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Category Archives: Court of Session

CRIME ON,CROWN: Historical Abuse probe dropped as Crown Office forced to pay £10K to law firm Clyde & Co – after judge suspends Police search warrant to obtain evidence relating to accusations against ‘influential’ clients

Crown Office paid £10K to law firm subject of Police raid. SCOTLAND’S Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has been forced to pay £10K public cash in legal and ‘other fees’ to a law firm representing a ‘important client’ in relation to a botched search blocked by a judge.

The payment of £10,021.38 to Edinburgh law firm Clyde & Co (formerly Simpson & Marwick) was revealed by prosecutors in response to a Freedom of Information request amid ongoing media enquiries which have now established any possible criminal prosecution in connection with the allegations of abuse is “dead in the water”.

The events surrounding the search warrant occurred last summer, in which Police Officers obtained a search warrant to raid the premises of Edinburgh law firm Clyde & Co, in relation to material officers believed the firm held relating to evidence of historical sexual abuse of minors.

A search warrant issued by a Sheriff upon an application from the Crown Office to raid the law firm, resulting in two police officers attending the offices of Clyde & Co at 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh, at 10am on 22 July 2016 with a search warrant to obtain the evidence.

However, a stand off ensued while Clyde & Co applied to the court for a judge to revoke the search warrant.

The search warrant was subsequently revoked blocked by senior judge Lord Brodie after counsel for Clyde & Co claimed legal professional privilege was attached to the alleged evidence of abuse.

While the Crown Office have now admitted they were required to pay legal & other fees to Clyde & Co, prosecutors refused to divulge any further information on the case, citing the information was held as part of a criminal investigation – which has now been dropped.

Christine Lazzarin for the Crown Office stated in the FOI response: “Firstly I should clarify that a Bill of Suspension hearing emanates from criminal proceedings and any correspondence held between COPFS, the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS), Police Scotland and Clyde & Co in relation to this hearing is exempt.”

“By way of explanation, this correspondence is held by a Scottish Public Authority, namely the Procurator Fiscal, for the purposes of an investigation which the Procurator Fiscal had a duty to conduct to ascertain whether a person should be prosecuted for an offence and it is therefore exempt from release in terms of Section 34(1)(a)(i) of FOISA.”

“This is not an absolute exemption and I have therefore considered whether the public interest favours disclosure of the information, notwithstanding the exemption.”

“Whilst I appreciate that there is a great deal of information in relation to the hearing publically accessible on the SCTS web-site, I consider that there is a strong public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of correspondence in connection with allegations of criminality and consequently the Bill of Suspension hearing.”

“The confidentiality of such information ensures that the agencies involved in the criminal justice process can report to the Procurator Fiscal in a manner which is free and frank and for this reason I consider that the public interest favours upholding the exemption.”

“You have also asked for information about fees, costs, legal expenses or other funds paid by COPFS to SCTS and Clyde & Co. I can advise that COPFS paid a total of £10,021.38 in fees, and other legal costs to Clyde & Co after the hearing.”

Further enquiries into the case by the media have now established the investigation into the case of alleged abuse has now been dropped – with legal insiders at the Crown Office blaming the Crown Office handling of the search warrant, and the effect of Lord Brodie’s order cancelling the search warrant.

Legal sources have also speculated Police Scotland may have been forced to pay the same law firm – Clyde & Co – for their actions in seeking to serve the warrant and obtain the alleged evidence of abuse.

During the Financial year 2016 to 2017, a mysteriously large sum of public cash – £213,933.24 was paid to Clyde & Co by Police Scotland according to figures obtained in a recent media investigation into Police payments to law firms, reported in more detail here: Concerns on Public Bodies Legal Fees spending as figures reveal Scottish Police Authority fork out over £1m in legal fees, Police Scotland spend at least £1.3 million on external lawyers

However, faced with further searching enquiries, Police Scotland have point blank refused to disclose any further information about their payments to Clyde & Co and other law firms.

While the Crown Office have now dropped a prosecution in relation to the alleged abuse, the media are eager to speak to anyone involved in the investigation, or the victims themselves, who can if they wish come forward to DOI, by way of contacting the blog at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

This latest floundered investigation into what is alleged to be an influential figure in relation to historical abuse crimes – is another blow for the failing leadership of the Crown Office – under current Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC & Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo (sister of Glasgow solicitor & former Law Society of Scotland President – Austin Lafferty)

Last month, it was revealed the Crown Office has given jobs – without interview – to relatives of high ranking Crown Office staff, who then went on to be charged with drug dealing offences – information which came to light in an ongoing investigation into Prosecutors interests and a secret Crown Office register of interests, reported in more detail here: DECLARE THE CROWN: Secrecy block on Crown Office Register of Interests – after fears info will reveal crooked staff, dodgy business dealings, prosecutors links to judiciary, criminals, drugs dealers and dodgy law firms

The Sunday Mail newspaper reported the payments from the Crown Office to Clyde & Co here:

Court chiefs fork out £10k to law firm after botched raid in abuse probe

‘Standards were not met’ when cops turned up with a warrant at Clyde and Co’s Edinburgh office and tried to seize ‘privileged and confidential’ material.

By Craig McDonald Sunday Mail 8 OCT 2017

Prosecutors have paid £10,000 to a law firm after a botched raid on their offices.

Police wanted to seize files from Clyde and Co lawyers that they believed related to an abuse investigation.

But the firm objected, stating the material was “privileged and confidential”.

Despite this, two officers turned up at the firm’s Edinburgh branch with a search warrant in July last year. The warrant was eventually blocked after a court hearing.

Judge Lord Brodie later ruled “standards were not met” regarding prosecutors’ handling of the case.

The Crown Office have now paid £10,021 in legal fees and costs to Clyde and Co.

Detective Constable Nicola Gow called Clyde and Co by phone on July 7 last year to tell the firm they had information in their files that might be relevant to a criminal inquiry.

Graeme Watson, a partner, told her he would check what information he could provide but that “client files were privileged and confidential”.

Gow said she would discuss it with her superior officer but told the firm “a search warrant might be sought”.

Watson wrote to the sheriff clerk in Edinburgh stating the files were covered by the “Data Protection Act, confidentiality and agent-client privilege”.

Two police officers turned up at the firm’s building in the city’s Albany Street with a warrant at 10am on July 22.

Clyde and Co went to court to have it blocked. In his judgment, Lord Brodie found the procurator fiscal’s actions in applying for the warrant “to have been oppressive”.

He said the wording was “misleading, if not simply inaccurate” and “requisite standards were not met”.

The Crown Office said last week: “We note the terms of Lord Brodie’s decision. The Lord Advocate has taken steps to ensure there will be no repeat of this situation.”

Police Scotland said: “As this is a matter for the Crown Office, it would be inappropriate for us to comment.”

Clyde and Co declined to comment.

POLICE STAND OFF AS JUDGE BLOCKS SEARCH WARRANT:

A full report on the opinion by Lord Brodie and his revocation of the Police Scotland search warrant was published by Scottish Law Reporter here: Police raid on Edinburgh law firm halted by judge – Lord Brodie hits out at Crown search warrant tactics against Clyde & Co over historic sex crimes investigation

An excerpt from the Bill of Suspension, signed by Lord Brodie in relation to the search warrant follows:

NOTE BY LORD BRODIE in BILL OF SUSPENSION by CLYDE AND CO (SCOTLAND) LLP Complainers;

against THE PROCURATOR FISCAL, EDINBURGH Respondent:

Complainers:  Smith QC; Clyde & Co

Respondent:  No appearance (Crown Office did not appear at hearing)

22 July 2016

[1]        The complainers in this bill of suspension are a limited liability partnership, being solicitors with a place of business at Albany House, 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh. The respondent is the Procurator Fiscal, Edinburgh. The complainers seek suspension of a search warrant granted by the sheriff at Edinburgh on the application of the respondent, dated 21 July 2016 and timed at 1537 hours (“the search warrant”). The application which came before me, on 22 July 2016 not long before 1700 hours in chambers, was for interim suspension of the warrant. As at that time the bill had not been warranted for service. Having heard Mr  Smith on behalf of the complainers, I adjourned in order to allow my clerk to advise Crown Office that the application had been presented and to invite the attendance of an advocate depute to represent the respondent. That invitation was made by telephone at a little after 1700 hours. It was not taken up. Having heard Mr Smith further, I suspended the search warrant ad interim, granted warrant for service of the bill and continued the matter to a date to be fixed.

[2]        The circumstances in which that application was made, as I understood them from what appeared in the bill, in two telephone attendance notes and the explanation provided by Mr Andrew Smith QC, who was accompanied and instructed by Mr Graeme Watson, Solicitor Advocate, a partner in the complainers, are as follows.

[3]        A client of the complainers is S.  The complainers have acted for S in relation to claims for damages against it by individuals on the basis of its vicarious liability for alleged acts which occurred at a particular location, L.  These claims have been discontinued on account of an acceptance that any claims were time-barred. It is averred by the complainers that in course of taking instructions from representatives of S these representatives “disclosed certain matters and were provided with advice… which advice and information being disclosed was privileged.” As I understood matters, the complainers retain in their possession documents and files, both paper and digital, generated in the course of acting for S which include information and advice in respect of which S, whose specific instructions have been taken on the point, asserts legal privilege.

[4]        On 7 July 2016 Detective Constable Nicola Gow contacted the complainers by telephone. She spoke to Mr Watson. There were at least three telephone calls between DC Gow and Mr Watson on that day. I was shown copies of Mr Watson’s telephone attendance notes. DC Gow indicated that she was aware that the complainers held certain information in their client files for S that might be relevant to a criminal inquiry which was currently being undertaken.  She already had copies of some documents but wished to obtain originals of these (including what she described as “originals” of unsigned statements held digitally), the litigation files and such other documents which were in the possession of the complainers. Mr Watson advised that the complainers would check what information they had access to with a view to establishing its whereabouts and what might be capable of being produced. Mr Watson indicated that the client files were privileged and confidential. Mr Watson advised that in the event of him receiving instructions to do so, he was willing to excise from the file certain material in order to assist the police inquiry. DC Gow suggested that they might arrange a time to look at the files together. Mr Watson said that he would need to take instructions on that proposal but that a provisional date for such a joint consideration of the files could be arranged. DC Gow indicated that she would discuss matters with her superior officer but that a search warrant might be sought.

[5]        On 11 July 2016, in anticipation that an application for a warrant might be made, Mr Watson, on behalf of S wrote to the Sheriff Clerk in Edinburgh requesting that the Sheriff Clerk contact the complainers in the event of any application to the sheriff with a view to S being represented at any hearing before the sheriff. Mr Watson explained in that letter that the complainers and S had provided such assistance to Police Scotland as they could within the confines of the Data Protection Act 1998, confidentiality and agent-client privilege. The letter included the sentence: “In our submission it would be oppressive and prejudicial for a warrant to be granted without first hearing from [S].” No reply has been received to that letter.

[6]        Subsequent to the conversations between Mr Watson and DC Gow and prior to 22 July 2016 neither the police, the respondent nor any other representative of the Crown contacted the complainers in relation to recovery of documents held by the complainers.

[7]        At about 1000 hours on 22 July 2016 two police officers attended at the offices of the complainers at 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh, claiming to be in possession of the search warrant which they proposed to execute. Initially they were reluctant to allow Mr Watson to read the search warrant and then they were reluctant to allow him to copy it. Once Mr Watson had succeeded in persuading the police officers to allow him to read and copy the search warrant he was able to ascertain that it had been granted at common law in terms of the crave of a petition at the instance of the respondent in these terms:

“to any Constable of Police Service of Scotland and/or members of staff from the Scottish Police Authority or any other Officer of Law with such assistance as they may deem necessary, to enter and search the offices, out buildings and storage facilities of Clyde & Co, Albany House, 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh and to be at liberty to secure and take possession of any papers relating to L whether in electronic or paper format, and any other evidence which may be material to the investigation into the alleged abuse at L held by said Clyde & Co, whether in a computer system or otherwise.”

Insofar as material to the issues raised in the bill, the averments in the petition were as follows:

“[S] have provided copies of documents referring to a code of conduct for staff … a punishment book, lists … statements, including what purports to be a statement taken from [a named person] and signed by her …

[S] have indicated that the originals of these documents are held by their legal representatives, Clyde & Co, Albany House, 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh. A request has been made to have these documents released to Police Scotland, however, the solicitor has refused to release these documents, citing reasons of client confidentiality.

The solicitor has indicated that they will provide the originals of the documents already provided in copy format only.

“There are reasonable grounds for believing that evidence material to the investigation … is found within the documents being withheld by the solicitor.  The solicitor has indicated to an officer of Police Scotland that there are two boxes of papers and electronic records relating to [L].”

The full note by Lord Brodie – which was published three months after the events of the search warrant took place, can be found here: COPFS Bill of Suspension – Clyde & Co – Lord Brodie

It is also worth noting the Scottish Government have recently announced the scrapping of time bar on historical sexual abuse cases, as the case referred to Lord Brodie does contain references to claims in relation to allegations of abuse becoming time barred.

The Scottish Government announcement on scrapping time bar for claims in relation to historical sexual abuse states the following:

The Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017 is a piece of legislation which changes the rules around the time limits within which you can make a claim for compensation in the civil courts. Usually you have to make your claim within three years of the injury, or (if it is later) three years from your sixteenth birthday.

This change will mean that there will no longer be a time bar on childhood abuse claims in the civil courts. (It applies to abuse of a person under the age of 18.) There will no longer be a requirement to make a claim within the three years or to ask the court to use its discretion to allow the case to go ahead after that period.

The law usually prevents claims being taken to court more than once. The Act makes a limited change to this for childhood abuse claims. If you took a claim to court before the Act became law, but lost because of the time bar, the Act means that you should not be prevented from taking another claim to court.

This change is in relation to the three year limitation period, which is relevant to abuse that took place on or after 26 September 1964.

The commencement of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017 means survivors of child abuse no longer face the ‘time-bar’ that requires personal injury actions for civil damages to be made within three years of the related incident.

Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs Annabelle Ewing, who took the legislation through Parliament, said the move was an important part of wider Scottish Government action to support survivors of childhood abuse.

Ms Ewing said: “Child abuse is the most horrific betrayal of our young people and, even where such crimes were committed decades ago, we will do all we can to help survivors get the justice they deserve. Police Scotland and the Crown continue to work tirelessly to bring perpetrators to justice through our criminal courts. And, while it may not be the right way forward for all, survivors may now be considering the option of accessing justice through the civil courts.

“This legal milestone would not have happened but for the courage of many adult survivors whose persistence and dedication have shone a light on the dark realities of child abuse. Through their brave testimonies they have made clear the great hurt and damage caused by the very individuals and institutions who should have cared for them.

“Alongside our national survivor support fund, the establishment of the independent public Inquiry into in-care childhood abuse, and the current consultation on a potential financial redress scheme, this removal of the civil time-bar underlines the Government’s commitment to ensuring Scotland is beginning to make amends for the grave failings of the past.”

Welcoming the introduction of the Act, Joanne McMeeking, Head of Improving Care Experiences at CELCIS at the University of Strathclyde, said: “The abolishment of the time bar is the result of many years of successful campaigning by survivors. It is a welcome addition to the package of effective reparation as outlined in the Action Plan on Justice for victims of Historic Abuse of Children in Care.”

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland’s Crown Office – in Crown detail

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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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GOOD LORD, GLITCHES: “Gremlins & Glitches” theme of Lord Carloway’s opening of new legal year – Court of Session misses out on promised digital reforms, top judge takes swipe on judicial appointments in Law Society speech

Lord Carloway opens legal year 17-18. SCOTLAND’S top judge has marked the opening of the new legal year with an admission of significant problems with the rollout of digital technology in Scotland’s creaking, Victorian era courts & justice system.

Lord President and Lord Justice General – Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) – who presides over a £42milion a year 700 strong group of Sheriffs & Sheriffs Principal, Justices of the Peace and Court of Session judges who call themselves “Senators” – told his handpicked, closed door legal world audience that “Gremlins and glitches” had yet again slowed down major digital technology reforms.

Luckily for the creaking Court of Session and it’s judges – who are known to despise transparency and openly snear, perhaps even smite media intrusions into their haphazard and often calamitously costly hearings to litigants – Lord Carloway added integrated digital reforms were still some way off from impinging on salivating legal teams fees, which can in some cases have resulted in tens of thousands of pounds for what passes as a day’s ‘work’.

Carloway, spoke to an audience which included Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales  and Lady Thomas, along with Sir Declan Morgan, the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lady Morgan, Mr Justice Frank Clarke the new Chief Justice of Ireland and President of the Irish Supreme Court, Mr Justice John MacMenamin, a member of the Supreme Court in Ireland – and the new President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, Baroness Hale and her husband, Dr Julian Farrand.

Lord Carloway told his audience: “As is often the case, pronouncements, about the advent of digital technology as the panacea for procedural and evidential woes, have proved somewhat optimistic. The new digital Integrated Case Management System has been rolled out in the sheriff courts, but glitches and gremlins have slowed its process. Even assuming that the digital portal, which is designed to absorb all court documents, including productions, into the ICMS, will be operational in the not too distant future, it may still be some time before the ICMS is introduced to the Court of Session.”

However, earlier this year, in late February of this year, The Times reportedLord Carloway –  “Scotland’s most senior judge has claimed that the Scots legal system is stuck in the 19th century and needs to be modernised to provide better justice.

Lord Carloway, the lord president of the Court of Session and lord justice general of the High Court, claimed that many rules and procedures appeared to be “preserved in aspic”.

Dear oh dear. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) received over £105million of public cash in the latest Scottish Government budget. If the courts cannot achieve a visit to PC World on £100million a year to equip the ageing Court of Session justiciary with an integrated computer framework, well, the public are not getting value for money.

Admittedly, over £11million of that figure is directed to the judiciary, in an effort to split the ever burgeoning judicial budget which hit £40.5million in 2016.

Alas, as in many public body accounts in Scotland – Cayman Islands style creative accounting  became the in-thing – where some Scottish Government Minister decided it would be good figure fiddling to split the judicial budget into two. That way, the financial accounts look like the judiciary took a £12million a year hit, yet in reality they now receive a near £12million bung via the main Courts budget.

And, yet, in yesterday’s Opening of the Legal Year 2017-2018 address to the usual closed shop audience, ever closed for fear of public criticism – amongst a speech of gremlins, glitches & the goonies, Lord Carloway reverts back to the myths of a ‘respectable’ and functioning justice system, which rests firmly in the day dreams of Scotland’s judicary, and annual profits of mostly Edinburgh based law firms and cash collectors – otherwise known as the Faculty of Advocates.

Lord Carloway’s Opening of the Legal Year 2017-2018 speech in full:

Welcome everyone to the opening of the legal year. First let me thank you all for coming. Can I first introduce our guests from our neighbouring jurisdictions:

Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and President of the Courts of that jurisdiction and Lady Thomas;

Sir Declan Morgan, the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lady Morgan

Mr Justice Frank Clarke the new Chief Justice of Ireland and President of the Irish Supreme Court

Mr Justice John MacMenamin, a member of the Supreme Court in Ireland

and a welcome return to Edinburgh to the new President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, Lady Hale and Dr Julian Farrand

I am also pleased to welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, Annabelle Ewing, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs and Paul Johnston, the Director General for Education, Communities and Justice.

It is also a pleasure to have with us Liam McCollum, Chair of the Bar of Northern Ireland, Paul McGarry, the Chair of the Bar of Ireland, Seamus Woulfe, the Attorney General of Ireland and David Barniville, also from the Bar of Ireland.

Without indulging in a lengthy essay on the current state of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals, I would like to say a few words about where we are now and where we are going next.

We have now seen the structural changes of the Courts Reform Act bedding in; with the advent of the Sheriff Appeal Court, the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injuries Court and the raising of the exclusive jurisdiction of the sheriff court to £100,000. We have introduced important changes to the structure of Scotland’s tribunals, with the establishment of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and the creation of distinct chambers for housing and property and for taxation.

As anticipated by the reforms, there has been a significant reduction in both appellate and first instance civil work in the Court of Session and in summary criminal appeals to the High Court. There has also been a predicted drop in the number of commercial cases. As a consequence of all of this, this court the Court of Session ought to become leaner, trimmer and fitter in the coming years.

There ought to be a significant reduction in waiting times for civil first instance and appellate hearings. This has already happened with appeals, which are generally being disposed of (including judgment) on average within 8 months of marking. Proofs of 4 days duration are fixed within 6 months of the request to do so. However, I fully recognise that further work requires to be carried out to accommodate longer proofs, within much shorter time-scales. I include in that equation the issue of the final opinion. This will be achieved partly as a consequence of the abolition of court terms in the coming year. This has already seen some of these proofs being allocated over what was formerly known as the Summer Vacation or Recess.

The policy of having at least 4 non-commercial judges in the Outer House over a period of at least three months will continue, or rather increase to five, so as to avoid any criticism that ordinary first instance business is being regarded as less of a priority than other work. Major inroads have been made in relation to providing all judges with sufficient writing time in civil cases. Statistically, there has been a substantial improvement in the time taken to issue judgments, even if there continue to be problems in specific cases.

The High Court is already processing solemn appeals as efficiently as is reasonably practicable with disposals occurring within 6 months of the grant of leave. It is anticipated that far fewer criminal appeal courts will be needed in the coming months. This will mean that we will be able to continue to run two civil Divisions each week if necessary. The post reform developments will result in much less reliance on retired or temporary judges and, in the sheriff courts, dependence upon fee paid and retired sheriffs. I remain very conscious of the fact that almost all High Court cases require an extension of time. However, I do not consider that this is caused by an inefficiency in the system. Rather, the introduction of enhanced disclosure, the need to search electronic databases and social media and advances in forensic science have made it all but impossible to comply with timescales set in a different era whilst at the same time accommodating the diaries of parties’ legal representatives. As a result of concerted efforts over the past year, all sheriff courts are now able to fix summary trial diets within the optimal 16 week timescale. In relation to domestic abuse cases that timescale is under 10 weeks. Reform in sheriff and jury practice ought to place the sheriff courts onto a similar efficient footing to the High Court.

As I said at this time last year, the focus must now change from structure to function. As is often the case, pronouncements, about the advent of digital technology as the panacea for procedural and evidential woes, have proved somewhat optimistic. The new digital Integrated Case Management System has been rolled out in the sheriff courts, but glitches and gremlins have slowed its process. Even assuming that the digital portal, which is designed to absorb all court documents, including productions, into the ICMS, will be operational in the not too distant future, it may still be some time before the ICMS is introduced to the Court of Session.

The enormously ambitious rules rewrite project, under the auspices of the Scottish Civil Justice Council, continues apace. Having produced its first report, the project now enters a second stage designed to develop a core narrative of draft civil rules applicable in both the Court of Session and the sheriff court. It has, to some, rather dull aspects, but the development of case management powers in relation to the conduct of proofs and other hearings will see an exciting change in the way things are done and the time which it takes to do them; provided, that is, that we continue to have a judiciary committed to improvement.

The next significant reform in solemn criminal procedure will be the expanded use of recorded evidence with vulnerable and child witnesses. This is already done, although not always consistently across the board. It is in summary criminal procedure that greater change is anticipated with fundamental proposals being made following upon the “New Model” paper produced earlier this year. The plan is to have all pre-trial procedures conducted by a digital case management process. More important will be the creation of a means to store, manage and share evidence digitally and securely. The idea that truth can be ascertained by using a combination of memory test, pressure and general inconvenience to witnesses will be replaced by a system which gives far greater precedence to images and statements recorded electronically at or about the time of the relevant incident and to the need to accommodate witnesses generally.

I would now wish to thank all of my judicial colleagues, especially the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, for their continued help and support. I am grateful to the administrative judges Lords Malcolm (formerly Lord Menzies), Turnbull, Boyd and Matthews, for all their assistance throughout the year. I also thank the SCTS chief executive, Eric McQueen, the new head of the Judicial Office, Tim Barraclough, our new Principal Clerk, Gillian Prentice, and all the court clerks and other staff working here in Parliament House, in the High Court Centres and throughout the country. Their commitment and hard work remain important an driving force in ensuring not only the continued existence of the justice system but also its progress. I have also very much appreciated the court’s continuing engagement with the Law Officers, all of whom are here today, in helping to develop policies and plans, both past and future, which make the system, as it is at present, fit for the 21st century.

Not least, I wish to thank the legal profession, especially those institutions represented here today, including the Faculty, the WS, SSC and Law Society, and also all those many counsel and solicitors who have participated so willingly, and for no reward, in the committees and working groups now beavering away in the background, for their dedication to the Scottish Legal System, for the effort which all have put in over the last year and in anticipation of the invaluable work which they will be carrying out in the coming year.

Lord Carloway, Lord President 25 September 2017

THE LORD PRESIDENT’S OTHER SPEECH:

The duties of a Lord President and his judges are far and wide.

International travel junkets akin to playing diplomat, or perhaps as unmasked by media attention – just charging up the taxpayer for ‘law conferences’ around the world in 5-Star hotels with golf courses, river tours and first class travel.

Or just a trip across Edinburgh to a law conference, the Lord President does not miss an opportunity to get his oar in give a speech, even if only to a shady bunch at the Law Society of Scotland annual conference – whose members are well practiced in dodging those murky Police Scotland & Crown Office hit-a-brick-wall probes into mortgage dealing, money laundering & bulk buying of properties on the cheap.

While the focus of Lord Carloway’s speech to the Law Society of Scotland audience, already fattened on over £1.3billion pounds of legal aid since the 2008 financial crash, and countless Scottish Government contracts of up to £20million a year and tens of millions more fleeced from public authorities & public bodies, the top judge took another swipe at those who may ‘interfere’ with a measure of transparency in the junta-like regime of Scotland’s courts & judiciary.

Lord Carloway breezed to his Law Society audience: “Under the ancien regime, before the advent of the Judicial Appointments Board, judges and sheriffs were recommended to the Queen for appointment by the Secretary of State, following consultation with the Lord Advocate and, in practice, the Lord President . It was perceived, by some, perhaps many, that judges were the product of cronyism or political patronage. It is true to say that every Lord Advocate in the century or so prior to 1970 was appointed to a superior court bench. Many nominated themselves as Lord President , Lord Justice Clerk  or became judges in the House of Lords .”

“That tradition was broken not so much with the appointment of Lord Wilson of Langside, who became Director of the old Scottish Courts Administration (now the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service) and then Sheriff Principal of Glasgow, but when Norman Wylie appointed George Emslie to be Lord President in 1972. Nevertheless, Lord Advocates  continued to be appointed as Lords Ordinary and, one way or another, often progressed rapidly to similar positions of high judicial office .”

“The appointment of judges generally was political in the sense of the selection being by government; a system which is common, albeit with different focus, in many western democracies. It is seen as an element in the balance of power. Its merits and demerits have recently been analysed by the new President of the UK Supreme Court, who has mooted re-involvement of politicians from both government and opposition in the appointment of the most important chairs in the English legal system.”

“No-one would pretend that every judicial appointment from that era was of a person with complete legal and personal skills equipping him (as all judges then were) for high judicial office or a sheriffdom. There were problems. What is clear, however, is that the person who was, in practice, recommending the appointment would be fully appraised of the candidate’s qualities and failings. The Lord Advocate would be well aware of his prospective appointee’s experience, ability and knowledge. Consultation with the Lord President ensured that there was substantial input on suitability from the person who would be responsible for the new judge’s future performance and behaviour.”

Judicial Appointments

“There has been much recent public discussion, both in Scotland and in neighbouring jurisdictions, about the challenges which exist in the recruitment of new members of the judiciary. It is imperative, if Scotland is to maintain a high quality judiciary, especially at Court of Session level, that those at the top of the profession in the litigation field are highly motivated to apply for judicial office. It is equally important that the selection process itself does not deter or subsequently reject those candidates best qualified to fulfil the role. The aim must be to secure the services of those whom the profession regard as the leaders in their field and who are seen as the most able of their generation.”

“The independence of the judiciary is a vital element in our system. It is maintained primarily by selecting persons who have acted as independent advocates or solicitors throughout their professional lives, who have prosecuted and defended, and who have acted on the one hand for government, insurance companies and global conglomerates and on the other for the private individual, legal aided or otherwise, who has allegedly been oppressed or who has a legal right requiring vindication.”

“What must not be lost sight of is the simple fact, which cannot be underestimated, that for the Scottish justice system to operate properly, it needs judges and sheriffs who are not just competent lawyers with reasonable or even good people skills. It needs, at the high end, the best lawyers of the generation to lead the way; to take over the chairs of the permanent Divisions and to provide their wings. In the sheriff courts, although the same quality of legal skill and experience may not be a necessity, the appointments must be of people whom the profession recognise as prominent within their ranks.”

“I very much welcome the willingness of the new Chair of the Judicial Appointments Board to engage in a discussion about how the selection process might be improved to ensure that we do persuade the leading lights of the profession to apply for judicial office, and that the very best are successful in their applications.”

The full speech is available here:  LP Law Society of Scotland Annual Conference Keynote Address 19September2017

Put it this way. If suddenly, the Government banned elections, any form of public vote was suspended, and instead politicians were selected in the way the Lord President extols as fit for judges who head a £2.5 billion pound per annum publicly funded justice system, it would be branded undemocratic, a system of jobs for the boys, and well, in all honesty – totalitarian.

The “Greater Good” – The phrase used by the Lord President in the opening paragraph of his speech to the Law Society conference – is served by Transparency, in increasing amounts, and taken several times daily by a judiciary, courts and justice system in dire need of reform.

 

 

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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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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Calls for all UK judges including UK Supreme Court, and Tribunals to declare links to business, wealth, professional & other interests in published registers of interests

All UK Judges & tribunals should declare interests. AS THE Scottish Parliament continues an investigation into proposals calling for members of the Judiciary of Scotland to declare their interests, a call has been made to roll out a publicly available judicial register for all judges & tribunals all across the UK.

Calls to bring all UK judges, including top judges based at the UK Supreme Court, and all tribunal members into line with judicial transparency proposals currently being considered in Scotland – would require those who sit in judgement to declare all interests, professional & personal links, wealth, property and other interests, in a register of interests, similar to disclosures made by politicians and others in public life.

The move comes after a recent development where Scotland’s top judge conceded to calls for full transparency on judicial recusals, reported last week 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

Attempts by Scotland’s judiciary to become more transparent and open up the workings of Scotland’s courts and judiciary to the public, have come in response to MSPs consideration of judicial transparency proposals contained in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The petition, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests.

The creation of such a register would ensure full transparency for the most powerful people in the justice system – the judiciary.

The resulting publicly available register of judicial interests would contain information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

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

A full listing of evidence in support of the petition calling for a register of judicial interests can be found here: JUDICIAL REGISTER: Evidence lodged by Judicial Investigators, campaigners, judges & journalists in four year Holyrood probe on judges’ interests – points to increased public awareness of judiciary, expectation of transparency in court

And, two of Scotland’s recent top judges, former Lord President Lord Brian Gill, and current Lord President Lord Carloway, have testified before the Scottish Parliament on the petition, both failing to prove any case against creating a register of judicial interests.

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

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

The National reports on recent developments here:

Fresh call for all UK judges to register interests

Campaigner says UKSupreme Court should follow Scotland example on Judicial Recusals

Martin Hannan Journalist 2 August 2017 The National

THE UK Supreme Court and the courts in England and Wales and all tribunals across Britain do not have a system that shows where judges and tribunal members have been forced to step aside from cases due to actual or possible conflicts of interest.

As The National revealed on Monday, Scotland is shortly going to have an expanded register of judicial recusals that records when judges and sheriffs withdraw from cases, but no such register exists for the judiciary south of the Border or for any public tribunal.

Now the legal campaigner who has fought for Scottish judges to declare their interests for more than five years is calling on UK Supreme Court justices, the English and Welsh judiciary and the various tribunals to do the same and keep a register of recusals.

Peter Cherbi’s current petition before the Scottish Parliament is asking that the judiciary in this country declare their financial interests, as US Supreme Court Justices must do.

Cherbi accepts, however, that the Judicial Office in Scotland has already acted to bring in a more details register of recusals. Now he wants the UK Supreme Court to do the same.

Cherbi said: “We have now moved forward in Scotland in terms of judicial transparency with the publication of judicial recusals. If Scotland can do it, so can England and Wales, and the courts in Northern Ireland. The English justice system touts itself worldwide as the law of choice for litigants. If this is truly the case, then it is for the UK judiciary to be as transparent as Scotland and publish their own recusal register, and a register of interests as we are working on here.

“With the recent announcement of Lady Hale being appointed as President of the UK Supreme Court, I will be writing to her, requesting she consider creating a register of recusals for UKSC, as so far, the UK Supreme Court has also been silent on matters of recusals, which the public, court users, and legal representatives have a right to know.

“I shall also be contacting the European Court of Justice and the European Union to ask that courts throughout the EU be encouraged to publish recusal data and more detail on their judges. All EU citizens should have the same entitlements to judicial transparency we are now creating in Scotland.”

Cherbi thinks the Supreme Court and English and Welsh courts can lean learn from the experience here, where a register of recusals has been kept since 2014 and which is to be expanded.

He said: “Our approach in Scotland to improving courtroom and judicial transparency, fuelled by the hard work of cross party MSPs, the Scottish Parliament, fantastic support from Judicial Complaints Reviewers Moi Ali and Gillian Thompson, and backing by the media is a good reminder that team work and cross party support can bring significant change for the good.”

He also wants entities such as employment tribunals to be more open: “My ongoing investigations into tribunals suggests declarations of interests are more often than not concealed, and recusals are few and far between, if ever occurring, and there is little if anything those before tribunals can do about it.

“The public, who are being judged, are entitled to know who their judges are. It is as simple as that.

“Those who judge cannot be judge in their own cause, nor write and approve their own rules, without expectation of full transparency and accountability. Independence of the judiciary is guaranteed, and no one would ever question it. However, those who judge must live by the same laws and expectations of transparency they enforce upon the rest of us.

A spokesman for the UK Supreme Courts said: “Justices are bound by their judicial oath and a code of conduct to declare any relevant interest in a case to the parties, before they consider the matter. There are no current plans to publish a register of recusals.”

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

 

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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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