Scots judiciary require modern 21st century oversight. A DEGREE in quantum mechanics is not required to understand that the secretive closed world of Scotland’s all powerful judiciary requires a significantly greater level of transparency & accountability than the current antiquated set of rules and late night stag party sounding ‘oaths’ which loosely ‘govern’ the role of judges and their position at the top of Scotland’s justice system.
Not least due to the fact these same ‘rules’ and ‘oaths’ the judges hold in such high regard – are – mostly written by themselves, and vested legal interests.
When a small group of the most powerful in society, who earn staggering publicly funded salaries plus perks & pension pots to rival any banking executive, fly the world at taxpayers expense with big business tagging along to gather contracts in the wake of ‘respectable figures from the bench’ – and, when questions are asked of their interests – these same figures cast aside our democratically elected Scottish Parliament in the name of serving their own interests – it is time for change.
Not rocket science, right? We all get it.
Except of course, the judges, and those who have a vested interest or … something to hide.
Transparency – Good. Vested Interests – Bad.
Not a difficult equation. Certainly not one requiring a visit to a Physics laboratory.
One judge alone has done more than most for promoting the need for judicial reform – Lord Brian Gill.
Gill (73) – who dodged Holyrood more often than a pigeon dodges a Peregrine Falcon – held such disdain for transparency, the political process, and the same expectations, rules and regulations which apply to all others in public life, he just could not bear to apply those same standards to the judiciary.
The Lord President said so himself. Letter after letter to the Scottish Parliament. Threats, name calling, excuses, loopholes, blanking, it was all there, and in writing.
Never before did a country’s top judge become so aggressive towards the public’s general expectation of transparency.
And why? All because the judiciary were asked to disclose their interests. You know … like everyone else.
Time then, for the Scottish judiciary to be reminded they serve the wider community – the people. Scotland.
Not vested interests, not themselves, not their friends, Scotland. The whole of.
And, that with such unchecked power as the judiciary hold, comes the requirement for full transparency, and powerful oversight – without – of course – meddling vested legal interests.
A good start for the Scottish Government would be ensuring the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) has full and substantive powers to investigate the judiciary to – at least – the same level of scrutiny already existing in England and Wales, where the Office for Judicial Complaints publishes details of upheld complaints and cases can be appealed to the Judicial Appointment and Conduct Ombudsman.
And, don’t forget to register all your interests, M’Lords.
Here’s what others say:
The Sunday Mail newspaper reports:
BACK IN THE DOCK – NEW BROOM WANTS JUDGES TO OPEN UP
Second legal watchdog says judges’ refusal to support register of interests looks suspicious
Jan 18, 2015 By Mark Aitken
NEW judicial complaints reviewer Gillian Thompson has given backing for register despite protests from Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill.
A LEGAL watchdog who quit after supporting a register of interest for judges has been backed by the woman who replaced her.
Moi Ali was appointed as the country’s first judicial complaints reviewer in 2011 but resigned last year claiming she had no power and got no co-operation from law chiefs.
She was also criticised by Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill, over her support for a register of interest for judges.
But her successor Gillian Thompson has also given her backing for a register.
Holyrood’s petitions committee are considering a submission by legal campaigner Peter Cherbi for a judicial register of interests which could details gifts, hospitality and links to outside bodies such as law firms.
In a letter to the committee, Thompson wrote: “We live in an age in which transparency about interests and activities of those in the public eye is regarded as good practice.
“There is a perception that anything less is the result of attempts to hide things.
“In the case of judges, it is clear that court users and the public more widely seek reassurances of fairness and impartiality.”
Lord Gill has repeatedly dismissed calls for a register of interests.
But Cherbi said: “Two judicial complaints reviewers in a row have supported a register while Lord Gill suspiciously clings to secrecy and refuses to accept transparency must be applied equally to judges as it is to everyone else in public life.”
WATCHDOG’S WITHERING ATTACK ON JUDICIARY
MY FINAL VERDICT ON JUDGES? A LAW UNTO THEMSELVES
Investigator says she got no co-operation and only met law chief once in three years
By Mark Aitken Political Editor Sunday Mail 07 December 2014
A former watchdog who probed complaints about legal chiefs has hit out at Scotland’s judges in her farewell report.
Moi Ali was appointed the country’s first ever judicial complaints reviewer in 2011 but announced her decision to quit earlier this year because she had no power and the role was “tokenistic”.
Her final report details complaints of alleged racial bigotry, bullying, lying, conflicts of interest and making secret recordings of meetings.
And Ali, who left the role in August, reveals Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill,only met her once.
She said: “Unfortunately, there has been little interest in the positive difference that the JCR could make.
“Although I have had a good working relationship with the judicial office, I have met the Lord President just once in three years.
“My interactions with both the Lord President’s office and the judicial office have focused more on what I cannot do rather than what I can do and as such, an opportunity for whole system improvement has been lost.
Reform campaigner Peter Cherbi said: The current system of judges slapping each other on the back and dealing with their own complaints is clearly unfit for purpose.
“Ms Ali found investigations by the judicial office were delayed for months, officials were confused as to their own procedures, and complaints were treated with the disdain.
“One complaint filed by a mother on behalf of her disabled son was kicked out because too much time had passed and the judge could have forgotten the events. There’s not much point in having judges who forget what they had for breakfast but can remember to pick up a £200,000 salary and all the expenses trappings of judicial office.”
Independent MSP John Wilson said:”It is up to the new justice Secretary to take a serious look at the report by Moi Ali and develop a system that is independent of the Lord President to bring confidence in the judicial review process.”
A judicial office spokesman said: “The judicial office has fully co-operated and will continue to work with the judicial complaints reviewer to take forward the recommendations of the Lord President’s consultation on the complaints process.
Clash over probe into allegations of bullying in the justice system
Paul Hutcheon, Investigations Editor Sunday 7 December 2014
TWO of Scotland’s key legal bodies have clashed over an investigation into a member of the judiciary.
The fight is between the Judicial Office for Scotland (JOS) – headed by the country’s top judge – and the watchdog responsible for holding it to account.
The legal watchdog attacked the JOS for its handling of a probe into claims a judicial office-holder was guilty of bullying and of making covert recordings.
Complaints against judges, sheriffs and justices of the peace are handled by the JOS, which provides support to the Lord President.
The investigations are carried out by fellow members of the judiciary.
If a complainant is still unhappy, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) can examine whether the probe complied with the rules.
Moi Ali, who recently stood down as the JCR after saying she did not have adequate powers, published her final annual report last week.
She produced details of an extraordinary case in which the JOS dealt with allegations of impropriety by a judicial office-holder. An unnamed organisation that “works closely with the courts” complained of bullying by a member of the judiciary, adding that the same figure had made secret recordings.
The organisation was not satisfied with the JOS probe into the case and contacted Ali.
On the bullying allegation, Ali said she was hampered after the “nominated judge” who carried out the first investigation failed to put all correspondence in the complaints file.
After the complainant asked for all tapes and transcripts obtained during the probe, the request was initially rejected.
Ali described this response a “an unnecessary lack of transparency that could damage external confidence in the investigation process”.
She also described as a “lack of even-handedness” the fact that the judicial officer-holder under investigation received an apology for delays in the case, but the complainant did not.
The organisation’s witnesses were also not interviewed.
The original complaint was not upheld by the JOS, but Ali concluded: “I was concerned about how the conclusion was reached that the allegations could not be substantiated in light of the evidence that I saw in the complaints file.”
On the recordings allegation, the judicial office-holder under investigation had said the tapes were not made “in any secret way”, although permission was not sought.
Ali believed this complaint should have been included as part of the other probe, or referred anew to the JOS, but she said: “Neither path was followed. The complaint was never investigated. No explanation was offered as to why not.”
In the two reviews Ali carried out, she found seven rule breaches.
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “In almost no other walk of life do you have an organisation which is only accountable to itself in instances like these.
“The public expectation is that – when there’s a case to answer – an independent or separate authority should be asking the questions.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Moi Ali has previously reported weaknesses in the systems through which the public can complain about the conduct of the judiciary and seek redress.
“Some of the incidents reported suggest that those involved in the complaints process were more concerned with stopping Moi Ali from doing her job than behaving responsibly and responding to the issues that had been raised.”
A spokesperson for the Judicial Office said the recordings were made in court, not during meetings, adding: “The Judicial Office does not comment on individual complaints as the information is confidential. All complaints are fully investigated in accordance with the relevant rules.
“In respect of recording in court, it is open to the court to have proceedings recorded where it considers it to be appropriate.”
Judicial watchdog quits from ‘straightjacket’ role
Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor Sunday 26 January 2014
SCOTLAND’S legal watchdog tasked with holding judges to account is to stand down after complaining that she has “no power to make things different and better”.
Moi Ali, the country’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR), will not seek a second term because she believes her post is “tokenism”.
The JCR post was created by the Scottish Government to introduce an element of independence in the system of self-regulation for scrutinising judges.
However, Ali’s role is restricted to looking at whether the Judicial Office for Scotland (JOS) – the in-house body led by the Lord President – has dealt with complaints correctly.
She cannot investigate complaints against judges herself and is unable to make recommendations.
Ali, who took office in 2011, also works on a tiny budget of around £2000, whereas a beefed-up Ombudsman south of the border has nearly £500,000.
In an interview with the Sunday Herald last year, Ali said she had found the job “enormously frustrating and difficult”, adding: “Fundamentally the problem is the legislation … it’s judges judging judges’ conduct.
“I’m presented as the independent element, but without the powers I can’t be independent.”
She added: “Really, it’s difficult to make an impact within the constraints that I’m in at the moment. It’s a bit like being in a straitjacket.”
Ali also claimed Scotland was lagging behind England in holding judges to account, claiming: “Citizens here have a lot less protection than they do in England and Wales.”
The JCR has also encountered difficulties with the JOS and claimed the post amounted to “window dressing”.
The Sunday Herald has learned that Ali, whose term ends in August, will not seek an extended period in office, where she could have served five years. She wrote to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill before Christmas to inform him of her decision. MacAskill will have to find a new JCR, an appointment that must be made “with the consent” of the Lord President.
In her latest annual report, she found 20 breaches of the rules by the JOS last year.
Ali said: “I believe that I’ve been able to make a difference, albeit in a small way – which is not only personally satisfying, but important for the people who use my service. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.
“I feel that I have achieved all that I can within the constraints of legislation that has created a JCR role that has independence without the power to change anything.
“I can freely comment, criticise, persuade, suggest, speak out – but I have no power to make things different and better.
“Without the ability to implement change, the role feels tokenistic and I’ve never been one to go along with tokenism.”
Graeme Pearson, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman and a former top police officer, said: “Moi Ali accepted an important responsibility and was keen to do the job.
“She should have been supported and encouraged – instead her role developed as an unwitting sop for this SNP Government at a time our justice system requires genuine openness and accountability. She and the Scottish public deserved better.”
Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes said: “The Justice Secretary asked Ms Ali to do a job and then point-blank refused to give her the support and resources she needed to deliver. This is simply not good enough.
“Moi Ali’s frustration over the lack of support she has received from ministers is wholly understandable. Her decision to stand down is an indictment of the lacklustre approach to transparency that the Justice Secretary has taken.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on personnel issues. We thank Ms Ali for the work she has done in her post to date.”
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill urged to improve scrutiny of Scotland’s judges after claims they stifle public complaints
We, Scotland’s judges, stand accused of making the process of complaining about us impossibly difficult. You, our toothless watchdog, have been deliberating. So, have you reached a verdict? YOU’RE GUILTY, M’LUDS
MOI ALI, the country’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer, says she is currently powerless to do more to help the public understand the complex legal complaints system.
News Special : By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 15 Dec 2013
KENNY MacASKILL has been urged to get tough with Scotland’s judges after a watchdog warned they are stifling complaints and dodging scrutiny.
Moi Ali was appointed by the SNP’s Justice Secretary as the country’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer but, before delivering her second annual report tomorrow, she voiced fears that her role is mere “window dressing” and needs more teeth if it is to hold judges to account.
Ali says people find it virtually impossible to understand confusing rules about how to complain about judges, sheriffs and JPs. She said: “They are legal rules, written by lawyers for other lawyers to use. To me, the perspective is completely wrong. You write the rules for the public, not for lawyers.”
She believes that former solicitor MacAskill must bring in new laws to end judicial self-regulation.
Ali, who also sits on the Scottish Police Authority board said: “I think fundamentally the problem is the legislation. “The way it’s created, it’s about self- regulation so you have judges judging judges’ conduct. There isn’t really an independent element.“I’m presented as the independent element but, without the powers, I can’t be independent. We have the appearance of independent oversight but not the reality.”
Ali’s post was created by the Scottish Government in the face of fierce opposition from judges. With a ￡2000 annual budget, no staff and no office, she has been forced to work for free in addition to the three days per month for which she is paid.
She said: “There was a genuine recognition that something needed to be done. “But I think with any professional group, whether it’s the judiciary or any other powerful group of people, it’s quite difficult to take them on. “And I think that appearing to do something when actually, perhaps, doing the bare minimum is an easier way of addressing it. It’s a bit like being in a straitjacket.”
Ali has caused consternation in government and judicial circles by publicly admitting she is powerless. All she can do is review how complaints are handled by the Judicial Office for Scotland, which is headed by top judge Lord President Lord Gill.
She said: “I’m sorry to say that I do think there was an element of window dressing. “The system is about investigating complaints about the judiciary but that whole system is run by the judiciary. “Without any proper, external, genuinely independent oversight, you’re not going to have public faith and confidence. “I know people will be very unhappy with me using the term window dressing but I think there is an element of that.”
Scotland’s system trails behind England and Wales, who have an Office for Judicial Complaints.
In addition, there is a powerful independent ombudsman who can overturn decisions, order reinvestigations and compensate victims.
Ali said: “England and Wales started doing this, and a whole lot more, in 2006. “We’re not even where they were at when they started so we’ve got an awful lot of catching up to do. “The fact we have a JCR and not an ombudsman, to me, says it all.”
Some senior figures within the judicial system privately dismiss Ali as an “outsider” and unqualified to comment.
She has also angered judges by backing a Holyrood petition by legal reform campaigner Peter Cherbi calling for a register of interests for judges.
Lord Gill sparked cross-party anger by twice rejecting a plea by Holyrood to give evidence to the committee. He said the Scotland Act allowed him to avoid parliamentary scrutiny as it ensures judicial independence from political meddling.
But critics said that the Act is to protect judges from being quizzed over courtroom decisions not administration issues.
Ali said: “I think it’s a confusion between independence and accountability. I really do think it’s as basic as that. The dividing line is completely clear.”
Ali has led by example by voluntarily publishing her own register of interests, even though it took six months to get it on the JCR website. Her annual report details 20 alleged breaches of the complaints rules by the Judicial Office.
She has also scored two victories for the public since taking the three-year post.
One is that Lord Gill has now agreed to supply people with some details about the outcome of
their complaint. And he has also agreed to inform the JCR about the outcome of cases which she refers to him.
She said: “I’ve made some small differences but it’s progress. “But really it’s difficult to make an impact within the constraints that I’m in at the moment.”
MacAskill has already dismissed calls to tackle the powerful judiciary with new laws but Ali wants him to think again.
She said: “In the past few years in Scotland, there have been some really good things being done in all sorts of different sectors. “I don’t understand why this appears to be the one sector that is really behind. “I don’t think there’s an appetite for looking at the legislation again. “I think it will have to be looked at again at some point because, at the moment, Scots citizens have a lot less protection than they do in England and Wales. “If I was asked to create something to deal fairly, effectively, efficiently and transparently with complaints about the judiciary, I would not invent this.”
The Judicial Office for Scotland: “The review of the existing complaints rules ends tomorrow. “The responses will then be considered in full by the Lord President.”
JUDGES IN DOCK
Probed after bawling out a dog walker
A judge was accused of a “tyrannical rant” at a woman walking her dog. The dog walker was left “shaking with nerves” and felt “very intimidated” by the unnamed judge, who told her to put her pet on a lead.
Her complaint was dismissed as being “without substance” by the Judicial Office for Scotland because he was not acting as a judge at the time. But the Judicial Office’s own guidelines state that complaints can be made about judges’ conduct inside and outside court.
The dog walker said ; “The point is that he is a judge and. as such, may be expected to adhere to a certain standard of personal conduct and behaviour to all members of the public.” Ali agreed and upheld the complaint that the Judicial Office had breached their own rules.
Accused of insensitivity over disability.
A disabled woman complained about a judge who, she claimed, ignored her medical condition. The woman said that the judge did not consider her “mental and physical disabilities and current aggressive medical treatment”.
The Judicial Office kicked out the complaint because it was “primarily about judicial decisions”. But Ali found that the Judicial Office rules were breached because the complaint also related to the judge’s conduct so should have been investigated. She also said that “further investigation” would be needed to establish if the judge had been insensitive.
However, Lord Gill disagreed with Ali’s opinion.
IF I AM NOT SURE WHAT THIS LEGALESE MEANS
Watchdog Moi Ali slates the legal jargon which is used to deter ordinary Scots from complaining about judges.
She fears the complex Judicial Office for Scotland rules are not fit for purpose.
She said ; “If you have a set of rules that you can pick up and not understand, then they can’t be fit for purpose.
And the public don’t understand. They are not written in any understandable way.
I don’t understand the purpose of some of the rules and some of them are cross-referenced with Acts of Parliament.”
Ali has submitted a damning 25 page report to Scotland’s top judge, Lord President Lord Gill, who is reviewing the rules.
In it, she says : “One of my principal concerns relates to the style and tone of the rules and the way in which they have been constructed, giving an impression that they are devised to deter people from complaining, to find reasons to reject a complaint at the earliest opportunity and to over-protect the judiciary.”
She cites numerous examples of archaic language which many people would struggle to understand.
For example, Section 5.4.b states : “If sent by electronic means indicated to be acceptable a document is to be treated as valid only if it is capable of being used for subsequent reference.”
Ali has urged Lord Gill to bring in new rules which will be “fair, proportionate, transparent and easy to understand.”
My position is window-dressing, says legal watchdog with budget of £2000
Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor Sunday 15 December 2013
SCOTLAND’S judicial watchdog says her post is mere “window dressing” and has blasted the system set up to investigate judges as unfair and not fit for purpose.
Moi Ali, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR), also said she was “really baffled” that the SNP Government had not embraced reform, and claimed the country was lagging behind England.
MSPs yesterday welcomed the intervention.
Judges are responsible for probing complaints against their colleagues under the model of self-regulation, overseen by the Judicial Office for Scotland (JOS).
The rules that govern the system are also drawn up by the Lord President, who is the head of the judiciary. Ali can step in if an individual believes a complaint has not been handled properly, but her powers do not include ordering re-investigations or imposing sanctions.
Her second annual report is published tomorrow and it reveals she found 20 breaches of the rules last year.
However, in an interview with the Sunday Herald, Ali, 50, backs an overhaul of self-regulation.
“Fundamentally the problem is the legislation … it’s judges judging judges’ conduct.
“I’m presented as the independent element, but without the powers I can’t be independent.”
She added: “Without any proper, external, genuinely independent oversight, you’re not going to have public faith and confidence.”
Ali, who also sits on the boards of the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Ambulance Service, believes the limitations of the post are stark.
She said: “I’ve made some small differences and they are small … But really it’s difficult to make an impact within the constraints that I’m in at the moment. It’s a bit like being in a straitjacket.”
South of the Border, the equivalent ombudsman has staff, a budget of £500,000 and beefed-up powers.
Ali, by contrast, is on her own and has a budget of about £2000 a year.
“Citizens here have a lot less protection than they do in England and Wales,” she said. “I think that Scotland is leading the way in all sorts of areas – healthcare and education – but here, this is probably one of the few areas where Scotland is playing catch-up.”
Asked why the SNP Government was resistant to changing the complaints system, she said: “I have to say I don’t know, I’m really baffled.”
In retrospect, Ali believes the JCR post was not taken seriously by those who created it. “I’m sorry to say that I do think there was an element of window dressing.
“I think that for any professional group, whether it’s the judiciary or any other powerful group of people, it’s quite difficult to take them on.”
On the subject of her tiny budget, Ali said she recognised there was no appetite for a “great big quango”, but noted: “It seems to have gone too far the other way and there’s been an attempt to create something on the cheap.
“I know people will be very unhappy with me using the term ‘window dressing’, but I think there is an element of that.”
However, Ali has helped reform the way in which the JOS conducts the investigation process.
The Lord President has agreed to inform her of the final outcome of any referrals she makes to him, while a summary of the initial JOS investigation report will also be provided to complainers.
Both changes resulted from Ali’s pressure. Even so, she is realistic about the capacity for meaningful change within the status quo.
“If I were asked to create something to deal fairly, effectively, efficiently [and] transparently, with complaints about the judiciary … I would not invent this.”
She is highly critical of the Lord President’s rules that govern the investigation system: “They are legal rules written by lawyers, for other lawyers to use. To me, the perspective is completely wrong.”
She added: “If you have a set of rules that you can pick up and not understand, then they can’t be fit for purpose. They are not written in an understandable way.”
She has contributed to the Lord President’s consultation on changing the rules, but says the practice of judges investigating their colleagues is the bigger problem:
“All of the correspondence I’ve had, people feel that’s not right, that it’s not fair. Even if the Judicial Office act completely fairly, and apply the rules fairly, public perception is really important.”
She does not regret taking up the post, but said her stint had been “enormously frustrating and difficult”.
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said: “Moi Ali has been admirable in her pursuit of transparency within the judicial system. The Scottish Government should treat her concerns with seriousness, as the current system of self-regulation is not as transparent as it could be. It is clear that there is more work to be done to ensure public confidence in the judicial system.”
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “If the Judicial Complaints Reviewer believes her position is simply window dressing and that the current system is not fit for purpose, then the Scottish Government should look into these concerns.”
A spokeswoman for the Judicial Office for Scotland said: “It would be inappropriate to comment in advance of the publication of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer’s report on December 16.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The JCR has carried out only a small number of reviews since the post was created two years ago. It would be premature to review the powers of the role at this point in time.”
WHAT’S THE POINT OF A WATCHDOG WITHOUT TEETH?
REVEALED JUDGES ESCAPE SCRUTINY
By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 22 Sept 2013
A watchdog probing complaints about judges yesterday urged Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to give her some real bite.
Moi Ali admits there’s “little point” to her role as Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer because of its lack of teeth.
She said: “It’s fair to say because I don’t actually have any powers. There’s no real independent oversight.If you provide oversight without powers, then there’s almost little point to it.”
Judges have opposed an independent ombudsman to oversee complaints against them.
Their protests resulted in Justice Minister MacAskill creating the “powerless” JCR who works three days per month, has a £2000 annual budget and no staff.
Complaints against judges are initially handled by the Judicial Office for Scotland, which is headed by the Lord President Lord Gill.
The complainer can ask Ali to review how their case was handled – but she can take no action.
In England and Wales, the Office for Judicial Complaints has 15 staff and publishes details of upheld complaints. People can then appeal to the Judicial Appointment and Conduct Ombudsman, headed by Sir John Brigstocke, with 14 staff.
His post is the equivalent to Ali’s but he can overturn decisions, order reinvestigations and ask for victims to be compensated.
Ali said: “It’s hard to say why, if you make a complaint about a judge in England or Wales, the powers available are so much wider compared to what happens in Scotland. Their approach couldn’t be more different in terms of openness.”
Lord Gill has snubbed Holyrood’s plea to discuss legal campaigner Peter Cherbi’s petition for a judicial register of interests. He cited the Scotland Act which says judges can’t be forced to attend parliament. But critics say the Act only refers to judges’ courtroom decisions.
Ali last week told the committee: “Clearly politicians should have no part in influencing judicial decisions.
But judicial accountability is a completely separate issue.
“That’s the issue that cuts through all of this for me.”
During last week’s hearing, Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw launched a colourful attack on Scotland’s top judge.
Carlaw said Lord Gill had an “Edwardian establishment disdain for the hoi polloi”.
He also said there was a feeling “the swish of judicial ermine and velvet should cow into deference both public and the legislature”.
Committee chairman, Labour MSP David Stewart, and his SNP deputy Chic Brodie plan to meet Lord Gill in private and raise Ali’s lack of power with MacAskill.
The Scottish Government said: “We note the committee plans to raise these issues and will respond in due course.”
JUDICIAL INVESTIGATOR LEFT IN THE DARK
May the watchdog appointed by the Scottish Government to investigate complaints against judges have leave to approach the bench, Your Honours?
NO.. SHE MAY NOT
SILENCE IN COURT Lord Gill has not met judicial investigator so far.
EXCLUSIVE, By Russell Findlay, Sunday Mail 10 Feb 2013
A watchdog appointed to look into complaints against Scotland’s judges fears she is being frozen out.
Moi Ali has accused the country’s most senior judge, Lord President Lord Gill, of undermining her work by blocking access to vital documents.
She revealed her frustration in her first annual report since taking up the newly-created role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer.
Ali said she was only seeing the correspondence between the Judicial Office, who act for the judges, and the complainers.
But she was not allowed to see the internal memos and reports between the office and the judges about complaints.
She said: “I believe that in order to conduct a review, and to make wider recommendations on complaints handling, I need to see files in their entirety. “Without this, it is difficult to satisfy myself, let alone complainers, as to the fairness of the process. “I have continued to complete reviews but have made it clear to complainers that I have not had access to all documentation in their complaint file.”
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill defied judicial opposition to create the part-time job to monitor how complaints against judges, sheriffs and justices of the peace are handled.
And Ali fears there is still resistance from within the judiciary to her role as an independent investigator.
She said: “With any profession, there’s a feeling that regulation should come from within. “But this is the first time that the judiciary have been exposed to this kind of scrutiny, which other professional groups are more used to. “Most have accepted there is some kind of mechanism to scrutinise their conduct. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a free and independent judiciary.”
Ali also revealed that she has still not met 70-year-old Lord Gill, who was appointed to his £214,165-a-year post last June, and did not meet his predecessor Lord Hamilton.
She said: “I’m not overly concerned but I’m slightly surprised that the Lord President did not proactively suggest a meeting. I don’t need to meet him but I think it would have sent out a positive message.”
Ali is more concerned at the decision to block her access to documents.
She said: “This came to light because in review number one I was sent all the documents but then I didn’t get the same ones for the second review. “At that point I discovered that I had been given them in error the first time. “I can’t see any reason why and that worries me because I can’t understand it.”
Ali also voiced concerns that judges being investigated could evade punishment by quitting before the probe is complete. And she found there has been a breach in the rules in the way one of the four complaints she reviewed had been handled. Ali also urged the judiciary staff to use plain English when dealing with the public.
Her lack of administrative support was also highlighted – on her first day, she did not have a computer, printer, phone, email address or stationery – and she said it meant she was “unable to give the level of service that I would like to provide”.
A Judicial Office for Scotland spokeswoman said: “In the short time the JCR has been in the post, we have worked very closely with Ms Ali in implementing, developing and reviewing the rules and how they are applied.
“With any new system, there is always a period of adaptation and adjustment and we are grateful to Ms Ali for the helpful suggestions and recommendations she has put forward and which, for the most part, have been implemented.
“A review of the rules is due to take place shortly and the Lord President is committed to working constructively to ensure the complaints procedure develops effectively.”
TOP JUDGE REJECTS REGISTER OF INTERESTS
Lord Gill has rejected calls for judges to register their interests – because he fears they may be harassed by “aggressive media”.
A petition lodged with the Scottish Parliament is calling on the judiciary to reveal any commercial, business or legal links in case they raise possible conflicts with their cases.
But in a letter to the public petitions committee, Scotland’s most senior judge said current safeguards are enough. Lord Gill said: “In practical terms, it would be impossible for all judicial office holders to identify all the interests that could conceivably arise in any future case.
“The terms of the judicial oath and the statement of principles of judicial ethics ensure that such a difficulty does not arise and that the onus is on the judicial office holder to declare any interest at the outset.” He said details held on a register could be abused by “aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants”.
The call for a register has also been rejected by the Law Society of Scotland.