complaints. I agree with Melanie Collins that there is a strong argument in favour of creating a new independent regulator of legal services, and I agree with Bill Tait’s call to make the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent.

In recent years, we have seen a degree of conflict between the SLCC and the Law Society of Scotland over the operation of the complaints system. I am sure that I was not the only MSP to receive representations from the Law Society earlier this year, stating frustration and disappointment at the increase in the SLCC levy to be paid by solicitors. It also stated that the complaints system was slow, complex, cumbersome and expensive. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the right time to look at this issue.

As Michelle Ballantyne has mentioned, the Scottish Government has acknowledged that the current process for people wishing to make complaints about their solicitor is too slow and complex, so I was certainly pleased to see the Scottish Government launch its independent review of the regulation. However, I take on board Michelle Ballantyne’s point about the review not being due to report back until the end of 2018; the period seems quite lengthy, but clearly, we can contact the Government for clarification. Given the similarity of the two petitions, there is a strong argument for joining them together to help move them forward.

The Convener: First of all, does the committee agree to join the petitions together? It seems to me that they deal with the same issues.

Members indicated agreement.

Brian Whittle: Am I correct in thinking that the Law Society called for a change and was rebuffed?

Angus MacDonald: I am not entirely sure—it certainly was not happy.

Rona Mackay: It was about the levy. It was not happy with some of the SLCC’s operation, but, as far as I am aware, it has not formally called for a change.

Brian Whittle: I thought that it was investigating this very point and was rebuffed. I might be wrong.

The Convener: It would be worth getting it clear in our own heads where all of this stands. We can obviously ask for that information.

The suggestion is that we write to the Scottish Government about the review’s timescale and remit, and I think that we should write to the relevant stakeholder bodies to ask about what issues they have. It does not feel that long since the legislation was passed, so it would be a natural time to look at and reflect on whether it has been effective and what the alternatives might be. My sense is that, when the legislation went through Parliament, we wrestled with the options—it did not go through without debate. Perhaps we should look at whether this is a bedding-in issue or an actual structural problem and whether, as the petitioner suggests, the issue needs to be revisited and a different kind of regulatory body put in place.

I think that we have agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates. Citizens Advice Scotland was mentioned, as was the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Are there any others?

Angus MacDonald: Would it be worth contacting the Judicial Complaints Reviewer? Although it deals with judicial complaints, as per the title, it would be good to get its view, if it has one. Of course, it is not compelled to reply.

The Convener: Do we agree to deal with both petitions in that way?

Members indicated agreement.

HOLYROOD BRIEFING: MSPs hear of differences between Scotland & UK on regulation of legal services:

Background (taken from the SPICe briefing)

Scotland – complaints against lawyers

4. The SLCC was set up by the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 (the Act) to deal with complaints against legal practitioners (primarily solicitors or advocates) in Scotland.

5. It is an independent body whose Board is appointed by the Scottish Ministers in consultation with the Lord President of the Court of Session. It is supported by a management team and staff who carry out investigations.

6. The SLCC is funded by a levy paid by legal practitioners and is required to consult with the relevant professional bodies when setting its annual budget. A copy of the finalised budget has to be laid before the Scottish Parliament no later than 30 April in each year (the budget is not, however, subject to parliamentary approval).

7. The SLCC acts as the initial gateway for complaints. Unresolved complaints have to be made to it in the first instance. Complaints made directly to a professional body (e.g. the Law Society of Scotland (Law Society) or Faculty of Advocates (Faculty)) have to be forwarded by these bodies to the SLCC.

8. Once the SLCC has received a complaint, it assesses whether it is a:

1. Service complaint – i.e. related to the quality of work; or a

2. Conduct complaint –i.e. related to a legal practitioner’s fitness to carry out work and behaviour outside of business.

7. Cases often involve issues of both service and conduct, with the result that both the SLCC and professional bodies can investigate different aspects of the same complaint.

8. If the complaint, or part of the complaint, concerns inadequate professional service, the SLCC investigates following procedures laid down in its rules and the Act. The SLCC can ultimately:

• Award the complainer up to £20,000 for any loss, inconvenience or distress resulting from inadequate professional service.

• Require the relevant legal practices/practitioners to reduce fees, re-do work and rectify any mistakes at their own expense.

• Report the matter to the relevant professional body if the practitioner shows a lack of legal competence.

9. Decisions of the SLCC can be appealed to the Court of Session.

10. If the complaint, or part of the complaint, concerns the conduct of a legal practitioner, the SLCC passes it on to the relevant professional body to investigate. The SLCC is not permitted to investigate conduct complaints, but it can investigate the way these have been handled by the relevant professional organisation (known as a handling complaint).

11. The Law Society is able to impose sanctions on solicitors whose conduct has been “unsatisfactory” and can prosecute solicitors before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) where behaviour amounts to professional misconduct. The maximum compensation payable to a complainer is £5,000. In the most serious cases the SSDT can suspend a solicitor’s practising certificate or strike them from the roll of solicitors.

12. The Faculty deals with conduct complaints through a Complaints Committee comprising an equal number of advocates and lay members. Its decisions can be appealed to the Faculty of Advocates Disciplinary Tribunal – chaired by a retired senior judge and whose members include advocates and lay persons. In September 2016 the SLCC published a report which audited the operation of the Facultys investigation and disciplinary processes.

13. For further details on the complaints system see:

• The SLCC’s overview of the process for dealing with service and conduct complaints.

The Law Societys overview of how it deals with conduct complaints,

The Facultys overview of how it administers conduct complaints

14. In recent years there has been a degree of conflict between the SLCC and the Law Society over the operation of the complaints system. For example, in December 2016, the Law Society announced that it had commenced legal action against the SLCC over the way in which it categorises complaints as service complaints or conduct complaints. In addition, in April 2017 the Law Society noted in a press release that it was “frustrated and disappointed” about the increase in the SLCC levy to be paid by solicitors. The press release also referred to the complaints system as being, “slow, complex, cumbersome and expensive.”

England & Wales – complaints against lawyers

15. In England & Wales complaints about poor service against legal practitioners are dealt with by the Legal Ombudsman. Issues of professional misconduct are referred to the relevant “approved regulator” – i.e. the Bar Standards Authority (for barristers) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (for solicitors), who can take disciplinary action. For details see the House of Commons Librarys briefing on complaints against solicitors and other lawyers.

Scottish Parliament Action

16. In session 4, the SLCC submitted a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in which it argued that a review of the complaints procedure was needed. In response, the Justice Committee wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and received a response dated 31 October 2012 indicating that the SLCC and Law Society were, “developing a consensual approach to reach an agreement on the key improvements required.” Regulations amending the powers and duties of the SLCC were subsequently scrutinised by the Justice Committee, which recommended their approval by the Parliament (approval was granted on 13 August 2014).

17. The adequacy of the complaints system has also been raised in the current parliamentary session (see for example Motion S5M05079 lodged by Douglas Ross MSP on 6 April 2017).

The motion lodged by Douglas Ross, who is now an MP at Westminster read:

Motion S5M-05079: Douglas Ross, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/04/2017

SLCC’s Proposed Levy Increase of 12.5%

That the Parliament recognises the concerns of solicitors and advocates following the announcement that the annual levy on legal practitioners to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is set to rise by 12.5%; understands that the SLCC has argued that recent increases in the number of complaints received against solicitors requires a commensurate increase in its budget; believes that some solicitors and advocates consider that these costs could be absorbed by the SLCC without a rise in the levy; understands that the Law Society of Scotland submitted a paper to the SLCC in response to the plans, but that its proposals were rejected and the increase was maintained; recognises the reported concerns among legal practitioners that the levy can be adjusted by any amount without a mechanism to effectively challenge it; acknowledges what it sees as the risk that the increase in the levy could be passed on to consumers, and calls on the SLCC to carefully consider the feedback that it has received from solicitors, advocates and the Law Society of Scotland.

Supported by: Dean Lockhart, Alexander Stewart, John Lamont, Alison Harris, Peter Chapman, Liz Smith, Gordon Lindhurst R, Edward Mountain, Donald Cameron R, Liam Kerr R, Miles Briggs, Murdo Fraser R, Adam Tomkins, John Scott, Margaret Mitchell, Rachael Hamilton R, Jackson Carlaw, Annie Wells, Jeremy Balfour, Ross Thomson, Brian Whittle, Jamie Greene, Alexander Burnett, Bill Bowman, Maurice Golden

Scottish Government Action

18. On 25 April 2017, the Scottish Government announced the launch of an independent review of the regulation of legal services in Scotland including the complaints system. According to the Scottish Government, the review

“…follows concerns that the current legislative framework is not fit for purpose and has not kept up with developments in the legal services market. There are also worries that the current processes for people wishing to make complaints about their solicitor are too slow and too complex.”

19. The review is expected to report to Scottish Ministers by the end of 2018.

FLAWED LEGAL SERVICES REVIEW – How Scottish Government’s attempt at independent review of lawyers ended up back in the hands of … lawyers:

In April 2017, the Scottish Government announced an ‘independent’ review into how lawyers regulate their own colleagues – with a remit to report back by the end of 2018.

The move by Scottish Minsters, coming after discussions with the Law Society of Scotland – is intended to answer concerns  amid rising numbers of complaints about poor legal services and the diminishing status of Scotland’s legal services sector,

However, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) said the review should include judges and the membership of the review team should be expanded to balance up the panel’s current top heavy legal interests membership.

Mr Neil recently branded the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)  “a toothless waste of time” – after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC caught up in a cash payments scandal.

The review, led by NHS 24 chair Esther Roberton, is intended to make recommendations to modernise laws underpinning the legal profession’s current regulatory system including how complaints are handled.

This follows concerns that the current legislative framework is not fit for purpose and has not kept up with developments in the legal services market. There are also worries that the current processes for people wishing to make complaints about their solicitor are too slow and too complex.

However, doubts about the impartiality of the panel have been raised after the announcement by Legal Affairs Minister Annabelle Ewing revealed a top-heavy compliment of figures from the legal establishment who are keen on protecting solicitors’ self regulation against any move to increase consumer protection by way of independent regulation.

The list of panel members includes:

*Two former Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland;

* The current Chief Executive of the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission;

* An outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman widely criticised for ineptitude;

* The current chair of the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) – who struck off only six solicitors last year;

* The chair of a law firm whose partners have regularly appeared before the SSDT;

* A QC from an advocates stable where colleagues have been linked to a cash payments scandal;

* A former Crown Office Prosecutor & QC linked to events in the David Goodwillie rape case – where the victim was forced to sue her assailant through the civil courts after the Lord Advocate refused to prosecute the footballer.

Announcing the review, Legal Affairs Minister Annabel Ewing said: “Members of the public must be able to have confidence in the service they get from their solicitor. While this happens most of the time, I have been listening carefully to concerns that the current regulatory system in Scotland may leave consumers exposed and does not adequately address complaints.”

The latest move by Scottish Ministers to reform self regulation of solicitors and advocates comes years after a move in England & Wales to more robust independent regulation of legal services – which has left Scots consumers & clients at a clear disadvantage.

And while clients in the rest of the UK have much more of a chance to obtain redress against legal professionals who consistently provide poor legal services – and see their lawyers named and shamed in public by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Legal Ombudsman (LeO).

Review should include judiciary:

Scotland’s judges have earned themselves widespread criticism and condemnation at Holyrood and from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – after top judges failed to address complaints and become more transparent and accountable like other branches of Government.

Ongoing efforts by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to create a register of judges’ interests have been flustered by two Lord Presidents – Lord Gill & current top judge Lord Carloway.

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.

The current review could include the judiciary in terms of how judges regulate themselves, however the Scottish Parliament should be left to get on with the task of creating a register of judges’ interests – given the five years of work already undertaken by MSPs on the thorny question of judicial declarations.

REVIEW THE REVIEW: Third attempt at reforming biased system of solicitors self regulation.

The latest review of the way lawyers regulate themselves marks the third attempt at addressing problems created by Scotland’s pro-lawyer system of self regulation, where lawyers write the rules, and look after their own.

In 2001, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 1 Committee, under the Convenership of Christine Grahame MSP, met to consider evidence in relation to calls to reform regulation of the legal profession.

The inquiry, gained by the late, widely respected MSP, Phil Gallie, heard evidence in relation to how complaints were investigated by the legal profession.

However, Mr Gallie was replaced by Lord James Douglas Hamilton, and the Committee eventually concluded not to amend how the Law Society regulated Scottish solicitors.

A second, more substantive attempt to reform regulation of the legal profession came about in 2006, with the Scottish Parliament’s then Justice 2 Committee taking on consideration of the proposed Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act, which received Royal Assent in 2007.

The LPLA Act led to the creation of the now widely derided Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – once touted as an ‘independent’ solution to handing complaints against solicitors and advocates.

A mere nine years after the creation of the SLCC in 2008, the badly run legal quango, often itself the subject of scandal, charges of incompetence and downright bias – has become as much a threat to consumer protection as the Law Society itself was in the days when complaints were handled at the Law Society’s former HQ in Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh.

Regulating the legal profession: Usual suspects selected by legal profession to carry out independent review on regulation of solicitors:

The independent review of the regulation of legal services in Scotland is expected to consult widely with stakeholders and report to Scottish ministers by the end of 2018.

The independent chair of the review is Esther Roberton, current chair of NHS 24. Ms Roberton has extensive senior leadership experience in the NHS and other areas of public life.  She is also currently a board member of the Scottish Ambulance Service (2014-18).  She was chair of SACRO (2010-2014) and until recently also sat on the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Audit and Risk Committee (COPFS ARC).

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

•      Christine McLintock – immediate past president Law Society of Scotland
•      Alistair Morris – chief executive of the management board, Pagan Osborne (Law Society of Scotland)
•      Laura Dunlop QC – Hastie Stables (Faculty of Advocates)
•      Derek Ogg QC – MacKinnon Advocates (Faculty of Advocates)
•      Neil Stevenson – chief executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
•      Nicholas Whyte – chair of Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal
•      Ray Macfarlane –  chair of the Scottish Legal Aid Board
•      Jim Martin – outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
•      Dr Dame Denise Coia – chair of Healthcare Improvement Scotland
•      Prof Lorne Crerar – chairman, Harper Macleod LLP
•      Prof Russel Griggs – chair of the Scottish Government’s Independent Regulatory Review Group
•      Trisha McAuley OBE – independent consumer expert

The Scottish Government’s review of legal services can be found here: REGULATED REVIEW: Scottish Government panel to look at self regulation of lawyers – Former Cabinet Minister calls for review to include judiciary, and panel membership to strike ‘better balance between lawyers & non-lawyers’

 

 

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TRIBUNAL REGISTER: Calls for transparency as legal & wealthy, well connected interests dominate Tribunals system membership – Register of Recusals & Interests should be extended to cover all Tribunals in Scotland

Calls for tribunal members to publish interests & recusals. WITH THE announcement earlier this week of at least thirty solicitors have joined the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland, Housing & Property Chamber – there are calls for all members to be held to account by way of the publication of registers of interests for those who wish to take part in judgements affecting the lives of others.

The move comes after media enquiries have established a number of members of the tribunals have links to property businesses including letting, landlords services and other related interests which are not yet publicly declared by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS).

And, with the existence of a Register of Judicial Recusals since 2014 – which recently saw significant improvements after a media investigation exposed failures to record judges standing aside in cases – there are also calls for a fully pubic Register of Tribunal Recusals to be published with equivalent detail on cases and Tribunal members as is currently disclosed by the Judiciary of Scotland.

Moves to improve transparency in the Tribunals system – and bring it up to speed with the judiciary – have come about after a number of cases have been brought to the attention of the media – where Tribunal members have failed to declare significant interests or step aside from hearings – which some participants have described as “rigged”.

An enquiry to the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service last month – in the form of a Freedom of Information request – also revealed the SCTS is failing to keep any records of recusals of Tribunal members – despite the requirements in place for over three years that members of the judiciary have to notify and publish their recusals from court hearings.

In a response to the FOI request, the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service refused to provide any information on Tribunal members standing aside from cases. The SCTS – who manage the tribunals – indicated no such information was held.

The SCTS response ended with a note all Tribunal members are subject to the same guidance to judicial office holders in terms of the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics – which has already been found to be flouted on a regular basis by even senior Court of Session judges who have been the subject of cases now reported in the media where they deliberately concealed conflicts of interest.

The SCTS said in response to the request asking for information on Recusals of Tribunal members: “The only information held by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service that falls within the description of your request is contained within guidance issued to judicial office holders. That guidance is the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics.”

A Tribunals User Charter for the Tribunals managed by the SCTS makes no mention of Tribunal members recusals or any registers of Tribunal members interests.

The announcement of the latest intake of members into the Tribunals system – an intake which is managed by the Judicial Appointments Board, was made by the Judiciary of Scotland here:

New Legal and Ordinary Members of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland, Housing & Property Chamber

Thirty new Legal Members and 19 Ordinary Members have been appointed by the Scottish Ministers to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and assigned to the Housing and Property Chamber by the President of Scottish Tribunals, Lady Smith.

The announcement follows a recruitment round by the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland (JABS), which invited applications from any suitably qualified individuals who wished to be considered for appointment.

The new members were recruited to assist in managing the increased jurisdiction of the Housing and Property Chamber that will handle more private rented sector cases from December 2017, including the new letting agents’ regime; transfer of jurisdiction from the sheriff courts; and new private tenancies.

The new members are as follows:

Legal Members

Yvonne McKenna; Lesley-Anne Mulholland; Nairn Young; Shirley Evans; Alastair Houston; Steven Quither; Petra Hennig McFatridge; Colin Dunipace; Lesley Johnston; Anne Mathie; Kay Springham; Alan Strain; Aidan O’Neill; Jan Todd; Alison Kelly; Valerie Bremner; Eleanor Mannion; Virgil Crawford; Pamela Woodman; Lynsey MacDonald; Karen Kirk; Neil Kinnear; Fiona Watson; Nicola Irvine; Graham Dunlop; Andrew Upton; Joel Conn; Melanie Barbour; Lesley Ward; Andrew McLaughlin.

Ordinary Members

Eileen Shand; Elizabeth Williams; Janine Green; Jennifer Moore; Linda Reid; Angus Lamont; David Fotheringham; David MacIver; David Wilson; Gerard Darroch; Gordon Laurie; James Battye; Leslie Forrest; Tony Cain; Elizabeth Currie; Frances Wood; Jane Heppenstall; Melanie Booth; Sandra Brydon.

The appointments came into effect on 18 September 2017.

Under changes to Scotland’s tribunals system which came into effect in July 2014, the Lord President is the head of Scottish Tribunals.  He has various statutory functions, including responsibility for the training, welfare and conduct of its members.

The Lord President has assigned Lady Smith to the role of President of Scottish Tribunals. She has various statutory functions, including responsibility for the efficient disposal of business in the Scottish tribunals, for the assignment of members to individual Chambers within the First-tier Tribunal, and for review of the members.

The First-Tier Tribunal for Scotland comprises a number of separate Chambers within which similar jurisdictions are grouped. The Housing and Property Chamber, which was established on 1 December 2016, performs the functions of the former Private Rented Housing Panel (PHRP) and the Homeowner Housing Panel (HOHP) in relation to tenancy and property related disputes. The Chamber will also start to handle more private rented sector cases from December 2017 including those arising in relation to the new letting agents’ regime; transfer of jurisdiction from the sheriff courts; and new private tenancies.

Appeals from the First-tier Tribunal go to the second tier of the new structure, the Upper Tribunal for Scotland.

Appeals from decisions of the Upper Tribunal go to the Inner House of the Court of Session.

Further information about the Scottish Tribunals visit the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service can be found here: About Scottish Tribunals

The Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014 created a new, simplified statutory framework for tribunals in Scotland, bringing existing jurisdictions together and providing a structure for new ones. The Act created two new tribunals, the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and the Upper Tribunal for Scotland.

The Lord President is the head of the Scottish Tribunals and has delegated various functions to the President of Scottish Tribunals, the Rt Hon Lady Smith.

The Upper Tribunal for Scotland: The Upper Tribunal hears appeals on decisions of the chambers of the First-tier Tribunal.

The First-tier Tribunal is organised into a series of chambers .

From 1 December 2016, the Housing and Property Chamber was established and took on the functions of the former Home Owner and Housing Panel and the Private Rented Housing Panel.

From 24 April 2017, the Tax Chamber was established and took on the functions of the former Tax Tribunals for Scotland.

Housing and Property Chamber

Tax Chamber

Tribunals Administered by the SCTS:

The Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland

The Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland

The Council Tax Reduction Review Panel

The Pensions Appeals Tribunal

The Lands Tribunal for Scotland

The Scottish Charity Appeals Panel

If you have any experience before any of these Tribunals, or information in relation to cases, Diary of Injustice journalists would like to hear about it. All information and sources will be treated in strict confidence, contact us at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

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.

Previous reports on moves to publish judicial recusals in Scotland and a media investigation which prompted further reforms of the Scottish Register of Judicial Recusals can be found here: Judicial Recusals in Scotland – Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest

 

 

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SUPREME SECRETS: UK Supreme Court refuses to publish recusal data – Court rejects release of info on UKSC justices conflicts of interest in response to Freedom of Information recusals probe on top UK court

Top UK court obstructed Scots media judicial recusals probe. THE UK Supreme Court (UKSC) has refused to disclose how many of it’s justices have recused themselves from court hearings over conflicts of interest or requests to step aside from cases.

And, the top court’s refusal to disclose the information only came about after the Information Commissioner (ICO) decided to issue a decision notice forcing the Supreme Court to respond to Freedom of Information requests submitted in May 2017.

Unlike in Scotland, where the Judiciary of Scotland publish a Register of Judicial Recusals– listing judges who have stood aside in cases for certain conflicts of interest (not including financial, wealth or other status related interests), the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court in London does not publish any recusal information.

However, Freedom of Information requests seeking disclosure of the UK Supreme Court’s recusal data encountered obstacles after UKSC officials took a decision to refuse to respond to Scottish journalists FOI requests.

And, it can also be revealed the Ministry of Justice – the body in charge of all courts in England & Wales followed the Supreme Court’s anti-transparency position – refusing to respond to a similar FOI request again sent from Scotland in May 2017.

Four months after the original Freedom of Information request was made to the UK Supreme Court, and amid numerous reminders to UKSC officials, the Information Commissioner’s office was contacted in July for assistance.

After discussions with ICO staff, the Information Commissioner gave the top court an extra month to reply.

However, the Supreme Court again refused to respond to any Freedom of Information requests from Scotland on the subject of recusals.

A legal insider claimed the refusal to reply to the requests originated over fears the material was to be referred to at the Scottish Parliament in connection with a five year probe on judges’ interests and a call to create a register of judicial interests – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

However, after the Information Commissioner again contacted Scottish journalists making the requests, the ICO confirmed it would issue a determination to order the UK Supreme Court to respond to the requests.

In an email of 25 August 2017, Matthew Cresswell of the Information Commissioner’s office informed journalists seeking the recusal information: “As the Supreme Court have failed to respond to your information request within the statutory time limit set out in section 10(1) of the FOIA, the Commissioner can now start the process of ordering a decision notice on this case. A decision notice is a legally binding document that will require the public authority to provide a response.”

Coverage of the case then appeared in The National newspaper on 30 August – which prompted the Supreme Court to finally issue a response to the Freedom of Information requests.

However, the UKSC refused to divulge any details of UKSC justices’ recusals, citing cost grounds of gathering the information.

Paul Brigland, for the UK Supreme Court claimed logging errors where the real reasons for a lack of reply to the FOI requests, rather than a determined policy by the UK Supreme Court not to respond to a Scottish Freedom of Information request.

Paul Brigland, the Head of Office and Building Services & Departmental Records Officer said: “Firstly, I would like to apologise for the mishandling of your request and the failure to reply. This is entirely due to an error in our logging process in which this request was incorrectly marked as dealt with, but had in fact been mistaken for a separate request you made under the FOLA at the same time which we responded to within the correct time limit. I hope you will accept our apologies for this error. I should also explain that since you made your request we have changed the way in which we log and handle FOI requests, so this situation should not arise in the future.”

Paul Brigland then confirmed the UKSC held information relevant to the request.

Mr Brigland said: “I can confirm that we do hold some information relevant to your request.”

However, Paul Brigland claimed the work involved and cost would prohibit the information being disclosed.

Brigland added: “In order to provide you with the information on the scale that you have requested would require a search of individual paper case records. We do not maintain a central record of any such requests as there is no business need to do so.”

“Section 12 of the FOLA makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in determining whether the Department holds the information, locating, retrieving and extracting the information.”

“As your request is widely framed, I estimate that it will take us more than 3.5 working days to determine appropriate material within the scope of your request, and locate, retrieve and extract that information.”

“I am sorry that on this occasion I cannot suggest ways in which you could narrow the scope of your request to bring it within the cost limit. This is because any information sought under a revised request, for example requesting information for a shorter time period, would still be exempt under section 32 (court records).”

“However, outside the terms of the Act, and to be helpful, I can explain the following.”

“Where there are reasons that a Justice considers there might be an issue of recusal, that information is sent to the Justice chairing the panel (normally the President or Deputy President) and then a letter is sent to the parties. I can confirm that there have been no instances where we have written to parties that has subsequently led to a request from the parties for a Justice to stand down.”

“Similarly, I can confirm that there have been no instances where a Justice has recused themselves following a request initiated by a party to a case.”

However, the explanation offered by the UKSC does not actually confirm if any justices have refused to recuse themselves following any request from litigants or parties to do so.

And, as no register of recusals currently exists at the UK Supreme Court, legal insiders have suggested the explanations from the UKSC on recusal data should be taken with a pinch of salt.

A legal insider has suggested legal teams operating in the UK Supreme Court are dissuaded from – or not minded to ask for recusals.

The source said “ justices do not take well to their position being questioned to recuse from a hearing”.

A solicitor from England who has now come forward on the issue said he was aware of certain cases at the Supreme Court which may have necessitated a recusal.

The solicitor, who has studied the details contained in Scotland’s register of judicial recusals said it was clear in some cases before the UKSC, comparable examples of justices links to issues do exist, and therefore should be acknowledged in a similar register of recusals at the Supreme Court.

However, the solicitor cited the Supreme Court’s determination to avoid declaring justice’s interests in a register of interests as one reason which the UKSC is avoiding publishing any data on it’s justices’ recusals.

Amid the Supreme Court’s refusal to release information on recusals, Scottish journalists asked for a review of the decision, which was handled by William Arnold, the Head of Corporate Services.

Mr Arnold did not provide a review response on material with the UK Supreme Court logo, instead responding by email in the following terms.

Willian Arnold said: “As Mr Brigland explained, the UK Supreme Court does not maintain any formal central register of requests  to Justices to recuse themselves  from particular cases, since there has never been any operational need to do so.”

“Identifying the record of any such requests would therefore entail reviewing all the case papers in every case heard since January 2014 to the present date. I am satisfied that Mr Brigland was correct in assessing that carrying out this review would require staff resource input, which would exceed the cost limit for answering FOI requests of £600.”

“As Mr Brigland went on to say, this would be a pointless exercise in any event, because any such recusal request, if one was found, would form part of the records of the individual court case; and in Section 32 of the FOI Act Parliament has enacted an exemption of court records from the FOI regime. This exemption is not subject to any kind of public interest test, so the UKSC would not in any case be able to release any such recusal request, if one was found, to you under the FOI regime. I agree with this analysis.”

“In order to try to be helpful, Mr Brigland, however, went on to tell you, outside the provisions of the Act, since this is not recorded information which the UKSC holds, that the practice is that where a Justice considers he might have interests which might generate a request for recusal, a letter is sent to the parties outlining those interests.”

“Nobody here of those staff who have been at the UKSC since its inception in 2009 can remember any instance where such a letter has resulted in a request from a party to a case for a Justice to recuse themselves. Equally nobody here can recall any instance where a party has ever initiated a request for a Justice to recuse themselves, so the question of acceding to or rejecting such a request has never arisen.”

Mr Arnold went on to contradict Paul Brigland’s initial explanation where he stated the UKSC did hold material in relation to recusal information.

William Arnold stated: “The only sentence in Mr Brigland’s letter which I do repudiate is on page one  where he says “I can confirm that we do hold some information relevant to your request.”

“He may have been thinking of the letters we send to parties, where a Justice believes they have interests they should disclose, as set out above, but it is not clear to me that these are strictly relevant to your request; and I cannot find any other evidence which leads to the conclusion that the UKSC ‘holds some information relevant to your request’.”

“Indeed I have reached the opposite conclusion – that we likely do not hold any such information, although we could not be formally sure of that without carrying out the review of all our cases, which on cost grounds, as set out above, we have declined to do.”

A barrister who studied the correspondence from the UK Supreme Court, including the initial FOI response and the UKSC’s review – said the responses were evasive.

He also noted the UKSC’s position on holding no recusal data revolved around process where a letter is sent out to parties in relation to a justices’ conflict of interest – rather than an interest being raised by a party or legal representative.

The barrister said: “The UK Supreme Court has existed for eight years. I think it highly unlikely not one single request for a recusal at the Supreme Court has been made during such a considerable length of time.”

While the UK Supreme Court remains determined to refuse any further disclosure of information on judicial recusals, the Information Commissioner has been contacted again over the Ministry of Justice’s refusal to answer similar requests for disclosure of recusal information from the English courts.

A decision from the Information Commissioner on this matter is awaited.

However, the position Scottish users of the UK Supreme Court now face is that judges in Scotland are required to publish their recusal data, while the UKSC has decided against any such transparency – leaving Scottish court users at a considerable disadvantage.

The National reported on the battle to obtain recusal information from the UK Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice in two articles, published below:

Victory for Scottish information campaigner in battle with Supreme Court

Martin Hannan Journalist 30th August

THE UK Supreme Court will be ordered by the Information Commissioner to reply to question from a Scottish legal rights campaigner, after it refused to say whether it had a register of recusals by court justices.

Recusal is the term used when a judge has to step aside from a case because of a possible conflict of interest. It is thought that various Supreme Court justices have recused themselves from numerous cases, but no such information is made public.

The National can reveal the Information Commissioner has decided to act after the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice for England and Wales failed to reply to blogger and campaigner Peter Cherbi’s request for information.

A register of recusals has been in existence for several years in Scotland – it can be viewed online – and Cherbi wants to see the system extended to all the judiciary in the UK.

The Information Commissioner told Cherbi, above: “As the Supreme Court has failed to respond to your information request within the statutory time limit set out in section 10 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act, the Commissioner can now start the process of ordering a decision notice on this case.

“A decision notice is a legally binding document that will require the public authority to provide a response.”

Sources at the Supreme Court have indicated that the decision notice has not been received by the court, but that it will be acted upon.

Cherbi’s long-term aim is to see the creation of a register of judicial interests similar to that which MPs, MSPs and police officers must complete. His petition calling for that register has been debated by MSPs for nearly six years, and a decision is due next year. He feels the delay is an attempt to stop the register of interests. The National can reveal that lawyers in London support Cherbi’s case, but think judges will oppose it.

One legal source said: “They fear recusals up here in Scotland are inevitably leading to a register of judicial interests and it will lead to the same thing happening in England and Wales.”

The Supreme Court has already decided against a register of interests, stating: “The justices have decided it would not be appropriate, or indeed feasible, for them to have a comprehensive register of interests, as it would be impossible for them to identify all the interests, which might conceivably arise, in any future case that came before them.

“To draw up a register of interests, which people believed to be complete, could potentially be misleading. Instead the justices of the Supreme Court have agreed a formal code of conduct by which they will all be bound, and which is now publicly available on the court’s website.

“In addition, all the justices have taken the judicial oath … which obliges them to ‘do right to all manner of people after the law and usages of this realm without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

“And, as is already the practice with other members of the judiciary, they will continue to declare any interest which arises in the context of a particular case and, if necessary, recuse themselves, whether it is a substantive hearing, or an application for permission to appeal.”

Cherbi said: “Refusing access to information is not accidental. We are looking here at a coordinated attempt to thwart the introduction of Scottish judicial transparency to the rest of the UK.”

The Ministry of Justice referred The National to the Supreme Court where a spokesman confirmed that they were awaiting the Commissioner’s formal decision.

Supreme Court finally responds to Scottish FoI request about recusals … and rejects it

Martin Hannan Journalist 06 September 2017

THE UK Supreme Court has refused to issue information on how many of its justices have stood aside from cases because of a conflict of interest.

The National revealed last week that the Information Commissioner in England had ordered the Supreme Court to deal with Scottish law campaigner Peter Cherbi’s freedom of information request after it failed to reply to him in time.

Now the Supreme Court has written to Cherbi apologising for failing to deal with his request timeously but saying it will not give him the information as it would cost too much to provide it.

“That’s just ludicrous,” Cherbi said yesterday, “and it just makes people all the more suspicious that the Supreme Court is covering up something that the public should have the right to know.”

In another development, Cherbi is to ask the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to invite the new President of the Supreme Court to give evidence as to why she and her fellow justices oppose a register of interests for the judiciary similar to that for MPs and police officers.

The committee has been discussing Cherbi’s call for a register of judicial interests in Scotland for almost five years.

Cherbi said: “I would like Lady Hale to come to Holyrood and explain why the UK Supreme Court’s members are so set against a register of interests.

“We have already seen Scotland’s top judges opposing it, and it would be good to know why the UK Supreme Court opposes it – after all, the Supreme Court sits in judgement on Scottish cases all the time, so why should the public not be able to see what interests, financial and otherwise, that judges have?

“As the President of the UK Supreme Court, Baroness Hale will be able to give a substantive account of why Supreme Court justices no longer consider they require to adhere to the expectation of completing a register of interests as they did pre-UK Supreme Court days as Law Lords in the House of Lords.

“After all, we ask our MPs and MSPs and police officers to register their interests so that everything is seen to be above board, so why not the judges in the highest court in the land?”

Cherbi also wants Lady Hale to tell the committee why the Supreme Court does not keep a register of recusals (when judges step aside from a case) as happens in the Scottish courts.

In its delayed response to Cherbi, the Supreme Court said: “To provide you with the information on the scale that you have requested would require a search of individual paper case records. We do not maintain a central record of any such requests as there is no business need to do so. Section 12 of the Freedom Of Information Act makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600.

“This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in determining whether the department holds the information, locating, retrieving and extracting the information.

“As your request is widely framed, I estimate that it will take us more than 3.5 working days to determine appropriate material within the scope of your request, and locate, retrieve and extract that information.”

A legal expert told The National: “The information on recusals certainly exists, so all that needs to be done is to send an email to the justices and their assistants and the information could be gathered in a day.”

Cherbi said: “We have a register of recusals in Scotland. It’s time they had one for the Supreme Court and all English and Welsh courts.”

Previous reports on moves to publish judicial recusals in Scotland and a media investigation which prompted further reforms of the Scottish Register of Judicial Recusals can be found here: Judicial Recusals in Scotland – Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest

Recent reforms to the way in which judicial recusals are recorded and entered in Scotland’s register of judicial recusals were reported here: RECUSALS JUST GOT REAL: Judicial Office concedes to reforms for Judicial Recusals Register, full case details where judges stand down from court hearings to be entered after media & FOI probe success

 

 

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APPROVED BY M’LORD: Former Police Chief & Legal Complaints board member receives approval from Lord Carloway to fill ‘window dressing’ Judicial Complaints Reviewer post

Ex top cop & SLCC Board member is new Judicial Investigator. A FORMER Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police who served as Convener of the Standards Commission for Scotland and was a board member of a tainted legal complaints quango – has been approved by Scotland’s top judge to investigate judges and serve as Scotland’s third Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR).

Ian Gordon, who also formerly served as a board member of the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) and is currently Acting Commissioner with the Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman Office – will now serve as Judicial Complaints Reviewer from 1 September 2017 to 31 August 2020.

Ian Gordon’s appointment as JCR, which is required to be approved by Scotland’s top judge – currently Lord Carloway – was announced by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson yesterday, Monday 14 August.

However, MSPs from across the political spectrum have called for the judicial watchdog to be given new powers and a review of the role undertaken by the Scottish Government amid controversy over the lack of powers to the JCR.

Moi Ali – Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer branded the JCR role as “window dressing” in evidence to MSPs at Holyrood during September 2013 – featured in a report here: As Scotland’s top judge battles on against transparency, Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life

Moi Ali continually called for extra powers until she quit the role in 2014 amid lack of cooperation from the judiciary & Scottish Government.

Gordon’s appointment as Judicial Complaints Reviewer comes after both his predecessors complained the SNP Government starved the post of resources.

Last week, the Sunday Herald published a further report on the controversy around the office of Judicial Complaints Reviewer, revealing current Gillian Thompson has published further concerns on the relevance and efficacy of the job.

Gillian Thompson said her contracted hours of just three days a month “inevitably” led to delays, “inconvenience for complainants” and ultimately “a poor service”.

She said she doubted public expectations were being met, complained her access to investigation files was limited, and urged ministers to “review the relevance of the role”.

Gillian Thompson published two annual reports on her work as JCR, last week – which contain no case histories after the Scottish Government suggested such references be excluded in published reports.

Several weeks ago Thompson was caught in a controversy where documents released by the Scottish Government revealed she had accused her predecessor of being the source of media interest in the lack of published annual reports by the JCR.

The accusations turned out to be false, and the Scottish Government ordered journalists to destroy the initial release of documents, which was swapped for another version by Stuart Lewis, a Senior Media Manager for the Scottish Government’s Justice & Education hub. Lewis refused to identify who took the decision to order destruction of the FOI documents.

Further concerns have been raised after the Scottish Information Commissioner dodged calls to look into the case, after journalists called for a re-examination of how exemptions are used by the Scottish Government where Thompson’s written accusations were then censored under the guise of ‘protecting free and frank discussions between officials’.

A full report and publication of the FOI documents on the controversy around Thompson and the Scottish Government’s FOI release can be found here: Scottish Government request destruction of FOI papers – Files reveal Ministers silence on judicial complaints & civil servants attempts to exclude case histories from Judicial Investigator’s annual reports

Ms Thompson’s predecessor Moi Ali also complained a lack of funds and support had made the role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer “enormously frustrating and difficult”.

Today, it has been reported LibDem MSP Liam McArthur has urged Mr Matheson to review the post of JCR.

In a letter to the Justice Secretary, Mr McArthur said: “The only two holders of the post have both provided blistering accounts of their experiences. In appointing the third JCR the Scottish Government cannot ignore the criticisms of his predecessors and the serious questions that surround the credibility of this office. It is clear that the current system is not working.”

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said: “Given the criticism levelled at the Scottish Government by the former reviewer, it appears her successor has quite a job on his hands.

“If this role is to be a success, ministers have to provide the resources and support necessary. We can’t afford for this to be yet another wasted 12 months.”

Labour MSP Claire Baker added: “It is clear that the new JCR needs far greater support.

“For the SNP to simply announce a new JCR but fail to address any of the serious structural shortcomings in the role is simply unacceptable.

“The Scottish Government cannot hide from their responsibility. They must fully fund and resource the new JCR so that he can carry out his role in the best interests of the public.”

However the biography issued by the Scottish Government on Mr Gordon contains no references to his time as one of the first intake of Board members at the discredited Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The SLCC was recently branded as a “toothless waste of time” by former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC caught up in a cash payments scandal.

The team responsible for setting up the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and it’s board members in 2008 was led by Angela McArthur, Chief Executive of the Parole Board since December 2009

During Mr Gordon’s time on the board of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the pro-lawyer regulator lurched from controversy to scandal, where media reports revealed board members infighting over dealing with members of the public, campaign groups, and drunken exchanges between board members & senior SLCC staff.

Ministerial Announcement of new Judicial Complaints Reviewer: Judicial Complaints Reviewer appointed

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson has announced the appointment of the third Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Ian Gordon is a retired Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police. He is currently an Acting Commissioner with the Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman Office.

He was seconded to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and was the lead police officer on the annual statutory inspection of five UK police forces, and was a member of the UK Police Professional Standards Group. He has conducted criminal, conduct and complaints investigations in the UK and undertaken enquires abroad on behalf of the Foreign Office.

Mr Gordon was also a Convener for the Standards Commission between 2010 and 2017 and contributed to a focused improvement to awareness of the codes of Conduct by elected members and Boards of Public Bodies.

This appointment was established by the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 to review, when asked, the handling of a complaints investigation into members of the judiciary, to ensure that it has been dealt with in accordance with The Complaints About the Judiciary (Scotland) Rules 2016. The Reviewer has no powers to consider the merits of any complaint or the disposal of the complaint.

The appointment will be for a period of three years from 1 September 2017 to 31 August 2020, and will be paid a daily fee of £217. The appointment has been made with the approval of the Lord President.

All appointments are made on merit and political activity plays no part in the selection process.

FROM EX-COP TO JUDGING JUDGES – BIOGRAPHY IAN GORDON:

Ian Gordon is listed as Chair on the website of the Ericht Trust and is an active director of the Ericht Trust which is also registered as a company limited by guarantee, managed by a Board of Trustees who are elected at an Annual General Meeting, and a Company Secretary.

The Ericht Trust has since reported in March 2017 to be in the process of changing it’s name to the Erich Trust.

The Ericht Trust describes itself as a ‘not for profit’ charitable organisation, which focuses on community development and regeneration in line with Scottish Government policies on community empowerment. It is a member of Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS). DTAS provides support to its members and a link into a network of the many comparable Trusts working for the benefit of their communities across Scotland. Being part of this bigger family gives strength to the organisation when voicing opinion or seeking support from Government and Local Authorities.

The object of the Trust is to stimulate a range of community projects which will benefit residents and businesses and draw visitors to this area.

A register of interests posted by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission also listed Mr Gordon as a director of Quarere Ltd.

Quaere Limited was set up on 20 Dec 2006 has its registered office in Perthshire. Its current status is listed as “Dissolved”. The company’s first directors were Marion Therese Gordon, Ian Alexander Gordon. Quaere Limited has no subsidiaries.

The company was listed under the headings of SIC 2003:7414 — Business And Management Consultancy Activities & SIC 2007: 70229 — Management Consultancy Activities (Other Than Financial Management)

Last annual accounts of Quarere Ltd were filed in 2009.

Other interests listed in Mr Gordon’s register of interests from his time at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission include:

• Associate Professor in Policing for Charles Sturt University (Australia).
• Formerly Chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) Professional Standards Business Area.
• Vice-Chair of ACPOS General Policing Business Area.

Previous articles on the Judicial Complaints Reviewer and complaints against Scotland’s judiciary can be found here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Reviewing complaints against Scotland’s judiciary

 

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RECUSALS JUST GOT REAL: Judicial Office concedes to reforms for Judicial Recusals Register, full case details where judges stand down from court hearings to be entered after media & FOI probe success

Spotlight on Judiciary brings success on Recusals. SCOTLAND’S top Judge – Lord President Lord Carloway – has conceded to calls to publish full details of cases in the Register of Judicial Recusals – a publicly available register which records  instances where judges step aside in cases due to conflicts of interest.

The improvements to the register of recusals, agreed after lengthy exchanges between the Head of Governance of the Judiciary of Scotland & journalists – acknowledge the woeful lack of detail previously entered on cases, where little was given away about the case subject, litigants, points of law involved or even whether judges had refused to recuse themselves after being asked to do so.

Soon, members of the public, court users and legal representatives will be able to find out much more about why judges have stood aside in cases, the identity (where appropriate) of legal cases, litigants, case reference numbers and legal representatives – which all appear in court opinions published online by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS).

The move has come about after Lord Caloway was quizzed on Judicial Recusals at a recent meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – where it became clear recusals of judges which had occurred, were not included on the register for reasons not well explained by Lord Carloway in his responses to former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP.

Now the register is to be corrected, and all the extra information now agreed to be entered by the Judicial Office will also be backdated to the date the recusals register came into being, in April 2014 – when Lord Brian Gill created the register of recusals in response to the Scottish Parliament’s ongoing consideration of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The further publication of information revealing the identities of solicitors & law firms bold enough to challenge the judiciary and raise motions for recusals could also significantly benefit members of the public in access to justice issues, enabling clients to select a lawyer who isn’t afraid to raise questions on the appropriateness of a judge to hear a case if there are conflicts of interest which must be raised as matters for recusal.

The extra concessions from the Judicial Office – which go further than Lord Carloway indicated during his meeting with MSPs, come after journalists pursued a Freedom of Information request seeking all information contained in forms submitted in motions from legal teams & litigants for judges to step aside in court hearings.

Initially, the Judicial Office claimed it held no information on recusals other than a form for collecting information on recusals, a blank copy which was provided to journalists, who then sought a review of the refusal to release further information.

Then, writing in response to a request for a review of the Judicial Office’s earlier decision to refuse release of detail on recusals, Mr Steven D’Arcy Head of Strategy & Governance said: “Following the Lord President’s letter to the Petitions Committee, the Register of Recusals will be extended to cover instances when a judge has recused them self and when he or she has declined to do so – a copy of the this letter can be found here. The Judicial Office for Scotland has amended the guidance for SCTS staff and a copy is attached to this letter.”

The Judicial Office does hold copies of submitted recusal forms. However, when a form is submitted the information of the recusal is placed on our website. Therefore this is exempt information as you can reasonably obtain it other than by requesting it (section 25(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002)).”

The form now issued by the Judicial Office for Scotland to collect recusal data lists the following information and terms:

Intimation of a Decision of Declinature (Recusal)

Declinature of jurisdiction, also referred to as recusal, refers to the act of a judicial office holder abstaining from participation in legal proceedings due to a conflict of interest or when his or her impartiality might reasonably be impugned.

The attached form  should be completed by clerks of court in the event of a formal motion for recusal being granted or refused in open court and accordingly recorded in an appropriate interlocutor.

The return should only be completed for recusals involving a senator, temporary judge, sheriff principal, sheriff or summary sheriff (this includes fee-paid members of the judiciary). It should not be completed when there has only been an informal administrative decision not to sit in a particular case.

The returns should be completed electronically and emailed to the Judicial Office for Scotland.

This information is being collated on behalf of the Lord President and this requirement should be completed accurately and timeously. Local records should be noted once the return has been submitted.

If you have any questions please contact the Judicial Office for Scotland.

The form of Intimation of a Decision of Declinature of Jurisdiction (Recusal) seeks, and records COURT (Location), DATE, NAME OF JUDGE, CASE NAME & REF, ACTION TYPE, MOTION (please select), GRANTED/REFUSED, REASON (please provide specific reasons), CLERK OF COURT, CONTACT DETAILS.

However, on analysing the form provided by the Judicial Office, it was plain there was a significant amount of information gathered by the form which was still to remain unpublished.

A series of discussions then took place between the Head of Governance at the Judicial Office & journalists pursuing the release of recusal information, which ultimately concluded in an agreement to publish all the information where appropriate.

Journalists asked: Just to confirm this information to be published will go right back to the first recusals in 2014 contained in the register of recusal archive?”

Mr D’Arcy responded: “…if it was 2014 then the answer is Yes. All case names/references that we can publish will be added to the list of recusal information on our website.”

A recent investigation by Diary of Injustice revealed instances where senior Court of Session judges have stood aside from cases were not entered into the register of recusals, for up to a year later, and then only after DOI journalists had queried the Judicial Office over the cases.

A full report on investigations into judicial recusals can be found here: Doubts over credibility of register of judges’ recusals – as Judicial Office admit court clerks failed to add details of senior judges recusals – then silently altered records a year later

During enquiries into failures to record recusals, Elizabeth Cutting, Head of Communications of the Judicial Office stood down from her post, leaving acting head Baktosch Gillan to reply to queries on why a recusal relating to Lord Bracadale had been concealed from the register of recusals for up to a year.

Responses from the Judicial Office claimed there had been a “clerical error”, a claim echoed by Lord Carloway during his attendance at the Petitions Committee where the top judge was widely criticised for his attempts to thwart increases in judicial transparency with the creation of a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary.

The National reported on the developments to publish full details on judicial recusals in Scotland, here:

More details to be shared about judges recusing themselves from cases

Bridget Morris Journalist 31 July 2017 The National

THE register which shows when judges have stood aside from court cases because of a probable or perceived conflict of interest is to be extended and give more details to the public.

Since the Register of Recusals – the legal term for stepping aside from a case – was started by the Judicial Office for Scotland in 2014, the public has been able to read about the location of the recusal, the reason why sheriff or judges recused themselves and the name of those sheriffs and judges, but not the name of the cases or their reference numbers.

Now, after a Freedom of Information request by the legal blogger and campaigner Peter Cherbi, full details of the cases including names and reference numbers will be added to the Register of Recusals.

The Judicial Office has decided to backdate the information to the start of the register three years ago, though sensitive matters such as child protection cases will not be included in the extended release of details.

The decision, which is understood to have been made or sanctioned by Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, the Lord President, will make accessing information on recusals much easier.

Cherbi said: “With the latest concessions offered by the Judicial Office on releasing all information with regard to recusals, this is a tacit acceptance that the content of the recusals register created by Lord Gill in early 2014 has been woefully lacking in critical detail, and has by the very lack of detail led to a register which has omitted key recusals for reasons not well explained by Lord Carloway.

“The release of case references, identities of litigants if appropriate and also, I urge, the identities of legal teams acting in such cases where recusals have been sought, gained or refused could have assisted court users and legal representatives in making a more accurate assessment of how to progress cases before judges who may have conflicts of interest which, as we have seen from recent reports do occur.”

Previous article on Judicial Recusals can be found here:  Judicial Recusals in Scotland – Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest

 

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READ THE SHRED: Scottish Government request destruction of FOI papers – Files reveal Ministers silence on judicial complaints & civil servants attempts to exclude case histories from Judicial Investigator’s annual reports

No JCR annual reports in 3 years. FILES RELEASED by the Scottish Government reveal Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) took an undisclosed decision in 2016 not to publish annual reports on complaints about alleged judicial misconduct, while civil servants agreed further annual reports could be watered down.

The documents – obtained under the Freedom of Information act reveal a three year silence on annual reporting of complaints about the judiciary by Gillian Thompson OBE, who currently serves as Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer until August 31 2017.

Emails from the Scottish Government to the JCR also reveal a civil servant in the Justice Department told Ms Thompson she could water down the length of reports on her work, and did not need to include examples of cases – which had been a hallmark of previous annual reports published by Scotland’s first JCR – Moi Ali.

And, key passages of the documents provoked a storm in the media after now redacted paragraphs revealed Ms Thompson had wrongly claimed her predecessor was the source of media articles in relation to the role of the JCR – when in fact the articles reporting on a lack of annual reports from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer had been down to good journalism.

Upon the material being reported to the Scottish Government as unsuitable for publication, on the grounds there was a clear breach of Freedom of Information legislation relating to publication of comments of third parties and material likely to inhibit free & frank discussion between officials, the Scottish Government’s media team took over the handling of the matter, and demanded the documents already released to journalists be destroyed.

Stuart Lewis, Senior Media Manager for the Scottish Government’s Justice & Education hub provided an unsigned letter stating: You also brought to our attention the remarks made on page 28 of the pdf document. These remarks were made by a third party and do not reflect or represent the views of the Scottish Government. On reflection, those remarks should also have been considered to be personal data.

This was an oversight which we take seriously. We will circulate guidance across the Justice Directorate for use in responding to future FOI requests and specifically about redaction of personal information including personal data.

In the circumstances, we would ask you not to circulate this information any further and ask that you confirm that you have deleted/destroyed the information. We have included a redacted copy of the information for publication which excludes this personal data.

We are very grateful to you for drawing this matter to our attention and for giving us the opportunity to address it before you publish our response.

The initial release of documents from the Scottish Government were subsequently destroyed. However, what became clear from the release of information was that exemptions of disclosure which supposedly protect “free and frank discussions” between civil servants are being used to conceal potentially defamatory statements & conjecture between public servants unhappy about attention from the media on public interest issues.

The files, since released in a second cleaned up version by the Scottish Government, also reveal major changes appear to have been planned for the way in which JCR annual reports were to be published, after an email from an unidentified Scottish Government civil servant informed Gillian Thompson there was no need to refer to actual cases in her annual report.

An excerpt from an email, dated 8 September 2015 reads: “We look forward to receiving your Annual Report in due course and agree that there is no need for this to be a lengthy document, nor to include examples of cases.”

An excerpt from a letter, dated 3 October 2016 reveals the decision taken by Ms Thompson against publishing annual reports – despite a Ministerial direction obtained by Ms Thompson’s predecessor to ensure the public found out about the work of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

An extract from a letter from Gillian Thompson to Neil Rennick, Director of the Scottish Government’s Justice Department reads: From the beginning of my tenure I have prioritised the reviews requested by those who believe that their complaint has not been handled by the Judicial Office for Scotland in line with the relevant Rules. It took me well into 2015 to clear the backlog I inherited and the reviews that came to me in the first 6 months.

My view is that the role of the JCR is to provide the service available within the narrowly drawn legislation as efficiently and effectively as possible given the constraints, including the time constraints.

I have always viewed the preparation of a report on activity and effort as second order. My contract refers to a responsibility to “as directed by Scottish Ministers to prepare and publish reports on investigations”. The wording implies that a direction will be given and does not specify what should be reported or when.

I confess that whilst I have accepted that what is meant is to follow Moi Ali’s example I have not attached the same level of importance to providing a report as she did. [REDACTED]

I have not produced a report for 2015 or 2016. The interest also suggests that producing one report followed closely by another will mean that I will have to divert available time to handling the fallout after each rather than undertaking reviews

Early in October I said that I would put aside casework and concentrate on drafting reports. As of this letter I have 7 reviews outstanding and there may be more once I go to VQ tomorrow. I think that for me to feel that I am providing the level of service that complainants are entitled to expect I have to revert to case handling.

I have decided, therefore, that I will conflate the reports and produce an end of term/tenure report in August 2017.

This decision was not announced in public, or on the Judicial Complaints Reviewer’s website.

A further scrutiny of the FOI released documentation also reveals attempts at ‘information management’ in response to enquiries on the role of the JCR, where civil servants suggest Gillian Thompson take the same line as Scottish Government in response to an MSP’s enquiry.

A redacted email from a civil servant in the Scottish Government’s Justice Department to Gillian Thompson reads: “The line that we intend to take in the response to the MSP enquiry is that certain arrangements were set up for the previous JCR. However, these have been comprehensively reviewed and we are in the process of changing over to more secure arrangements – having been maintained on a transitional basis as you inherited the office to maintain continuity. Could we take this line with [redacted] and you could respond from your SCOTS account to avoid any further Gmail related criticism? You might say that you can’t currently gain access to the correspondence on the old Gmail account as it’s in the process of being changed over.”

An issue which does stand out from much of the discussions between Gillian Thompson and the Scottish Government, is the lack of any communication with two Lord Presidents, Lord Gill, and his successor Lord Carloway on the subject of the missing JCR annual reports.

Not one document or communication from an anxious Lord President or Judicial Office exists in the FOI release, provoking questions why the judiciary were keen not to enquire as to why no annual reports were being produced by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer for the past three years.

As things currently stand, the only annual reports from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer which currently exist are those written by Moi Ali, Scotland’s first JCR.

Diary of Injustice has previously published the JCR annual reports authored by Moi Ali, 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 reported on the release of documentation and the Scottish Government’s request files be destroyed, here:

Cover-up row after government asks writer to destroy watchdog letter released under FOI

Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor 9 July 2017

THE Scottish Government is at the centre of a cover up row after asking a journalist to destroy a document released under freedom of information laws.

Civil servants provided a letter showing that Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) Gillian Thompson had wrongly claimed her predecessor may have been behind a media story about her.

Days later, the Government stated: “We would ask you not to circulate this information any further and ask that you confirm that you have deleted/destroyed the information.”

In 2016, the Sunday Herald revealed that Thompson, whose role includes examining whether complaints against judges were handled properly, had not published an annual report since taking up the job.

This was in contrast to the previous post-holder Moi Ali, who had fought for the right to publish a yearly account of her annual activity in the job.

Peter Cherbi, who publishes a blog on legal issues, asked the Scottish Government for all communications and discussions with the JCR going back several years.

In a letter to Scottish Government Justice Director Neil Rennick, dated October 2016, Thompson wrote: “I have always viewed the preparation of a report on activity and effort as second order.”

She added: “I confess that whilst I have accepted that what is meant is to follow Moi Ali’s example I have not attached the same level of importance to providing a report as she did.”

Thompson then inaccurately stated that Ali may have had a role in the story about her not publishing an annual report: “Indeed if our difference of view needed highlighting, on one reading of the recent [Sunday] Herald article, she seems to have been a source in outing the fact that I have not produced a report for 2015 or 2016.”

After receiving the letter, Cherbi got an email from the Government which tried to backtrack on this part of the freedom of information release.

Addressing Thompson’s comment, the Government stated: “These remarks were made by a third party and do not reflect or represent the views of the Scottish Government. On reflection, those remarks should also have been considered to be personal data. This was an oversight which we take seriously.”

Cherbi told this newspaper: “As a journalist I am concerned about being asked by the Scottish Government to destroy material which clearly the public have a right to know given the matter at hand – transparency and accountability of the judiciary and courts.

“Moi Ali as JCR was and remains a staunch supporter of judicial transparency. She was very attentive as JCR, produced annual reports, gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament, stood up to an overbearing judiciary and went so far as to ask for more powers for the JCR role.”

Ali said: “I was categorically not the source of this media coverage about the JCR, and only provided a reactive, on-the-record response to the Sunday Herald. I am equally disappointed that Scottish Government shared Ms Thompson’s baseless conjecture, without my knowledge, with a freelance journalist. This is not acceptable, although I accept their subsequent sincere apology for their error.

“When I wrote to Ms Thompson asking how she proposed to remedy the situation, I received a reply noting my concerns. I have now written again asking for a retraction and apology, as it is damaging to one’s reputation.”

Thompson said: “I made an observation to my lead contact in Scottish Government. I did not make it public.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Some personal data was included in error within a larger release of information requested under FOI legislation. We acted quickly to correct this as soon as it was brought to our attention. We are sorry for this breach of our standards and have apologised to those affected.”

The Sunday Mail newspaper also reported on the lack of annual reports from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, here:

 THREE YEARS OF NOTHING

Scotland’s judicial watchdog has failed to produce a single annual report in her three years in the job.

By Mark Aitken, Political Editor Sunday Mail 2 July 2017

In 2014, Gillian Thompson was appointed Judicial Complaints Reviewer to investigate complaints by the public against judges.

Her contract ends next month – but she has so far failed to produce any annual reports.

Former civil servant Thompson replaced Moi Ali, who in her final report detailed complaints of alleged racial biogtry, bullying, lying, conflicts of interest and making secret recordings of meetings.

Legal campaigner Peter Cherbi said: “I’m a little concerned at Ms Thompson’s policy of not producing a report each year given the public expectation of being kept updated on judicial transparency and complaints about judges.

“Yet at the same time, this goes to the very heart of the lack of powers handed to the Judicial Complaints Reviewer and a significant lack of resources for one person to deal with queries and complaints against a 700-plus strong judiciary.

“It would have always been open for Ms Thompson to inform the public about the lack of resources and support for the JCR’s office.

“Moi Ali did a fine job on speaking out in office and speaking to the Scottish Parliament. If more had been said in these past three years, perhaps the JCR role could have been given greater priority with some much needed scrutiny.”

Ali was appointed as Scotland’s first JCR in 2011 but resigned in 2014 saying she got no co-operation from law chiefs.

And documents revealed under freedom of information laws show that in April, Thompson also wrote to Holyrood justice director Neil Rennick about the lack of support she received.

She said: “In looking back over my experience as JCR, I believe that the lack of any such support did have a detrimental effect on my first 18 months in office from which I seem to have never recovered.”

Another email reveals that she submitted a draft of her 2014-15 report only last November. The report has yet to be published.

In an email to Holyrood staff, Thompson wrote: “Clearly it is very late but I hope it is a reasonable read.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The priority of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer has been to ensure complaints from members of the public have been properly dealt with, which she has done.”

Previous articles on the Judicial Complaints Reviewer and complaints against Scotland’s judiciary can be found here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Reviewing complaints against Scotland’s judiciary

 

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