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PROBE CONFLICT: £604K public cash inquiry magnate Ex Lord Advocate appointed to investigate Police complaints – linked to lawyers who represent cops facing complaints

Ex Lord Advocate conflict of interest in inquiry role. A FORMER Lord Advocate who has links to lawyers and a suspended judge who represent the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) and cops facing complaints – has been appointed to review how complaints are handled against cops.

However, details released of the review fail to mention that Dame Elish Angiolini (nee McPhilomy) – hired Levy and Mcrae – who have been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by Police Scotland & the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) – to get cops off the hook from complaints – including probes into deaths.

One of the lawyers linked to ex Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini – is suspended Sheriff Peter Watson.

Watson, who was suspended from the judicial bench by  Lord Brian Gill in 2015, after being named in a £28m writ linked to bust hedge fund Heather Capital – represents Police officers facing complaints and investigations by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.

Links between Angiolini and Watson are revealed in documents obtained from an investigation by Audit Scotland into payments of public cash by the Crown Office to Levy and McRae and Peter Watson.

Meanwhile Watson and his now former law firm Levy and Mcrae – also scoop up public cash for representing cops who are being investigated over complaints.

A recent report in the Scottish Sun found Police paid £187,000 to Peter Watson’s law firm PBW law for legal fees for representing cop clients facing complaints and other ‘issues’.

The newspaper also reported Police Scotland also paid £364,830 in charges over three years to Watson’s former law firm Levy & McRae – who are also linked to Angiolini.

Records also show Peter Watson represents Police Officers on behalf of the Scottish Police Federation – who assign Watson to officers facing difficult complaints investigations.

One of the high profile cases where Watson represents cops being investigated over complaints – includes  the three year investigation of Police Officers involved in the death of Sheku Bayoh.

Sheku, 31, died after being restrained by nine officers responding to reports of a man carrying the knife in the street in Kirkcaldy. Officers used CS spray, pepper spray and batons, after it was claimed Sheku struck Short. Dad-of-two Sheku lost consciousness and died in hospital shortly afterwards.

The Daily Record reported that Days after Sheku’s death in Police custody, the very same lawyer linked to Angiolini –  Peter Watson – who now has his own law firm PBW Law – issued a statement on behalf of the Scottish Police Federation and the officers involved.

He claimed Sheku “punched, kicked and stamped on” a female officer. However, none of this has been proved and a probe into the death is still underway.

The paper also reported Watson threatened the family of the deceased Mr Bayoh, in relation to a facebook posting, claiming the contents were a ‘breach of criminal law’.

A recent report in the Sunday Mail newspaper revealed PC Alan Paton, 44, has been paid about £75,000 to remain at home while the inquiry into the death of Mr Bayoh in Police custody, continues – three years after the events occurred.

A second officer involved in the investigation, PC Nicole Short, is also being paid similar amounts while off duty since Sheku’s death in 2015.

Now, an investigation by journalists into Elish Angiolini’s lucrative inquiry jobbing has revealed the former Lord Advocate has scooped well over half a million pounds of public cash – writing reports on policy areas which in reality have seen little change over the years, and are mainly used by ministers for PR purposes.

Details of large amounts of public cash payments to Elish Angiolini obtained by journalists using Freedom of Information legislation reveal Angiolini has received at least £603,985.41 for a handful of reports.

Payments of public cash from the City of Edinburgh Council to Elish Angiolini reveal the former Lord Advocate received large payments of public cash totalling £123,450 broken down to £40,350.00 in 2013-2014 and £83,100.00 in 2014-2015 – for the Mortonhall Crematorium Investigation and report.

However, the City of Edinburgh Council bitterly resisted releasing details of the payments, and the figures were only eventually disclosed after the intervention of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

Details obtained from the Scottish Government – who also resisted initial disclosure of what are listed as separate payments to Angiolini for a report into National Investigation into Infant Cremation Practices reveal Angiolini received even larger sums of public cash from the Scottish Government totalling at least £240,000 – broken down to £60,000 in 2014/15, £120,000 in 2015/16, and £60,000 in 2016/17

Expenses paid to Angiolini for the exact same report – which were claimed to involve meals for ‘other team members’ totalled £437.13 in 2014/2015, £621.18 in 2015/2016, and £292.05 2016/2017

A response from the UK Home Office disclosed the total amount paid to Dame Elish for work done on the review of Independent Review of Serious Incidents and Deaths in Police Custody was £116,667.

The Metropolitan Police, who paid Angiolini for a Report of the Independent Review into The Investigation and Prosecution of Rape in London – initially refused to release details of their huge payments to Angiolini,.

It then took over five months before the figures were released, and only after the matter had been reported to the Information Commissioner who began an investigation into the Metropolitan Police handling of the FOI request.

The response from the Metropolitan Police, received earlier this week stated: I can confirm the amount paid to Dame Elish Angiolini was £122,518.05 – £120,715.30 for the review and report; and £1802.75 for travel and hotel expenses.

Angiolini, who was Lord Advocate from 2006 to 2011, was appointed ten days ago by the now ousted Justice Secretary Michael Matheson – to look at how complaints are handled against the very same cops her own former lawyer now represents.

However, Angiolini had a chequered career as Lord Advocate, and was once accused of deliberately undermining the judiciary by Scotland’s top judge, the well respected Lord Hamilton.

In a letter released to the media, Lord Hamilton hit out at Elish Angiolini’s use of her Ministerial rank to tell a story of different sorts to the Scottish Parliament, for the collapse of the World’s End murder trial in 2007.

In her address to MSPs in 2007, Lord Advocate Angiolini attempted to blame the court for failures in the collapse of the high profile murder trial, failures which were clearly of her own Crown Office.

Taking issue with Angiolini’s statement in Holyrood’s main chamber, Lord Hamilton said in his letter to Angiolini at the time: I am of the clear opinion that the evidence that was made available to the court was sufficient to put before the jury to allow it the opportunity to decide on the case against Angus Sinclair. Let me set out the Crown case presented to the court.”

You then set out, in a detailed and carefully crafted narrative, the evidence apparently adduced by the Crown and conclude at column 1769 –

“It was the Crown’s position that the evidence in this case allowed … an inference [of guilt] to be drawn.”

It is clear that you were, as Lord Advocate, stating to the Parliament that in your “clear” opinion there was sufficient evidence to go to the jury. The plain implication from that statement was that you were publicly asserting that the decision of the trial judge was wrong.

Although I have read the whole of your statement to Parliament and the statement which the trial judge issued giving detailed reasons for his decision, I have formed no view as to whether or not that decision was sound in law. I am, however, concerned that you have thought it appropriate to challenge, in a public and political forum and in the way which you have, a final decision of the court (whether that decision be right or wrong).

Section 1(1) of the Judiciary (Scotland) Bill provides that certain office holders, including the Lord Advocate, must uphold the continued independence of the judiciary. That section, I believe, reflects an existing recognition that the Lord Advocate, among others, has such a duty. The independence of the judiciary depends, in my view, not only on freedom of individual judges from prior interference with decisions they have to take but a preparedness by the Lord Advocate and others to recognise, in all public pronouncements, that final decisions made by judges, whether on points of law or on applications of the law to particular facts or to particular evidence, reflect the law as it stands and must be respected as such. If such respect is not afforded, the independence of the judiciary as the final arbiter of legal issues is put at risk. An open challenge to the correctness of a final decision does not afford the requisite respect. Rather, it tends to undermine for the future the confidence which judges, faced with difficult decisions in controversial cases, can reasonably expect to have that their decisions will not be openly criticised by other organs of government.

The public prosecutor may of course entertain private views as to the soundness of legal decisions. In the light of experience steps may be taken to amend the law or in a legal forum to challenge the soundness of an earlier decision. But public criticism in a political forum of particular decisions, especially in controversial and sensitive areas, is in my view inappropriate.

My concern is not restricted to this case. The same situation might well arise in any case in which a trial judge sustained a submission under section 97. It might also arise where, on an appeal against conviction, the court held that there had been insufficient evidence in law to warrant it. While such events commonly occur without public interest, they may well occur in controversial cases. It would be most unfortunate were the Lord Advocate to adopt a practice of publicly criticising such decisions.

I can readily understand that, given the issue which had arisen as to whether the Advocate depute had properly exercised his discretion as to what evidence he should lead (or not lead), you would find it appropriate publicly to support him. But such support could have been afforded without public criticism of the judge. In particular, respect for what was treated as being a final decision of the High Court of Justiciary might have been expressly afforded.

I have discussed this letter with the Lord Justice Clerk. He agrees with its terms. He also agrees with my view that the letter should be made public.

The review of PIRC News comes after the PIRC Commissioner Kate Frame spoke out on the subject of who should investigate the Police in a recent Sunday Post article, here: So who should police the police? In her first interview in four years, Police Scotland watchdog breaks her silence

In the interview, Kate Frame called on MSPs to review who probes misconduct claims against officers and said whistleblowers should be able to turn to investigators outside the force.

Ms Frame said: “There is a discussion to be had about whether the police should investigate themselves.

“I think that from the public’s position, they would feel an independent investigation which has not been undertaken by the police would be preferable.”

In an earlier article it was revealed Police Complaints watchdog Kate Frame had accused Scottish Ministers of interfering in her functions as Scotland’s independent Police watchdog, reported by the Sunday Post here: Emails reveal police commissioner accused Scottish government of interfering after Justice Secretary’s aide asks her to delay scathing report

In the article,the Sunday post reported “the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner had to warn one of Justice Secretary Michael Matheson’s senior civil servants to back off after he attempted to persuade her to delay the publication of a damning report.”

“Ms Frame responded to the civil servant’s suggestion that her report might be delayed by writing: “My perception of your remarks is governmental interference with my independence.”

In the wake of the recently announced review to be conducted by the former Lord Advocate, legal insiders view the Scottish Government inquiry run by Angiolini move as an attempt to intimidate further outspoken views against Scottish Ministers interference in the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner and Police Scotland – which has been hit by multiple scandals used by senior officers & ministers in government to set their own agenda for Scotland’s single national Police force.

Angiolini’s glowing fanpage on Wikipedia records she was also working at the Crown Office as Solicitor General during the time in which prosecutors refused to look into 5 allegations of serious sexual assault against Scotland’s now current top cop, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone.

A report on the allegations of sexual assault against Iain Livingstone by a female Police Officer, allegations which were dismissed by a tribunal headed by male Police Officer colleagues of Livingstone was reported earlier by DOI here: TOP COP SECRETS: Transparency lacking at Police Scotland as spy scandal cops refuse to disclose files on complaints & historical sexual assault case details involving Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone

Issues surrounding the allegations of sexual assault made by a female Police Officer against Iain Livingstone while he served at Lothian & Borders Police in 2003 resurfaced during recent scrutiny of Police Scotland over the past year.

Livingstone was however, cleared of the allegations by a hearing chaired by another senior Police officer – John McLean, Strathclyde assistant chief constable. The Police led hearing on allegations against Police Superintendent Livingstone established there had been no sexual impropriety or intent on Mr Livingstone’s part.

However, interest in the 2003 case and details surrounding it has resurfaced – after the single Police service – created by the Scottish Government in 2013 – was hit by several scandals including numerous suspensions of senior officers, allegations of Ministerial meddling with ultimately led to the ousting of Chief Constable Phil Gormley, and the ongoing probe into senior officers use of a surveillance unit within Police Scotland to illegally spy on journalists & cops.

At the time of the sexual assault allegations in 2003, Iain Livingstone, 37, was working as an aide to Scotland’s most senior police officer, Sir Roy Cameron, at Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, when he was suspended in February 2003 over the claims – which arose from a drunken party at the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan.

It was reported at the time that Iain Livingstone – previously a solicitor and member of the Law Society of Scotland – had been suspended for 17 months after the WPC claimed she had been sexually assaulted during the party.

Five allegations of serious sexual assault made by the female Police officer against Livingstone were dismissed – but, at an internal misconduct hearing, Mr Livingstone admitted less serious allegations, including being in the woman’s room overnight after falling asleep.

The Crown Office has refused to disclose any material in connection with their consideration of allegations of sexual assault again Iain Livingstone – and this would include material during the time which Elish Angiolini was Solicitor General.

Among the raft of appointments to write reports & reviews, including the position of Principal of St. Hugh’s College of the University of Oxford – where she wrote a glowing appraisal of Aung San Suu Kyi, Angiolini is also listed as an Honorary Professor of  The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Angiolini’s biography on the Honk Kong university site claims “As Lord Advocate she is seen as a moderniser, immediately announcing plans to speed-up justice and clear court congestion, including a scheme to quickly fine minor offenders and require them to pay compensation to victims.” – but makes no mention of significant failures during her time as Lord Advocate, including the episode where she was accused of undermining Scotland’s judiciary.

Michael Matheson’s announcement of Angiolini’s appointment by the Scottish Government was made in the Scottish Parliament:

Ministerial Statement on Police Complaints and Conduct Review

The written transcript of Michael Matheson’s statement:

Cabinet Secretary for Justice – Parliamentary Statement on review of complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to Policing.

19 JUNE 2018

Thank you Presiding Officer.   

When I addressed the Chamber in November, on the leadership and performance of policing, I set out my intention to reflect on the operation of police complaints and conduct with key partners.   As I said then, I am open to considering whether there is scope for further improvement.

It is of the utmost importance to me and the public that parliamentary confidence in the police is high – and independently justifiably so – but equally that our systems provide suitable protection for the vast majority of police officers and staff who work hard to keep us safe.

Over recent months, I have listened to a range of different perspectives from those directly involved.  It is clear to me that complex issues have emerged in relation to the existing framework, operational responsibilities and procedures that need to be looked at afresh.

Five years on from the creation of Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, the time is right to look at how the structures and processes are working.

To do that effectively will require an independent and authoritative assessment and that is why I, together with the Lord Advocate, have commissioned Dame Elish Angiolini QC to take this work forward.

I am delighted that Dame Elish has agreed to lead that Review.  As members will be aware, she is exceptionally well qualified to scrutinise these issues, as a former Procurator Fiscal, Solicitor General and Lord Advocate.

Her outstanding record of public service in Scotland is well known, having chaired the Commission on Women Offenders, as well as the Mortonhall Crematorium Investigation for the City of Edinburgh Council and National Cremations Investigation for the Scottish Government.

More recently, she led the independent Review into Serious Incidents and Deaths in Police Custody in England and Wales for the UK Government.

Under Dame Elish’s leadership, the Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing will bring independent scrutiny to the framework and processes for handling complaints against the police and investigating serious incidents and alleged misconduct.

As well as assessing the current framework, the Review will report on the effectiveness of structures, operational responsibilities and processes. It will also make recommendations for improvements to ensure the system is fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, in order to strengthen public confidence in policing in Scotland.

The Review will consist of two phases:

    The first phase will include a consideration of current procedures and guidance to identify areas for immediate improvement;
The second phase will include a wider assessment of the frameworks and practice in relation to complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues. It will cover the work of the Police and Investigations Review Commissioner, the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland.

The Review will take evidence from a broad range of stakeholders, including the Scottish Police Federation, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, the Scottish Chief Police Officers Staff Association, Unison, Unite, as well as the PIRC, SPA, Police Scotland and the Crown Office. Dame Elish may also wish to speak with those who have had experience of the current system to hear their views and understand where further improvement could be made.

Recommendations in the final report should take into account human rights considerations, as well as seeking to identify longer term improvements.

Presiding Officer, I am aware that the Justice Committee has invited evidence as part of its post-legislative scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012.  I welcome this scrutiny of the landmark legislation that enabled the creation of single police and fire services.

I am also aware that evidence has been submitted on the provisions within the Act that underpin our current system of police conduct, complaints and investigations. Those provisions were intended to strengthen the governance, accountability and scrutiny arrangements for policing and created a clear statutory framework for independent review and investigation.

It is only right that the Committee considers this evidence as part of its broader scrutiny of the Act and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of that process.

However, as the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for the overall framework for dealing with police complaints and conduct issues in Scotland, which includes other primary and secondary legislation, I have a duty to ensure that the whole system is working well.  And the Lord Advocate has an independent interest, as head of the system for the investigation and prosecution of crime in Scotland.

The arrangements for complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing, have seen a period of intense parliamentary, media and public scrutiny.

It is a framework that must ultimately build public confidence in policing and the events of recent months have raised questions about the way the system works and whether it could be improved.

It is only right that I listen to those questions and act decisively to address them, which is why the Lord Advocate and I have commissioned this Review.

The key outcomes of the Review will be to ensure that:

    roles and responsibilities at all levels are clear;
there are agreed protocols that balance transparency with an appropriate level of confidentiality; and
the framework and processes are fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, upholding fundamental human rights.

Fairness. Transparency.  Accountability. Proportionality. These are the guiding principles of the Review and go to the very heart of what any system, which holds public services to account, should deliver.

The commitment to upholding fundamental human rights is embedded in police training, in the oath taken by officers and is central to Police Scotland’s Professional Ethics and Values. This is to ensure that policing operations respect the human rights of all people and officers, who in turn should have their rights respected.  This must also be central to the process for handling police complaints, conduct issues and investigations.

It is vital that the police are held to account when things go wrong.  Policing by consent depends upon that accountability.  And it is essential that lessons are learned and improvements made to prevent mistakes, bad practice – and criminality – recurring in the future.

In order to do that effectively, our systems must treat all parties fairly and justly if they are to earn the trust and respect of those involved and of the wider public.

Let me also be clear about what the Review will not do.  It will not consider the role of the Lord Advocate in investigating criminal complaints against the police.  Nor will it look at the role of HMICS in scrutinising the state, effectiveness and efficiency of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.

It is also important to emphasise that the Review will not re-examine specific cases or review specific decisions, although they may provide evidence for an overall assessment of the efficacy of current systems and processes. 

There are a number of high profile criminal investigations relating to serious incidents involving the police, currently underway. Those investigations are a matter for the Lord Advocate and it would be wrong to suggest that this Review should examine those cases – or pre-empt the investigation process.

Presiding Officer, I am confident that this Review, under the authoritative leadership of Dame Elish Angiolini will bring fresh scrutiny to the framework and structures we established 5 years ago, to ensure they are robust and true to the principles that I have outlined.

It is essential that our systems for complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing are fair, transparent, and accountable, respecting the rights of all those involved.  Systems that police officers, staff and the public can have confidence in.

Let me finish, by putting on record my thanks and appreciation for the work of Police Scotland, the SPA, the PIRC, HMICS and the Crown Office, commending all those who work to keep our communities safe.

The Scottish Government’s announcement of Angiolini’s appointment makes no mention of her involvement with lawyers who also represent Police Officers facing complaints – including probes into deaths in custody: Police conduct review; Former Lord Advocate to consider investigation processes.

Former Lord Advocate Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini QC is to review the processes for handling complaints against the police and investigating serious incidents and alleged misconduct.

The independent review, jointly commissioned by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, will assess the current framework and report on the effectiveness of structures, operational responsibilities and processes.

It will also make recommendations for improvements to ensure the system is fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, in order to strengthen public confidence in policing in Scotland.

Mr Matheson said: “Most of us recognise and welcome the diligent, expert and often courageous work of the many thousands of police officers and staff who help keep Scotland’s communities safe.  That public confidence is also sustained by knowing that when things go wrong, the police are held to account, lessons are learned and improvements made.

“Given some of the questions raised in recent times about the processes for police complaints-handling, investigations and misconduct issues, and whether they could be improved, the time is right for this independent review, which will be ably led by Dame Elish.

“The review will seek to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clear, agreed protocols will balance transparency with appropriate levels of confidentiality, and that the processes are fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, upholding fundamental human rights.”

Dame Elish said: “I am pleased to be invited to undertake this important independent review.  It is vital that systems for handling complaints, investigating serious incidents and alleged misconduct in relation to the police is both robust and fair, and trusted by all those involved.

“I look forward to engaging with those with direct involvement and experience of the current system – from all perspectives – to understand how it is working in practice and to identify areas for improvement.”

Background:

The independent review will formally begin in the autumn.

The Right Honourable Dame Elish Angiolini QC served as both Solicitor General for Scotland and, in 2006 was appointed Lord Advocate, the first to serve two different Scottish Government administrations.  She was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2011 for services to the administration of Justice.  In 2012, Dame Elish was elected Principal of St Hugh’s College, Oxford, and is both visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde and Chancellor of the University of the West of Scotland.

Dame Elish has chaired a number of ground-breaking reviews in the fields of law and criminal justice, as well as public health.  In June 2011 she was appointed as Chair of the Commission set up to examine the issue of how female offenders are dealt with in the Criminal Justice System in Scotland.  She led the Independent Review into the Investigation and Prosecution of Rape in London, which reported in 2015 and also chaired the Mortonhall Review for Edinburgh Council and the National Cremation Investigation for the Scottish Government, which reported in June 2016.  Dame Elish’s report into deaths in police custody in England and Wales, commissioned by the UK Home Secretary, was published in October 2017.

Previous article in relation to Police Scotland can be found here: Police Scotland – Previous articles

Previous articles in relation to the Crown Office & Lord Advocate can be found here: Crown Office – Previous articles & Lord Advocate – Previous articles

 

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EDINBURGH LAW: Law firms who targeted residents over property repairs scandal among list of lawyers paid £15m public cash by Edinburgh Council in 3 years – as Council fights disclosure of extra payments to ex Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini

Edinburgh Council paid lawyers over £15m in 3 years. THE CITY of Edinburgh Council has been forced to reveal a list of law firms and advocates involved in a staggering Council public cash spend of £15 million on lawyers – in only three years.

However, the Council only revealed the list – after initially refusing a request to disclose the identities of lawyers receiving millions in public cash for work which in some cases  insiders allege is being used to keep law firms afloat in ‘difficult times’.

Among the list now disclosed via Freedom of Information legislation are law firms used by Edinburgh Council – who allegedly harassed & intimidated city residents for recovery of fees for dodgy construction work carried out on orders of the Council while staff from the Property Conservation Department took bribes from contractors & construction firms.

Edinburgh City Council was flooded with nearly 1,000 complaints about statutory repairs worth £30bn – yet despite a report saying lessons had been learned, law firms have continued to target residents over dodgy work orders.

The scandal prompted a Police Scotland fraud probe amid claims of bribery and billing for work not done. It was also discovered gifts & hospitality for staff in departments of the council was widespread.

However, Edinburgh Council has bitterly fought any moves to release exact figures for payments to individual law firms, and is now fighting a further Freedom of Information probe on legal fees and other expenses paid to a former Lord Advocate – Elish Angiolini – who was accused of undermining the judiciary by former Lord President Lord Hamilton.

The figures for Edinburgh Council’s spend on lawyers from 2014 to 2017, obtained via Freedom of Information legislation – reveal the Councils’ staggering £5 million a year spend on in-house, external lawyers and Advocates.

From January 2014 to  31 May 2017, the figure revealed by Edinburgh Council  details some £15,265,175 spent on lawyers.

During the five months from 1 January to 31 May 2014, Edinburgh Council spending on lawyers alone was £1,016,252

The totals for each year since reveal: 2014-2015: £4,812,170, from 2015-2016: £4,104,736, from 2016-2017: £4,649,121 and in only two months from 1.4.17 to 31.5.17 a further £682,896.

In the same period Edinburgh Council also paid the sum of £229,107 to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS).

Initially, Edinburgh Council attempted to argue that the commercial interests of the Council, the solicitors, advocates and QC listed in the disclosure would be harmed by the disclosure of the withheld information.

However the identities of law firms involved in the payments, but not the exact payments to the actual law firms themselves were eventually disclosed.

The full list of law firms on the payroll of Edinburgh Council includes law firms which have also been subject to PoliceScotland investigations, firms subject to multiple complaints by clients accusing partners of fraud and dishonesty, and a law firm where a stolen £38m Leonardo da vinci painting was ‘found’ in a safe during a Police raid:

Law Firms and Solicitors:

Adams Whyte Solicitors, Aikman Russell Dunlop WS, Aitkens The Family Law Solicitors, Allan McDougall & Co SSC, Allingham & Co (Solicitors) Ltd , Anderson Strathern LLP, Arbuthnott McClanachan, Ashurst LLP, Balfour & Manson, BCKM Solicitors, Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP, Beveridge & Kellas SSC, Brechin Tindal Oatts, Brodies LLP, Burness Paull LLP, Campbell Smith WS, Clan Childlaw, Clyde & Co (Scotland) LLP, CMS Cameron McKenna LLP, Community Law Advice Network, Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service LINETS, Digby Brown Solicitors, Drummond Miller LLP, Duncan and Wallace SSC, Dundas & Wilson CS LLP, Edinburgh Law Seminars Limited, Edinburgh Law Solicitors and Notaries, Ennova Law, Eskhill and Company, F M McConnell SsC, Frances McChlery Consulting, Fraser Shepherd, FT & DC Wallace, Garden Stirling Burnet, Gibson Kerr Law and Property, Harper MacLeod LLP, Hay Cassels, HBJ Gateley Wareing Scotland LLP, Hughes Walker Solicitors, Iain Smith & Partners, Innes & Mackay Limited, J K Cameron, Jones Whyte, K W Law, Ledingham Chalmers LLP, Legal Services Agency Ltd, Lindsays W S Solicitor,s MacLay Murray & Spens Solicitors, LLP MacRoberts LLP, McCartney Stewart Limited, McKenzies Solicitors, McMillan Williams Solicitors, McNeill & Cadzow, Millar & Bryce Ltd, Morisons Solicitors, Morton Fraser Solicitors, Odonnells Solicitors Limited, Pinsent Masons LLP, Quinn Garland Associates Ltd, R.A Low & Company, RSC Solicitors, Scottish Child Law Centre, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Scutt Beaumont Solicitors Ltd, Sheehan Kelsey Oswald, Shepherd & Wedderburn LLP, Simpson & Marwick WS, Sinclair Court Solicitors, Somerville & Russell , T C Young, Thorley Stephenson SSC, Thorntons WS Solicitors, Tods Murray LLP in Administration, Trinity Chambers, Warners Solicitors LLP, William Hodge Shorthand Writers Ltd, Wilson Terris & Co SSC,

Advocates and QC’s:

Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC, Ruth Innes, David Jack, Morag Jack.

The Scottish Information Commissioner has now been approached to investigate the case and seek disclosure of the amounts of secret legal fees paid to former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini – after Edinburgh Council claimed the payments of substantial sums of public cash amounted to ‘personal data’.

A separate approach to the SIC is to be made over exact payments to law firms, given the sheer size of payments of public cash – which some legal insiders contend are an indication of law firms generating work for themselves to keep them afloat.

Do you have an experience with Edinburgh Council and any of the law firms listed in the Freedom of Information disclosure? If so, DOI would like to hear from you by contacting us at scottishlawreporters@gmailcom

 

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WOLFFE’D HALL: Edinburgh Council admit defeat in Parliament House titles fiasco – officials no longer pursuing recovery of Scotland’s top court buildings to common good public ownership

Top court now owned by ‘public body’ run by judges. THE City of Edinburgh Council have this week confirmed no further action is being taken by the council to recover ownership to the common good of Parliament House – the seat of Scotland’s top courts.

In a statement issued to the media, a spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council said in relation to Parliament House: “We are not pursuing legal action regarding ownership of the Parliament House.The building, however,  remains in public ownership and is publicly accessible.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) now have full title to Parliament House – granted to them by Scottish Ministers.

However as the SCTS is a public body which is effectively controlled by a quango commanded by Scotland’s top judges – the status of “public ownership” may well fall to be a loosely applied term given how the titles came to be in the possession of the courts after Scottish Ministers took ownership of Parliament House from the common good.

The City of Edinburgh Council’s costly £53K legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was destined to be heard in the very same court buildings – was abandoned almost as instantly as papers were served by the council’s legal agents on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and Scottish Ministers- reported in further detail here:  WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Commenting on the Laigh Hall – a large area of building which runs underneath Parliament House and was ‘gifted’ to the Faculty of Advocates by the Scottish Government, a Council spokesperson, said: “Shortly after Scottish Ministers registered these buildings they transferred the title for Laigh Hall to the facility of advocates. We understand that this transfer is subject to Scottish Ministers having first refusal to reaquire the property in the event of a sale.”

A spokesperson for the council also confirmed earlier moves by Edinburgh Council to ‘persuade’ the SCTS & Scottish Government to voluntarily hand back ownership, were also at an end.

DOI has previously published documents released under Freedom of Information legislation which revealed lawyers representing trustees of the Faculty of Advocates informed Registers of Scotland (RoS) that the Laigh Hall – part of the Parliament House complex – had been occupied by the Faculty for some 150 years, with no recorded titles – yet Scottish Ministers and Registers of Scotland went ahead and granted ownership to the Faculty of Advocates.

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI also revealed the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) – refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates.

Records of titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stands in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scotland’s current First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon also weighed in on the debate, but only after being asked questions during a session of First Minister’s Questions.

The First Minister gave little indication the Scottish Government were willing to ensure titles were handed back to the City of Edinburgh Council : Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015 and as the Council have now confirmed, the matter is closed.

DOOMED TOP COURT TO UP STICKS?

Amid rumours of plans loosely based around the Scottish Government’s desire for “modern justice centres” to one day move the Court of Session out of Parliament House, questions remain on who will ultimately benefit financially from any redevelopment of the imposing, gargantuan buildings which make up Scotland’s top court and power seat of the judiciary.

The sprawling complex of high value, if aging buildings – located in the centre of Edinburgh – are described as “inaccessible” “Victorian” and “unfit for modern court needs” in loose discussions between interested parties and land developers.

However, development possibilities for Parliament House reveal a host of difficulties in turning “an overly ornate set of imposing buildings” into a mixture of office, business and residential units.

Concerns of resistance from the legal profession, elements of the judiciary and a “public outcry” appear to be uppermost in the minds of developers and politicians who may wish to move the judges out of their plush Parliament House headquarters to a “greenfield site”.

In the last few years, ‘improvements’ to Parliament House saw £58 million of taxpayers cash spent on updating the constantly crumbling court buildings – which also house the offices of Scotland’s powerful judicial clique and their top judge – the Lord President, currently Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland).

Some in the legal fraternity have since pointed to the recent multi million pound expenditure on improvements as part of a move to clean up Parliament House before a possible transfer of court staff and court functions and eventual sale of the buildings to the private sector.

It also emerged during hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in the summer of 2013 – the Scottish Court Service (SCS) – the predecessor to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) had previously demanded around £120 million of taxpayers cash be spent on renovating Parliament House.

£60M TO ‘IMPROVE’ PARLIAMENT HOUSE:

In the summer of 2013,  Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill – head of the Scottish Court Service Board, and the Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eric McQueen appeared before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on court closures and the millions spent on Parliament House – yet neither the judge nor the Courts chief mentioned their astonishing secret to the MSPs present – that the title to Scotland’s highest court buildings had been swiped by the Faculty of Advocates in a deal on the sly with Scottish Ministers.

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen gave evidence on the massive £60 million taxpayer funded spend on Parliament House.

The Court Service Chief told MSPs: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting beside Eric McQueen was Lord President Brian Gill, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Previous reports on the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court – Parliament House can be found here: Parliament House – The lost titles to the City of Edinburgh

 

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WOLFFE HALL: Edinburgh Council racks up £53K legal bill in failed bid to recover ownership of Parliament House – as papers reveal Faculty of Advocates “occupied” Laigh Hall for 150 years without recorded title deeds

Costs mount for return of Scotland’s top court buildingsAN UNSUCCESSFUL legal action by the City of Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of Parliament House – the sprawling, high value land estate situated in Edinburgh’s old town comprising Scotland’s top court buildings – has so-far cost taxpayers £52,991 – according to figures released to the media.

The costs of legal advice and other legal services provided to the council, revealed in a Freedom of Information disclosure, list law firm Burness Paul as the largest single expense at £38,726, followed by Counsel’s fees listed as £10,620K and ‘experts’ and other professional fees reaching a total of £2,400 after VAT.

However, the council’s legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was to be heard in the very same court buildings it had lost ownership of – was later abandoned – reported in further detail here:  WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI revealed the then Dean of Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) – refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In one letter dated 2 April 2015 to former Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice  Alex Neil MSP – James Wolffe told the Minister he did not object to a meeting between representatives of the City of Edinburgh Council and the Faculty of Advocates. However, Wolffe added to the same letter “At the same time I would not wish to give any expectation to you or the council as to the outcome of any discussion.”

In a separate email to a senior Scottish Government civil servant – James Wolffe added: “I am advised that the of refurbishing the Laigh Hall following the grant of title to the Faculty was £242,270 plus VAT, with professional fees of £33,537 plus VAT.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service also disclosed their own figures incurred following legal fees in the action against the City of Edinburgh Council regarding the titles of Parliament House, Parliament Hall and the Laigh Hall. The SCTS admitted it had incurred legal costs in respect of advice from solicitors amounted to £4,388.20 and costs of £3,980 in instructing Counsel.

The full listing of Legal Fees to City of Edinburgh Council: Parliament Hall Titles: Burness Paull 38,726.40, Charges/Diligence-Other Registers search fees 108.00, Counsel’s fees 10,620.00, Courier Charge 30.90, Court Dues 213.50, Court Officer fees 479.28, Experts/Other Professional fees 2,400.00, Registers Form Reports 60.00, Registers – Copy/Extract Dues 236.40, Registers Direct search fees 21.60, Travel Expenses 94.92, Totals £52,991.00

LAIGH HALL ‘OCCUPIED’ BY FACULTY OF ADVOCATES WITH NO RECORDED TITLES:

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates.

Additionally, the position of the Faculty of Advocates in relation to their ownership claim over the Laigh Hall becomes a little clearer in a chain of correspondence from the Edinburgh law firm of Shepherd and Wedderburn to RoS, which follows on from a letter from Registers of Scotland to a law firm marked “Destroy correspondence after archive”.

In a letter dated 19 January 2006, a solicitor – David A Smith of for Shepherd & Wedderburn appears to admit the Faculty of Advocates “occupied” a key part of Parliament House known as the Laigh Hall, but held no recorded title to it.

Mr Smith writes to Registers of Scotland, stating: The Disposition by The Scottish Ministers is stated to be for no consideration, and as I indicated to you In the course of our telephone conversation, the position with regard to the Laigh Hall is that the Faculty of Advocates has occupied the Laigh Hall for approximately 150 years, and the records of the Faculty indicate that although the Faculty did not have a recorded title to the Laigh Hall, the Senior Officer Bearers of the Faculty in the Nineteenth Century were of the opinion that the Faculty had “undoubted title” to the Laigh Hall.

Parliament House Is in the course of being redeveloped by The Scottish Court Service, and in the course of the redevelopment it became clear to all concerned that The Scottish Ministers did not have a registered title to the whole of Parliament House and it was agreed in the course of discussions between The Scottish Court Service and the Faculty that The Scottish Ministers would register a title to the entire building and they would then grant the Faculty a Disposition of the Laigh Hall in order to regularise the de facto position which has applied since the mid Nineteenth Century.

In the hope that this explanation will be sufficient for your purposes, I look forward to hearing from you with a receipted Form 4 and confirmation that the Registers of Scotland will now process the Faculty’s application for registration of its interest on the back of the application which was recently submitted on behalf of The Scottish Ministers in relation to the whole of Parliament House.

The solicitor at Shepherd  & Wedderburn acting for the ‘trustee’ for the Faculty of Advocates – David A Smith, was none other than David Alexander Smith – the husband of Court of Session judge Lady Anne Smith.

After his retirement from Shepherd & Wedderburn, David Smith served a term as a board member of the Scottish legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), where he sparked findings by Kevin Dunion – the then Scottish Information Commissioner – who demanded the release of censored comments by Smith targeting victims of corrupt solicitors who came before the pro-lawyer legal regulator.

PARLIAMENT HOUSE PUBLIC OWNERSHIP TITLE SWINDLE:

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it was clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

During an earlier check on the titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stood in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government’s position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

 

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WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall & new Lord Advocate refused to give expectations on move to recover public ownership of Parliament House

New Lord Advocate’s role in Parliament House titles fiasco. DOCUMENTS obtained from the Scottish Government reveal Scotland’s new Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC – refused to give expectations of any success on efforts by the City of Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

Emails from James Wolffe to the Scottish Government also claim the Faculty of Advocates spent £320K on legal costs and work refurbishing the Laigh Hall – which Edinburgh City Council contend was wrongly taken from public ownership.

The series of exchanges between the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and Scottish Ministers in relation to the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court buildings – came to light in papers released by the Scottish Government in response to a Freedom of Information request.

In one letter dated 2 April 2015 to Alex Neil MSP  – the then Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice – James Wolffe told the Minister he did not object to a meeting between representatives of the City of Edinburgh Council and the Faculty of Advocates.

However, Wolffe added to the same letter “At the same time I would not wish to give any expectation to you or the council as to the outcome of any discussion.”

The long time lawyer & QC – recently selected by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s latest Lord Advocate –  also felt confident enough to pass along details of the financial costs of ‘refurbishing’ the Laigh Hall – which the City of Edinburgh Council maintained were part of the common good & therefore owned by the council.

In a separate email to a senior Scottish Government civil servant – James Wolffe added: “I am advised that the of refurbishing the Laigh Hall following the grant of title to the Faculty was £242,270 plus VAT, with professional fees of £33,537 plus VAT.”

Responding to Wolffe’s claim the Faculty of Advocates paid out over £320K on refurbishing parts of buildings formerly in public ownership – an individual at the Scottish Government whose identity has been censored in the released documents – made light of further coverage of the Parliament House fiasco in the Scottish media.

In a further email, Wolffe alerted the secretive Scottish Government contact to additional coverage, pointing to an article written by Martin Hannan in The National, titled “Edinburgh asks: Can we have Parliament House back, please?

Meanwhile, unredacted sections of legal advice given by the Scottish Government’s own lawyers to Scottish Ministers revealed in the documents state the following:

• The Scottish Court Service (SCS) is the current proprietor and occupier of Parliament House.

Consequently it is that independent body (and not the Scottish Ministers) that would have to agree to a voluntary transfer of its title to the local authority. We don’t know what view the Lord President would be likely to take on that matter and whether he would agree to the transfer in circumstances where the public body has a valid title. He may, for example, be influenced by the fact that the SCS has recently undertake a major refurbishment of the building complex at a cost of around £58 million.

• The finance position is complex. SCS holds a valid title and will have accounted for bot the property and the recent refurbishment works in its accounts: Whilst a transfer to the council would retain the property in public ownership, there are tricky issues around accounting and public finance rules t at would require further investigation.

• Although neither a legal nor financial impediment, the title position is very complex. Parliament House is not one building but rather a number that are stitched together, built down the centuries. it is not clear whether the entire property was, and remained, part of the Common Good Fund when Scottish Ministers registered a title. This may be relevant when considering whether or not it would be appropriate to transfer the entire property. My understanding is that it would be an expensive exercise to undertake any further examination of the title and it is unlikely that it would in any event achieve any greater clarity.

• The Faculty of Advocates holds a registered title to the Laigh Hall. It mayor may not agree to a voluntary transfer, and if they were inclined to do so, we don’t know upon’ what basis.

As ministers sought to arrange meetings and seek views on the subject, Lord Brian Gill – then Lord President – wrote to Alex Neil MSP, asserting “this matter is best dealt with at official level”

Gill said he would ask Eric McQueen – Chief Executive of Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, to meet with officials of the Council.

However, after a year of fruitless negotiations between council officials, the Scottish Government, and other parties, the City of Edinburgh Council served writs on Scottish Ministers, the Keeper of the Registers and the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service on 25 November 2015.

The action by the council – seeking declarator that the City of Edinburgh Council is the owner of Parliament House, High Street, home of the Court of Session – has since been abandoned.

In response to media enquiries, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service confirmed the council’s legal action had ceased, and said : “SCTS holds legal title to Parliament House.”

PARLIAMENT HOUSE TITLE SWINDLE

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it was clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

During an earlier check on the titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stood in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”.

Sidney Brailsford is High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government’s position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

 

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