RSS

Tag Archives: access to justice

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: , , , , , , ,

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: , , , , , , , , ,

JUSTICE DENIED: Solicitor accuses Law Society of Scotland of “abuse of power” – as legal aid decision by solicitors regulator leaves disabled clients denied access to justice

Solicitor Daniel Donaldson campaigns for reinstatement of legal aid certification. THE Law Society of Scotland has been accused of “abuse of power” and terminating access to justice for disabled & vulnerable clients – after a law centre was forced to pull out of legal aid work due to what appear to be internal politics at the professional body for Scottish solicitors.

The claims are made by a disabled solicitor – Daniel Donaldson – who founded Legal Spark – a Glasgow based law centre – with the aim of helping disabled people and other clients excluded from Scotland’s legal system.

Last year, the Law Society of Scotland granted permission to law centre Legal Spark to take on legal aid cases – allowing the law practice to take on cases from disabled people who had been unable to secure legal representation for their discrimination cases.

However, after the Law Society approved the law practice to engage in legal aid work, certification for Legal Spark to take on new legal aid cases has since been withdrawn – with unconvincing explanations from the Edinburgh based regulator – resulting in clients facing an uncertain future in terms of their access to the legal system.

Daniel Donaldson – who qualified as a solicitor six years ago – spent a year discussing Legal Spark with the Law Society of Scotland – which originally described the disabled solicitor’s proposals to create a facility to provide disabled clients with access to justice as “refreshing” and “innovative”.

However, the solicitor has now accused the Law Society of abandoning disabled clients and has set up a public petition calling for help in restoring his law centre’s legal aid certification

Readers can view more details of the petition here: Law Society of Scotland: Allow Legal Spark Legal Practice to continue Legal Aid Work

Speaking to a DOI journalist earlier today, solicitor Daniel Donaldson said the Law Society’s decision would deprive disabled people of access to justice.

Mr Donaldson said: “It’s completely unacceptable for any public authority to ignore disabled service users.  We set us Legal Spark because of a problem with access to justice.” 

“We volunteered to do legal aid work to help unrepresented disabled people.  Now the LSS has forced us to stop.  What’s changed in six months? Nothing.  They’ve made this decision for other reasons and not ,”public protection” as claimed.”

“The LSS believes they can do what they like with no scrutiny or accountability. Individuals are free to abuse their position. I call upon the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to strip them off all their regulatory functions and being an end to their abuse of power”

Out of concern for clients welfare after the Law Society’s decision to revoke legal aid certification – Legal Spark contacted 134 lawyers from a list provided by the Law Society of Scotland of law firms who take on civil legal aid cases and specialise in discrimination law.

However, not one law firm has taken any of Legal Spark’s clients – a move which is generating suspicion among some legal observers that the Law Society is unfairly controlling and restricting certain law firms and their clients access to legal aid.

The Disability News Service reported on the story, quoting  a Law Society Scotland spokeswoman who said: her organisation had made “a mistake” in originally granting Legal Spark permission to carry out civil legal aid work, before realising that it was “not entitled to provide this type of advice under the society’s civil legal assistance quality assurance scheme”.

The Law Society spokeswoman said: “The committee made a final decision on 16 June that a waiver could not be granted for public protection reasons and as the compliance certificate for Legal Spark had been issued in error, it could no longer provide advice funded by legal aid.

“The committee agreed that given the circumstances, Legal Spark could continue working with its legal aid clients until 30 June, to allow sufficient time to make alternative arrangements for clients.”

She said law centres have to be “underpinned by a solicitor practice unit [which she said Legal Spark was not]in order to be able to be on the civil legal aid quality assurance scheme register and provide legal aid funded advice”.

She added: “While it is rare for something to go wrong, clients have to be able to seek redress and as it currently stands, Legal Spark is not in a position to meet those requirements.”

The Disability News Service further reported:  By noon yesterday (28 July), the Law Society Scotland had failed to explain why it has refused to enter into mediation, although it claims that it was “still in communication with Legal Spark”.

The website of Legal Spark describes the legal services provider as  an innovative legal practice. Legal spark is a law centre, not a firm of solicitors.

Legal Spark state: “All lawyers will provide legal services,  but our practice is unique. Our practice is driven to maximise social impact, rather than to maximise profits for shareholders. Our business is ethical, and our legal practice promotes social responsibility.”

The law centre also pledges to reinvest their profits of commercial legal work to help people by:

* organising and taking part in outreach events in communities

* providing legal advice and representation for disabled people

* maintaining a commitment to legal aid work

Legal Spark are located at 22 Montrose Street, Merchant City, Glasgow G1 1RE email: contact@legalspark.co.uk

Petition : Law Society of Scotland: Allow Legal Spark Legal Practice to continue Legal Aid Work

Campaign created by: Daniel Donaldson

Campaign website: http://www.legalspark.co.uk/

Campaign facebook: http://www.facebook.com/legalspark

To: The Law Society of Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others

The Law Society and Legal Aid Board informed Legal Spark Legal Practice that they had to stop all legal aid work on 30th June. As a result, “A”, “B’ plus many other disabled clients are forced to forego representation. They have the power to reverse their decision, together we can make that happen.

Why is this important?

Legal Spark was formed as a result of the crisis in legal aid. People were going without representation because they could not afford a lawyer. This is particularly the case for disabled people.

No one else would do this type of work, as it was deemed too expensive, not financially viable and also too complex.

Daniel Donaldson, a disabled Solicitor, set up Legal Spark with the Support of the Scottish Institute for Enterprise under their Young Innovators Challenge 2015 programme.

Daniel wanted to develop creative solutions to help people access justice and to fix the exclusion that disabled people face from the legal system.

Daniel spent one year talking to the Law Society about this issue, highlighting that it was important that everyone could access a lawyer.

Legal Spark consulted with the Chief Executive (Lorna Jack), the Head of Professional Practice, the Registrar and the Deputy Registrar (James Ness) and the Secretary to the Civil Legal Aid Quality Assurance Committee (Hannah Sayers) amongst others.

A document was prepared that explained what Legal Spark was planning to do. The Law Society accepted this document and did not object. The Law Society encouraged Legal Spark and found their approach “refreshing” and “innovative”.

Legal Spark was granted permission to do Legal Aid work in November 2015, and a compliance certificate was issued in December 2015. Legal Spark began helping the many disabled people that needed their help and began to have success.

In April 2016, the Law Society decided that they had made an “error” and instructed Legal Spark to stop all Legal Aid work by Thursday 30 June 2016. By this stage, Legal Spark had a number of clients, with active and complex cases, some of which were about to go to Court.

“A” is one such client. They had experienced awful disability discrimination from a University. They were not given adequate support to help them during a course, and had to leave. Additionally, Legal Spark uncovered evidence that the University’s staff had used “unprofessional language” in their approach to “A”. This case has now been lodged in Court.

“B” is another client adversely affected by this decision. B is also disabled and is housebound. They had tried to find a lawyer for sometime but because of their rural location in the Highlands there were no Solicitors available to help. Legal Spark took on this case and was successful (in part) in achieving a resolution for B. However, because B had been adversely affected by a decision of Highland Council, and had lost out financially, the case may need to go to Court. B is unable to find anyone else to help them.

These are only two examples of where Legal Spark is making a difference, there are others too.

Since establishing Legal Spark, Daniel Donaldson has not drawn a salary and has used some of his own money to sustain the Legal Practice while it develops and is able to stand on its own feet.

Legal Spark has also grown to enable it to employ staff and provide much need paid employment to some disabled people and unemployed law graduates.

The Legal Aid certificate meant that Legal Spark could help people who could not access help elsewhere. Now “A”, “B” and other will have to go without representation because of the Law Society of Scotland’s failures.

The Law Society’s Chief Executive (Lorna Jack)says that they have to act in the public interest. The Director of Regulation (Philip Yelland) shares this view.

1. Where is the public interest in denying disabled people representation?
2. Also, where is the public interest is giving permission to do Legal Aid work only to revoke that permission 6 months later?

The Law Society say that there are other Solicitors who can help, however this is not true.

Legal Spark contacted 134 Civil Legal Aid lawyers with advertised specialism in discrimination law. Even the biggest Legal Aid firm in Scotland could not help.

The Law Society has said that this will cause Legal Spark’s disabled client’s “inconvenience”. This is an offensive comment; they have never met any client, they have ignored client’s opinions, and also refused to acknowledge that they will suffer substantial prejudice in their cases because of the Law Society’s decision.

This petition is addressed to the Law Society and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

It is important that you fulfil your roles correctly.

Overturn your decision to stop Legal Spark doing legal aid work, remedy the mistake you have made and apologise. This is the only way you can restore public trust and continue to say you act in the public interest.

Allow Legal Spark, and their clients the opportunity to continue to work together for the public interest and tackle the horrors faced by disabled people on a daily basis.
How it will be delivered

Signatures to this petition will be emailed, delivered in person, or a press conference will be arranged.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

M’LORDS, REVISITED: Why Scotland’s wealthy, secretive, powerful & interest laden judiciary require transparency, independent oversight and a register of judicial interests

Scots judiciary require modern 21st century oversight. A DEGREE in quantum mechanics is not required to understand that the secretive closed world of Scotland’s all powerful judiciary requires a significantly greater level of transparency & accountability than the current antiquated set of rules and late night stag party sounding ‘oaths’ which loosely ‘govern’ the role of judges and their position at the top of Scotland’s justice system.

Not least due to the fact these same ‘rules’ and ‘oaths’ the judges hold in such high regard – are – mostly written by themselves, and vested legal interests.

When a small group of the most powerful in society, who earn staggering publicly funded salaries plus perks & pension pots to rival any banking executive, fly the world at taxpayers expense with big business tagging along to gather contracts in the wake of ‘respectable figures from the bench’ – and, when questions are asked of their interests – these same figures cast aside our democratically elected Scottish Parliament in the name of serving their own interests – it is time for change.

Not rocket science, right? We all get it.

Except of course, the judges, and those who have a vested interest or … something to hide.

Transparency – Good. Vested Interests – Bad.

Not a difficult equation. Certainly not one requiring a visit to a Physics laboratory.

One judge alone has done more than most for promoting the need for judicial reform – Lord Brian Gill.

Gill (73) – who dodged Holyrood more often than a pigeon dodges a Peregrine Falcon – held such disdain for transparency, the political process, and the same expectations, rules and regulations which apply to all others in public life, he just could not bear to apply those same standards to the judiciary.

The Lord President said so himself. Letter after letter to the Scottish Parliament. Threats, name calling, excuses, loopholes, blanking, it was all there, and in writing.

Never before did a country’s top judge become so aggressive towards the public’s general expectation of transparency.

And why? All because the judiciary were asked to disclose their interests. You know … like everyone else.

Time then, for the Scottish judiciary to be reminded they serve the wider community – the people. Scotland.

Not vested interests, not themselves, not their friends, Scotland. The whole of.

And, that with such unchecked power as the judiciary hold, comes the requirement for full transparency, and powerful oversight – without – of course – meddling vested legal interests.

A good start for the Scottish Government would be ensuring the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) has full and substantive powers to investigate the judiciary to – at least – the same level of scrutiny already existing in England and Wales, where the Office for Judicial Complaints publishes details of upheld complaints and cases can be appealed to the Judicial Appointment and Conduct Ombudsman.

And, don’t forget to register all your interests, M’Lords.

Here’s what others say:

The Sunday Mail newspaper reports:

BACK IN THE DOCK – NEW BROOM WANTS JUDGES TO OPEN UP

Second legal watchdog says judges’ refusal to support register of interests looks suspicious

Jan 18, 2015 By Mark Aitken

NEW judicial complaints reviewer Gillian Thompson has given backing for register despite protests from Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill.

A LEGAL watchdog who quit after supporting a register of interest for judges has been backed by the woman who replaced her.

Moi Ali was appointed as the country’s first judicial complaints reviewer in 2011 but resigned last year claiming she had no power and got no co-operation from law chiefs.

She was also criticised by Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill, over her support for a register of interest for judges.

But her successor Gillian Thompson has also given her backing for a register.

Holyrood’s petitions committee are considering a submission by legal campaigner Peter Cherbi for a judicial register of interests which could details gifts, hospitality and links to outside bodies such as law firms.

In a letter to the committee, Thompson wrote: “We live in an age in which transparency about interests and activities of those in the public eye is regarded as good practice.

“There is a perception that anything less is the result of attempts to hide things.

“In the case of judges, it is clear that court users and the public more widely seek reassurances of fairness and impartiality.”

Lord Gill has repeatedly dismissed calls for a register of interests.

But Cherbi said: “Two judicial complaints reviewers in a row have supported a register while Lord Gill suspiciously clings to secrecy and refuses to accept transparency must be applied equally to judges as it is to everyone else in public life.”

Sunday Mail:

WATCHDOG’S WITHERING ATTACK ON JUDICIARY

MY FINAL VERDICT ON JUDGES? A LAW UNTO THEMSELVES

Investigator says she got no co-operation and only met law chief once in three years

By Mark Aitken Political Editor Sunday Mail 07 December 2014

A former watchdog who probed complaints about legal chiefs has hit out at Scotland’s judges in her farewell report.

Moi Ali was appointed the country’s first ever judicial complaints reviewer in 2011 but announced her decision to quit earlier this year because she had no power and the role was “tokenistic”.

Her final report details complaints of alleged racial bigotry, bullying, lying, conflicts of interest and making secret recordings of meetings.

And Ali, who left the role in August, reveals Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill,only met her once.

She said: “Unfortunately, there has been little interest in the positive difference that the JCR could make.

“Although I have had a good working relationship with the judicial office, I have met the Lord President just once in three years.

“My interactions with both the Lord President’s office and the judicial office have focused more on what I cannot do rather than what I can do and as such, an opportunity for whole system improvement has been lost.

Reform campaigner Peter Cherbi said: The current system of judges slapping each other on the back and dealing  with their own complaints is clearly unfit for purpose.

“Ms Ali found investigations by the judicial office were delayed for months, officials were confused as to their own procedures, and complaints were treated with the disdain.

“One complaint filed by a mother on behalf of her disabled son was kicked out because too much time had passed and the judge could have forgotten the events. There’s not much point in having judges who forget what they had for breakfast but can remember to pick up a £200,000 salary and all the expenses trappings of judicial office.”

Independent MSP John Wilson said:”It is up to the new justice Secretary to take a serious look at the report by Moi Ali and develop a system that is independent of the Lord President to bring confidence in the judicial review process.”

A judicial office spokesman said: “The judicial office has fully co-operated and will continue to work with the judicial complaints reviewer to take forward the recommendations of the Lord President’s consultation on the complaints process.

Sunday Herald:

Clash over probe into allegations of bullying in the justice system

Paul Hutcheon, Investigations Editor Sunday 7 December 2014

TWO of Scotland’s key legal bodies have clashed over an investigation into a member of the judiciary.

The fight is between the Judicial Office for Scotland (JOS) – headed by the country’s top judge – and the watchdog responsible for holding it to account.

The legal watchdog attacked the JOS for its handling of a probe into claims a judicial office-holder was guilty of bullying and of making covert recordings.

Complaints against judges, ­sheriffs and justices of the peace are handled by the JOS, which provides support to the Lord President.

The investigations are carried out by fellow members of the judiciary.

If a complainant is still unhappy, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) can examine whether the probe complied with the rules.

Moi Ali, who recently stood down as the JCR after saying she did not have adequate powers, published her final annual report last week.

She produced details of an extraordinary case in which the JOS dealt with allegations of impropriety by a judicial office-holder. An unnamed organisation that “works closely with the courts” complained of bullying by a member of the judiciary, adding that the same figure had made secret recordings.

The organisation was not satisfied with the JOS probe into the case and contacted Ali.

On the bullying allegation, Ali said she was hampered after the “nominated judge” who carried out the first investigation failed to put all correspondence in the complaints file.

After the complainant asked for all tapes and transcripts obtained during the probe, the request was initially rejected.

Ali described this response a “an unnecessary lack of transparency that could damage external confidence in the investigation process”.

She also described as a “lack of even-handedness” the fact that the judicial officer-holder under investigation received an ­apology for delays in the case, but the complainant did not.

The organisation’s witnesses were also not interviewed.

The original complaint was not upheld by the JOS, but Ali concluded: “I was concerned about how the conclusion was reached that the allegations could not be substantiated in light of the evidence that I saw in the complaints file.”

On the recordings allegation, the judicial office-holder under investigation had said the tapes were not made “in any secret way”, although permission was not sought.

Ali believed this complaint should have been included as part of the other probe, or referred anew to the JOS, but she said: “Neither path was followed. The complaint was never investigated. No explanation was offered as to why not.”

In the two reviews Ali carried out, she found seven rule breaches.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “In almost no other walk of life do you have an organisation which is only accountable to itself in instances like these.

“The public expectation is that – when there’s a case to answer – an independent or separate authority should be asking the questions.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Moi Ali has previously reported weaknesses in the systems through which the public can complain about the conduct of the judiciary and seek redress.

“Some of the incidents reported suggest that those involved in the complaints process were more concerned with stopping Moi Ali from doing her job than behaving responsibly and responding to the issues that had been raised.”

A spokesperson for the ­Judicial Office said the recordings were made in court, not during meetings, adding: “The Judicial Office does not comment on individual complaints as the information is confidential. All complaints are fully investigated in accordance with the relevant rules.

“In respect of recording in court, it is open to the court to have proceedings recorded where it considers it to be appropriate.”

Sunday Herald:

 Judicial watchdog quits from ‘straightjacket’ role

Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor Sunday 26 January 2014

SCOTLAND’S legal watchdog tasked with holding judges to account is to stand down after complaining that she has “no power to make things different and better”.

Moi Ali, the country’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR), will not seek a second term because she believes her post is “tokenism”.

The JCR post was created by the Scottish Government to introduce an element of independence in the system of self-regulation for scrutinising judges.

However, Ali’s role is restricted to looking at whether the Judicial Office for Scotland (JOS) – the in-house body led by the Lord President – has dealt with complaints correctly.

She cannot investigate complaints against judges herself and is unable to make recommendations.

Ali, who took office in 2011, also works on a tiny budget of around £2000, whereas a beefed-up Ombudsman south of the border has nearly £500,000.

In an interview with the Sunday Herald last year, Ali said she had found the job “enormously frustrating and difficult”, adding: “Fundamentally the problem is the legislation … it’s judges judging judges’ conduct.

“I’m presented as the independent element, but without the powers I can’t be independent.”

She added: “Really, it’s difficult to make an impact within the constraints that I’m in at the moment. It’s a bit like being in a straitjacket.”

Ali also claimed Scotland was lagging behind England in holding judges to account, claiming: “Citizens here have a lot less protection than they do in England and Wales.”

The JCR has also encountered difficulties with the JOS and claimed the post amounted to “window dressing”.

The Sunday Herald has learned that Ali, whose term ends in August, will not seek an extended period in office, where she could have served five years. She wrote to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill before Christmas to inform him of her decision. MacAskill will have to find a new JCR, an appointment that must be made “with the consent” of the Lord President.

In her latest annual report, she found 20 breaches of the rules by the JOS last year.

Ali said: “I believe that I’ve been able to make a difference, albeit in a small way – which is not only personally satisfying, but important for the people who use my service. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

“I feel that I have achieved all that I can within the constraints of legislation that has created a JCR role that has independence without the power to change anything.

“I can freely comment, criticise, persuade, suggest, speak out – but I have no power to make things different and better.

“Without the ability to implement change, the role feels tokenistic and I’ve never been one to go along with tokenism.”

Graeme Pearson, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman and a former top police officer, said: “Moi Ali accepted an important responsibility and was keen to do the job.

“She should have been supported and encouraged – instead her role developed as an unwitting sop for this SNP Government at a time our justice system requires genuine openness and accountability. She and the Scottish public deserved better.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said: “The Justice Secretary asked Ms Ali to do a job and then point-blank refused to give her the support and resources she needed to deliver. This is simply not good enough.

“Moi Ali’s frustration over the lack of support she has received from ministers is wholly understandable. Her decision to stand down is an indictment of the lacklustre approach to transparency that the Justice Secretary has taken.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on personnel issues. We thank Ms Ali for the work she has done in her post to date.”

Sunday Mail:

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill urged to improve scrutiny of Scotland’s judges after claims they stifle public complaints

We, Scotland’s judges, stand accused of making the process of complaining about us impossibly difficult. You, our toothless watchdog, have been deliberating. So, have you reached a verdict? YOU’RE GUILTY, M’LUDS

MOI ALI, the country’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer, says she is currently powerless to do more to help the public understand the complex legal complaints system.

News Special : By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 15 Dec 2013

KENNY MacASKILL has been urged to get tough with Scotland’s judges after a watchdog warned they are stifling complaints and dodging scrutiny.

Moi Ali was appointed by the SNP’s Justice Secretary as the country’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer but, before delivering her second annual report tomorrow, she voiced fears that her role is mere “window dressing” and needs more teeth if it is to hold judges to account.

Ali says people find it virtually impossible to understand confusing rules about how to complain about judges, sheriffs and JPs. She said: “They are legal rules, written by lawyers for other lawyers to use. To me, the perspective is completely wrong. You write the rules for the public, not for lawyers.”

She believes that former solicitor MacAskill must bring in new laws to end judicial self-regulation.

Ali, who also sits on the Scottish Police Authority board said: “I think fundamentally the problem is the legislation. “The way it’s created, it’s about self- regulation so you have judges judging judges’ conduct. There isn’t really an independent element.“I’m presented as the independent element but, without the powers, I can’t be independent. We have the appearance of independent oversight but not the reality.”

Ali’s post was created by the Scottish Government in the face of fierce opposition from judges. With a £2000 annual budget, no staff and no office, she has been forced to work for free in addition to the three days per month for which she is paid.

She said: “There was a genuine recognition that something needed to be done. “But I think with any professional group, whether it’s the judiciary or any other powerful group of people, it’s quite difficult to take them on. “And I think that appearing to do something when actually, perhaps, doing the bare minimum is an easier way of addressing it. It’s a bit like being in a straitjacket.”

Ali has caused consternation in government and judicial circles by publicly admitting she is powerless. All she can do is review how complaints are handled by the Judicial Office for Scotland, which is headed by top judge Lord President Lord Gill.

She said: “I’m sorry to say that I do think there was an element of window dressing. “The system is about investigating complaints about the judiciary but that whole system is run by the judiciary. “Without any proper, external, genuinely independent oversight, you’re not going to have public faith and confidence. “I know people will be very unhappy with me using the term window dressing but I think there is an element of that.”

Scotland’s system trails behind England and Wales, who have an Office for Judicial Complaints.

In addition, there is a powerful independent ombudsman who can overturn decisions, order reinvestigations and compensate victims.

Ali said: “England and Wales started doing this, and a whole lot more, in 2006. “We’re not even where they were at when they started so we’ve got an awful lot of catching up to do. “The fact we have a JCR and not an ombudsman, to me, says it all.”

Some senior figures within the judicial system privately dismiss Ali as an “outsider” and unqualified to comment.

She has also angered judges by backing a Holyrood petition by legal reform campaigner Peter Cherbi calling for a register of interests for judges.

Lord Gill sparked cross-party anger by twice rejecting a plea by Holyrood to give evidence to the committee. He said the Scotland Act allowed him to avoid parliamentary scrutiny as it ensures judicial independence from political meddling.

But critics said that the Act is to protect judges from being quizzed over courtroom decisions not administration issues.

Ali said: “I think it’s a confusion between independence and accountability. I really do think it’s as basic as that. The dividing line is completely clear.”

Ali has led by example by voluntarily publishing her own register of interests, even though it took six months to get it on the JCR website. Her annual report details 20 alleged breaches of the complaints rules by the Judicial Office.

She has also scored two victories for the public since taking the three-year post.

One is that Lord Gill has now agreed to supply people with some details about the outcome of
their complaint. And he has also agreed to inform the JCR about the outcome of cases which she refers to him.

She said: “I’ve made some small differences but it’s progress. “But really it’s difficult to make an impact within the constraints that I’m in at the moment.”

MacAskill has already dismissed calls to tackle the powerful judiciary with new laws but Ali wants him to think again.

She said: “In the past few years in Scotland, there have been some really good things being done in all sorts of different sectors. “I don’t understand why this appears to be the one sector that is really behind. “I don’t think there’s an appetite for looking at the legislation again. “I think it will have to be looked at again at some point because, at the moment, Scots citizens have a lot less protection than they do in England and Wales. “If I was asked to create something to deal fairly, effectively, efficiently and transparently with complaints about the judiciary, I would not invent this.”

The Judicial Office for Scotland: “The review of the existing complaints rules ends tomorrow. “The responses will then be considered in full by the Lord President.”

JUDGES IN DOCK

Probed after bawling out a dog walker

A judge was accused of a “tyrannical rant” at a woman walking her dog. The dog walker was left “shaking with nerves” and felt “very intimidated” by the unnamed judge, who told her to put her pet on a lead.

Her complaint was dismissed as being “without substance” by the Judicial Office for Scotland because he was not acting as a judge at the time. But the Judicial Office’s own guidelines state that complaints can be made about judges’ conduct inside and outside court.

The dog walker said ; “The point is that he is a judge and. as such, may be expected to adhere to a certain standard of personal conduct and behaviour to all members of the public.” Ali agreed and upheld the complaint that the Judicial Office had breached their own rules.

Accused of insensitivity over disability.

A disabled woman complained about a judge who, she claimed, ignored her medical condition. The woman said that the judge did not consider her “mental and physical disabilities and current aggressive medical treatment”.

The Judicial Office kicked out the complaint because it was “primarily about judicial decisions”. But Ali found that the Judicial Office rules were breached because the complaint also related to the judge’s conduct so should have been investigated. She also said that “further investigation” would be needed to establish if the judge had been insensitive.

However, Lord Gill disagreed with Ali’s opinion.

IF I AM NOT SURE WHAT THIS LEGALESE MEANS

Watchdog Moi Ali slates the legal jargon which is used to deter ordinary Scots from complaining about judges.

She fears the complex Judicial Office for Scotland rules are not fit for purpose.

She said ; “If you have a set of rules that you can pick up and not understand, then they can’t be fit for purpose.

And the public don’t understand. They are not written in any understandable way.

I don’t understand the purpose of some of the rules and some of them are cross-referenced with Acts of Parliament.”

Ali has submitted a damning 25 page report to Scotland’s top judge, Lord President Lord Gill, who is reviewing the rules.

In it, she says : “One of my principal concerns relates to the style and tone of the rules and the way in which they have been constructed, giving an impression that they are devised to deter people from complaining, to find reasons to reject a complaint at the earliest opportunity and to over-protect the judiciary.”

She cites numerous examples of archaic language which many people would struggle to understand.

For example, Section 5.4.b states : “If sent by electronic means indicated to be acceptable a document is to be treated as valid only if it is capable of being used for subsequent reference.”

Ali has urged Lord Gill to bring in new rules which will be “fair, proportionate, transparent and easy to understand.”

Sunday Herald:

 My position is window-dressing, says legal watchdog with budget of £2000

Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor Sunday 15 December 2013

SCOTLAND’S judicial watchdog says her post is mere “window dressing” and has blasted the system set up to investigate judges as unfair and not fit for purpose.

Moi Ali, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR), also said she was “really baffled” that the SNP ­Government had not embraced reform, and claimed the country was lagging behind England.

MSPs yesterday welcomed the intervention.

Judges are responsible for ­probing complaints against their colleagues under the model of self-regulation, overseen by the Judicial Office for Scotland (JOS).

The rules that govern the system are also drawn up by the Lord President, who is the head of the judiciary. Ali can step in if an ­individual believes a complaint has not been handled properly, but her powers do not include ­ordering ­re-investigations or ­imposing sanctions.

Her second annual report is published tomorrow and it reveals she found 20 breaches of the rules last year.

However, in an interview with the Sunday Herald, Ali, 50, backs an overhaul of self-regulation.

“Fundamentally the problem is the legislation … it’s judges judging judges’ conduct.

“I’m presented as the ­independent element, but without the powers I can’t be independent.”

She added: “Without any proper, external, genuinely independent oversight, you’re not going to have public faith and confidence.”

Ali, who also sits on the boards of the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Ambulance Service, believes the limitations of the post are stark.

She said: “I’ve made some small differences and they are small … But really it’s difficult to make an impact within the constraints that I’m in at the moment. It’s a bit like being in a straitjacket.”

South of the Border, the ­equivalent ombudsman has staff, a budget of £500,000 and beefed-up powers.

Ali, by contrast, is on her own and has a budget of about £2000 a year.

“Citizens here have a lot less protection than they do in England and Wales,” she said. “I think that Scotland is leading the way in all sorts of areas – healthcare and education – but here, this is probably one of the few areas where Scotland is playing catch-up.”

Asked why the SNP Government was ­resistant to changing the complaints system, she said: “I have to say I don’t know, I’m really baffled.”

In retrospect, Ali believes the JCR post was not taken seriously by those who created it. “I’m sorry to say that I do think there was an element of window dressing.

“I think that for any professional group, whether it’s the judiciary or any other powerful group of people, it’s quite difficult to take them on.”

On the subject of her tiny budget, Ali said she recognised there was no appetite for a “great big quango”, but noted: “It seems to have gone too far the other way and there’s been an attempt to create something on the cheap.

“I know people will be very unhappy with me using the term ‘window dressing’, but I think there is an element of that.”

However, Ali has helped reform the way in which the JOS conducts the investigation process.

The Lord President has agreed to inform her of the final outcome of any referrals she makes to him, while a summary of the initial JOS investigation report will also be provided to complainers.

Both changes resulted from Ali’s pressure. Even so, she is realistic about the capacity for meaningful change within the status quo.

“If I were asked to create something to deal fairly, effectively, efficiently [and] transparently, with complaints about the judiciary … I would not invent this.”

She is highly critical of the Lord President’s rules that govern the investigation system: “They are legal rules written by lawyers, for other lawyers to use. To me, the perspective is completely wrong.”

She added: “If you have a set of rules that you can pick up and not understand, then they can’t be fit for purpose. They are not written in an understandable way.”

She has contributed to the Lord President’s consultation on changing the rules, but says the practice of judges investigating their colleagues is the bigger problem:

“All of the correspondence I’ve had, people feel that’s not right, that it’s not fair. Even if the Judicial Office act completely fairly, and apply the rules fairly, public perception is really important.”

She does not regret taking up the post, but said her stint had been “enormously frustrating and difficult”.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said: “Moi Ali has been admirable in her pursuit of transparency within the judicial system. The ­Scottish Government should treat her concerns with seriousness, as the current system of self-regulation is not as transparent as it could be. It is clear that there is more work to be done to ensure public confidence in the judicial system.”

Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “If the Judicial Complaints Reviewer believes her position is simply window dressing and that the current system is not fit for purpose, then the Scottish Government should look into these concerns.”

A spokeswoman for the ­Judicial Office for Scotland said: “It would be inappropriate to comment in advance of the publication of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer’s report on December 16.”

A Scottish Government ­spokesman said: “The JCR has carried out only a small number of reviews since the post was created two years ago. It would be premature to review the powers of the role at this point in time.”

Sunday Mail:

What's the point of a watchdog without teeth - Sunday Mail 22 September 2013WHAT’S THE POINT OF A WATCHDOG WITHOUT TEETH?

REVEALED JUDGES ESCAPE SCRUTINY

By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 22 Sept 2013

A watchdog probing complaints about judges yesterday urged Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to give her some real bite.

Moi Ali admits there’s “little point” to her role as Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer because of its lack of teeth.

She said: “It’s fair to say because I don’t actually have any powers. There’s no real independent oversight.If you provide oversight without powers, then there’s almost little point to it.”

Judges have opposed an independent ombudsman to oversee complaints against them.

Their protests resulted in Justice Minister MacAskill creating the “powerless” JCR who works three days per month, has a £2000 annual budget and no staff.

Complaints against judges are initially handled by the Judicial Office for Scotland, which is headed by the Lord President Lord Gill.

The complainer can ask Ali to review how their case was handled – but she can take no action.

In England and Wales, the Office for Judicial Complaints has 15 staff and publishes details of upheld complaints. People can then appeal to the Judicial Appointment and Conduct Ombudsman, headed by Sir John Brigstocke, with 14 staff.

His post is the equivalent to Ali’s but he can overturn decisions, order reinvestigations and ask for victims to be compensated.

Ali said: “It’s hard to say why, if you make a complaint about a judge in England or Wales, the powers available are so much wider compared to what happens in Scotland. Their approach couldn’t be more different in terms of openness.”

Lord Gill has snubbed Holyrood’s plea to discuss legal campaigner Peter Cherbi’s petition for a judicial register of interests. He cited the Scotland Act which says judges can’t be forced to attend parliament. But critics say the Act only refers to judges’ courtroom decisions.

Ali last week told the committee: “Clearly politicians should have no part in influencing judicial decisions.

But judicial accountability is a completely separate issue.

“That’s the issue that cuts through all of this for me.”

During last week’s hearing, Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw launched a colourful attack on Scotland’s top judge.

Carlaw said Lord Gill had an “Edwardian establishment disdain for the hoi polloi”.

He also said there was a feeling “the swish of judicial ermine and velvet should cow into deference both public and the legislature”.

Committee chairman, Labour MSP David Stewart, and his SNP deputy Chic Brodie plan to meet Lord Gill in private and raise Ali’s lack of power with MacAskill.

The Scottish Government said: “We note the committee plans to raise these issues and will respond in due course.”

Sunday Mail:

Judicial Investigator Moi Ali left in the dark over complaints against Scottish Judges - NO She May Not 10 Feb 2013 Sunday MailJUDICIAL INVESTIGATOR LEFT IN THE DARK

May the watchdog appointed by the Scottish Government to investigate complaints against judges have leave to approach the bench, Your Honours?
NO.. SHE MAY NOT

SILENCE IN COURT Lord Gill has not met judicial investigator so far.
EXCLUSIVE, By Russell Findlay, Sunday Mail 10 Feb 2013

A watchdog appointed to look into complaints against Scotland’s judges fears she is being frozen out.

Moi Ali has accused the country’s most senior judge, Lord President Lord Gill, of undermining her work by blocking access to vital documents.

She revealed her frustration in her first annual report since taking up the newly-created role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Ali said she was only seeing the correspondence between the Judicial Office, who act for the judges, and the complainers.

But she was not allowed to see the internal memos and reports between the office and the judges about complaints.

She said: “I believe that in order to conduct a review, and to make wider recommendations on complaints handling, I need to see files in their entirety. “Without this, it is difficult to satisfy myself, let alone complainers, as to the fairness of the process. “I have continued to complete reviews but have made it clear to complainers that I have not had access to all documentation in their complaint file.”

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill defied judicial opposition to create the part-time job to monitor how complaints against judges, sheriffs and justices of the peace are handled.

And Ali fears there is still resistance from within the judiciary to her role as an independent investigator.

She said: “With any profession, there’s a feeling that regulation should come from within. “But this is the first time that the judiciary have been exposed to this kind of scrutiny, which other professional groups are more used to. “Most have accepted there is some kind of mechanism to scrutinise their conduct. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a free and independent judiciary.”

Ali also revealed that she has still not met 70-year-old Lord Gill, who was appointed to his £214,165-a-year post last June, and did not meet his predecessor Lord Hamilton.

She said: “I’m not overly concerned but I’m slightly surprised that the Lord President did not proactively suggest a meeting. I don’t need to meet him but I think it would have sent out a positive message.”

Ali is more concerned at the decision to block her access to documents.

She said: “This came to light because in review number one I was sent all the documents but then I didn’t get the same ones for the second review. “At that point I discovered that I had been given them in error the first time. “I can’t see any reason why and that worries me because I can’t understand it.”

Ali also voiced concerns that judges being investigated could evade punishment by quitting before the probe is complete. And she found there has been a breach in the rules in the way one of the four complaints she reviewed had been handled. Ali also urged the judiciary staff to use plain English when dealing with the public.

Her lack of administrative support was also highlighted – on her first day, she did not have a computer, printer, phone, email address or stationery – and she said it meant she was “unable to give the level of service that I would like to provide”.

A Judicial Office for Scotland spokeswoman said: “In the short time the JCR has been in the post, we have worked very closely with Ms Ali in implementing, developing and reviewing the rules and how they are applied.

“With any new system, there is always a period of adaptation and adjustment and we are grateful to Ms Ali for the helpful suggestions and recommendations she has put forward and which, for the most part, have been implemented.

“A review of the rules is due to take place shortly and the Lord President is committed to working constructively to ensure the complaints procedure develops effectively.”

TOP JUDGE REJECTS REGISTER OF INTERESTS

Lord Gill has rejected calls for judges to register their interests – because he fears they may be harassed by “aggressive media”.

A petition lodged with the Scottish Parliament is calling on the judiciary to reveal any commercial, business or legal links in case they raise possible conflicts with their cases.

But in a letter to the public petitions committee, Scotland’s most senior judge said current safeguards are enough. Lord Gill said: “In practical terms, it would be impossible for all judicial office holders to identify all the interests that could conceivably arise in any future case.

“The terms of the judicial oath and the statement of principles of judicial ethics ensure that such a difficulty does not arise and that the onus is on the judicial office holder to declare any interest at the outset.” He said details held on a register could be abused by “aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants”.

The call for a register has also been rejected by the Law Society of Scotland.

 

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

HUNT FOR LORD OCTOBER: Scotland’s next top judge will be selected by legal establishment as closed shop process begins to appoint new Lord President of the Court of Session

Legal establishment & judiciary to select Scotland’s new top judge. THE PROCESS leading to the eventual appointment of Scotland’s next top judge began today, almost two months after the sudden retirement of Scotland’s longest serving judge – Lord Brian Gill – who served his last three years on the bench as Lord President & Lord Justice General from 8 June 2012 to 31 May 2015.

Earlier today, the Scottish Government & Judicial Office jointly announced First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has established a selection panel comprised of in-house establishment figures including senior members of the judiciary, to make recommendations to the First Minister by Friday 30 October for a new Lord President, the most senior judicial office in Scotland.

However, unlike the selection of senior judicial figures to the top courts of modern democracies such as the United States – where elected representatives have the chance to publicly quiz candidates applying to fill senior judicial positions, the interviews for, and eventual selection of a new top judge for Scotland will be concluded in the now familiar, secretive behind closed doors process controlled by vested legal interests, and fellow members of the judiciary.

In short –  the public will only find out when one wig tells another wig who is going to be their next boss, and the Lord of all our courts.

The selection panel – who will most certainly not be holding their hearings in any public forum such as the Scottish Parliament – is made up of: Sir Muir Russell – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, Mrs Deirdre Fulton – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, The Rt Hon Lord Reed – Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, The Rt Hon Lady Dorrian – Senator, Inner House of the Court of Session

The position of Lord President – with a salary of £220,655 a year, enormous perks including access to international travel and unrivalled power – even to challenge the Scottish Parliament – is responsible for leadership of the entire Scottish judiciary, in addition to chairing the Board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. The office holder is the most senior judge in Scotland, with authority over any court established under Scots law, apart from the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Brian Gill (73) who also served as Lord Justice Clerk from 2001 until 2012 when he was appointed Lord President of the Court of Session – left the position vacant earlier this year after a stormy three year term – marked by the Scottish Government’s watering down of the Scottish Civil Courts Review proposals to reform Scotland’s “Victorian” civil courts, and a bitter two year confrontation with the Scottish Parliament over proposals to require members of the judiciary to declare their vast and varied interests.

The proposals to create a register of judicial interests envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, 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.

Among those who are now expected to put their names forward for the position of Lord President are several names of current Lady Senators of the Court of Session – leading to recent speculation by legal insiders that Scotland could gain it’s first ever female top judge – in effect, a Lady President of the Court of Session.

Role of the Lord President:

The Lord President is the senior judge in Scotland and the head of the Scottish judiciary. In addition to its judicial duties, the office carries with it responsibilities for the administration of justice in Scotland. These responsibilities include the general supervision of the business of the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary, the initiation and preparation of all subordinate legislation made by those Courts, and an important role in the development of policy concerning the courts and the judiciary in Scotland. In addition, the Lord President has various statutory functions, for example, in relation to the membership and rules of procedure of various tribunals, the regulation of the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland and, along with the Lord Justice Clerk, the removal from office of sheriffs.

The Lord President also acts as chairing member of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) which provides administrative support to the Scottish Courts and judiciary, and to the Scottish Tribunals and members. It is for the Lord President, along with the other SCTS members, to provide visible leadership and strategic direction to drive the necessary reform and continuous improvement which will enable the SCTS to develop.

Application pack for position of Lord President. The timetable from job interview to final recommendation is:

Office advertised  Monday 20 July 2015, Closing date for applications  Monday 3 August 2015 (midnight), Deadline for referees   Monday 24 August 2015 (midnight), Sift  Wednesday 2 September 2015, Invitation to interview letters issued Monday 7 September 2015, Interviews  Monday 5 October 2015, Recommendations to First Minister  Friday 30 October 2015

The function of the selection panel is to make recommendations to the First Minister of those whom they have assessed as suitable for appointment as Lord President. That assessment must be solely on merit.

On completion of the interviews the panel will therefore submit a written report to the First Minister containing its recommendations.

The First Minister will then carry out the statutory consultation with the Lord Justice Clerk.

Following this consultation, and with regard to the selection panel’s recommendations, the First Minister will in turn make her nomination to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will then make the recommendation to Her Majesty the Queen.

Only once Her Majesty has agreed the recommendation will candidates be informed of the outcome of the selection stages.

The following Personal Qualities and Criteria for Appointment are contained in the application pack:

Legal and Judicial – A candidate shall:
* Be an outstanding lawyer in the main areas of the law that come to be determined in the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary.
* Possess a thorough understanding of the theory and principles on which the law is based, its practical application and an ability to analyse and explore legal problems creatively and imaginatively.
* Be able clearly and succinctly to set out complex legal issues both orally and in writing and to explain the reasoned basis for any decision.
* Be aware of the areas in which the law is developing with a demonstrable desire to master new and unfamiliar areas of the law.

Leadership and Management – A candidate shall be able to:
* Provide visible and visionary leadership for both the Scottish Judiciary and the SCTS.
* Inspire confidence, command respect and gain commitment from others.
* Provide leadership and strategic direction to ensure that decisions are taken and implemented to deliver an effective and efficient court service across Scotland.
* Lead reform within financial constraints and at a time of significant change.
* Lead change in encouraging a more diverse judiciary.

Personal Qualities – A candidate should be able to demonstrate:
* Integrity, independence of mind, moral courage and the ability to command respect.
* Social awareness and understanding of the contemporary world.
* Sound temperament, consideration and courtesy.
* Resilience.
* Excellent communication skills which support the representational role on behalf of the judiciary and SCTS.
* Fairness, impartiality and a responsible attitude.
* An ability to set and promote both the highest standards of behaviour in court and wider judicial conduct.

Eligibility for appointment as Lord President is open to:

* Serving Court of Session judges
* Sheriffs principal and sheriffs who have held continuous office for at least five years immediately preceding appointment
* Solicitors who have had rights of audience in both the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the appointment
* Advocates of at least five years standing
* Writers to the Signet of ten years standing who have passed an examination in civil law set by the Faculty of Advocates, two years before appointment

FAMILIAR FACES: Profiles of the selection Panel members:

Sir Muir Russell was appointed as lay Chairing Member of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland in October 2008 and has been reappointed twice, until September 2016. Sir Muir was educated at the High School of Glasgow and Glasgow University, where he took a first class honours degree in Natural Philosophy. He was Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Office and then the Scottish Executive from 1998 to 2003 and Principal of the University of Glasgow from 2003 to 2009.

Mrs Deirdre Fulton was appointed a lay member of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland in February 2015. She is a graduate of University of Strathclyde and has a Masters in Business Administration. She runs her own consultancy business with a focus on providing meaningful insight and analysis, mainly to clients in the aviation sector. Typical assignments include strategic planning, due diligence, market research, marketing and communications. Prior to setting up her own company in 2008, she worked at a senior level in the Scottish aviation industry and gained extensive experience of corporate strategy and operations as well as people and resource management. She is Vice Chair and Trustee of her local Samaritans branch with specific responsibility for recruitment and selection.

Lord Reed was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2012 and is one of the two Scottish Justices of The Supreme Court. Lord Reed is a graduate of the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford. He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1983, where he undertook a wide range of civil and criminal work. He served as a senior judge in Scotland for 13 years, being appointed to the Outer House of the Court of Session in 1998 and to the Inner House in January 2008. During 1999 he sat as an ad hoc judge of the European Court of Human Rights.

Lady Dorrian was appointed as a Senator of the College of Justice in 2005, having served as a Temporary Judge since 2002. She was appointed to the Inner House in November 2012. Lady Dorrian is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen (LLB). She was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1981 and was Standing Junior Counsel to the Health and Safety Executive and Commission between 1987 and 1994. She served as Advocate Depute between 1988 and 1991 and as Standing Junior to the Department of Energy between 1991 and 1994. Lady Dorrian was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1994 and between 1997 and 2001 she was a member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Lady Dorrian was appointed as a judicial member of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland in July 2011.
Contact information

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

PURGE LAW: ‘Reform minded’ Legal complaints chief ousted for Law Society insider as solicitors regulatory body retakes control of ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Law Society’s Neil Stevenson retakes complaints quango for lawyers.THE LEGAL profession’s definition of ‘independence’ took a full turn yesterday as the ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) and the Law Society of Scotland announced long time Law Society insider Neil Stevenson is to be the SLCC’s latest Chief Executive, replacing former Foreign Office careerist Matthew Vickers who took on the role in June 2012.

Stevenson’s appointment to the tarnished position as head of the pro-lawyer anti-client SLCC – created in 2008 and at a staggering cost since to Scots clients of over £20 million in complaints levies paid by solicitors and recovered via legal fees to clients – comes after widely reported evidence showing the SLCC has failed to live up to expectations of dealing with rising numbers of rogue solicitors who rip off their clients.

And, the Law Society’s decision to retake control of the ‘independent’ SLCC by placing one of their own in charge also comes after a challenging year for self regulation of the legal profession – left reeling from the effects of the damaging BBC Scotland investigation “Lawyers Behaving Badly” –  which blew the mask off lawyers investigating their own and legal aid fraud.

For the past fifteen months since the BBC programme aired in January 2014,  the Law Society have demanded significant changes at the SLCC after concluding the hapless complaints quango – staffed mostly by former Law Society insiders – failed to stand up for lawyers during the BBC Scotland investigation.

And, earlier this year, further friction between the two legal regulators emerged when the SLCC criticised a rigged poll organised and funded by the Law Society which claimed solicitors are ‘well liked’.

Articles on the client satisfaction poll – published in some media outlets were written by the Law Society’s own president Alistair Morris in which the Law Society President extolled the virtues of lawyers, backed up with dodgy statistics.

However the full extent of how the poll had been rigged –  featured in an investigation by DOI reported here: OWNED POLL: Law Society ‘scripted’ survey criticised by Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – new data reveals few clients of dodgy lawyers ask legal regulators for help

Another twist to the friction between the SLCC & Law Society emerged after it was revealed a series of communications between the SLCC and law reformers brought about a tipping point forcing Law Society bosses to act.

The communications – which fell into the hands of the Law Society – ‘in real time’ – appear to have helped the decision to force out the then SLCC CEO – Matt Vickers – who stood down out of the blue earlier this year to pursue a career at Ombudsman Services, reported here: GONE MEDIATIN’: Pro-lawyer legal regulator loses another CEO as Matthew Vickers leaves Scottish Legal Complaints Commission for Ombudsman Services role

The replacement of an outsider with a Law Society insider as head of the SLCC have led to further suggestions the anti-consumer quango can do nothing without a say so from the Law Society.

In an announcement the SLCC said yesterday: The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the independent body for complaints against solicitors, advocates and other legal practitioners in Scotland, has announced the appointment of Neil Stevenson as its new Chief Executive Officer.

Neil Stevenson has been with the Law Society of Scotland since 2004.  He is currently the Society’s Director of Representation and Professional Support.  He will be joining the Commission in mid-July.

As the new CEO Neil’s priorities will be to drive the full implementation of the SLCC’s strategy – to provide an excellent complaint resolution service for legal complaints in Scotland, to provide guidance on service standards to the profession and consumers and to raise the confidence in the legal profession in Scotland.

Bill Brackenridge, Chair of the SLCC welcomed the appointment. He said : “I am delighted to welcome such an accomplished professional to the Commission; he will inspire our staff to deliver their challenging role and move the Commission to a higher level.

Neil Stevenson, the new CEO said “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Law Society and am grateful to have all the opportunities and challenges afforded to me.  I am looking forward to joining the SLCC and working with the staff to deliver some very challenging objectives.”

The Society’s chief executive, Lorna Jack commented: “I am delighted for Neil and congratulate him on his appointment. As someone who understands the legal profession and with his passion, good judgment and positive attitude, I know Neil is going to make an outstanding contribution as SLCC chief executive.”

Jack continued: “Whilst I am sorry to lose Neil from the Law Society, we will benefit from his hard work for many years to come. In his time as director of representation, he has helped to transform the range of services and support we offer the profession. He has championed our innovative new Smartcard project, ensured we remain a leader on equality and diversity, and has helped develop our new long term strategy. All of us at the Law Society are grateful for everything he has done.

“I am now looking forward to working with Neil in his new role. The relationship between the Law Society and the SLCC has improved greatly over the last few years. Given the specific roles we play in the regulation of solicitors, this has been important, particularly for the public who depend on both of our organisations to work together to protect their interests.”

The current biography of Neil Stevenson on the Law Society of Scotland’s website says: “Neil joined the education team of the Society in 2004, having previously worked on medical and dental training for NHS Education for Scotland. He holds an Edinburgh law degree and a masters in management, and has previous experience in the oil and gas sector and management research. Neil is responsible for the confidential helpline service provided by the solicitors in professional practice and for the provision of CPD to the profession through Update. The professional support team focuses on ensuring the Society listens to and learns from its members, campaigns on their behalf, and provides support services to individuals and firms. He is a director of both the independent charity LawCare and the Scottish Arbitration Centre.”

Stevenson’s directorship of “Law Care” – a charity set up by the legal profession to help and defend solicitors who have been found out for ripping off their clients – will be of interest to clients who end up in the unenviable position of having to approach the SLCC to make a complaint about their solicitor. The charity has filed numerous reports with the pro-lawyer SLCC & Law Society Complaints Committees – pleading for corrupt solicitors to be let off the hook on everything from embezzlement to faking up paperwork.

Stevenson’s directorship of the Scottish Arbitration Centre may also put him in conflict of interest with SLCC policy of forcing complainants into the murky world of arbitration – where clients who are ripped off for large sums of cash by their solicitor end up with only a pittance in return. The Scottish Arbitration Centre – started by the Scottish Government and backed by lawyers, is a sponge for taxpayers cash and international trips by lawyers & former judges who are trying to promote Scotland’s tarnished legal sector as a haven for international mediation.

REVOLVING DOOR OF LEGAL REGULATOR CHIEF EXECUTIVES:

The post of the SLCC’s Chief Executive has seen considerable controversy since the legal quango was created in 2008. Now, eight years on and five Chief Executives later, the SLCC is looking for another boss to steer it through troubled waters and continuing accusations of pro-lawyer bias.

mkmc slcc openingMacAskill as Justice Secretary backed secret payoff for ‘too ill to work’ former Chief Executive. The SLCC’s first ‘appointed’ Chief Executive – Eileen Masterman – held the role for less than a year, negotiated a secret, substantial payoff backed personally by the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and resigned from her role at the SLCC on grounds of “ill health”. Eileen Masterman then returned to work for her former employer – the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) as a “complaints reviewer”, and was accused of whitewashing the circumstances of the death of a baby at the NHS Forth Valley Hospital – reported by Diary of Injustice & the Sunday Mail newspaper here : Deputy First Minister to look into death of baby McKenzie Wallace after parents complain of ‘whitewash’ report by SPSO investigator Eileen Masterman

The SLCC’s first Chief Executive – civil servant Richard Smith – resigned from the role after disagreements about how the SLCC would act as a regulator. Mr Smith was then replaced by another civil servant before Mrs Masterman was eventually appointed as the first ‘official’ CEO.

Concluding a turbulent few months which saw exchanges of letters between current Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Masterman over claims and counter-claims about the Master Policy – reported here: SLCC’s Eileen Masterman resigns, questions remain on attempt to mislead Cabinet Finance Chief John Swinney over secret meetings with insurers Marsh’ Masterman stood down from the SLCC – which by that time had suffered significant reputational damage.

After a speedy recruitment round, Rosemary Agnew then became the SLCC’s fourth Chief Executive, reported here: The £80K job no-one wants : Lawyers lobby seek FIFTH time unlucky Chief Executive for Scottish Legal Complaints Commission role. However Ms Agnew later resigned to take up the post of Scottish Information Commissioner in early 2012.

The SLCC’s current and now outgoing CEO Matthew Vickers took on the role in June 2012, reported here: “Customer Service” main focus for Ex-Foreign Office Consul taking over as FIFTH Chief Exec at ‘anti-consumer’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

 

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

MY COURT NOT YOURS: Scotland’s top judge slams politicians and government as “insidious” in law conference attack on transparency & calls to reform secretive judiciary & vested legal interests

Top judge Brian Gill attacks calls for judicial reforms. IN a speech to the Commonwealth Law Conference held in Glasgow SECC last weekend, Scotland’s top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill accused government, legislators and transparency as being “insidious” threats to his way of doing things and the judiciary at large.

The lengthy speech from Gill (73), supposedly on independence of the judiciary & legal profession ended up as a bitter tirade aimed at politicians and those calling for reform of the secretive world of the nation’s judiciary and the vested interests of those at the top of the justice system.

Launching a fierce attack on calls for judicial transparency, the political process and Holyrood MSPs who are investigating accountability and transparency within the judiciary amid calls for a register of judges interests, Lord Gill told his audience: “The threats to judicial independence do not always come with a knock on the door in the middle of the night.  In a society that prides itself on the  independence  of  its  judiciary,  the  threat  may  come  in  insidious ways, even at the hands of well-meaning governments and legislators, in the name of efficiency and, ironically,  in the name of  transparency.”

And, Gill – Scotland’s longest serving judge – went on to tell his audience of lawyers, judges & academics that protesters he encountered standing on the Heart of Midlothian in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile were lucky they were not dragged off by Police.

In a swipe at unidentified persons who were apparently calling for the top judge’s resignation, Gill told his audience: “Two years ago, I was crossing the square outside my court when I noticed two individuals standing, perhaps appropriately, at the Heart of Midlothian, the scene of public executions in Edinburgh in former times. They were holding a large banner. It caught my eye. It said “Lord Gill – Resign!” I never discovered what their reasons were; but I thought what a privilege it was to be a judge in a society where the public could make a constructive suggestion of that nature without being taken away by the police.”

The barbed comments from the ageing judge against all and sundry come as Gill continues to fight a bitter two year battle against Holyrood msps who overwhelmingly support proposals to establish a register of interests for members of the judiciary as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Since early 2013 Lord Gill has refused three invitations to appear before the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee and be questioned on the issue of judges refusing to declare their interests.

The top judge has instead sent several strongly worded letters to msps warning them they cannot compel a judge to appear at Holyrood. Gill used a loophole in the Scotland Act to dodge questions on his hostility to transparency and also implied in a further letter he may have to reconsider allowing judges to cooperate with the Scottish parliament in the future.

The proposals to create a register of judicial interests envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, 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.

Faced with investigating the secretive world of judicial vested interests, MSPs who sit on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee instead took evidence from Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) Moi Ali. During questions at the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee, Moi Ali told msps there was little transparency or accountability in Scotland’s judiciary.

And, despite Scottish Ministers attempt to thwart a debate at Holyrood last October 2014, most msps backed a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests – reported along with video footage & the official record, here: Debating the Judges

Speech given by Lord Gill to Commonwealth Law Conference Glasgow 2015 Continuing his lengthy seventeen page speech, Gill told his audience of legal professionals that judges lead a lonely life and have no support from anyone else except themselves.

He told his listeners: “The highest priority of judicial education is not to teach judges the law, but to teach them about themselves. The life of a judge is a lonely one where the only support network available is that of one’s colleagues.”

However, the sad lonely life of a judge – as Gill would have the public believe – does not appear to preclude the judiciary from becoming involved in tax avoidance schemes, huge movements of wealth around the world, investing in companies who benefit from business in the courts and jet setting around the world at taxpayers expense.

Last year for example, Lord Gill flew off to a five day state visit to Qatar – details of which have been kept mainly hidden from prying eyes.

Gill was later criticised in the Scottish Parliament for attending Qatar and giving a speech on judicial ethics, while refusing to answer questions from msps on judicial ethics, accountability and transparency. MSP Jackson Carlaw even joked the Petition Committee should have gone to Qatar to question the top judge after he refused to show up at Holyrood,

Following Lord Gill’s frequent attacks on “aggressive media” over calls for transparency – and the top judge’s subsequent threat to ban journalists from accessing court documents last year in a highly public fit of pique, Gill launched another broadside against the press for their reporting of cases in the courts.

Gill said: “Criticism of one’s judgments in the media is never a pleasant experience; but, as Lord Woolf has commented, we must swallow our pride and be thankful for a free press which stands to safeguard our independence.

Independence relies upon public understanding of our courts and the way in which they should expect our courts to operate. Public awareness breeds public confidence. For most people, newspaper accounts of court cases are the source of their knowledge of our justice system. There is inevitably a tension in the relationship between the judiciary and the media. The court adjudicates on matters involving the media fairly frequently. Therefore, as Lord Woolf rightly observes, we should be circumspect about having a relationship with the media that might cast doubt on judicial independence. It is a fine line to tread.

In modern times, our court systems have a dedicated media team, who liaise with the media to ensure that there is an open and accurate flow of information. For, the media are helpful to our cause only if facts are reported with accuracy. Good communication with the media – at arm’s length – is a sign that our court system is in touch with the community and. I would argue, is in itself an important aspect of judicial independence.”

Speaking on his two year consultation to change the rules on judicial discipline and complaints – which ended up with much the same rules as before, Gill said: “A related and more obvious aspect of judicial professionalism is judicial discipline. It is immediately obvious that there is a tension between the concepts of accountability and independence. There must be an effective mechanism in place for investigating and sanctioning misconduct without eroding the independence of the judiciary.”

“Appointment to the bench does not confer immunity from discipline. It is therefore usually suggested that judicial discipline should be left in the hands of the judiciary themselves. That excludes the possibility of interference from the executive, but it does not entirely resolve the independence problem. If the judiciary is essentially self-regulating, the perception of a judiciary driven by self-interest and self-protection, and shrouded in mystery, will do us great damage. It does little to ensure that the public have a satisfactory impression of accountability.”

“In Scotland, this difficulty has been overcome by our adopting two distinct processes, namely, a complaints procedure and a ‘fitness for office’ procedure. If I were to conclude that a judicial office holder was unfit for office, the matter would be referred to an independent tribunal to investigate and report on whether there was unfitness to hold office by reason of inability, neglect, or misbehaviour. I have never had to take such a step. Disciplinary procedures of this nature are rare. We are fortunate to have a professional and dedicated judiciary. Perhaps, that is a reflection of the fact that we now have a comprehensive Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics that spells out exactly what conduct we expect of our judiciary.”

Gill ended his speech describing his idea of the “ideal judge”, notably leaving out transparency as a requirement for those on the bench.

Gill told his audience: “So, what kind of judge do we wish to have? First and foremost a judge who is appointed fairly and publicly. Every decision to appoint is made ad hoc. Therefore we should not be excessively prescriptive lest we fail to allow for the unforeseen. But certain general priorities are there for your consideration. It is surely desirable that our ideal judge should be one who has experienced the true meaning of an independent profession and who exemplifies excellence allied to good judgment. A judge who is willing to learn and to be accountable. A judge who has self-knowledge, humility, and an understanding of the nobility of the office to which he has been called.”

Judges, lawyers and academics from many Commonwealth nations attended the conference at the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC). Those organising the conference claimed the gathering of legal eagles generated an economic boost in the region of £1.4m for the city.

The conference – last held in 2013 in Cape Town, South Africa – which Lord Gill jetted to at taxpayers expense has been brought to Glasgow in partnership between the Law Society of Scotland, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (GCMB) and the SECC. It is officially the conference of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, which works to promote human rights and the rule of law across the Commonwealth, and to support lawyers in countries where their work may incur sanctions from the authorities.

Just prior to the start of the event, it was revealed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was booked to speak to the conference via video link.

During his speech, Mr Assange suggested communications were being monitored between legal professionals and the wikileaks team.

However, when judges discovered the Assange booking, several judicial figures including Lord Gill and also Lord Neuberger & Lord Hodge of the UK Supreme Court among others – walked out of the conference.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office for Scotland said: “The conference programme was changed to include Mr Assange’s participation at short notice and without consultation. Mr Assange is, as a matter of law, currently a fugitive from justice and it would therefore not be appropriate for judges to be addressed by him.Under these circumstances the Lord President, Lord Gill and the other Scottish judicial office holders in attendance have withdrawn from the conference.”

A spokesman for the UK Supreme Court said: “Lord Neuberger and Lord Hodge share the concerns expressed by Lord Gill and his fellow senior Scottish judges regarding the late addition of Mr Assange to the conference programme. As a result of this unfortunate development, they trust that delegates will understand their decision to withdraw from the conference.The justices took this action regretfully, as they value greatly the work of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the role of the conference as an important forum for sharing experiences and good practice across the legal profession.”

The Judicial Office have offered no further comment on Lord Gill’s remarks.

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: , , , , , , , , , , , ,