RSS

Category Archives: Scottish National Party

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

Review panel to consider self-regulation of lawyers. THE Scottish Government has announced an ‘independent’ review into how lawyers regulate their own colleagues – with a remit to report back by the end of 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list of panel members includes:

*Two former Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking yesterday to journalists, former Cabinet Minister & SNP MSP Alex Neil generally welcomed the review, adding the review remit should also include judges.

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

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

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

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

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

At pains to point out the ‘independent’ nature of the review, the Legal Affairs Minister said: “This independent review will consider what changes may be needed to the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services to protect consumer interests and promote a flourishing legal sector. This includes ensuring that consumers properly understand the options open to them when something goes wrong and that the regulatory framework is proportionate for legal firms. I look forward to receiving its recommendations in due course.”

Chair of the review – Esther Roberton said: “I am delighted to have been asked to undertake this review. Our legal profession and legal services in Scotland are the envy of many around the world. We should be just as ambitious for our system of regulation of legal services. I would hope we can simplify the current complaints process to maximise consumers’ confidence in the system. I look forward to working with the panel members who bring a broad range of experience across a range of sectors.”

However, questions have surfaced over the actual intentions of the review after legal insiders revealed today the proposals only came about after long discussions between the Scottish Government and the Law Society of Scotland – the legal profession’s main lobby group in Scotland who enjoy the greatest benefit of self regulation.

Legal insiders have suggested the review is not widely seen as a serious move by Scottish Ministers to reform self regulation.

Rather, this third attempt at addressing failures of regulation and poor legal services provided by increasingly less qualified legal representatives is a reaction to the failure of Scotland’s legal services sector to put it’s own house in order amid diminishing business, a reduced client base, rising numbers of complaints.

The latest Government sponsored shot in the arm of lawyers – which one solicitor said this morning “may end up calling for more public cash and an increase in the legal aid budget” – comes on the back of a complete failure to attract international litigants who are wary of entering Scotland’s famously unreliable, expensive and poor legal services market.

Access to justice and legal services in Scotland are internationally well known as being hampered by slow proceedings in courts dubbed “Victorian” and “out of date” by both of Scotland’s recent top judges.

VESTED INTERESTS – Legal Profession welcome their own review:

The SLCC welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs of a review of how best to reform and modernise the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling in Scotland.

SLCC Chief Executive Neil Stevenson, one of the review panel members, commented “We are pleased that the Scottish Government has announced this review, in line with the manifesto commitment.  We hope our Reimagine Regulation legislative change priorities paper, which we published last year, will be one helpful contribution to the review.  In that paper we looked at some of the innovative thinking in regulation and standards coming from the health professions, so we are especially delighted to see that expertise represented in the review panel alongside huge knowledge of the legal sector.   We look forward to this range of experience and expertise being shared as part of this process, and a collaborative approach to identifying priorities and opportunities for reform.”

SLCC Chair Bill Brackenridge added, “This will be an excellent opportunity for all the key stakeholders involved to come together in supporting the review as it considers the regulatory landscape in order to support growth in the legal services sector and strengthen consumer protection.  Despite many strengths to the current system, the Board of the SLCC believe there are significant opportunities to make regulation more targeted, more effective and more efficient.”

The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement today, Tuesday, 25 April, of an independent review of legal services, saying that current legislation governing the legal sector is no longer fit for purpose.

Law Society of Scotland president, Eilidh Wiseman said: “There have been huge changes in the legal market over recent years.  Changing consumer demands and new business structures are transforming the way legal services are being provided.

“This is why we have argued so strongly for reforms to the patchwork of legislation which covers the regulation of legal services in Scotland.  The main Act of Parliament governing solicitors is more than 35 years old and simply no longer fit for purpose.  We know the processes for legal complaints are slow, cumbersome, expensive and failing to deliver for solicitors or clients.  There are gaps in consumer protection, contradictions and loop holes in the law.  This is why change is so desperately needed to allow the legal sector to thrive and ensure robust protections are in place for consumers.

“The Scottish Government’s independent review offers the chance to build a consensus on how reforms should be taken forward.  It is vital for the work of the group to move as quickly as possible so new legislation can be introduced before the Scottish Parliament.”

The Law Society has highlighted its concerns about areas of legal services which remain unregulated in Scotland.

Wiseman said: “One area we will highlight to the review group is the growing level of unregulated legal services where consumers are at risk if something goes wrong. Many people are unaware that some types of legal services are not regulated – for example, receiving employment advice from a non-solicitor.  They may have little or no course of redress if something goes wrong. Consumers deserve the same level of protection whether they choose to go to a solicitor, and are therefore covered by Law Society client protections, or to use another legal services provider.”

Two former Law Society presidents, Christine McLintock and Alistair Morris, will serve on the legal services review panel.

Wiseman said: “I am particularly delighted that Christine McLintock and Alistair Morris will be part of the review group. With their considerable board-level expertise alongside their combined insight and knowledge of the legal sector, they will prove invaluable to the review process. They understand the need for reform and, having both served on regulatory sub-committees, bring a deep commitment to the public interest.”

Christine McLintock, as former general counsel for Pinsent Masons, was responsible for the firm’s in-house legal service, professional risk management and compliance. Christine joined the Law Society’s Council in 2005 and has served on the Society’s Board since its inception in 2009. Prior to that, she was a member of the Strategy and Governance Group and was Convener of the Education and Training Committee, before to serving as President in 2015-16. She is currently part of the team working on the regulation of licensed legal services providers and is Convener of the Law Society’s Public Policy Committee.

Alistair Morris was appointed CEO of Pagan Osborne in 2005, having built extensive expertise in private client work at the firm. He was elected to join the Law Society Council in 1992, becoming one of its longest serving members at 24 years. Alistair also served as a board member between 2009 and 2016, and was Convener of the Guarantee Fund Sub-committee (now Client Protection Fund Sub-committee) prior to his election as President in 2014. Alistair currently sits on the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland.

The Dean of Faculty, Gordon Jackson, QC, has responded to an announcement by the Scottish Government of an Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services.

Mr Jackson said: “I welcome that this review is taking place. It is very important that the legal profession retains the confidence of the public. I know that the Faculty of Advocates has earned that confidence, and that this thorough review will demonstrate that an independent referral bar has been, and will continue to be vital in maintaining an effective and fair justice system.

“The Faculty will willingly co-operate fully with the inquiry and I am confident that the considerable experience of the Faculty’s representatives, Laura Dunlop, QC, and Derek Ogg, QC, will be of great value.”

Review should include judiciary:

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

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

The proposal to bring greater transparency to Scotland’s judiciary – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

POLICING SECRETS: Former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali invited to give evidence at Holyrood, after MSPs accuse SPA bosses of running Police watchdog like Kremlin ‘secret society’

Former SPA Board member & crusading JCR Moi Ali. A FORMER Board member of the Scottish Police Authority SPA) – who resigned after raising concerns over a lack of transparency at the Police watchdog – has been invited to give evidence to MSPs investigating secrecy and a lack of accountability at the Police supervisory body.

The decision by the Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee of the Scottish Parliament to invite former SPA Board member Moi Ali to give evidence – came after a meeting on Thursday, where bosses at the Scottish Police Authority faced tough questions from MSPs on secrecy, alleged cover-ups and the “appalling” treatment of critics.

During the stormy evidence session with MSPs, Andrew Flanagan, chairman of the Scottish Police Authority was forced to admit he withheld a letter from colleagues which criticised plans to hold board committee meetings in private, leading to accusations the chairman was treating other board members “like infants”.

In animated exchanges during the meeting held on Thursday last week, Former Cabinet Minister & Committee member Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) told SPA Chairman Andrew Flanagan he was running a “secret society”.

Mr Neil said: “This is not the Kremlin you are running, it is supposed to be an open public body. We have this secret society … inside the board … deciding on transparency of governance and the whole thing is done without public knowledge, without people out there being able to hold this board to account.”

Replying to Alex Neil on the matter of not sharing the letter, Mr Flanagan said “I didn’t think it was necessary to circulate the letter itself.”

However – Mr Neil told Mr Flanagan he had breached “every rule in the book” by refusing to share the document with the rest of the SPA Board.

Alex Neil went on to describe the Scottish Police Authority as “a shambles”.

Scottish Police Authority – Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 20th April 2017

The full transcript of the meeting has now been published, available here: Official Report: Public Audit & Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee 20 April 2017

A revealing sample of the Official Report, where Committee member Alex Neil MSP questions witnesses from the Scottish Police Authority & Scottish Government follows:

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): I want to address the issue of the letter dated 9 December 2016 from Derek Penman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, to Andrew Flanagan,chair of the board, in which Mr Penman makes a number of substantive points about the governance of the SPA. When was the letter dated 9 December circulated to the board?

Andrew Flanagan (Scottish Police Authority): I do not think that it has been circulated to the board.

Alex Neil: It has not been circulated to the board. The letter is from the chief inspector of constabulary about the governance of the SPA, in which he makes substantial points. He specifically says: “I accept that it will properly be a matter for the Board to approve the Corporate Governance Framework and my comments are intended solely to inform members ahead of their decision next week”, which was five days after the letter was sent. Why was the letter not circulated to the board?

Andrew Flanagan: That was because the issues themselves had been well trailed and were well known. Derek Penman’s position on those matters had been expressed to members of the board and so was known. Therefore, I did not think it necessary to circulate the letter itself.

Alex Neil: It is not within your remit to make a decision like that. Under the guidelines and under statute, every board member is entitled to know what the chief inspector of constabulary says. Those were substantive points that, in many respects, were very critical of the governance review. Surely to goodness the letter should have gone to every board member before the meeting in December.

Andrew Flanagan: As I have said, the board members were already aware of the comments that Derek Penman expressed. That had been discussed at our meeting on 5 December and a number of the matters had been covered at that point.

Alex Neil: I find that very unacceptable indeed. It breaches every rule in the book about the role of a chair, particularly of a public organisation, and about the issuance of letters to board members. Every board member should have had a copy of that letter and it should have been discussed at that board meeting in December. You are not running the Kremlin; the SPA is supposed to be an open public body in which you are accountable to the board members. The view of the chief inspector, who has statutory responsibility for such matters, as it was set out in that letter, should clearly have been sent to every board member.

Andrew Flanagan: The letter was addressed to me and I believed that the matters had already been covered by the board and that members were aware of them.

Alex Neil: It was addressed to you, but Mr Penman said clearly that he wanted the letter to go to every board member. He specifically said that the letter was to inform board members at their meeting next week before they reached any decisions, but you took a unilateral decision not to circulate that to board members.

Andrew Flanagan: Yes, I did. As I said, the contents of it were well known to board members.

Alex Neil: That is not the point. The letter should have been circulated. Mr Foley, did you know that it was not being circulated to board members? Did you see the letter?

John Foley (Scottish Police Authority): I do not recall seeing it at that particular point in time.

Alex Neil: So the chief executive did not see the letter either.

John Foley: I may have seen it, but I do not recall it.

Alex Neil: You may have seen it. It is a very important letter from the chief inspector of constabulary. Either you saw the letter before the meeting or you did not. Yes or no, did you see the letter before the board meeting?

John Foley: I am telling you that I do not recall seeing it. I recall having conversations with Mr Penman around that time and him expressing his views to me clearly. Having seen the letter and read it in recent days, I find that it is in accord with a conversation that I had at the time, in which Mr Penman expressed his views.

Alex Neil: So you have seen the letter only in recent days.

John Foley: No, I do not recall seeing it at that point in time, but I might have seen it. A large number of letters come through my office. I just do not recall seeing that one.

Alex Neil: To be honest, given the three years of failure at the SPA, I find it hard to believe that its chief executive does not recall seeing a letter of that importance and with those contents. You do not recall whether you saw it. You are the chief executive and the accountable officer.

John Foley: Mr Neil, I cannot tell you that I did if I do not recall it, and I do not recall it.

Alex Neil: Presumably, every time that you receive a letter, it is date stamped. Is that correct?

John Foley: They usually come in via email. That letter is not addressed to me. I am saying that I might have seen a copy of it. It might have been sent to me; I do not know. I do not recall it, but I did not see an original letter that came in at that time, addressed to the chair.

Alex Neil: Right, so the chief executive did not see the letter—or does not recall doing so. Mr Johnston, when did you become aware of the letter?

Paul Johnston (Scottish Government): I cannot give a specific date when I was aware of the letter. I have discussions with Derek Penman, as chief inspector of constabulary, and I have certainly been aware of some of the concerns that he has had and of the issues that he has raised with the SPA. Indeed, he will shortly undertake a full inspection that will cover those matters. Don McGillivray might wish to say more about the sequencing of when the Scottish Government received particular pieces of documentation.

Don McGillivray (Scottish Government): I saw the letter at the time. The Scottish Government received it at the time, as a courtesy side copy, in hard copy from Derek Penman, on an informal basis. It was passed to me very informally, as a hard copy.

Alex Neil: We learned from this morning’s Herald that the Scottish Government gets a copy of all the board papers before each board meeting. Is that correct?

Don McGillivray: Generally, yes.

Alex Neil: Generally. So you would have picked up that the letter was not in the board papers.

Don McGillivray: Yes, we would have been aware of that at the time.

Alex Neil: Did you mention it to Mr Foley or Mr Flanagan? The letter was clearly intended for every SPA board member. Did you draw to their attention the fact that it had not been circulated?

Don McGillivray: I think that we would have regarded that as a matter for the chair to decide on.

Alex Neil: You would have regarded that as a matter for the chair.

Don McGillivray: Yes.

Alex Neil: The SPA was under attack, as it has been—rightly—for the past three years for incompetence after incompetence, including, it would appear, trying to cover up forcing a board member to resign, and yet you did not think that it was important that the letter from the chief inspector had not been circulated to board members.

Don McGillivray: I am clear that the decision on which papers go to the SPA board is for the chair to make.

Alex Neil: Yes, the decision is for the chair. However, in your role as head of police in the Scottish Government, did you not draw attention to the fact that the letter had not been circulated? The letter clearly states that it should go to board members. You knew that it had not gone to board members, because you get the board papers but, despite the importance of the contents, you did not speak to Mr Flanagan or Mr Foley and say, “Would it not be wise to make sure this letter goes to board members?”

Don McGillivray: Again, I would not have seen that as the role of Government. At the time, I would have seen that as the role of the chair.

Alex Neil: Why, then, do you get the board papers?

Don McGillivray: We get the board papers primarily for information. It is simply to make the Government aware of issues that are coming up at the board.

Alex Neil: And you never comment to the board, the chair or the chief executive on the board papers before they go to the board.

Don McGillivray: We occasionally make comments on the papers, but that is usually on matters of factual accuracy more than anything else.

Alex Neil: Nobody in the civil service thought that, given the controversies, it might be a good thing for the chief inspector’s letter to go to board members. Nobody thought to mention it.

Don McGillivray: Again, I would see a difference in the functions of the Government and the SPA in that respect. I am pretty clear that, under the governance framework that exists between the Government and the SPA, it is for the chair and the chief executive to decide on what papers go to the board.

Alex Neil: It is very clear in the rules, however, that a letter such as the one from Mr Penman has to go to board members specifically. The chief inspector asked for it to go to board members, but nobody thought to make sure that the rules were kept to.

For more on Alex Neil’s questions to witnesses from the Scottish Police Authority and Scottish Government, see the full transcript: Official Report: Public Audit & Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee 20 April 2017

As the meeting went on, Public Audit Committee members also criticised SPA Boss Andrew Flanagan – over the treatment of former SPA Board member Moi Ali – who raised concerns about a lack of transparency at the Police Authority during a public meeting.

Flanagan then wrote to Moi Ali – expressing his “dismay” over her public objections to holding more meetings in private.

The SPA Boss commented in the letter that she would not be able to participate in key committees as a result.

Ms Ali complained of attempts to silence her – after she warned that public meetings held by the SPA would end up as a piece of theatre.

Ms Ali said such meetings would be a “theatrical playing-out of decisions” that had been reached in private meetings.

In late February of this year, Moi Ali resigned from her position on the board of the Scottish Police authority.

The Sunday Herald newspaper reported Moi Ali’s resignation, stating: “A Scottish Police Authority board member has resigned after believing she was punished for raising concerns about transparency at the watchdog. Moi Ali was informed by SPA chair Andrew Flanagan that it would not be fair for her to participate on the body’s committees after she objected to plans to hold meetings in private. Speaking exclusively to the Herald, she said: “I’m resigning because I don’t think that it is right for anybody to try to silence board members from expressing their views in public.”

As Thursday’s meeting went on, SPA Chief Andrew Flanagan was asked whether he had considered resigning, Mr Flanagan said he had not.

He added: “I think we are becoming more effective, I think it is important that we recognise that there is already a significant degree of openness through public board meetings that we have.”

The Scottish government has also been accused of political interference in the SPA – after it became known Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Government’s Justice Department received board papers including private documents before meetings took place or material was circulated to board members.

During the Committee meeting on Thursday, Mr Don McGillivray –  a civil servant based at the Police Division of the Justice Department – admitted that the government “occasionally” made comments about reports before publication.

Moi Ali and other former board members of the Scottish Police Authority have been invited to give evidence at a future date to be arranged by the Public Audit & Post Legislative Committee.

Moi Ali – Transparency comes first.

Moi Ali – well known for her previous role as Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – is a well established champion of transparency in legal and justice related bodies from the judiciary down.

As JCR, Ms Ali gave backing to the widely supported proposal to create a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary: Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Moi Ali evidence Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament

 

Serving as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013.

Ms Ali gave a full account of her role as Judicial investigator to MSPs, and went on to describe oversight of Scottish judges as “Window Dressing”.

At the hearing, Ms Ali also backed proposals before the Scottish Parliament calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

The full transcript of evidence from Moi Ali during her appointment as Judicial Complaints Reviewer can be found here: Evidence from Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali to Public Petitions Committee on Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary,

The proposal to bring greater transparency to Scotland’s judiciary – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

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

During her three year term as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali published three hard hitting reports on the lack of transparency and accountability in Scotland’s judiciary:

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2011-2012,

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2012-2013

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2013-2014

Further coverage of Moi Ali’s time as Judicial Complaints Reviewer along with reports of her support for transparency and accountability in the justice system can be found here: Moi Ali – Transparency and accountability for Scotland’s judiciary

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The proposal to bring greater transparency to Scotland’s judiciary – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

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

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

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

 Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members indicated agreement.

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

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

 Judiciary chief to face MSPs over register of interests

Martin Hannan, Journalist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sunday Herald reports:

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

Paul Hutcheon, Investigations Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

AXIS TO JUSTICE: ‘Treat lawyers like Hospitals & Police’, Democracy ‘at risk’ if state refuses to fund litigants – Law Society & Faculty of Advocates attack plans to make secretive, slow Scots courts self funding

Fund lawyers like nurses & public services – say lawyers. DURING TIMES of financial crisis, Brexit woes and growing demands on nurses, doctors, the NHS, Police, education and everything else. public services should be forced to take an equal seat to the spiralling billions of pounds of public cash lavished on lawyers, the courts and legal aid – according to claims from the legal profession.

The demand for equal treatment to public cash comes from the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates – who, along with other legal vested interests – are calling for the state to fund all court actions and treat lawyers in the same ‘deserving of public funds’ category as medical care provided by the National Health Service, education, social care and Police.

The latest call from the Law Society of Scotland to increase – by millions more – the flow of public cash into legal business and struggling lawyers pockets – comes in answer to plans by the Scottish Government to hike court fees by up to 25% and turn the closed shop, secretive, slow and unjustly expensive Scottish courts run by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) into a self funding operation.

However, under the guise of defending ‘access to justice’ – loosely translated to ‘public cash for lawyers’ – the Law Society state in their response: “Plans to introduce the full recovery of civil court costs in Scotland would be damaging to access to justice, particularly for those bringing forward personal injury cases and more vulnerable people.”

The Law Society of Scotland’s response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Court Fees goes on to state “any move towards full cost recovery should be avoided” and “that the state has a duty to help people in achieve ‘equality of arms’ in the courtroom.”

The Law Society also claims that a proposal to introduce a 24% rise in court fees would be ‘unjust and unjustifiable’.

Syd Smith, from the Law Society of Scotland’s Remuneration Committee, representing the views of pursuers’ solicitors, said: “We believe it is essential that the courts should provide an independent and impartial forum for resolving disputes between people or organisations and that the state has a duty to help those involved have equality of arms when their cases go to court.”

The Law Society has said that any new system for court fees would have to ensure they were proportionate, taking into account Lord Gill’s Review of the Scottish Civil Courts, and the findings of Sheriff Taylor in his Review of Expenses and Funding of Civil Litigation in Scotland.

Mr Smith said: “We think the focus of any review of court fees should be on redressing the balance between claimants and defenders in personal injury cases. However if the government’s aim is to have a system where 100% of the cost of the courts are covered by fees paid by those involved in the actions lodged, it will be vital to have proportionate fee levels.

“The consultation option to introduce a 24% rise in court fees would represent an unjust and unjustifiable increase which would create a very real barrier to access to justice for claimants especially vulnerable people who have suffered life changing personal injuries.

“Any change to the current system also needs to recognise that there is not a level playing field between personal injury claimants and the insurance companies who are the defenders in those claims. Any changes which fail to recognise this problem risk widening the existing gap.”

Going a little further, and backing up their legal vested interest colleagues, the Faculty of Advocates response to the Court Fees consultation claims democracy could not function if the state did not pay for litigants to sue everyone under the sun in the same way convicted mass murderers and fraudsters empty hundreds of millions of pounds of Criminal legal aid from the public purse.

A submission from the Faculty of Advocates to the Court Fees consultation states: “The civil justice system should be funded by the state from general taxation…(it) is a cornerstone of a democratic state…(and) is vital to every citizen, whether or not he or she ever becomes a litigant,”

“No part of our democratic society could function without our civil law being maintained by the operation of our courts. There is no warrant to shift the cost of the courts entirely on to litigants when the whole of society benefits from them,”

“As a matter of principle, the civil justice system should be funded by the state, not litigants,” it said.

“The civil justice system is a cornerstone of a democratic state. It is the duty of the state to provide an accessible civil justice system…To the benefit of society at large, the law is made, declared or clarified daily by the civil courts. The civil justice system is vital to every citizen, whether or not he or she ever becomes a litigant. The benefits to society justify it being funded in full from general taxation.

“Many state-provided services are funded from general revenue, on the basis that these services benefit the whole of society, and not just those in immediate need of them. Our society accepts that, without regard to their means to pay, individuals should have access to medical care, and that every sort of person should be served by the police and emergency services.

“The Scottish Government has recognised that charging tuition fees to students limits access to higher education for many and that charging for prescriptions might deter people from seeking medical assistance. The Faculty considers that access to the courts is of equal importance.”

The Faculty believed that the proposed increases would be likely to impede access to justice, and that requiring a person to pay expensive court fees could be a breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects access to a court.

“The funding of the civil justice system by litigants rather than the state does not protect access to justice, it hinders it.

“If even a few people are deterred from litigating a good claim or defence, that is seriously damaging justice. There may be many more than a few who are so deterred, of course,” said the Faculty.

“The system of court fees exemptions is inadequate to protect access to justice…the thresholds for exemptions are set very low.”

So, the next time you need emergency medical care, the Police, education for your children, help with homelessness or any other public service – remember not to call the well trained and dedicated people who staff these vital arteries of life.

Instead, call a lawyer and insist your taxes, your hard earned savings (if any) and dwindling assets are handed over to fund a solicitor, court clerks, a struggling Sheriff on £160K a year or a £230K a year Court of Session judge – just like the Law Society of Scotland said – because you know – lawyers have your interests and ‘access to justice’ as their priority.

GIVE CROWN OFFICE MORE MONEY – Law Society to MSPs.

In a second take on the more public cash for lawyers approach, earlier this week the Law Society of Scotland also demanded more public cash be given to the struggling Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – who are forced to eek out an existence on a staggering £112 million a year.

In written evidence to a Scottish Parliament Justice Committee inquiry into the workings of Scotland’s “Institutionally corrupt” Crown Office, the Law Society of Scotland has said that consideration will be needed to ensure that the service provided by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and others is accessible and inclusive for all members of society.

In its response to an Inquiry on the role and purpose of the COPFS, the Society also stated that all participants involved in the criminal justice system have responded to a number of reforms during a time of significant financial pressure.

Ian Cruickshank, convener of the Law Society of Scotland Criminal Law Committee, said: “It’s important that the criminal justice system evolves and makes use of new technology which can help improve the service particularly when there continues to be financial pressures alongside increasing numbers of serious crime reported to the COPFS and legislative developments.

“However it is important to be aware of the potential impact on core services at a local level and on access to justice. There will need to be careful consideration on how best to ensure the service provided by the COPFS and others within the criminal justice system is accessible and inclusive to all member of society.

“Lack of resources has had an impact on the preparation and the time available for presenting criminal prosecutions in our courts. The number of prosecutions resulting in court disposals has decreased in the past five years, however the complexity of the impact of recent legislation, and the complexity of certain types of cases reported, means more preparation and court time is required.”

Previous reports on how much the Law Society of Scotland values your ‘access to justice’ and their vested interests, can be found in the archive of reports, here: Law Society of Scotland

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

QUESTION TIME, M’LORD: Top judge Lord Carloway to face MSPs on his opposition to judicial transparency & proposal to create a register of judges’ interests

Lord Carloway called to Scottish Parliament on judicial register. SCOTLAND’s top judge – Lord President Lord Carloway has been invited to appear before the Scottish Parliament to face questions on his opposition to proposals requiring the judiciary to declare their interests.

The invitation to the top judge has been issued by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – who are conducting a four year investigation on a call for full judicial transparency –  contained in the widely backed petition – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

During last Thursday’s meeting of the Public Petitions Committee – Deputy Convener Angus MacDonald MSP (SNP) led calls to keep the petition open and called for Lord Carloway to face questions on his known opposition to the judicial transparency proposals.

Deputy Convener Mr MacDonald – who also chaired the meeting – said “I would be interested to ask if he [Lord Carloway] would be keen to come in and give oral evidence to back up his earlier submission.”

Speaking on the background of the petition, the Deputy Convener said: “I have some background to the issue. There was a debate in the chamber on the matter in the previous session, and the petition received quite a lot of support from members. Also in the previous session, the former Lord President, Lord Gill, appeared before the Public Petitions Committee.”

Mr MacDonald continued: “We have received a submission from the current Lord President, Lord Carloway, who is basically opposed to the suggestion, and I would be interested in asking whether he would be keen to come in and give us oral evidence to back up his earlier submission.”

Angus MacDonald also reiterated his support for the idea of a judicial register – keenly expressed by the SNP MSP during the earlier Holyrood debate in 2014.

The Deputy Convener also called for legal academic Professor Alan Paterson to be invited to give evidence before the committee.

Mr MacDonald said: “I note Professor Alan Paterson’s comments and criticisms in relation to the perceived inadequacies of the current recusals register. It could be helpful to take oral evidence from him, too.”

Earlier this year Professor Paterson – of the University of Strathclyde – provided written evidence to MSPs in which the legal academic issued stinging criticisms of the current “Recusal Register” – set up by Lord Gill as a result of a private meeting with MSPs.

Writing in a letter to the Petitions Committee – Professor Paterson said: “The Public Register of Judicial Recusals is indeed to be welcomed but it only records the cases in which Scottish judges have actually recused themselves, not the cases in which they have been asked to recuse themselves and have declined to do so, far less those in which they might reasonably have been asked to recuse themselves but were not.”

“In short, we cannot always tell if judges are recusing themselves or declining to recuse themselves in the right cases. One measure which might assist with that issue is to ask whether the decision as to recusal should be left to the judge who has been challenged.”

As the meeting continued – Brian Whittle MSP (Scottish Conservatives) added: “I think the petition is not unreasonable. I would be quite keen.”

The committee had earlier heard from MSP Maurice Corry (Scottish Conservatives) – who initially said the judicial register “would be no bad thing” – then moved an unsuccessful motion to close the petition.

After the session ended, the Public Petitions Committee published their decision to call in further witnesses: “PE1458 by Peter Cherbi on register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. The Committee agreed to invite the Lord President and Professor Alan Paterson to give oral evidence at a future meeting.”

However, Carloway – who earns £225K a year as Lord President – along with significant pension perks and jet set junkets – is already on record as being against the judicial transparency proposals

Lord Carloway – who succeeded Lord Brian Gill as Lord President – claimed in written evidence earlier this year to the Petitions Committee the justice system could be brought to a halt if judges were forced to declare their wealth and interests.

Lord Carloway (real name: Colin Sutherland) told MSPs: “The proper administration of justice could be inhibited by the disclosure of the judiciary’s otherwise confidential financial arrangements. In that connection, there is the possibility that an individual judge may be the subject of misconceived criticism, deriving from the disclosure of personal financial information, where those interests are tangential and de minimis.”

If the judicial transparency proposal becomes reality, all members of Scotland’s judiciary – instead of just the elite few who sit on the board of the Scottish Courts – will be required to declare their vast and varied interests including their backgrounds, personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land interests, 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.

More on the full debate in Holyrood’s main chamber is reported with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges

A full report on Lord Carloway’s opposition to judicial transparency can be found here: Top judge Lord Carloway hits out at judicial interests register proposal

Video footage of the meeting & transcript follows:

Petition PE1458 Public Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 29 Sept 2016

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Deputy Convener: PE1458, is by Peter Cherbi and calls for the establishment of a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. Members will have seen the note by the clerk and submissions from the petitioner and Professor Paterson. Members will also be aware of further information that was provided by Mr Cherbi in respect of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

The action that is called for in Mr Cherbi’s petition received support from a number of MSPs in the previous session of Parliament, but neither the Scottish Government nor the current or former Lord President supports the introduction of such a register.

Do members have any views on what we should do with the petition?

Maurice Corry: I personally do not think that the proposed register would be the worst thing but, since the views of those who decide on the matter are set, the petition should be closed.

Rona Mackay: I have sympathy with Mr Cherbi and agree that there should be a register. However, I am not sure how much further we can take the petition or what road we could go down to progress it.

The Deputy Convener: I have some background to the issue. There was a debate in the chamber on the matter in the previous session, and the petition received quite a lot of support from members. Also in the previous session, the former Lord President, Lord Gill, appeared before the Public Petitions Committee. We have received a submission from the current Lord President, Lord Carloway, who is basically opposed to the suggestion, and I would be interested in asking whether he would be keen to come in and give us oral evidence to back up his earlier submission.

I note Professor Alan Paterson’s comments and criticisms in relation to the perceived inadequacies of the current recusals register. It could be helpful to take oral evidence from him, too.

I also note Mr Cherbi’s suggestion that we should invite the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Gillian Thompson, to give her thoughts on the proposal to create a register of judicial interests. However, we took evidence from her on the petition in the previous session and I am unsure whether she has changed her view, which was that there should be a register.

Would members be interested in hearing from Lord Carloway and Professor Paterson?

Maurice Corry: That seems pretty fair.

Brian Whittle:The petition is not unreasonable, and I would be keen to explore the issue further.

Rona Mackay: I agree. I would be happy to hear more evidence, as it is a big subject.

Maurice Corry: I am happy with that.

The Deputy Convener: We can ask the Lord President whether he is prepared to give oral evidence to the committee—there was a difficulty with the previous Lord President agreeing to do that. If he does not agree to do that, we will have to refer to his written submission.

Do we agree to that suggested course of action?

Members indicated agreement.

Today, the Judicial Office for Scotland refused to give any comment on their behalf or from Lord Carloway.

The Sunday Herald newspaper reported on latest developments in the long running petition here: MSPs to grill new Lord President on judicial register of interest

And, the Sunday Mail newspaper reported on the invitation to Lord Carloway here:

 Judge Lord Carloway faces demands from MSPs over judges’ register

2 Oct 2016 By Mark Aitken

THE Lord President has been asked to appear before Holyrood’s petitions committee, who are considering a submission for a judicial register of interests.

JUDGE Lord Carloway is facing demands from MSPs to explain why his colleagues’ business and financial secrets shouldn’t be made public.

The Lord President has been asked to appear before Holyrood’s petitions committee, who are considering a submission by campaigner Peter Cherbi for a judicial register of interests.

Details could include gifts, property, shares and criminal convictions.

Public petitions committee deputy convener Angus MacDonald said: “We’ve had a submission from the Lord President, who is basically opposed to the suggestion.

“However, I would be interested to ask if he would be keen to come in and give oral evidence to back up his earlier submission.”

A Judicial Office spokesman said: “We’re not in a position to comment as the Lord President has not received any such invitation.”

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

INSPECT YOUR ROGUE: Check your solicitors’ record in England, but not in Scotland – UK Solicitors Regulation Authority ‘years ahead’ of pro-lawyer Scots legal watchdogs

Check the regulatory history of your lawyer, not for Scotland. FAR REMOVED from the haven of corrupt and dodgy law firms which shape the landscape of Scotland’s greedy, overbearing legal services market, clients of lawyers in England & Wales have the opportunity to check any solicitor’s record – before shelling out tens of thousands of pounds to a hard working lawyer – or a lazy crook.

The Check your solicitor’s record service – operated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) allows anyone to find out if a solicitor or law firm operating in England & Wales has regulatory decisions made against them in relation to complaints of ripping off clients or providing poor legal services to UK consumers.

However, no such service is on offer in Scotland, due to lobbying from the powerful, shady clique of the Law Society of Scotland and other Scots legal vested interests – who are determined to maintain anonymity of corrupt and incompetent legal practitioners north of the border.

And, instead of providing consumers with a verifiable means of checking up on Scottish solicitors and law firms, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) publish only a selection of heavily edited and censored descriptions of cases which pass through the anti-consumer revolving doors of the Law Society-controlled pro-lawyer regulator.

Diary of Injustice recently reported on how the Scottish legal complaints regulator avoids identifying corrupt and dodgy lawyers within determination decisions – which are only published after being approved by members of the Law Society of Scotland : FROM ROGUES TO RICHES: SLCC refuse to identify corrupt solicitors in case findings.

Admittedly, the service on offer from the SRA in England & Wales does have some drawbacks – for example, not all regulatory decisions are published, and there are time limits to their publication scheme.

However, the facility is a huge advantage over what prospective and existing clients of Scottish solicitors face in efforts to find an honest lawyer north of the border – which some have likened to entering into a game of Russian Roulette with a six barrelled shotgun.

Recent regulation decisions made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in relation to law firms and solicitors operating in England and Wales can be found here Recent Decisions – Solicitors Regulation Authority

A helpful guide on how to use the SRA’s solicitor regulation search service lists the following tips:

You can use our solicitor record check search function to have a look at regulatory decisions that we have made against regulated individuals and firms.

You can search decisions by the name of the solicitor, firm, or other regulated individual, SRA ID number (also known as their roll number) date the decision was made, or type of decision.

You can also view a list of recently-published decisions.

To search for decisions about an individual or firm, enter their name and/or ID number in the search fields. To narrow your search, choose an outcome type and/or specify a date range.

To see all closures (also known as “interventions“) during May 2009, for example, leave name and ID fields blank, choose outcome type “closure” and specify the date range 1 May 2009 to 30 May 2009.

Only the most recent published decision against any firm will be displayed. To view a list of all published decisions against an individual made within the past three years (decisions are removed after three years), you will have to go into the record.

To check whether a law firm is regulated by us, use our Law firm search. To check whether an individual is regulated by us, use the Law Society’s Find a solicitor search.

We aim to ensure decisions we publish are accurate and up to date. However, this website does not offer a complete picture of an individual’s or firm’s regulatory record. For example, it is possible that, since publication, a firm has ceased to practice or a solicitor is no longer on the roll of solicitors. Most published decisions are removed from our website three years from the date they were published.

We have published a large number of Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) findings, dating from early 2005 to 1 July 2011.

We do not publish findings made by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal; these are published by the Tribunal itself.

Please note that the Tribunal publishes findings resulting in a strike off, indefinite suspension or revocation of authorisation of a firm indefinitely. Decisions to suspend for a fixed period remain on its website for the duration of the suspension or three years (whichever is the greater). All other decisions remain on its website for three years. If you are unable to find a decision on the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal website please contact Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority began publishing some decisions in January 2008 – the same year the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was created by the Scottish Government.

In comparison, since the SLCC came into being in 2008, the Scots legal services regulator has not identified one solicitor in any complaint investigated by the Law Society controlled quango – leading to a significant imbalance in the rights of Scots consumers to find out just how crooked their lawyer really is.

And, more often than not, the same Scottish law firms and same solicitors are subject of similar complaints in relation to professional misconduct, negligence, dishonesty, unashamed theft of client funds and some of the worst excesses which in any other arena would rate as criminal behaviour.

Yet, no one in Scotland is able to find out the regulatory history of their solicitor. No one. Unless by chance, clients who find themselves in the position of having to make a complaint against their solicitor decide to publicise their case and name the lawyers concerned.

A recent media investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission recently revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

NO MONEY NO JUSTICE: Slow, costly courts, £220K a year judges on junkets & justice staff on the take prompt Scottish Government proposal for 25% hike in court fees

Scotland’s courts to become 25% more rip-off than before. EVERYONE knows the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) and our powerhouse Sheriff Courts & the fabled Court of Session teeter on the brink of consternation, calamity, comedy and collapse at the end of each working legal week.

Every time a member of the judiciary takes time off their busy schedule of frequently flying £5K international holidays on the taxpayer – to perform the actual £200,000 a year job of being a judge and sit and listen to the daily farce and often dodgy evidence presented by Crown Office prosecutors before the Criminal Courts – you would honestly think from their faces – the end of the world had arrived.

Judges are so rich poorly paid these days, they have to conceal their vast wealth with the threat of constitutional calamity if it were revealed – or flog their multi million pound Victorian villas, properties in the country, undeclared holiday homes in Dubai or wherever – to members of their own family – for millions of pounds and avoiding those awful taxes which apply to the rest of us.

Let’s not even talk about the others … week long holidays in Qatar, North America, the far east, or jetting off to New Zealand for a week, then retiring a few days later, the gold Rolexes, collections of valuable items, taxpayer funded security fit for Royalty, extra ermine gowns & hanging around the works of Leonardo Da Vinci in the hope of life eternal.

How about the well paid poorly paid overworked court staff you say? Well, not really.

‘Hospitality’, undeclared deals on the side with law firms and other less talked about financial arrangements for increasing numbers of court staff compensate for the daily struggle of putting pen to paper and reminding the elderly sheriff the one before him ‘is a bad yin’.

So, where does all the money come from to pay for your access to justice and the privilege of appearing before someone festooned in 18th Century fancy dress and surrounded by wood panelling and enormously expensive digital recording equipment – conveniently unplugged so as not to record the daily courtroom farce or your expert witness disagreeing with Lord know-it-all.

The Scottish Government gave the Scottish Court Service a whopping £88.9million of your cash in the 2016-2017 budget. Plenty there to go around.

The judiciary on it’s own receive a staggering £40million of public cash, to groan, grizzle, gloat & giggle as they listen to counsel after counsel, litigant after litigant – while dreaming of appearances & junkets to warmer, wealthier climes.

The Legal Aid budget – once standing at over £160million a year and now allegedly a very very very dodgy £136.9million in the 2016-2017 budget – your cash going on lawyers, criminals and some of the most laughable, inept court hearings in existence.

The Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – widely regarded by all sides as the pre-eminently most corrupt institution in the entire Scottish justice system – received a staggering £112.5million of your cash. To do what? to cover up it’s own staff and prosecutors leaking case files and evidence to criminals, or snorting cocaine and beating up Police Officers.

And, let’s not forget the £58 million of public cash spent by the Scottish Court & Tribunal Service on new doorknobs, a lick of paint and new scones for the Court of Session ‘powerhouse’ – which must rank as Europe’s slowest, most distorted, most expensive & interest ridden seat of justice, ever.

All this must be paid for, somehow. Loads-a-money. Your money. Certainly not theirs, for they are all public servants paid for by you.

So we come to the Scottish Government’s proposal to go for ‘full cost recovery’, buried in the now familiar loaded consultation papers issued by the Justice Directorate of the Scottish Government.

And, instead of blaming the fee rises on our slow, difficult and inaccessible courts, the Scottish Government instead has chosen to blame budgetary cuts imposed by Westminster.

The Scottish Government Consultation on Court Fees 2016 sets out proposals for fees in the Court of Session, the High Court of the Justiciary, the Sheriff Appeal Court, the sheriff court, the Sheriff Personal Injury Court, and the justice of the peace court. Court fees are a major source of income for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and it has become necessary to increase fees in order to achieve full cost recovery. It seeks views on two options each of which is aimed at providing full cost recovery.

Fee hikes across the board of almost 25% for civil actions in Scotland and alternative targeted rises are being proposed by Scottish ministers – as part of a consultation on Scottish court fees which runs until October.

Court fees have generally been reviewed every three years, with the last round being implemented in 2015, however this time around “the Scottish Government has decided to accelerate the move towards full cost recovery“.

The Consultation on Court Fees – open until 12 October 2016 – sets out proposals for fees in the Court of Session, the High Court of the Justiciary, the Sheriff Appeal Court, the sheriff court, the Sheriff Personal Injury Court, and the justice of the peace court. Court fees are a major source of income for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and it has become necessary to increase fees in order to achieve full cost recovery. It seeks views on two options each of which is aimed at providing full cost recovery.

The Scottish Government states “It is necessary to raise fees so that the Scottish Court and Tribunals Service is able to achieve full cost recovery from its courts. We are consulting on two options seeking the views of stakeholders on the best way to achieve this. Stakeholders will be able to provide their opinions on which option is better from the point of view of their own court actions and, if they are an organisation, of their clients. This will help the Scottish Government’s decision on which option should be incorporated into the necessary Scottish Statutory Instruments.”

“A review is justified both by the need to end the cost to the public purse of subsidising the civil justice system, and by the introduction of the new simple procedure which replaces the current small claims and summary cause procedures.”

Simple procedure will be phased in from 28 November for actions worth not more than £5,000. It is planned to retain existing fee levels for summary cause and small claims actions, so that at present levels lodging a claim for up to £200 under simple procedure would mean a fee of £18, and £78 for a claim above that level and up to £5,000.

If a flat rise is the option chosen, all Court of Session and sheriff court fees will rise by 24%, the amount needed to fund a deficit of £5.4m on gross fee income of £22.2m in 2014-15. That would mean lodging fees of £22 or £97 for simple procedure cases, £119 (from £96) for summary applications and ordinary sheriff court actions, £187 (from £150) for non-simple divorces, and £266 (from £214) for Court of Session or Sheriff Personal Injury Court actions. Hearing fees would jump from £227 to £282 in the sheriff court, and from £96 to £119 per half hour (single judge), or from £239 to £297 per half hour (bench of three) in the Court of Session.

Suggested targeted fee rises, the other option, would raise more money overall. The £18 simple procedure lodging fee would remain unchanged, as would the £150 divorce lodging fee and the £227 sheriff court hearing fees, as well as fees in the recently introduced Sheriff Appeal Court. However there would be a £100 lodging fee for a simple procedure claim for more than £200, £120 for summary applications and ordinary causes, and £300 for a Court of Session action. In that court the cost of lodging a record would almost double from £107 to £200, and hearing fees more than double to £200 for every half hour before a single judge, and £500 per half hour before a bench of three.

The alternative scheme would also see the introduction of graded fees in commissary court proceedings for authorising executors to handle a deceased person’s estate. Whereas at present for all estates worth more than £10,000 there is a flat fee of £225, it is proposed to exempt estates worth less than £50,000 but to charge £250 for estates between £50,000 and £250,000, and £500 for larger estates.

The consultation paper states on Page 8: “We are aware that there will be a tipping point where fee increases may deter people from raising actions”, the paper observes. “We do not believe that the level of rises in either option 1 or 2 as proposed will have a deterrent effect as individual fees will still be relatively low, particularly when viewed against the total costs of taking legal action including the cost of legal advice.”

Be sure to enter your thoughts in the Scottish Government’s consultation. Go here to do so: Consultation on Court Fees You have until 12 October 2016.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,