Court clerks concealed Lord Bracadale’s recusal for a year. AN INVESTIGATION into the content of a Register of Judicial Recusals– maintained by the Judiciary of Scotland – has revealed court clerks concealed details relating to at least one recusal of a senior judge – and then secretly altered records a year later – and only after journalists made enquiries.
The chance discovery of one such unlisted recusal – by Lord Bracadale (real name Alistair Campbell QC) in an unidentified case during 2016 – came as journalists studied volumes of newly released court papers showing failures in the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) – who manage the Register of Judicial Recusals for publication by the Judiciary of Scotland.
However, when staff of the Judicial Office were confronted about the omission and asked why information relating to Lord Bracadale recusing from a case was not made public – it took nearly three weeks for spokesperson for the Judicial Office to come up with an explanation, claiming a “clerical error” had occurred, and that the information had since been applied to the register.
During March of this year, journalists presented the Judicial Office with a copy of a recusal signed by Lord Drummond Young which indicated Lord Bracadale had recused himself from a case during May 2016. Journalists then queried why the information did not appear on the Register of Recusals at that time.
It was not until the second week of April a spokesperson for the Judicial Office on 7 April 2017 offered an explanation to the media, which stated: “The register of recusals has now been amended to include the relevant entry. It was an oversight by a clerk which meant the necessary information was not passed on to the Judicial Office.”
The Judicial Office refused to answer further questions on the subject or identify if there were any further cases where recuals have not been recorded in the register.
The information eventually entered on the Register of Recusal now reads:
20/05/2016 Court of Session Lord Bracadale On the pursuer’s motion in relation to the judge’s previous decision to refuse the pursuer’s appeal at a procedural hearing
And a further query to the Judicial Office resulted in an email response from it’s then media chief Elizabeth Cutting which stated “As of today, 13 April, I am no longer working at the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.”
A request “for a note to be applied to the recusal register in relation to the addition of the recusal by Lord Bracadale” made by a journalist to the Judicial Office and Lord President’s Private Office – generated no further response or action.
Additionally, there was no further explanation provided by the Judicial Office as to why a year had elapsed before the information was correctly applied to the register, and only after the media had alerted the Judicial Office to the omission of the Bracadale recusal.
Legal observers have condemned the retrospective application of information to the Register of Judicial Recusals as “poor administration” and have questioned whether the information relating to Lord Bracadale’s recusal would ever have been added, had it not been for media enquiries to the Judicial Office.
Claims by a Judicial Office spokesperson of a year long “clerical error” significantly conflict with former Lord President Lord Gill’s evidence to the Public Petitions Committee on how the Register of Judicial Recusals was maintained by Court staff and clerks.
On 10 November 2015, Lord Brian Gill appeared before MSPs at Holyrood, and stated in the official record : “There are two points to make in answer to that. One is that the register of recusals is not voluntary. To the best of my knowledge, the clerks of court are scrupulously accurate in keeping the register and therefore, wherever there is a recusal, you may depend upon its being recorded in the register.”
The Register of Recusals was created by Lord Brian Gill in April 2014 as a response to a probe by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee’s deliberations on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.
The proposal, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.
A full debate on the proposal to require judges to declare their interests was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was overwhelmingly supported by MSPs from all political parties.
The move by Lord Gill to create the Register of Recusals was aimed at dissuading MSPs from continuing an investigation into the secretive world of judicial influence, interests, and failures to declare conflicts of interest in court.
However, the investigation continued, and is now in it’s fifth year.
Gill, who eventually gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in November 2015, – available to watch in full here – Evidence of Lord Gill before the Scottish Parliament 10 November 2015 – came in for criticism after he demanded MSPs come to a decision and close the petition on his say-so during the stormy evidence session..
Throughout the meeting, the retired Lord President angrily remonstrated with Committee members who asked him detailed questions on interests and the conduct of Scottish judges.
At one point, Lord Gill gave a misleading answer to the then MSP John Wilson – who quizzed the Lord President on judicial suspensions.
And, in responses to independent MSP John Wilson, Lord Gill dismissed media reports on scandals within the judiciary and brushed aside evidence from Scotland’s independent Judicial Complaints Reviewers – Moi Ali & Gillian Thompson OBE – both of whom previously gave evidence to MSPs in support of a register of judges’ interests.
Facing further questions from John WIlson MSP on the appearance of Lord Gill’s former Private Secretary Roddy Flinn, the top judge angrily denied Mr Flinn was present as a witness – even though papers prepared by the Petitions Committee and published in advance said so. The top judge grimaced: “The agenda is wrong”.
And, in a key moment during further questions from committee member Mr Wilson on the integrity of the judiciary, Lord Gill angrily claimed he had never suspended any judicial office holders.
The top judge was then forced to admit he had suspended judicial office holders after being reminded of the suspension of Sheriff Peter Watson.
A statement issued by Lord Gill at the time of Watson’s suspension said: “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”
In an angry exchange with MSP Jackson Carlaw, Lord Gill demanded to control the kinds of questions he was being asked. Replying to Lord Gill, Mr Carlaw said he would ask his own questions instead of ones suggested to him by the judge.
Several times during the hearing, the retired top judge demanded MSPs show a sign of trust in the judiciary by closing down the petition.
During the hearing Lord Gill also told MSPs Scotland should not be out of step with the rest of the UK on how judges’ interests are kept secret from the public.
Questioned on the matter of judicial recusals, Gill told MSPs he preferred court clerks should handle information on judicial interests rather than the details appearing in a publicly available register of interests.
Lord Gill also slammed the transparency of judicial appointments in the USA – after it was drawn to his attention judges in the United States are required to register their interests.
In angry exchanges, Lord Gill accused American judges of being elected by corporate and vested interests and said he did not want to see that here.
However, the situation is almost identical in Scotland where Scottish judges who refuse to disclose their interests, are elected by legal vested interests with hidden links to corporations.
After the hearing was over, Gill was branded ‘aggressive’ by the then Committee Convener over his evidence to MSPs.
On Thursday 29 June, the Public Petitions Committee at Holyrood will hear from Scotland’s current Lord President, Lord Carloway – who wrote to MSPs last November stating he was under the impression Holyrood had closed the petition.
Carloway later demanded the Committee provide him with a list of questions he was to be asked if he agreed to appear before the full Committee in public.
Since the exchanges last year, it has taken a further eight months to arrange Carloway’s appearance before MSPs next week.
The hearing at Holyrood with Lord Carloway comes in between a busy schedule for the Lord President – which saw Lord Carloway and many other members of the judiciary fly to various overseas destinations including a £4K public cash funded trip to the USA for the Lord President, and handing out judicial jobs including a £180K a year seat on the Court of Session bench to controversial former Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland.
24.3.2014 Livingston Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Edington Sheriff drew to the parties’ attention a possible difficulty, namely the wife of one of the other resident Sheriffs was the author of a report contained with the process. The Sheriff asked parties if they wished him to recuse himself. The defenders, having considered the issue,made a motion for the Sheriff to recuse himself, which he then did.
8.4.2014 Forfar Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Veal Sheriff personally known to a witness
10.4.2014 Selkirk Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Paterson Sheriff had previously acted for a client in dispute against Pursuer
23.4.2014 High Court (Criminal) Lady Wise Senator had previously acted for a relative of accused
16.4.2014 Glasgow Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Cathcart Sheriff personally known to a witness
13.5.2014 Haddington Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Braid Known to pursuer’s family
14.5.2014 High Court(Criminal Appeal) Judge MacIver Conflict of interest
20.5.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Matthews Senator personally known to a witness
19.6.2014 Dingwall Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff McPartlin Sheriff presided over a trial involving the accused, where the issue to which the new case relates was spoken to by a witness
20.6.2014 Elgin Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Raeburn QC Accused appeared before Sheriff as a witness in recent trial relating to same incident
24.6.2014 Glasgow Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Crozier Sheriff personally known to proprietor of premises libelled in the charge
26.6.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lord President Relative of Senator acts for the respondent
27.8.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Brailsford Senator personally known to husband of the pursuer
28.8.2014 Oban Sheriff Court (Civil & Criminal) Sheriff Small Sheriff personally known to a party
22.10.2014 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Cowan Sheriff drew to parties’ attention that she was a member of the RSPB before commencement of a trial as the case involved an investigation carried out by the RSPB and many witnesses were RSPB officers. She invited parties to consider whether she should take the trial. The defenders, having considered the issue, made a motion for the Sheriff to recuse herself, which she then did.
8.12.2014 Alloa Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Mackie Contemporaneous and overlapping proceedings comprising an appeal and a referral from the children’s hearing relating to children from the same family
16.12.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lady Clark of Calton Senator personally known to parties of the action.
22.01.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Extradition) Sheriff MacIver Sheriff involved in case at earlier stage of procedure 30.01.2015 Dumfries Sheriff Court(Civil)Sheriff Jamieson Sheriff had previously dealt with the issue under dispute
06.02.2015 Greenock Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Fleming Previous professional relationship between Sheriff’s former firm of solicitors and the defender
09.02.2015 Glasgow High Court (Criminal) Lady Scott Due to a previous ruling made by the Senator in relation to a separate indictment against the accused
10.02.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Jones Due to a previous finding by the Senator in relation to an expert witness whose evidence is crucial to the pursuer’s case
13.03.2015 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Cowan Accused known by the Sheriff as a regular observer of court proceedings from the public gallery
17.03.2015 Forfar Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Di Emidio Sheriff personally known to a witness
18.03.2015 Lerwick Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Mann Circumstances may give rise to a suggestion of bias
16.04.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Arthurson QC Personally known to a party of the action
12.05.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Boyd of Duncansby Senator was Lord Advocate when a successful prosecution was brought against one of the respondents
14.05.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff McColl Sheriff personally known to a party of the action
27.05.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court(Civil) Sheriff Crowe Sheriff had previously dealt a case in which the defender was a witness
29.05.2015 Glasgow Sheriff Court (FAI) Sheriff Principal Scott QC Sheriff Principal personally known to one of the deceased
04.06.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Glennie Senator an acquaintance of a party to the action
04.06.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Burns Previously acted as defence counsel in a criminal trial involving the pursuer.
24.07.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Maciver Sheriff personally known to a party in the case
11.08.2015 Banff Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Mann Sheriff personally known to a party of the action, having previously acted on behalf of the family while in private practice.
28.08.2015 Dundee Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Murray Sheriff personally known to a witness.
03.09.2015 Dumbarton Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Turnbull Sheriff previously acted for a client in a dispute against the pursuer
04.09.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Mackie Sheriff involved in a dispute against a party to the action
15.09.2015 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Stirling Sheriff previously considered and refused issues which the accused wished to revisit
01.10.2015 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Taylor Sheriff was privy to certain information which related to the accused’s credibility
08.10.2015 Lanark Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Stewart Accused made complaints against staff and sheriff
12.10.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lady Clark of Calton Senator an acquaintance of a party to the action
20.10.2015 Inverness Sheriff Court (Civil)Sheriff Sutherland Personally known to a party of the action
20.10.2015 Glasgow Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Crozier Personally known to a director of accused company
12.11.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Malcolm Senator acted as senior counsel for the defenders in a related action
18.11.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Boyd of Duncansby Relatives of Senator involved in the action
26.11.2015 Inverness Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Fleetwood Personally known to a party of the action
27.11.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lady Paton Her Ladyship was on the bench in a criminal appeal against conviction by the pursuer
09.12.2015 Wick Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Berry Complainer personally known to resident sheriff
22.12.2015 Lanark Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Stewart Personally known to both parties of the action
26/01/2016 Court of Session Lord Uist Judge dealt with same issue and same witnesses in a case being appealed
27/01/2016 Dumbarton Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Gallacher On the Pursuer’s motion in relation to a decision in a preliminary hearing
09/02/2016 Elgin Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Pasportnikov Sheriff previously presided over related case
10/02/2016 Elgin Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Pasportnikov Sheriff previously presided over criminal matter involving complainter
24/02/2016 Glasgow Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Reid Sheriff personally known to a witness
18/03/2106 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Ross Sheriff previously presided over criminal matter involving appellant
18/03/2016 Aberdeen Sherirff Court (criminal) Sheriff Stirling Sheriff previously presided over civil matter involving accused
25/04/2016 Ayr Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Montgomery Sheriff previously acted for defender as a solicitor
03/05/2016 Lanark Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Stewart Complainer previously represented by Sheriff’s husband
20/05/2016 Court of Session Lord Bracadale On the pursuer’s motion in relation to the judge’s previous decision to refuse the pursuer’s appeal at a procedural hearing
22/06/2016 Perth Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Clapham Pursuer known to sheriff
09/08/2016 Dunoon Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Ward Sheriff personally known to a witness
19/08/2016 Greenock Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Ward Accused known to sheriff from Sheriff’s time in private practice
23/08/2016 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Stirling Sheriff Stirling found against the accused company in a civil matter and wrote on same
13/09/2016 Court of Session Lord Pentland The Lord Ordinary previously acted for the first named defender
25/10/2016 Court of Session Lord Brailsford A close relative is employed by one of the parties involved in the case
10/11/2016 Kilmarnock Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Foran Sheriff personally known to a witness
17/11/2016 Dumfries Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Jamieson Sheriff previously presided over a related civil proof in another case in which parties were witnesses
18/11/2016 Court of Session (civil) Lord Glennie Earlier decision on a related issue might reasonably be thought to influence any decision in the present case
30/11/2016 Perth Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff McFarlane Sheriff acted for pursuers when practising as a solicitor
30/01/2017 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Crowe Sheriff previously presided over criminal matter involving accused, which might reasonably be thought to influence any decision in the present case
13/02/2017 Portree Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Taylor QC Sheriff previously dealt with a criminal case involving parties
23/02/2017 Inverness Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Fleetwood Sheriff presided over a jury trial involving parties
29/03/2017 Perth Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Wade QC The sheriff, in her previous role as advocate depute, was heavily involved in preparing the prosecution of one of the parties in the action
06/04/2017 Kilmarnock Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Foran A witness was a former client of the sheriff in previous role in private practice
04/05/2017 Elgin Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Pasportnikov Previous knowledge of the parties through a Children’s Hearing matter
16/05/2017 Banff Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Mann Sheriff personally known to relatives of the accused
12/06/2017 Glasgow Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Platt Sheriff personally known to a witness
Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the Sunday Herald and Sunday Mail newspapers, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.