Tag Archives: Alex Salmond

JUDICIAL CAPITAL: Court clash over £400m Heather Capital collapse reveals suspended judge received £200K from Gibraltar law firm involved in £28.4m offshore cash transfers

Court hears Sheriff received £200K from law firm. DETAILS of a £200,000 payment made to a suspended Scottish judge have emerged in a court clash between liquidators of the collapsed £400m Heather Capital Hedge Fund & Glasgow based law firm Levy & Mcrae – who are being sued for £28.4million in relation to transfers of cash to offshore companies.

In an opinion issued by Lord Woolman at the Court of Session, it was revealed suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson (61) – a former partner in Levy & McRae – received £200,000 from the client account of Hassans – a Gibraltar based law firm on 23 December 2008.

The payment to the suspended Sheriff came to light in court documents which also revealed a trail of cash transfers from Levy & Mcrae to offshore companies based in Panama, Monaco & Gibraltar.

The court also heard Gibraltar based Hassans- acted in the transfer of funds to companies incorporated in Gibraltar that were owned or controlled by Gregory King – who launched Heather Capital in 2004.

Details from the court opinion further revealed “One of the transactions concerned a company called Westernbrook Properties Limited. On 4 January 2007 the sum of £19 million was paid into the first defender’s client account. It was paid out 5 days later to an account with HSBC Private Bank in Monaco held by a Panamanian company. On 24 January the sum of £9.412 million was paid into the first defender’s client account. It was paid out on 28 March to the client account of Hassans.”

Liquidators of the now defunct hedge fund contend Heather Capital was defrauded of a sum of about £90 million. The court also heard claims Levy & McRae provided “dishonest assistance” to Heather Capital’s founder – Gregory King – now based in Spain.

Paul Duffy of Ernst & Young – who are handling Heather Capital’s affairs – is demanding  £28.4million from Levy & McRae, Mr Watson and other partners of the firm

During the hearing, legal agents acting for the liquidators also sought to obtain an order requiring suspended Sheriff Watson to disclose his involvement with Heather Capital.

However, Lord Woolman refused the request, expressing fears that granting the order would ‘encourage litigation’.

Lord Woolman said in his opinion: “I decline to do so. The details of insurance are a private matter between the insured and insurers. There are major questions involved in disclosure, including the likelihood that it would encourage speculative ‘deep pocket’ litigation.”

Since 2010, Ernst & Young have been battling to recover investors cash from the demise of Heather Capital.

In court documents filed in the Isle of Man as part of a negligence claim against accountants KPMG over their role in Heather Capital – it is claimed Heather Capital were operating a Ponzi scheme to dupe investors.

Documents allege that as early as 2006, senior KPMG staff feared Heather Capital “may have been perpetrating a fraud”.

And in August 2007, KPMG employee Raymond Gawne told a colleague that he was “very uncomfortable” acting for the fund which “may have acted in a criminal manner”.

The claim also alleges that millions of pounds of loans passed through the client account of Glasgow lawyer Frank Cannon who acted for Heather.

KPMG senior executive David McGarry sent an email to Gregory King stating: “Frank Cannon has been uncooperative, either in providing some form of explanation for all of the security documentation prepared by his firm, or in agreeing to facilitate access to Cannon’s clients’ money account”.

In July 2011, the Scottish Crime & Drug Enforcement Agency obtained search warrants to recover material from the Glasgow based Cannon Law Practice – run by Frank Cannon – as part of an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of millions of pounds of cash. Much of the allegedly stolen money passed through Cannon’s client account.

The move by Police followed a financial audit of Cannon’s Law Practice – conducted by the Law Society of Scotland in 2010, during which it was discovered millions of pounds had passed through Cannon’s client account in relation to a series of offshore transactions involving their client – Gregory King, a director of Mathon Ltd & Heather Capital.

It is unknown at this time if the Law Society of Scotland have conducted any financial audit of law firms mentioned in the latest court proceedings – where it is alleged tens of millions of pounds have passed through client accounts to offshore companies.

A report from Police Scotland naming Gregory King, Andrew Sobolewski, Andrew Millar & Scott Carmichael is still being considered by the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland & Scotland’s Crown Office. However, no decision has yet been made public on the case since the Crown Office confirmed it was considering Police reports filed with prosecutors some time during 2014.


Peter Black Watson (61) – a partner in Levy & Mcrae at the time of the transactions – was suspended from judicial position of Sheriff by Scotland’s top judge Lord Brian Gill earlier this year – after an investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper prompted the Lord President to demand sight of a multi million pound writ against Glasgow law firm Levy & Mcrae.

As no register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary currently exists, top judge Lord Gill was unaware of Sheriff Watson’s involvement in Heather Capital until the Scottish Sun newspaper contacted the Judicial Office directly.

Watson offered to temporarily step aside from his judicial duties – while the litigation concluded – however a spokesperson for the Judicial Office told the media: “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”

A statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland read: Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

“On Friday 13 February the Judicial Office was made aware of the existence of a summons containing certain allegations against a number of individuals including part-time sheriff Peter Watson.

The Lord President’s Private Office immediately contacted Mr Watson and he offered not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings. Mr Watson e-mailed a copy of the summons to the Lord President’s Private Office on Saturday 14 February.

On Monday 16 February the Lord President considered the matter. Having been shown the summons, the Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary. Mr Watson was therefore duly suspended from office on Monday 16 February 2015.”

Watson – who remains suspended from the judicial bench, was a director of Mathon Ltd – a key part of the Heather empire. The suspended Sheriff who now works out of PBW Law, also held shares in Aarkad PLC – a company based in the Isle of Man which channelled money into Heather Capital.

Watson was also a director of a “King & Company” – a Private Bank set up by Gregory King in Gibraltar. However, Gibraltar’s Financial Services watchdog revealed the banking license application for “King & Company” was withdrawn after two years in 2010.

In his capacity as a solicitor, and during the time Watson acted as a Sheriff – his clients included former First Minister Alex Salmond, former Rangers owners Sir David Murray, ex-Glasgow City Council leader Stephen Purcell and former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini.

The full opinion from Lord Woolman in the latest round of litigation in the Heather Capital case at Scotland’s Court of Session:



In the cause



Pursuer:  Lord Davidson of Glen Clova QC;  Shepherd & Wedderburn LLP
Defenders:  Clark QC, J Brown;  Simpson & Marwick
14 August 2015


[1]        Heather Capital Ltd (‘HC’) was incorporated in the Isle of Man in 2005.  Prior to its liquidation in 2010 it had received investments exceeding $400 million. The present action has been raised in its name by the liquidator. The first defender is the firm of Levy & McRae. The other defenders are eight individuals, who were partners in the firm in the period from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2008.

[2]        The liquidator contends that the company was defrauded of a sum of about £90 million. The scheme involved the transfer of funds to companies incorporated in Gibraltar that were owned or controlled by one of HC’s directors, Gregory King.  A firm of solicitors in Gibraltar, Hassans, acted in these transactions.

[3]        According to the liquidator, in early 2007 HC’s auditors raised queries about these transactions.  Subsequently, Mr King sought to conceal their true nature.

[4]        One of the transactions concerned a company called Westernbrook Properties Limited. On 4 January 2007 the sum of £19 million was paid into the first defender’s client account.  It was paid out 5 days later to an account with HSBC Private Bank in Monaco held by a Panamanian company.  On 24 January the sum of £9.412 million was paid into the first defender’s client account.  It was paid out on 28 March to the client account of Hassans.

[5]        On 23 December 2008 a payment of £200,000 was made to the eighth defender, Mr Peter Watson, from Hassans’ client account.

[6]        The liquidator pleads that HC was the client of the first defender at the material time. Accordingly, the defenders owed HC certain fiduciary duties, together with an obligation to exercise the knowledge, skill and care of reasonably competent solicitors.

[7]        It is also important to notice the terms of the pursuer’s ninth plea-in-law. It states:

“the pursuer having suffered loss, injury and damage by reasons of the defenders’ dishonest assistance of Gregory King in the latter committing breach of his fiduciary duties owed to the pursuer … decree should be pronounced”

[8]        The liquidator seeks to recover the sum of £28.4 million from the defenders. He intimated the claim on 23 June 2013.  There followed extensive pre-action correspondence before the summons was served on 23 October 2014. During that period, the liquidator did not request clarification of the membership or constitution of the firm of Levy & McRae as it existed from time to time.

[9]        The summons called on 10 February 2015.  The defences were lodged a week later. They stated that three of the defenders had been wrongly convened, because they had been assumed as partners after June 2007.  They are Mr Alasdair Gillies (1 July 2007), Mr Andrew Sleigh (1 December 2008), and Mr Gary Booth (1 January 2011).

[10]      The defenders raised this matter at the preliminary hearing on 5 March, and the continued hearing on 8 May. They said it involved significant reputational damage to those three individuals. They asked for early disposal of this discrete issue.

[11]      I fixed a hearing to take place on 13 August.  About a week before the hearing, the liquidator enrolled a motion to allow a minute of amendment.  It sought to add five further individuals as defenders, on the footing that they had been partners in the first defender in the period from 4 January 2007 to date.

[12]      The liquidator gave the following reasons in support of his motion:

“The pursuer’s agents wrote to the agent for the defenders on 7 May 2015 and 7 July 2015. In those letters, the pursuer’s agent requested:

    confirmation that the defenders had adequate insurance cover in place to meet the pursuer’s claim if it was successful;
copies of the partnership agreements for each defender that the defender’s agents maintain have been wrongly convened; and
details of each defender’s capital contribution to the firm

The defenders have failed to provide any of this information to the pursuer. The pursuer has identified a further 5 current and former partners of the firm who require to be convened.

Without confirmation that the defenders have sufficient insurance cover, or evidence as to why the defenders do not incur personal liability (which depends on the circumstances of each case), the pursuer seeks to convene these partners and former partners to the action as they may be jointly and severally liable for the debts of the firm.” (emphasis added)

Liability of new partners

[13]      The liability of new partners is governed by section 17(1) of the Partnership Act 1890:

“A person who is admitted as a partner into an existing firm does not thereby become liable to the creditors of the firm for anything done before he became a partner.”

[14]      In their Joint Consultation Paper on Partnership Law (2000), the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission state in relation to Scots law (at 10.65):

“Where the business taken over is substantially the same as the old firm, and where that business is continued without interruption, there appears to be a general presumption that the new partnership takes over the whole liabilities as well as the assets.”

[15]      Lord Hodge considered this point in Sim v Howat & McLaren [2011] CSOH 115 at [31]:

“The presumption does not arise unless there are facts and circumstances which bring it into play. The continuation of substantially the same business without interruption is necessary for the presumption.”

He suggested a number of other relevant facts and circumstances. They included whether the new partner had made a substantial capital contribution, whether he had paid or acknowledged any of the prior debts, and whether separate accounts were kept for the new and the old firm.

[16]      Lord Hodge determined at paragraph [29] that the appropriate test was whether a new partner had “accepted liability either expressly or tacitly” for the claim.

[17]      Who is responsible for averring those facts and circumstances? The answer is clear. In Thomson Balfour v Boag & Son 1936 SC 2 Lord Fleming stated (at p16) that “it was for the pursuers to prove” that a new partner had accepted liability for the debts of the old business.

[18]      Similarly in Miller v Macleod 1973 SC 172 Lord Justice Clerk Wheatley stated (at p183):

“whether in the circumstances the pursuer has established by presumption or by proof of facts and circumstances that the new firm agreed to adopt the old debts and become liable for them. Of course, the establishment of the presumption itself is dependent upon sufficient facts being proved to sustain it, and this in my opinion entitles the Court to look at all the facts, whether they occurred before, at or after the establishment of the partnership.”

[19]      In the present case, the liquidator does not offer to prove such facts and circumstances.  Instead, he states in condescendence 1:

“the defenders have been called upon, but failed, to provide to the pursuer the evidence (including a copy of the relevant partnership agreement(s) and copies of the accounts showing capital contributions made by the partners joining the partnership after December 2008) that any new partners who joined the partnership of Levy & McRae have not, in fact, undertaken liabilities of the partnership which were in existence prior to them joining. Accordingly, all the defenders are properly convened.”

[20]      In my view, that averment fails to satisfy the test identified by the Inner House. There are no averments that would allow the liquidator to lead evidence that the three individuals either expressly or tacitly agreed to take over the existing liabilities of the previous firm.  It does not set out the basis upon which the three individuals are convened. Instead it inverts the normal rule that the pursuer must plead his case.

[21]      Given the serious nature of the allegations and the size of the claim, the liquidator required to identify the basis upon which each defender had been convened.  He also had to differentiate between the acts of those individuals who had been partners at the material time and those who had been assumed after 2007.

[22]      I shall therefore sustain the defenders’ first plea-in-law to the extent of dismissing the case, so far as laid against the third, sixth and seventh defenders.

[23]      In doing so, I observe that on 25 March, the defenders’ solicitors wrote three separate letters to the pursuer’s solicitors and stated:

“In terms of his partnership agreement, no obligation was imposed on [the relevant defender] in respect of acts or omissions prior to his assumption, nor did he provide any indemnity in respect of such matters.”

Minute of Amendment

[24]      In the minute of amendment, the pursuer seeks (a) to alter the dates for the partners called as defenders to 4 January 2007 to date; and (b) to add five individuals, all of whom have been partners of Levy & McRae at some stage in that period. The relevant dates are as follows: Anne Bennie (2000 – 2008), Calum Anderson (1 July 2014) Laura Salmond (3 November 2014), Graham Craik (5 January 2015), and Stephen Hay 2007 (c6 months in late 2007).

[25]      The minute does not include any substantive averments to indicate the basis upon which these individuals are said to have taken over prior liabilities.  Accordingly, for the same reasons as given in relation to Messrs Gillies, Sleigh and Booth, I refuse to allow receipt of the minute.

[26]      The pursuer has had ample opportunity to investigate the position. Standing the very serious nature of the allegations, and the absence of a proper basis for seeking to add the five individuals as partners, I hold that it is not in the interests of justice to follow that course.

Disclosure of the Insurance Position

[27]      The pursuer seeks an order requiring the defenders to answer questions about the insurance position.  First, will the policy cover the claim?  Second, have the defenders notified a claim to insurers?  Third, have the insurers accepted the claim?

[28]      At the May hearing, the pursuer’s then senior counsel accepted that he was not entitled to ask for that information.  Lord Davidson, however, explained that the application had been made to elide the difficulty of identifying the correct defenders.  If the claim is covered by insurance, then that issue is much less important.

[29]      There is no Scottish authority in point.  In England the matter has been considered in the context of the court’s powers under the Civil Procedure Rules.  In West London Pipeline & Storage Ltd v Total UK Ltd [2008] EWCH 1296 (Comm), David Steel J refused to allow disclosure, although he also stated at [30]:

“The trend is strongly towards a more open approach to litigation. Albeit the potential for prejudice to the defendant and his insurers must be borne in mind, in the modern age of ‘cards on the table’ the question is readily posed why should not the one factor which may be key to a claimant’s view of the merit of pursuing a claim, namely what is the limit of cover and will the costs eat it up anyway, be known?”

[30]      In XYZ v Various [2013] EWHC 3643 (QB) Thirwall J ordered very limited disclosure to demonstrate that the defendant had sufficient insurance to fund its participation to the end of the trial.  The Court of Appeal has indicated that the matter is not free from doubt: Dowling v Griffin [2014] EWCA Civ 1445.

[31]      Lord Davidson suggested that I could use the wide powers contained in rule of court 47 to order disclosure.  I decline to do so. The details of insurance are a private matter between the insured and insurers.  There are major questions involved in disclosure, including the likelihood that it would encourage speculative “deep pocket” litigation: West London at [30].

Further Procedure

[32]      I shall allow a further period of ten weeks for open adjustment, with the qualification that all substantive adjustment should be completed within eight weeks.

[33]      That lengthy period is justified by three factors.  First, there have been recent extensive adjustments to the pleadings. Second, a hearing is due to take place before the Supreme Court of Gibraltar on 24 September in respect of a Letter of Request to recover the files of Hassans.

[34]      Third Lord Tyre has reserved judgment following a recent debate in similar proceedings raised by the liquidator against Burness Paul. Mr Clark said that the decision may have a significant bearing on the present action, as the arguments on prescription and loss are very similar.

[35]      Having regard to that third factor, I shall also fix a diet of debate.  Mr Clark estimated that it would last three days. Apart from the plea of prescription, the defenders mount eleven separate challenges to the relevancy of the pursuer’s averments.

[36]      If the defenders are successful and obtain dismissal, that may save each party a considerable sum of money. Mr Clark estimated that a proof before answer would last about six weeks and cost each side several hundred thousand pounds.

Request for a witness statement from Peter Watson

[37]      The pursuer asks the court to ordain Mr Watson to provide a witness statement to explain the circumstances in which the sum of £9.5 million was paid to Hassans and the purpose of the payment of £200,000, made to him from Hassans’ client account on 23 December 2008. The pursuer seeks the statement to make his own averments “more pointed”.

[38]      I would be slow to order one witness to produce a statement in advance of the other statements. I find no compelling reason in this case to depart from the normal rule that there should be a simultaneous exchange of witness statements.  I therefore refuse the application.


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THE JUDGES’ MAN: Sacked Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill replaces transparency crusader Chic Brodie on Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee

Ex Justice Secretary heads to Holyrood Petitions Committee. FORMER Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill, who was sacked by Scotland’s new First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in her recent cabinet reshuffle, has been moved to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, replacing transparency crusader Chic Brodie MSP.

The move was announced last week with little fanfare – Motion S4M-11738: Joe FitzPatrick, Dundee City West, Scottish National Party, On Behalf of Parliamentary Bureau, Date Lodged: 27/11/2014 – that Kenny MacAskill be appointed to replace Chic Brodie as a member of the Public Petitions Committee.

The former Justice Secretary, who has been the star of many controversies in Scotland’s justice system, from the ‘compassionate’ release of AbdelBaset Al Megrahi – convicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988, to presiding over faked-up crime figures, massive hand-outs of £1 Billion in legal aid to lawyers since the financial crash of 2008, continuing scandals at Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service, failed reforms of Scotland’s civil & criminal justice system, court closures, attempts to remove requirements of corroboration of evidence in criminal trials, and the destruction of local Policing across Scotland, is now set to pass verdict on motions proposed by members of the public attempting to make Scotland a better place.

The unexpected move to slot MacAskill on the Petitions Committee comes after the same Committee agreed in late October to call MacAskill to give evidence on a proposal to create a register of judicial interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

However, MacAskill refused to show up to the Committee Convener’s invitation, instead putting forward then Legal Affairs Minister Roseanna Cunningham – who urged the Scottish Parliament to reject judicial transparency during a debate in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber on the petition held on 9 October 2014.

Since then, Ms Cunningham has also been replaced in her legal affairs portfolio, now handed to Paul Wheelhouse who will appear before the Petitions Committee and, ironically – Kenny MacAskill – next Tuesday, December 9 and answer questions on why the Scottish Government has sided with secrecy and judges who are worried exposure of their mega riches and connections may damage their judicial privacy.

Petition PE1458 – a proposal to increase judicial transparency and submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 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.

The proposal to create a register of judicial interests is also widely supported in the media, and has the backing of Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali – who gave her support for the petition during an evidence session before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee last September, 2013.

However, top judge Lord Gill has waged a bitter two year war against the proposal. The Lord President branded media as “aggressive” and complained court users would end up invading the privacy of judges – who have since been revealed to have criminal records, offshore interests, and investments in companies convicted of bribes, industrial espionage, bid rigging and other offences around the world.

During the Petitions Committee’s meeting of 28 October, MSPs also demanded to see the unredacted 2014 annual report of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR), Moi Ali – who has since quit the judicial investigator role – comparing it to “window dressing”. The JCR’s anuual report has still not been passed to the Committee.

Mr MacAskill has previously stated his opposition to the creation of a register of judicial interests in letters to the Public Petitions Committee which always followed similar letters from Lord Gill.

MacAskill opposes register of judicial interests & judicial complaints reforms. IN previous letters to the Public Petitions Committee, Mr MacAskill slapped down the need for a register, and followed top judge Lord Gill’s line on judicial oaths, writing: “You ask whether the Scottish Government will review its position on whether members of the judiciary ought to register their interests. I note the evidence the Committee has gathered on this issue and, in particular, the arguments presented by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) that a register of interests would increase transparency and public trust in the judiciary.

The JCR considers that there is merit in a register of interests for members of the judiciary. I do not think it necessary to establish such a register. I continue to be of the view that there are already sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary. These have been set out in previous correspondence and comprise the judicial oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and the rules made under the 2008 Act. I do not consider that the case has been made that these existing safeguards are not effective.”

In another letter to the Petitions Committee Convener, David Stewart, Kenny MacAskill also refused to acknowledge the need for amendments to the powers of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer role, writing: “In advance of any debate you have asked for comments on the letter from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JcR) to the Committee of 23 April 2014. In that letter the JCR states that she considers it likely that the number of complaints against the judiciary would fall if there was a published register of interests for the judiciary. As I have said previously, it would be for the Lord President to establish such a register of interests in his capacity as Head of the Scottish judiciary. However, the Scottish Government does not consider there is currently any evidence to suggest that the existing safeguards – the judicial oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and the Rules made under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 – are not effective and does not therefore consider that such a register is necessary.

The JCR expresses a concern that the rules about complaints against the judiciary are not fit for purpose. As you know, the complaints and discipline process created by the 2008 Act has been running for a relatively short time. The Complaints About the Judiciary (Scotland) Rules have been in operation for just over 3 years, and the Lord President is currently considering amendments to these rules following a consultation last autumn to which the JCR contributed.”

Mr MacAskill is also reported to have made private comments to msps against the creation of a register of judicial interests while he was Justice Secretary. Mr MacAskill also refused to grant further powers to the role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer, even after a stinging rebuke from Scotland’s first JCR – Moi Ali.


JCR should have more powers – Moi Ali told Scottish Government. In her second annual report as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali called for the Scottish Government to give more powers to the JCR’s office to deal with errant judges. Ms Ali 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.”

In response to calls for greater powers for the JCR, Justice Secertary MacAskill refused to grant any extra powers, and First Minister Alex Salmond supported MacAskill’s refusal during questions at FMQ’s by John Wilson MSP at the Scottish Parliament.

However, it can now be revealed Alex Salmond himself had a legal relationship with Francis Gill – the son of Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill – the same man politicians including the First Minister must consult and seek approval of, before changes to any powers of the office of Judicial Complaints Reviewer can be implemented. Mr Salmond made no mention of his relationship with Gill junior – which also involved representation on a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission – while he answered questions from MSP John Wilson during FMQ’s on 30 January 2014.

After MacAskill refused to consider new powers for the office of Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali signalled she was standing down from the role, reported here: No powers to make things better: Judicial Complaints Reviewer to stand down from MacAskill’s “window dressing” justice watchdog over errant judges

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


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BILLION DOLLAR DRAIN: FMQ’s & the £1.068bn Legal Aid of YOUR money paid to ‘struggling’ lawyers since 2008 financial crash is “unfit for purpose” says Law Society of Scotland

Over a billion of YOURS since 2008, now struggling lawyers want more. IF ANY public service in Scotland, the NHS, local hospitals, local government, schools, transport, local policing, care services, wildlife protection, otters, or even just ordinary Scots themselves had received over one billion pounds extra since the Financial market crash of 2008, they would rightly be grateful.

Everyone would be appreciative at receiving such an amount during the toughest of times, everyone … except, perhaps, lawyers.

Even though ‘struggling’ lawyers have received over £150million a year (some years, more) of YOUR money from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), their self regulating & combined lobby group – the Law Society of Scotland have now described the massive annual public subsidy as “unfit for purpose.”

It just won’t do. It is just not enough. Lawyers cannot live on an extra £150million a year … especially when there are the likes of sole practitioners – a single lawyer, who walks off with £700K of it in three years, and despite feelings of fiddle, nothing is reclaimed.

The staggering amount of Scottish Legal Aid paid to legal profession since 2008 (figures provided by SLAB): 2013-14 £150.5m, 2012-13 £150.2m, 2011-12 £150.7m, 2010-11 £161.4m, 2009-10 £150.5m, 2008-09 £150.2m, 2007-08 £155.1m, making £1.06Billion (£1,068.6m)

BIG SPENDERS: Spot your solicitors & law firms who take home the legal aid pounds. From total figures of £150.5 million, spend on civil legal assistance was £47.8 while criminal legal assistance was a mere £94 million. Children’s legal assistance stands at £4.9 million. Payments to solicitors increased by 1.7% from £115.1 million to £117.1 million while payments to advocates fell by 21% from £18.3 million to £14.5 million. Payments to solicitor advocates fell by 4.2% from £4.5 million to £4.3 million and expert witnesses along with ‘court reports’ raked in £19.5 million of public money.

And what is legal aid anyway? It goes to lawyers. It does not go to someone who is trying to fight a case in court or secure justice for a case which could have been resolved if some lying toad in a public body up to their eyes in fiddled expenses claims had not covered up for someone else. It goes to lawyers for all sorts of people … even for those of some fraud rap business baron who jaunts off to Dubai on a luxury holiday after his lawyers took nearly £200K in legal aid.

Hands up any of you who flew off to Qatar for a holiday after pocketing nearly a quarter of a million in legal aid from taxpayers. Hello there, Mr Mafia gang boss. Ah, another .. this time, a drug dealer. Another one, a lawyer. And there at the back, is a QC, with a fresh tan after coming back from the Cayman Islands.

No ordinary people then. Not the builder’s labourer next door who has been fighting for legal aid funding after his young child was overdosed with the wrong medication 22 times in hospital and the hospital’s lawyers spent 3 years lying about it.

Strange, that. Isn’t it. Legal Aid for all, Legal Aid for justice. Legal Aid for ordinary Scots. Not really.

Then, there are the judges who sit there hearing criminal cases funded by legal aid, not letting on they have financial, or ‘other’ links to the same firms in front of them, on either side of the court.

Almost laughably, the ‘good lord’ dressed in an 18th Century wig and flashy robe, complete with power bling, sits there in silence wondering if anyone will rumble the fact he received a fat cheque for giving a speech at a function hosted by one of the law firms taking tens of thousands in legal aid.

Never fear m’lud, your secret fat cheque is safe as long as you do not need to declare it. After all, what is a bung between friends, especially when it is at the expense of taxpayers, and justice.

Sure, there are lawyers and law firms who do their clients proud on civil or criminal legal aid … and there are solicitors who defend their clients against reams of somewhat dodgy charges just so the Crown Office can occasionally have a press release to claim a success which crumbles into falsehoods after further analysis. But this is not typical .. it is more the exception to the rule.

During Alex Salmond’s last First Minister’s Questions last Thursday, the thorny, almost un-debatable subject of the legal profession’s massive taxpayer bung was raised for discussion. Witness what happened next:

Graeme Pearson MSP LEGAL AID First Minister’s Questions Scottish Parliament 13 Nov 2014

5. Graeme Pearson (South Scotland) (Lab): To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Law Society of Scotland’s discussion paper, “Legal Assistance in Scotland”, which says that the current system is not fit for purpose. (S4F-02386)

The First Minister (Alex Salmond): The Scottish Legal Aid Board makes hundreds of thousands of grants of legal assistance each year, whether to help people to deal with welfare benefit problems or to help those who are accused of criminal offences to defend themselves. Expenditure on legal assistance last year was £150.5 million. The Scottish Legal Aid Board’s annual report shows that, since 2011, changes to the legal system have saved the public purse £52 million. However, there is still more to do.

The Law Society’s paper is intended to open up discussion. We have a shared perspective on some points, such as the need for simplification, and we will of course take a detailed look at the Law Society’s proposals over the coming weeks, with a view to assessing their potential impact on public funds and on those who rely on legal aid.

Graeme Pearson: The First Minister may remember that I raised concerns last year about proposed changes to legal aid. The president of the Law Society of Scotland said this week that legal aid cuts are likely to curb rights to justice for people on low and modest incomes who rely on legal aid. Does the First Minister agree that the prospect of citizens of modest means being denied access, as the Law Society suggests, while career criminals repeatedly access legal aid unfettered is indefensible and a foreseeable consequence arising from Mr MacAskill’s changes? Will the First Minister use whatever influence he has to ensure that the situation is addressed by his successor urgently?

The First Minister: As Graeme Pearson knows, expenditure on legal assistance in Scotland has been held at £150 million since 2007. Of course, that is not what has happened south of the border, where there have been substantial cuts. [Interruption.] Labour members should understand that, under the Barnett formula, the consequentials that come to Scotland are directed by expenditure in England. Unless they put forward a position where the great resources of Scotland are available for the Scottish people to direct our own spending, I am afraid that such matters are relevant.

Graeme Pearson should also understand that, although we were extremely interested in some aspects of the Law Society’s paper, such as the need for simplification, the paper has proved deeply controversial. He can see that from the debate that is opening up, in which people are pointing out that many areas of civil law are vital as part of legal aid assistance and criminal lawyers are pointing out that the fundamental right of people to defend themselves against a criminal charge is the essence of a free society.

There are no easy answers to the questions at present, but Graeme Pearson can rest assured that this Government and the Government of the immediate future will protect the right of the people of Scotland to legal assistance so that they can pursue their claims for justice.


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Transparency, but not for Scottish Judges: First Minister echoes MacAskill’s claim of no need to review powers, independence of “Window Dressing” Judicial Complaints Reviewer role

First Minister’s Questions – No need for review of powers for “window dressing” judicial watchdog. REPLYING to a question from John Wilson MSP (SNP) during First Minister’s Questions last week on matters relating to the investigation of  complaints about misconduct by Scottish judges, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond  claimed in an answer given in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber that there is currently no need to review the powers of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR).

The First Minister also refused to increase the power of the JCR to at least match that of equivalent judicial investigators in England & Wales who have wide ranging statutory powers to deal with complaints about judges in the rest of the UK.

The statement from Mr Salmond, who legal observers say effectively sidestepped revelations of multiple breaches of judicial conduct by Scottish judges, comes after Moi Ali, the first person to be appointed to the role by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, officially described the role of JCR as “Window Dressing” during an evidence session before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee who are investigating transparency within Scotland’s judiciary and failures of judges to declare their interests or recuse themselves in cases being heard in Scottish courts.

MSP John Wilson further asked the First Minister if the powers of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer could be “enhanced to give the role greater independence, especially given the equivalent powers and budgets in England and Wales and the role of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman”. However, in reply, the First Minister simply restated the current position of the Justice Secretary in that no review of the lack of powers held by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer or any move to grant the JCR greater independence is currently being considered.

Questions as put to the First Minister by John Wilson MSP and responses given:

First Ministers Questions, 30 January 2014: John Wilson MSP & Judicial Complaints Reviewer (Review)

Judicial Complaints Reviewer (Review)

John Wilson (Central Scotland) (SNP):
3. To ask the First Minister when the Scottish Government last reviewed the powers of the office of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer. (S4F-01852)

The First Minister (Alex Salmond): Last year, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice said in evidence to, I think, the Public Petitions Committee that the Government does not see a need for a review of the office of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer at this time. The Judicial Complaints Reviewer has been in office since September 2011. She has told Mr MacAskill that she does not wish to be reappointed. We are grateful for her work to date and her commitment to assist with a smooth handover to her successor.

John Wilson: As the First Minister has done, I highlight the valuable contribution that Ms Ali has made in her role, especially in relation to the 20 cases that she has identified as breaches by the Judicial Office for Scotland in relation to the judiciary since 2011. Following Ms Ali’s decision not to seek a second term and her comments, which were reported at the weekend, could the powers of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer be enhanced to give the role greater independence, especially given the equivalent powers and budgets in England and Wales and the role of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Ombudsman?

The First Minister: Let me put it on the record again that, like the member, I am grateful to Ms Ali for her valuable public service over the past two and a half years and for the improvements that she has encouraged in the judicial complaints process. The Judicial Complaints Reviewer carries out her responsibilities independently of Government and the judiciary. In her report for 2012-13, she records having to see 43 review requests and inquiries. By comparison, the Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman for England and Wales received 810 complaints and written inquiries, of which 482 concerned the personal conduct of judicial office-holders. The powers and the budget reflect that difference in the workload. There is not actually a process of independent review of judicial conduct complaints in Ireland. That is the current position. We are grateful to Ms Ali for her work and, in particular, for the commitment that she has given to smooth the handover to her successor.

JUDICIAL COMPLAINTS: How Scotland’s Judges look after their own in 2014 & beyond?

Contrary to claims made by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and echoed last week by the First Minister during FMQ’s there is no need to review the lack of powers held by Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali, the first person to hold the office of Judicial Complaints Reviewer recently told the Justice Secretary that she will not seek a second term in the role because she views her office as having such limited powers to render the JCR’s role as mere “tokenism” compared to how complaints against the judiciary are investigated in England and Wales, where the Office for Judicial Complaints has a complement of 15 staff and regularly publishes details of upheld complaints against judges.

Moi Ali testified before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament, providing revealing answers to questions about the powers of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer and her support for Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary a public petition calling for a register of interests of Scotland’s judges. More on Moi Ali’s appearance before the Petitions Committee can be read in an earlier report here: As Scotland’s top judge battles on against transparency, Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life

Footage of the Committee evidence session, which raises interesting points compared to the claims of Scotland’s Justice Secretary and now First Minister of no need to review the role of JCR , is available below:

JCR Moi Ali gives evidence to Scottish Parliament on a proposed Register of Judicial Interests (Click image to view video)

What's the point of a watchdog without teeth - Sunday Mail 22 September 2013A judicial watchdog without teeth, created after lobbying from angry judges with undeclared interests, secret wealth. The position of Judicial Complaints Reviewer was created by an Act of the Scottish Parliament in 2008, principally highlighted in Section 30, S31 and S32 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008. However, protests from vested interests within Scotland’s judiciary and legal profession from Scotland’s judges who were “dead against” proposals to create an independent form of regulation of judges resulted in what legal observers have branded “a cowardly capitulation” by Justice Minister MacAskill.

Ultimately, lobbying from Scotland’s unaccountable judges and other vested interests from justice system led to the creation of the toothless role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer which, unlike its equivalent office in England & Wales, has no statutory powers, only works on a three days a month basis and with an annual budget of £2000 and has no staff. The JCR has been frequently frozen out of document sharing by Scotland’s judiciary as the media have recently reported in detail along with information obtained from annual reports released by Moi Ali, the current Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Judicial Investigator Moi Ali left in the dark over complaints against Scottish Judges - NO She May Not 10 Feb 2013 Sunday MailFirst Annual Report of JCR for 2011-2012 revealed Scotland’s top judge froze out independent Judicial Investigator. To illustrate what has become a consistent lack of cooperate from the judicial office, the first annual report from Moi Ali last year reiterated concerns over refusals by judges  to share information  with investigators, previously reported in February by the Sunday Mail newspaper and featured on Diary of Injustice here: Annual Report revealed Lord President Lord Gill ‘froze out’ Judicial Complaints Reviewer amid series of revoked findings, secret unshared memos & dismissed complaints.

Ms Ali’s first annual report, which can be read online here : Judicial Complaints Reviewer Annual report 20011- 2012 or available via the JCR’s website HERE reveals a series of incidents where her office has been blocked by the Lord President from accessing communications, internal memos and reports between the office and the judges about complaints.

In one particular case, Ms Ali revealed in her report “When the Judicial Office made an initial assessment of this complaint, it was not reasonable for them to conclude that the behaviour complained about, which left the complainer “insecure and scared”, fell into the category of judicial decision/case management/court programming. According to the Rules, they should have referred that element of the complaint to the disciplinary judge for consideration. This did not happen, and instead the complaint, in its entirety, was dismissed. For that reason I made a referral to the Lord President, who then revoked that part of the original determination and referred it to the disciplinary judge, who then dismissed the complaint.”

Second annual report – JCR lacks much needed powers. The Judicial Complaints Reviewer’s 2012-2013 annual report revealed continuing issues of concern and further instances where the Judicial Office has refused to share files and paperwork in relation to complaints made against judges and how were handled.

The report also makes reference to incidents such as where Scotland’s top judge Lord Brian Gill refused to hand over information to the JCR. Gill claimed Moi Ali’s office was a “Third Party” and that data cannot be shared with her office for reasons of confidentiality. However, the confidentiality concerns of Gill appear to be restricted to Scotland, as the same information in England & Wales is published online.

It also emerged in the JCR’s second annual report that even though a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the JCR & Judicial Office earlier this year on respective roles, responsibilities and agreed undertakings, the situation regarding the contents of files has not been resolved to Ms Ali’s satisfaction.

The Sunday Mail newspaper reported on issues raised in the JCR’s second annual report, including calls from Moi Ali for the Scottish Government to act over the lack of scrutiny and transparency in Scotland’s judiciary.More can be read here: Calls for Justice Secretary to get tough with anti-transparency judges as Judicial Investigator reveals weak-by-design scrutiny fails to protect public from errant judges


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Scots Farm, or Animal Farm ? ‘Radical’ review of land reform ‘to deliver more successful Scotland’ claims First Minister Alex Salmond

Alex_Salmond‘Radical’ land reform announced by the man with 225 lawyers, First Minister Alex Salmond. LAND REFORM for Scotland is again on the cards, according to a ‘radical’ review announced by Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond who claims the newly announced review will deliver a more successful Scotland with stronger communities and economic growth. Whether Mr Salmond’s land reform review is any more than a typical politicians Public Relations stunt and whether it will actually deliver a coherent reform tackling, as land expert Andy Wightman writes “real issues concern inflated land values, affordability of housing, succession law, tax avoidance, secrecy, absentee landlordism, theft of common land, land registration laws, common good etc” is yet to be seen.

In fact, rather than read the Scottish Government’s Press release, reprinted below, readers should first visit Andy Wightman’s website Land Matters, to read the facts behind who owns Scotland’s land and why Mr Salmond’s review will count for little unless the real issues are discussed & tackled.

Scottish Government’s Press Release : Radical rethink on land reform underway

A radical review of land reform will deliver a more successful Scotland with stronger communities and economic growth, First Minister Alex Salmond said today. Speaking in Skye where a summer cabinet meeting was convened, Mr Salmond revealed details of a new Land Reform Review Group that will oversee a wide ranging review of land reform in Scotland.

Dr Alison Elliot, who has extensive experience working in the community and voluntary sector, will chair the group. She will be joined by Professor James Hunter and Dr Sarah Skerratt as vice chairpeople, who have experience of the Highlands and Islands and rural development.

A further 10 advisers – with expertise in areas such as property and land issues, economics, legal issues, community-led organisations, landownership, forestry and access – will also be appointed to the group shortly.

It is anticipated that the Land Reform Review Group will report in a series of stages to Scottish Ministers, providing consideration of what the outcomes of land reform should be and what reforms are required. By the end of 2013 the Scottish Government would expect a report on any legislative changes that are required to allow this to be taken forward.

Mr Salmond said: “Land reform is an important part of Scotland’s story. From the Crofting Acts of the 1880s and 1890s to the more recent right-to-buy legislation and support for community land purchase, significant progress has been made. We cannot underestimate the crucial part land reform will play in contributing to the future success of Scotland for the next generation. By improving the relationship between our land and people, we can create stronger communities and deliver the economic growth and fairer society that the people of Scotland quite rightly expect.”

Mr Salmond continued : “I want this review to deliver radical change for both rural and urban areas, developing new ideas which will improve current legislation as well as generating even more innovative proposals. The expertise and experience of those on the group will be key to its success and that’s why I’m delighted Alison, James and Sarah have agreed to take forward this important project.”

Dr Elliot said: “I am delighted to take this opportunity to review land reform in Scotland. I want to take a look at all the opportunities that exist to promote more communities taking control of their future by taking control of their land. I expect it will be an interesting, and challenging job and I look forward to getting up and down the country promoting debate.”

Fine words, however, given the Scottish Government’s record of backtracking on reforms of the legal system, from attempts to mothballing Lord Gill’s CIVIL COURTS REVIEW, to tinkering with Scots criminal law in the hopes of giving the Crown Office more [dubious] conviction statistics to brag about, just don’t expect too much transparency or land reform from Mr Salmond when lobbying from vested interests, big business & political donors raise their tentacles.

LOBBY ME THIS : Lobbying the Scottish Government certainly brings in the contracts, profits & delays to legal reforms, as Diary of Injustice earlier revealed where a series of law firms wined & dined Ministers & Civil Servants of this same SNP Scottish Government to collect on Twenty Million pounds of taxpayer funded legal contracts which Mr Salmond’s two hundred & twenty five lawyers apparently couldn’t manage to lend a hand on. Read the report here : HOSPITALITY WINS : Law firms who won £20 Million legal contract wined, dined & lobbied Scottish Government’s Legal Directorate for three years


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