RSS

Tag Archives: Court of Session

IMMUNITY LORD: Conflict judge who failed to declare interest in case linked to his son – upholds Lord Advocate immunity from common law claims in £9M Rangers Admin action – which was initially to be heard by the Lord Advocate’s judge wife

Lord Malcolm rules Lord Advocate immune from parts of Rangers admin claim. A SENIOR Court of Session judge who failed to disclose he heard a case on eight occasions involving his own son – has now ruled the Lord Advocate has absolute immunity from being sued in connection with common law claims in relation to a £9million damages claim brought by former administrators for Rangers Football Club.

Lord Malcolm – real name Colin Campbell QC – made the ruling in an opinion published on Thursday in the case of “David John Whitehouse against Phil Gormley QPC & others”

The case – initially heard in the Court of Session in November 2017- was originally set to be decided by Lord Advocate James Wolffe’s own wife – Court of Session judge Lady Sarah Wolffe.

However, Lady Wolffe was switched at the last minute after questions were raised when her marital status and conflict of interest became apparent – reported here: CRY WOLFFE: Judicial Office hit with new conflict of interest claims as Court of Session papers reveal £9 million damages claim against Chief Constable & Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC was set to be heard by the Lord Advocate’s wife – Judge Lady Wolffe

In last week’s lengthy 107 page ruling by the Court of Session Judge & Privy Councillor – Lord Malcolm ruled in 2018 where Lady Wolffe could not in 2017 – and upheld the absolute immunity of Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC – in respect of the common law claims but rejected the Lord Advocate’s submission that the article 8 claim should be dismissed in advance of proof.

Lord Malcolm’s summary and decision states: “The pursuer, and separately his former co-administrator of Rangers Football Club, are claiming damages from those said to be responsible for allegedly wrongful detentions, arrests, and prosecutions. The claims are brought at common law and in terms of articles 5 and 8 of ECHR. The Lord Advocate’s submission that the article 8 claim should be dismissed in advance of proof is rejected. However his plea of absolute immunity in respect of the common law claims is upheld. It follows that the actions against him shall proceed in respect of only the ECHR claims”

While upholding the Lord Advocate’s immunity, Judge Lord Malcolm allowed Mr Whitehouse’ claim against Police Scotland to go ahead to a proof, stating: “So far as Mr Whitehouse’s claim against the police is concerned, the court is not prepared to uphold his submission that it can be decided on the pleadings that he need not prove malicious conduct on their part. The result is that the pursuer’s claim against the chief constable, and the defences to it, shall proceed to a proof before answer (as was agreed by the respective parties in Mr Clark’s action)”

A proof will now take place at a date to be decided, regarding claims that Whitehouse’s human rights were breached by prosecutors when he was arrested.

In allowing a proof to go ahead, Lord Malcolm also ruled that the hearing should also consider whether PoliceScotland exceeded their powers and acted maliciously in their investigation into Whitehouse.

The hearing will take place alongside another set of proceedings dealing with Clark’s claims.

The £9million damages claim came about after David Whitehouse and his colleague, Paul Clark, who worked for administrators Duff & Phelps, who faced criminal proceedings following the takeover of Rangers by Craig Whyte.

However, criminal charges against both Mr Whitehouse and Mr Clark were later dismissed following a hearing at the High Court in Glasgow in June 2016 – amid a clear lack of evidence for a case to proceed, and widely shared views the charges were motivated more out of headline hunting PR by the Crown Office & Police Scotland.

Both Whitehouse and Clark claimed in the court action that the Lord Advocate’s prosecutors pursued a wrongful prosecution against them and there was no evidential basis for the charges brought against them.

Mr Whitehouse and Mr Clark also claimed that PoliceScotland acted maliciously against them and they should be entitled to damages from the Chief Constable – who was at the time – Phil Gormley.

Both of the former Rangers administrators believe detectives breached their legal powers during the investigation.

Gerry Moynihan QC – acting for Lord Advocate James Wolffe –  told the court that his client, the Lord Advocate enjoyed absolute immunity from being sued in a civil court.

The issues surrounding the Lord Advocate’s immunity were discussed earlier this year during a debate at the Court of Session – after the case had been passed around a number of judges – beginning with the Lord Advocate’s own wife – Lady Sarah Wolffe QC – who was initially scheduled to head the case and decide on it during November 2017.

Legal representatives of Mr Whitehouse claimed their client’s ECHR human rights were breached and that PoliceScotland should pay compensation to Mr Whitehouse

Rangers went into administration in February 2012, shortly after they were bought by Whyte, and Clark and Whitehouse were appointed as administrators.

Six days later Whitehouse contacted the police to raise concerns, particularly about Whyte, said Moynihan. Later that year the Crown Office announced that it had instructed Strathclyde Police to investigate. Lawyers for the two men believe that the crown was “the directing influence” in the probe.

Rangers later went into liquidation before being sold to a consortium led by Charles Green.

In 2014 Mr Whitehouse and Mr Clark were detained by PoliceScotland and held overnight, and the following year – both appeared in court on a second petition – then the case collapsed.

Craig Whyte later stood trial on criminal charges, however, he was acquitted by a jury at the High Court in Glasgow in June 2017.

In the current action, both Mr Whitehouse and Mr Clark say their arrest  and detention was wrongful, that their ECHR rights were infringed, and their professional reputations were damaged as a result of the case.

At a hearing held earlier this year, Whitehouse’s lawyers told Lord Malcolm that they didn’t believe that a hearing had to be held into whether the police breached their powers when investigating their client.

It was claimed that on the evidence made available to the court, Lord Malcolm was able to rule that PoliceScotland should be required to compensate Mr Whitehouse.

Whitehouse’s lawyer Heriot Currie QC told the court that his client’s arrest had affected his ability to make a living.

He added: “For 18 months the pursuer was subject to very serious, we say wholly unfounded allegations with a significant adverse effect on him, his family and his professional career.”

Gerry Moynihan QC, acting for the Lord Advocate, argued that the law stated that the Lord Advocate enjoyed immunity and that Lord Malcolm was bound to follow this.

However, Lord Malcolm refused the motion, concluding he couldn’t issue a ruling ordering PoliceScotland to hand over compensation to Whitehouse.

Lord Malcolm said the matter could only be decided following another hearing in the Court of Session.

Further hearings and a proof will take place at a date yet to be decided.

The circumstances and the parties’ contentions in the action are set out in the pleadings – which also mention the episode of the “Charlotte Fakes” emails, and reference to Craig Whyte – who initially faced charges – which were later dropped by the Lord Advocate.

PURSUERS PLEADINGS from the full Court of Session opinion by Lord Malcolm:

[1] At the outset it is necessary to describe the background to and the circumstances of the present action. The pleadings extend to over 250 pages, therefore what follows should be understood as a summary of what is a detailed and complicated picture. In late 2010 a Scottish businessman, Craig Whyte, expressed interest in acquiring Rangers Football Club.

In March 2011 he engaged David Grier of MCR, a corporate restructuring advisory firm of which the pursuer was a partner (prior to MCR’s acquisition by Duff & Phelps in October 2011), to assist in negotiations with the club’s lenders, Lloyds Banking Group. In May 2011 Craig Whyte, through an acquisition vehicle, Wavetower Limited, entered into an agreement for the purchase of a controlling shareholding in the club and was appointed as a director. The club struggled to meet its liabilities. In February 2012 it entered administration. The pursuer and his colleague were appointed joint administrators. Later that month the pursuer met with senior officers from Strathclyde Police and informed them that preliminary investigations suggested that the acquisition of the club by Wavetower may have involved illegal financial assistance. The administrators initiated proceedings at the Royal Courts of Justice in London seeking payment of sums due to the club held by Collyer Bristow, a firm of solicitors acting for Wavetower. Subsequently the administrators raised proceedings for payment claiming an unlawful means conspiracy, on the basis that Craig

Whyte and Gary Withey (Mr Whyte’s legal advisor and a partner at Collyer Bristow) had made false representations to the previous owners as to the availability of funds to finance the acquisition, and had acquired the controlling shareholding by fraud. The police were notified of these allegations.

[2] On 25 June 2012 the Crown Office issued a press statement in the following terms:

“The Crown Office has today instructed Strathclyde Police to conduct a criminal investigation into the acquisition of Rangers Football Club in May 2011 and the subsequent financial management of the Club. The investigation into alleged criminality follows a preliminary police examination of information passed to them in February this year by the Club administrators. The Procurator Fiscal for the west of Scotland will now work with Strathclyde Police to fully investigate the acquisition and financial management of Rangers Football Club and any related reports of alleged criminality during that process.”

At the hearing it was confirmed that the press release was issued on the instructions of and with the authority of the then Lord Advocate.

[3] The club was marketed for sale by the administrators. In May 2012 a consortium led by Charles Green entered into an agreement with the administrators. It obliged him to pursue a company voluntary arrangement, with funding of £8.5 million, which failing to purchase the business and assets of the club for £5.5 million. In June 2012 the creditors rejected the CVA proposal. Mr Green’s acquisition vehicle, Sevco (Scotland) Limited, acquired the business and assets of the club and paid £5.5 million to the administrators. In October 2012 Jane Stephen and Malcolm Cohen of BDO were appointed joint liquidators, with the pursuer and his colleague vacating office.

[4] During the police inquiry officers recovered materials by executing search warrants at a range of locations, including the premises of banks and professional advisors involved in the transaction. It is averred that the second defender, through his deputes, and the Lord Advocate at all times directed the police investigation. They were made aware of all evidence recovered and approved all lines of inquiry. In August 2013 officers from Police Scotland attended at the London and Manchester premises of Duff & Phelps, the pursuer’s employers, and executed search warrants previously granted by a sheriff at Glasgow Sheriff Court. Many documents were seized, including material over which privilege was claimed, and material which was said to be beyond the scope of the warrant. Duff & Phelps instructed their solicitors to liaise with the police in relation to this matter. It is averred that in February 2014 the Crown assured Duff & Phelps that the police had not reviewed or intromitted with material subject to the privilege claim, however officers had carried out a preliminary sift of all such material. The fact of that sift was not revealed at the time. In November 2014 Duff & Phelps’ solicitor attended a meeting at Crown Office in Edinburgh with a procurator fiscal depute and James Keegan QC, the allocated depute of the Lord Advocate. The solicitor was informed that his clients were to be treated as suspects and would be detained. It is averred that the advocate depute asked him whether that would change his position on privilege. It is stated that it was erroneously believed that the privilege dispute would be resolved by the appearance of the pursuer and his colleague on petition.

[5] At dawn on Friday 14 November 2014 the pursuer was detained at his home in Cheshire by officers from Police Scotland. This was said to be in terms of section 14 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (the 1995 Act). The pursuer was informed that the basis for his detention was “fraudulent scheme and attempt to pervert the course of justice”. He was taken to Helen Street Police Office in Glasgow where he was interviewed, arrested and charged. He was held in police custody until Monday 17 November 2014 when he appeared in Glasgow Sheriff Court. Requests for him to be released or liberated on an undertaking were declined, the police citing direction by the Crown. On 17 November he was committed for further examination and admitted to bail. It is averred that there were no reasonable grounds to suspect that the pursuer had committed an offence. In any event the detention was unnecessary.

[6] The pleadings set out lengthy averments and counter-averments in connection with the proposition that there was no reasonable foundation for what occurred. For example, averments are made as to the basis upon which the reporting officer, DCI Robertson, was of the opinion that there was a sufficiency of evidence available to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that Mr Whyte’s allegedly fraudulent transaction could not have been completed without the involvement, knowledge or advice of the pursuer and his colleagues, and that the pursuer had misled the police about his knowledge of and advice as to the financing of the transaction (sometimes referred to as the “Ticketus deal”). It is stated that DCI Robertson suspected that crimes of fraud and attempting to pervert the course of justice had been committed by the pursuer. He provided a briefing to the detaining, interviewing and arresting officers prior to the executive action being taken, which included reference to the matters which informed his suspicion. It is averred on behalf of the chief constable that the totality of material available was sufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion such as to justify interviewing the pursuer and others under caution and in detention. It was not appropriate to seek to make arrangements for voluntary attendance at a police station by multiple accused in which the offences suspected included an attempt to pervert the course of justice. It should be understood that the intention was to detain the pursuer, Mr Clark, and others as part of executive action to detain a number of suspects at the same time.

[7] At 7.15 pm on 14 November 2014 the pursuer was informed by the arresting officer that he was charged with a fraudulent scheme and an attempt to pervert the course of justice. The fraudulent scheme arose because of the false pretence which had been proffered, namely that Craig Whyte was a wealthy man who was investing his own capital in the acquisition of the club, when in fact he was using funds advanced by Ticketus. The practical result of the fraudulent pretence was that Mr Whyte was able to gain control of the club, and then force an administration, to the financial benefit of the pursuer whose firm was appointed administrators. Without the false pretence, Sir David Murray, the controlling shareholder of the club, would not have been willing to sell his shares to Mr Whyte. It was suspected that the pursuer had known of the criminal nature of this enterprise and had actively joined in it. It was further suspected that he had attempted to pervert the course of justice in providing statements to police in which he had deliberately omitted key information which he knew to be relevant to their inquiry. The arresting officer was satisfied that there were reasonable grounds for this course of action and sufficient evidence to charge the pursuer on the basis of information provided to her in the interview pack prepared by the reporting officer, the detailed briefing from him, and the interview of the pursuer and his responses.

[8] The decision for the pursuer to remain in custody pending court appearance on the next court day was taken by the custody sergeant in the police station whose function it was to make such decisions in respect of all arrestees at that station at that time. She had regard to the Lord Advocate’s guidelines, the Crown Office decision that he would be appearing on petition, and the nature and gravity of the offences with which the pursuer was charged. It is averred that the police officers acted in good faith. While the pursuer no doubt disagreed and disagrees with the decisions taken, that does not render them unlawful or unreasonable or actionable. Reliance is placed upon the terms of section 22 of the 1995 Act.

[9] These averments are answered in detail by the pursuer in support of the proposition that there was no basis for any suspicion that he had engaged in criminal activity. For example, it is averred that Ticketus were known to be an existing provider of working capital to Rangers. The existing owners of the club had suggested that the purchaser should continue to use Ticketus. A key issue for the club’s board was that there should be sufficient working capital to finance the club’s operations post-acquisition. An email exchange relied upon by the first defender did not suggest knowledge of the actual arrangement entered into between the club (under the control of Whyte/Wavetower) and Ticketus. This gives a flavour of the issues which would be addressed in any evidential hearing. In general it is the pursuer’s position that he had no knowledge of any intention on Mr Whyte’s part to use Ticketus funds in the purchase of the club or to misrepresent the true position as to the funding of the acquisition.

[10] In the course of the hearing it was explained that the critical part of the alleged fraud was not the use of the Ticketus funds, but the misrepresentation as to the financing of the acquisition. The pursuer avers that if Craig Whyte claimed that “Duff & Phelps knew everything”, which is denied, that claim provided no basis for suspicion or arrest of the pursuer as an individual. In any event such a claim was wholly at odds with the available documentary evidence which clearly demonstrated deliberate concealment of information from MCR. When in November 2014 the pursuer appeared on petition in respect of charges of fraud (relating to the acquisition and subsequent management of the club) and attempting to pervert the course of justice, he was served with a summary of evidence by the Crown, which it is said made no reference to any evidence supporting his involvement in fraud. It is claimed that there was insufficient evidence to support the decision to place the pursuer on petition.

[11] In June 2015 the Crown informed the defence that the focus of the inquiry had changed, and that any subsequent indictment was likely to include charges relating to the administration and disposal of the assets of the club. On 12 August 2015 DCI Robertson delivered a letter to the pursuer’s solicitor indicating, amongst other things, that the inquiry concerning the administration period and sale to Mr Green was a live police investigation. On 26 August 2015 the Crown applied to the sheriff at Glasgow for an extension of the time limit set out in section 65 of the 1995 Act.

[12] At dawn on Tuesday 1 September 2015 the pursuer was again detained at his home in Cheshire by officers of Police Scotland. He was conveyed to Helen Street Police Office in Glasgow where he was interviewed, arrested and charged. He was told that he would be held pending a court appearance the following day. It is averred that the Crown directed the police to keep the pursuer in custody. He appeared on petition at Glasgow Sheriff Court on 2 September when he was committed for further examination and admitted to bail. It is stated that at no point were there any reasonable grounds to suspect that the pursuer had committed an offence and that his detention was in any event unnecessary. There was insufficient evidence to justify a charge. Other suspects, specifically Craig Whyte and Charles Green, were permitted to attend police stations by arrangement.

[13] On behalf of the chief constable it is averred that there was an investigation into the acquisition of the club by Charles Green and the possible involvement of Craig Whyte in that transaction. Police inquiries established a reasonable suspicion that the pursuer, along with Mr Clark, Mr Whyte, Mr Green and a Mr Ahmad, had formed a fraudulent scheme or conspired to enable Mr Whyte to acquire the club from the administrators. The pleadings set out the alleged circumstances relied upon, for example it is said that when

DCI Robertson asked the pursuer about his knowledge of Charles Green and any links he had to Craig Whyte, the officer formed the view that the pursuer was evasive. The fee for the exclusivity agreement with Sevco 5088 Limited signed by the administrators was partly funded by Mr Whyte. In April 2013 Mr Whyte was quoted in a newspaper saying, amongst other things, that Mr Green acted as a “frontman” for him in connection with the purchase of the club. It is averred that Mr Whyte had introduced Mr Green to the administrators. These are but examples of the various factors said to have been relied upon at this time. The pursuer was charged with involvement in a fraudulent scheme in terms of which the club had been acquired by Craig Whyte at an undervalue as a result of a false pretence, namely the concealment of the connection between Mr Whyte and Mr Green. Again reference is made to section 22 of the 1995 Act and to the decision of the custody sergeant on duty.

[15] In answer, amongst other things, the pursuer avers that in respect of the offer from Sevco 5088 Limited, there was nothing to suggest any involvement of Craig Whyte. The pursuer provided three witness statements to the police, all in 2012. He was not asked about Charles Green, other than in relation to proof of funds checks carried out by the administrators, nor about any links Green may have had to Whyte. The subject report submitted by DCI Robertson to the Crown in on or about 20 August 2015 made no reference to him having formed the view that the pursuer had been evasive in interview or that he had regarded the pursuer’s responses as suspicious. Again these are but examples of the counter-averments made on behalf of the pursuer, all of which will form the context of any evidential hearing. It is said that the totality of the evidence ingathered by the police prior to the second detention clearly demonstrated that Whyte’s claim to ownership of Sevco 5088 Limited was false. In any event, there was no evidence to suggest that the pursuer was aware of any involvement by Whyte in the Green bid; rather the evidence available to the police suggested the reverse. In any event there was no evidence that the true market value of the club at the point of the sale of the business and assets to Green was greater than had been represented.

[16] On Wednesday 2 September 2015 the pursuer appeared on a petition at Glasgow Sheriff Court containing charges of conspiracy to defraud and a contravention of section 28 of the 2010 Act. The procurator fiscal’s motion for committal was opposed on the basis that the charges did not represent new allegations, but were reformulations of those which had appeared in the November 2014 petition. The procurator fiscal insisted that the charges were distinct and had arisen from a separate police investigation. In the result the sheriff granted the Crown motion, and admitted the pursuer to bail. It is stated that there was insufficient evidence to place the pursuer on petition. On behalf of the second and third defenders it is averred that the service of the second petition was a considered and appropriate response to the further information being uncovered in relation to the acquisition of the club, its management, the conduct of its administration, and the disposal to Charles Green. Its service at this point avoided the risk of having two trials on related issues involving the same parties. The decision to include the pursuer was taken by experienced fiscals in good faith and in light of the evidence available against him. They had a reasonable suspicion that the pursuer had participated in the alleged crimes.

[17] The above summarises the first 100 pages of the pleadings. The next chapter concentrates, in the main, on the conduct of the second and third defenders. From time to time these defenders are referred to in a composite manner as “the Crown”. It is averred that on 3 September 2015 the court considered a Crown application for an extension of statutory time limits in which it was asserted that Duff & Phelps had recently produced a large quantity of material to the police which ought to have been made available during the August 2013 searches. At a continued hearing the advocate depute intimated that, having checked matters, there had been no such late production of material by Duff & Phelps. Instead it was asserted that Clyde & Co, a firm of solicitors who had acted for Collyer

Bristow, had recently produced 39 boxes of material that ought to have been produced in response to a warrant executed in August 2013. The sheriff granted the Crown’s application, but restricted the extension to a period of three months. The defence then sought further information about the 39 boxes, the existence of which had not previously been disclosed. In answer it is averred that the reference to the 39 boxes was made in error on the basis of internal misunderstandings within Crown Office and in communications with the police. The court was advised of this at the preliminary hearing on 16 October 2015 and an apology was tendered. At an appeal against the extension the appeal court was provided with a full explanation as to the mistaken reference to 39 boxes. Relying upon other factors the appeal court considered that the extension was justified. In response the pursuer avers that it is believed that the second petition was brought in order to influence the outcome of the contested section 65 application.

[18] On 16 September 2015, within the original time limits, the Crown issued an indictment (the first indictment) charging the pursuer with conspiracy to defraud and attempting to pervert the course of justice, and citing him to appear at a preliminary hearing on 16 October 2015. Several of the charges related to the matters dealt with in the second petition. The pursuer lodged a range of preliminary minutes, including an objection to the relevancy and competency of the charges, and a plea in bar of trial on the grounds of oppression and abuse of process. The judge continued the preliminary hearing to 11 January 2016 and fixed a debate on the preliminary minutes for the week commencing 7 December 2015. On behalf of the Lord Advocate it is averred that the decision to serve the first indictment was made because it was reasonably anticipated that the pursuer, Mr Clark, or both, might appeal the grant of the section 65 extension and, if the appeal was successful, there would be a real risk that the matters covered in the first petition would have become time barred. The Crown had recovered relevant evidence in relation to the period of administration. The indictment was drafted on the basis of this and other relevant evidence by experienced indicters acting in good faith. The pursuer avers that until the preliminary hearing the Crown adhered to the representations as to the 39 boxes.

[19] On 2 December 2015, which was the day before the appeal hearing in respect of the extension of time limits, the Crown served another indictment. At the hearing the advocate depute explained that it was to supersede the first indictment. He submitted that if the appeal was allowed, it would cause the new indictment to fall, meaning that the new charges would no longer be before the court. It is averred that no prior notice of this indictment was given. It replicated the charges on the first indictment and included additional charges. The pursuer faced a total of seven charges. The Crown states that including all charges on the second indictment was designed to ensure that the accused faced only one trial.

[20] At a preliminary hearing on 5 January 2016 the court assigned a debate on all preliminary pleas for the week commencing 1 February. After submissions were made on the pursuer’s behalf the Crown sought leave to make substantial amendments to the indictment. It was accepted that the first charge did not clearly set out the alleged criminality. In the result five of the seven charges directed against the pursuer were deleted, including all of those derived from the November 2014 petition. The advocate depute unequivocally renounced the Crown’s right to prosecute the pursuer on those charges, and the remaining charges were the subject of further debate. On 22 February the court upheld the pursuer’s plea to the relevancy and dismissed the remaining charges against him. The advocate depute informed the court that the Crown would consider whether to bring a further indictment against the pursuer. Later that day Crown Office issued a press statement, carried in the national and business press, that further proceedings would be brought against the pursuer. On 3 June 2016 the Crown confirmed that all proceedings against the pursuer were at an end. It is averred that at no point was there any justification for the detention, committal, prosecution or indictment of the pursuer. The second and third defenders never had a sufficient evidential basis for any of the charges directed against him. The Crown avers that the press statement was corrected the day after its publication to reflect the terms of the advocate depute’s advice to the court.

[21] The pursuer pleads that throughout the course of the prosecution, the conduct of the second defender’s deputes and of the third defender was marked by a disregard for their obligations. This is denied and it is explained that at all times the third defender’s predecessor in office, his deputes and procurators fiscal were aware of their obligations and sought to discharge them in good faith. In response to certain averments concerning the Crown’s disclosure obligations it is stated that the prosecution of the pursuer and his co-accused was an exceptional case involving quantities of documents and issues of legal and practical complexity not encountered in an ordinary case. The pursuer complains that disclosure was limited and sporadic. By the end of May 2015 only a third of all available productions had been disclosed to the defence. By the time of the debate in February 2016 approximately 1,000 Crown productions remained undisclosed. Certain undertakings were given in this regard on 19 April 2016, however by the time of the conclusion of the criminal proceedings several key witness statements and labels remained undisclosed, including recordings of police interviews of Charles Green, emails and other documents relating to the actions of Mr Whyte’s associate Aidan Earley, and statements of solicitors involved in the sale of the clubs assets out of administration, all of which, it is said, the pursuer reasonably anticipated would be supportive of his defence. The defence was never made aware of the total number of productions held by the Crown; such disclosure schedules as were provided were incomplete. The Crown contends that at all times it endeavoured to meet its disclosure obligations. At no point was any material wrongfully withheld. Various issues with the disclosure process made it unusually lengthy and complex, including competing claims of legal professional privilege and existing and anticipated civil actions in England. The number of documents involved necessitated the purchase of industrial scanners and the employment of additional staff members.

[22] The next chapter concerns non-disclosure of what are described as the “Charlotte Fakes” recordings. They are said to be part of a wider group of recordings made by Craig Whyte, and include conversations involving Craig Whyte and Charles Green. For the Crown it is averred that there were technical difficulties in opening and listening to the recordings which impeded assessment. Transcripts were disclosed on 29 January 2016. The pursuer avers that no audio recordings were provided nor any information as to provenance. The recordings had been in the possession of the police from at least July 2014, several months before the pursuer’s first appearance on petition. Transcripts had been available to the defenders by 2 December 2015, which was before the first preliminary hearing, and were put to Charles Green in his police interview on that date. On behalf of the first defender it is admitted that the recordings had been in the possession of the police. The Crown states that there were issues of admissibility in respect of the recordings. The pursuer avers that the recordings of conversations between alleged conspirators at the time of the alleged offences were material. They were exculpatory of the pursuer. They demonstrate that essential information, including Mr Whyte’s proposed participation in the Green bid, was withheld from the administrators; that Whyte was anxious about whether the administrators would accept the Green bid; and that third parties were to be encouraged to put financial pressure on the Club to encourage the administrators to accept the Green proposals. It is said that the recordings cannot be reconciled with the Crown’s claim that the pursuer was party to a conspiracy. The allegations in the second petition were entirely predicated upon a claim by Craig Whyte that he had acquired the business and assets of the club out of administration under the proxy of Green. It is also averred that on 4 May 2018 the pursuer’s agents recovered a series of subject sheets – communications from the police to the Crown – relating to the criminal investigation. These revealed that by June 2014 the police had recovered – as part of the Charlotte Fakes materials and from other sources – the contents of email accounts belonging to Craig Whyte. The police estimated the accounts to contain approximately 100,000 emails. On 19 June 2014 the reporting officer advised the Crown of the recovery of the emails, and as to their extent. On 4 August 2014 he advised the Crown that the emails related, inter alia, to the periods around the acquisition and administration of the Club. On 9 February 2015 the reporting officer advised the Crown as to the terms of certain emails which were assessed as being incriminatory of Craig Whyte. It is said that these emails were of central relevance to the allegations against the pursuer, and in particular his knowledge of and participation in any criminal conduct by Craig Whyte. On behalf of the Crown it is claimed that much of the Charlotte Fakes material did not impact upon the pursuer but, to the extent that it did, it included incriminating material. In response it is averred that the discussions involving the pursuer were in no way incriminatory, but were indicative of nothing more than the pursuer discharging his obligations as administrator.

[23] The pleadings continue by reference to disclosure issues surrounding a report by Pinsent Masons solicitors and the evidence of Aidan Earley, a business associate of Craig Whyte. For example it is averred that in July 2015 the defence asked the Crown for disclosure of various witness statements provided by Mr Earley. On 28 April 2016, after the dismissal of the remaining charges against the pursuer, the Crown disclosed a transcript of a series of text messages taken from Earley’s phone. These included a number of communications between himself and Craig Whyte at the time of the administration of the Club, which are said to be entirely exculpatory of the pursuer. The source material for the transcripts had been in the possession of the police since at least 13 April 2015, well before the September 2015 petition and the service of the first indictment. The text messages were put to Charles Green in his police interview on 1 September 2015, details of which were never disclosed to the pursuer.

[24] The pursuer then sets out various issues concerning what is described as the Crown’s obligation to pursue all reasonable lines of inquiry. For example, it is said that before indicting the pursuer, the Crown failed to interview staff of the pursuer and his co-administrator who had worked on the administration, the preparation of valuations, and the sale negotiations with other parties. It is averred that at no time did the Crown have an evidential basis for the claim that the assets of the club had been sold at an undervalue.

[25] The pursuer avers that the Crown failed to respond to requests for information and other correspondence from his agents. On several occasions the Crown was careless as to the accuracy of information given to the pursuer and to the court. Statements were made to the court which were misleading and lacked candour. DCI Robertson acted recklessly and without reasonable cause at various stages during the investigation and the criminal prosecution. He made unwarranted accusations to solicitors. He told Duff & Phelps that he would “shut down the Shard” (a reference to their headquarters in London) if they did not produce required material. Again by way of example of the complaints in this section of the pleadings, it is averred that the court was invited to grant a warrant on the basis of one-

sided information. The exercise of the warrant in London involved officers wearing bulletproof vests and tasers interrupting a client reception. An emergency injunction was then granted to the firm of solicitors concerned by the High Court in London. On 5 February 2016 the High Court of Justiciary granted suspension of the warrant on grounds of oppression. On 6 October 2016 the Queen’s Bench division of the High Court of Justice ordered the first and third defenders to pay the firm of solicitors’ costs on an indemnity basis, the court noting that the actions of the first and third defenders were “an abuse of state power”.

[26] It is averred that DCI Robertson sought to interfere with legitimate defence investigations. For example, it is stated that he threatened witnesses with imprisonment unless they changed their accounts. He amended draft statements provided by witnesses.

In response, amongst other things it is said that DCI Robertson did not consider that he received full cooperation from a number of witnesses. In order to progress the investigation applications were made properly by the Crown for warrants to recover documentation. The warrant relating to the solicitors’ premises had been drafted by the Crown. It was granted by a sheriff in Glasgow. Steps were taken to minimise disruption. DCI Robertson and his officers were not in uniform, and he had not requested uniform presence, but this is what was provided by the local police. At all times he acted in good faith. He was required to investigate matters robustly, probe inconsistencies, require truthful answers from witnesses, recover evidence, and be authoritative when executing court orders.

[27] It is averred that the Crown instructed forensic accountants to prepare reports in the hope that they would provide an evidential basis for the charges against the pursuer, however they were not given all of the relevant factual material, in particular material which did not support the Crown case. The experts were invited to reach conclusions on the basis of “one sided information”.

[28] In addition to the common law claim, the pursuer avers infringements of his rights under articles 5 and 8 of ECHR. So far as article 5 is concerned, it is stated that the actings of the defenders and each of them was a disproportionate interference with the pursuer’s liberty. A time bar plea is taken in respect of the events in November 2014.

[29] The pursuer’s pleadings then revert to general averments as to wrongful conduct, for example that the detentions were “outwith the competence of the officers” and accordingly unlawful; that they lacked probable cause; that the instructions from the Crown were actuated by an ulterior motive, namely the desire to allow evidence over which privilege had been asserted to be relied upon in the erroneous belief that detention would allow the criminal purpose exception to be invoked; and that the absence of reasonable grounds for suspicion demonstrated a degree of recklessness on the part of the Crown amounting to malice. It is averred that the timing of instructions was related to concerns about the whereabouts of Craig Whyte. Similar averments as to lack of probable cause and ulterior motives are made in respect of the second detention, for example a desire to maintain a purported justification for the proceedings against the pursuer. Similar averments are made in relation to the alleged wrongful prosecution in terms of petitions, committals, and the service of indictments. For example it is averred that in the first petition, the only matter directed against the pursuer on charge one, relating to fraud in respect of the acquisition and management of the club, was that he, together with two colleagues, had prepared a letter in the knowledge that it would be used to induce Ticketus to pay out a sum in excess of £18 million. However there was no evidence to show that the pursuer had been involved in the preparation of that letter, nor that it was in any way inaccurate or misleading, and nor that it had been relied upon by Ticketus. The evidence showed that Ticketus had already paid out the sum by the time the letter was issued, and that they had taken advice on all relevant matters from their solicitors. Again by way of example, charge six stated that the pursuer had made false statements in a report to the Court of Session; however the charge materially misrepresented the wording of the report. On various occasions the pursuer’s agents wrote to the Crown detailing errors in the charges, referring to the absence of supporting evidence, and pointing to exculpatory material which had been disclosed, however no substantive response was received.

[30] In response to the Crown’s plea of absolute privilege, the pursuer avers that if any such privilege is enjoyed (which is denied) it extends only to the actions of the third defender in prosecuting crimes on indictment and to the actions of the second defender in conducting a prosecution on indictment in the name of the third defender. Any such privilege does not extend to events prior to the service of an indictment. In any event, the second and third defenders have “surrendered” any right to claim absolute privilege by virtue of their conduct. In the event that their actings do not attract absolute immunity (which is denied) the second and third defenders plead that there can be no liability at common law unless acts were done maliciously and without probable cause. It is averred that at all times the second and third defenders, and those acting on their behalf, acted in good faith on the evidence available to them.

[31] As to the article 8 claim, the pursuer avers that his private life was interfered with by his detention and subsequent bail conditions. In the whole circumstances the interference was neither necessary nor in accordance with the law. As a result of the defenders’ actions he was unable to practice as an insolvency practitioner. He has suffered financial and reputational loss. In response it is averred that if article 8 is engaged (which is denied) any interference was necessary, in accordance with the law, and proportionate. Again a time bar plea is taken in relation to the earlier events. For present purposes it is not necessary to refer to the averments concerning the pursuer’s alleged loss, injury and damage.

PASS THE PARCEL: Court of Session judges merry go round on case involving Lord Advocate James Wolffe

In January of this year it was reported that a series of judge swaps on this case, from Lady Sarah Wolffe, to Lady Morag Wise, then Lord Paul Arthurson – led to a FOURTH judge – Lord Sidney Neil Brailsford – presiding over hearings in a case which could also decide the fate of the Lord Advocate’s immunity from legal action in cases of wrongful arrest.

The NINE million pound damages claim against Scotland’s top cop and top prosecutor was lodged in the final months of 2017 by David Whitehouse – a former administrator at Rangers FC – who is seeking financial damages from Police Scotland’s Philip Gormley and Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC.

However, it emerged at a hearing in November the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) had quietly scheduled Lady Wolffe to preside over a crucial hearing in the case against her own husband – James Wolffe QC.

A copy of the Court Rolls handed to the media revealed Lady Sarah Wolffe QC – an outer house senator of the Court of Session – was scheduled to hear the case involving the claim involving the Lord Advocate – her own husband – A295/16 David Whitehouse (represented by Urquharts) v Liam Murphy &c (represented by Ledingham Chambers for SGLD – Scottish Government Legal Directorate) – on November 15 2017.

Prosecutor Liam Murphy  who is named in the action – is currently listed as a Crown Office Procurator Fiscal on “Specialist Casework”.

However, Lady Wolffe was removed from the hearing with no official comment from the Judicial Office.

Claims surfaced at the time Lady Wolffe was suddenly dropped from the case when it ‘emerged at the last minute’ her husband – Lord Advocate James Wolffe – was involved in the case.

A second Court of Session Judge – Lady Morag Wise QC – was then scheduled to hear the case.

For reasons which have not been fully explained, Lady Wise was also dropped from the hearing on Wednesday 15 November which saw the case handed to a third judge – Lord Paul Arthurson QC – who set dates for  a four day hearing of legal arguments.

However, when the £9m damages claim returned to court in mid December, yet another judge – Lord Sidney Neil Brailsford had been assigned to the case, replacing Lord Arthurson.

During a hearing at Edinburgh’s Court of Session on 14 December 2017, judge Lord Brailsford arranged for a debate on legal issues surrounding the case to take place over four days in May 2018.

Lord Brailsford said: “I acknowledge that this is a very serious litigation relating to matters of substance.”

After Lord Brailsford departed from the case, Lord Malcolm took the case.

Lord Malcolm is chiefly known for failing to reveal a conflict of interest in relation to a £6million damages claim against construction firm Advance Construction Ltd (Scotland) – who was represented by none other than the judge’s own son – Ewen Campbell, a suspended but now reinstated Sheriff – Peter Watson, and the Glasgow based law firm – Levy and Mcrae who were previously accused in connection with a £28million pound writ by the liquidators of Heather Capital.

A full report on Lord Malcolm’s conflict of interest in the claim against Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd can be found here: CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Papers lodged at Holyrood judicial interests register probe reveal Court of Session judge heard case eight times – where his son acted as solicitor for the defenders

The trail of judge swapping – leading to at least four judges who have now heard this case in the Court of Session, and the silent replacement of Lady Wolffe with Lady Wise, and then Lord Arthurson – continues to raise serious questions as to why there are no written references to any note of recusal made by Lady Wolffe in the Register of Recusals published by the Judicial Office.

Given the fact Lady Wolffe clearly holds a conflict of interest in the case – in which one of the core participants in the action is her own husband – the Lord Advocate – the public are entitled to see a note of recusal entered into the Register of Recusals referring to a case in which she was scheduled to hear and decide on legal action against her own husband.

Both the Judicial Office and Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service did not issue any comment prior to DOI’s report on developments in the case, which can be viewed here: CRY WOLFFE: Judicial Office hit with new conflict of interest claims as Court of Session papers reveal £9 million damages claim against Chief Constable & Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC was set to be heard by the Lord Advocate’s wife – Judge Lady Wolffe

A report on Lady Sarah Wolffe’s role in the sequence of events and her initial appointment to decide on the claim against her own husband, featured in aSunday Mail newspaper investigation, here:

Lord Advocate’s judge wife was set to oversee case brought against him by former Rangers administrator

Lady Sarah Wolffe was originally scheduled to oversee a hearing in David Whitehouse’s £9m lawsuit against Lord Advocate James Wolffe.

By Craig McDonald 24 DEC 2017

A former Rangers administrator’s £9million lawsuit against Lord Advocate James Wolffe was given an emergency judge swap – after it emerged the case was originally handed to his wife.

David Whitehouse, 51, is suing Wolffe, Police Scotland chief Phil Gormley and prosecutor Liam Murphy amid claims he was “unlawfully detained” during an investigation into Craig Whyte’s doomed 2011 club takeover.

Court officials had to draft in a replacement judge when they realised Wolffe’s wife Lady Sarah Wolffe was scheduled to sit on the bench for a procedural hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh last month.

The late switch from Lady Wolffe was ordered after the conflict was discovered.

Lady Morag Wise was asked to take her place, although the hearing eventually went ahead in front of Lord Paul Arthurson.

Yet another judge, Lord Neil Brailsford, was on the bench when the case was called again earlier this month. It is scheduled to go ahead next year.

The removal of Lady Wolffe is not noted in the official list of judicial recusals – where a judge declines jurisdiction – as it was reallocated before it was called in court.

A Scottish courts spokesman said: “Lady Wolffe was assigned to hear procedural matters in a number of cases on November 15.

“One of those cases was listed on the court rolls as David Whitehouse v Liam Murphy and others.

“Subsequently, when the papers were checked by the Keeper’s office, it became apparent the Lord Advocate was the third defender and, accordingly, the case was reallocated to a different judge.

“The case was initially reallocated to Lady Wise but, having regard to the level of business and in order to avoid unnecessary delay to the parties, was ultimately dealt with by Lord Arthurson.”

Whitehouse and colleague Paul Clark were arrested during the Rangers probe but charges against the pair were later dropped.

They worked for Duff & Phelps, who were appointed as administrators of the club in February 2012. The business and assets of The Rangers Football Club plc, who entered liquidation later that year, were sold to a consortium led by Charles Green for £5.5million.

Police launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the takeover. Whyte was cleared of fraud by a jury at the High Court in Glasgow in June.

Lawyers acting for Whitehouse claimed their client was “unlawfully detained” by detectives in November 2014. They also said that, throughout the period of detention, there were no reasonable grounds to suspect he had broken the law.

Whitehouse claims police and prosecutors didn’t follow correct legal procedure and his arrest damaged his reputation and caused him significant loss of income.

The defenders in the action, including the chief constable and Lord Advocate, claim correct legal procedure was followed and want his case to be dismissed.

 

Advertisements
 

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

COURT FRACKING: Scottish Government ban on fracking does not exist says Lord Pentland – Court of Session throws out INEOS challenge as Judge says Ministerial claims “did not accurately express the legal effect of the decisions”

Scottish Govt fracking ban does not exist – judge. SCOTLAND’S top court has ruled that claims by Ministers that fracking is banned, are not consistent with current law, and therefore the forced extraction of extracting shale gas from subterranean  rocks – has not been banned in Scotland.

The Court of Session’s decision also hits out at numerous “mistaken” statements by SNP ministers of a ban on what many regard as an environmentally damaging process which uses water and chemicals pumped at high pressure into underground shale beds to release methane gas.

Earlier today, the Judiciary of Scotland published Lord Pentland’s ruling on the INEOS challenge to the Scottish Government’s claims of a ban on fracking – in which the court threw out the challenge, on the grounds there was and is no existing prohibition against shale gas extraction in Scotland.

Despite claims of a ban on fracking by numerous Scottish Government Ministers, including the First Minister herself Nicola Sturgeon, Lord Pentland ruled that no such ban exists, and that in reality there is little more than an evolving planning policy.

Revealing there is no existing legal basis for claims by the First Minister & others that a ban on fracking is in force – Lord Pentland said statements by ministers including Paul Wheelhouse MSP and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that a ban existed “did not accurately express the legal effect of the decisions” involved.

The statement issued by the Judicial Office notes that [despite numerous claims by Ministers] “the Lord Advocate, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, made it clear to the court that such statements were mistaken and did not accurately reflect the legal position”.

Lord Pentland’s judgement concludes that “as a matter of law, there is no prohibition against fracking in Scotland”.

The ruling issued today followed statements by the Scottish Government to the Scottish Parliament during October 2017 that fracking had effectively been banned through the use of new guidance on planning consent.

Energy minister Paul Wheelhousewho once made false claims to a Holyrood Committee that fictitious gangsters made transparency in the judiciary impossible – told MSPs last year that “fracking cannot and will not take place in Scotland”.

Similarly, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said “fracking is being banned in Scotland – end of story”.

Earlier this year, and after the continued claims by the Scottish Government and it’s supporters of a ban on fracking, Ineos Upstream Ltd and Reach CSG sought a judicial review of the effective ban, the Scottish Government began t changed its tune.

When the case was called in court, the Scottish Government’s own lawyer – James Mure QC  – claimed the legal challenge by Ineos was premature as SNP ministers had “not yet adopted a position” and that in effect Ministers had merely announced a preference for a ban.

James Mure QC was forced to admit to the court that his client the Scottish Government had merely spun the issue of a preference of a ban, into an actual ban.

The QC was forced to tell the court in the earlier hearing: “The concept of an effective ban is a gloss. It is the language of a press statement.”

However, in the Court of Session opinion issued today, Lord Pentland’s judgement rubbished Ministerial claims of a ban on fracking, concluding that “as a matter of law, there is no prohibition against fracking in Scotland”.

In the judgment, Lord Pentland also rejected Ineos and Reach CSG’s case on the basis that no ban exists.

The Herald newspaper reported on the court’s decision today, and also reported – “After the judgment was released, the SNP rewrote the environment section of its website, deleting the words “The Scottish Government has put in place a ban on fracking in Scotland”.

Ineos, which runs the Grangemouth refinery and already imports US shale gas as a precursor for petrochemical works, would like to frack gas in the Central Belt.

It has previously accused the government of an “Alice in Wonderland” position on fracking.

Ineos said it now expected all planning applications for fracking to be considered on merit, not “prejudice and political expediency” and ministers of wasting public money by not being clearer earlier.

Mr Wheelhouse, who told MSPs there was a ban, welcomed the Court saying there wasn’t.

He said: “This decision vindicates the extensive process of research and consultation which the Scottish Government has undertaken since 2015.

“As I set out in October, our preferred position is not to support Unconventional Oil and Gas extraction in Scotland, and that position remains unchanged.

“I have repeatedly set out to parliament that we would undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) ahead of finalising that position and that approach has been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament.

“The work to complete the SEA and a Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment is currently underway and the findings will be carefully considered.

“In the meantime, a moratorium is in place which means no local authority can grant planning permission and Ministers would defer any decision on any planning application that did come forward until the policymaking process is completed.

“The practical effect of the current moratorium and the policymaking process which is underway to finalise our position is that no fracking can take place in Scotland at this time.”

In his judgement published earlier today, Lord Pentland quoted First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Wheelhouse’s statements in parliament about there being a ban.

However, in what seems an attempt at appeasing the misleading statements by Ministers, Lord Pentland was forced to add that the accuracy of such misleading ministerial statements was not the core issue – even though the existence of the misleading claims by the First Minister & Scotish Government led to the Ineos legal challenge in the first place.

Lord Pentland said: “The legal question is not whether ministers have accurately described or commented on their understanding of the legal effect of the various steps they have taken or authorised to be taken under the planning system, but the fundamentally different question of what the legal effect of those steps really is.

He added: “The ministerial comments reflecting the opinion that there was an effective ban on fracking are (a) irrelevant to the legal question before the court; (b) not binding on the court; (c) in any event, not determinative of the question of construction that the court has to address; and (d) to the extent that they did not accurately express the legal effect of the decisions taken must be left out of account when it comes to answering the legal question.”

“To the extent that some sections of the ministerial statements made to the Scottish Parliament were capable of being read as suggesting that the policy would amount to a ban on fracking, Mr Mure QC accepted on behalf of the Lord Advocate that such statements did not accurately reflect the legal position; they were to that extent mistaken.”

The full statement issued by the Judicial Office for Scotland

Ineos Upstream Ltd and another v Lord Advocate

A petition seeking judicial review of certain acts and decisions of the Scottish Government in implementation of what was purportedly an indefinite ban on “fracking” has been refused. The Court of Session held that the legal effect of certain statements and planning directions made by the Scottish Ministers to the effect that the Scottish Government will not support the development of unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland, and a subsequent decision that the directions should continue in force indefinitely, is that there is in fact no prohibition against fracking in force. The following is a summary of the detailed opinion issued by Lord Pentland.

On 28 January 2015 the Scottish energy minister, Mr Fergus Ewing MSP, made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on the development of unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland (“UOG”) to the effect that there was to be work on planning and environmental regulation, a health impact assessment, and a consultation process on UOG. He stated that given the importance of this work it would be inappropriate to allow any planning consents in the meantime. He therefore announced what he described as a “moratorium” on the granting of planning consents for all UOG developments, including the method of oil and gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. The moratorium was to continue until such time as the work referred to had been completed. The minister stated that a direction would be sent to all Scottish planning authorities to give immediate effect to that policy. A similar direction would be issued to SEPA.

The 2015 Planning Direction and the 2015 SEPA Direction gave legal effect to the moratorium, by requiring planning authorities to intimate the receipt of planning applications for any UOG developments to the Scottish Ministers, prohibiting planning authorities from granting planning permission within 28 days of notification to ministers, and giving ministers the power to call in applications for determination by them. The power of the Scottish Government to call in planning applications for determination by them, coupled with the 2015 Planning Direction and the 2015 SEPA Direction gave Scottish Ministers the means to control two of the essential legal requirements for onshore extraction of UOG. By refusing planning permission or authorisation of controlled activities, the Scottish Government could prevent onshore UOG development extending beyond drilling of core samples. To date, the notification requirements under the 2015 Planning Direction have not been triggered. No application has been remitted to ministers by SEPA under the 2015 SEPA Direction.

Following further research into the impact of onshore UOG development in Scotland and a public consultation, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Mr Paul Wheelhouse MSP made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on 3 October 2017 in which he confirmed the Scottish Government’s “preferred position”, namely that it would not support the development of UOG in Scotland and that it would use planning powers to deliver its position; that it had written to local authorities across Scotland to make it clear that the directions that give effect to the moratorium would remain in place indefinitely; and that this action was sufficient to “effectively ban” UOG in Scotland.

On 5 October 2017 at First Minister’s question time, in reply to an observation that there was concern that the ban was not yet legally watertight, the First Minister said that: “What Paul Wheelhouse outlined to the chamber earlier this week is an effective way of banning fracking and … is the quickest way of banning fracking.”

At a debate on UOG in the Scottish Parliament on 24 October 2017, Mr Wheelhouse said that the Scottish Government was honouring the commitment it had previously given to allow MSPs an opportunity to “endorse our carefully considered and robust position on unconventional oil and gas”.  An amended motion was passed endorsing the Scottish Government’s decision to introduce an immediate and effective ban on UOG and noting that this position would be subject to a strategic environmental assessment before being finalised.

In December 2017 Ineos Upstream Limited and Reach Coal Seam Gas Limited, which both hold interests in petroleum exploration and development licences (“PEDLs”) in respect of certain onshore areas in Scotland raised the present proceedings, seeking judicial review of the acts and decisions of the Scottish Government in relation to UOG in Scotland. The basis of the petitioners’ case was that in 2017 the Scottish Government unlawfully imposed an indefinite ban on fracking.

The Lord Advocate on behalf of the Scottish Ministers maintained that, on a correct understanding of its acts and decisions, the Scottish Government did not impose any such ban. He contended that since there was no ban the petitioners have no case; the petition for judicial review was based on a series of fundamental misunderstandings of the Scottish Government’s position and should accordingly be refused.

Refusing the petition, the judge held that, as a matter of law, there is no prohibition against fracking in Scotland. The fact that the emerging policy position was expressed as being a “preferred” one shows that the Scottish Government understood that unless and until the strategic environmental assessment was completed, a policy on UOG could not lawfully be finalised and adopted. Ministerial comments reflecting the opinion that there was an effective ban on fracking were (a) irrelevant to the legal question before the court; (b) not binding on the court; (c) in any event, not determinative of the question of construction that the court had to address; and (d) to the extent that they did not accurately express the legal effect of the decisions taken must be left out of account when answering the legal question.

Lord Pentland’s opinion stated: “The petition is predicated on the proposition that the Scottish Government has introduced an unlawful prohibition against fracking in Scotland. Whilst acknowledging that there have been a number of ministerial statements to the effect that there is an effective ban, the Lord Advocate, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, made it clear to the court that such statements were mistaken and did not accurately reflect the legal position. The stance of the Scottish Government before the court is that there is no legally enforceable prohibition. For the reasons set out in this judgment, I consider that the Government’s legal position is soundly based and that there is indeed no prohibition against fracking in force at the present time. What exists at present is an emerging and unfinalised planning policy expressing no support on the part of the Scottish Government for the development or extraction of UOG in Scotland. The process of policy development is not yet complete; the important stages of a strategic environmental assessment and a business and regulatory impact assessment have still to be carried out. There is no basis on which the court should interfere with those procedures; the petitioners will have a full opportunity to contribute to and participate in them. I conclude that since there is no prohibition against fracking, the petitioners’ case is unfounded; their application for judicial review of the alleged ban must accordingly fail.”

The full opinion can be accessed online here: Ineos Upstream Ltd and another v Lord Advocate

The Top judge who said court lawyers & judiciary should profit from & serve shale gas extraction & fossil fuel interests:

THREE years ago, Scotland’s now former top judge – Lord Brian Gill spoke on the very same day the Scottish Government announced the ‘moratorium’ on fracking, expressing his desire – and ultimately judicial policy – that fracking for shale gas should go ahead, and will increase business in the courts.

In a speech given at a Holyrood digital media conference on the same day that Minister Fergus Ewing MSP announced the moratorium on fracking, Lord gill also said he wanted to turn Scotland’s legal system into a mediation haven for big business, big oil, shale gas barons & bankers, according to a speech he gave on the theme of “Digital Justice” last week.

Lord Gill’s plans for fracking & big oil mediation was hoped to draw in millions for lawyers and judges – without the need to declare any interests.

During the fourteen page speech – Gill (72) also urged the legal sector to better exploit Scotland’s “natural resources” and renewable energy for their own profit.

Speaking on the issue of fracking, and taking aim squarely at the Scottish Government’s alleged policy on a moratorium, Lord Gill told conference delegates: “Our resources of energy may be increased by the retrieval of shale gas, if that should be allowed. It seems to me therefore that the opportunity that our natural resources present should be served by the court system.”

Speech by Lord Gill on Digital Justice, Fracking & Big Oil. During the speech, Lord Gill also chastised his own judicial colleagues & lawyers for missing out on exploitation of Scotland’s oil boom.

Lord Gill said: “In the 1960s and 1970s the economy of Scotland was transformed by the discovery of North Sea oil. The judges and lawyers of that time were not alert to the opportunity that Scotland could be an international forum for resolving disputes in the oil and gas industry. We paid a price for our complacency when the international oil and gas industry passed us by.”

Gill continued: “Half a century on we should look at Scotland’s economic opportunities and see how the courts can best serve them. In recent years a commitment to renewable energy has brought wind power to the fore as an energy source. Other forms of renewable energy may follow.”

The top judge also claimed Scotland can be made an international centre for litigation and mediation.

Gill said “Our legal system should be a driver for economic progress in Scotland. Our courts and our judges can and should contribute to the prosperity of our country. We can do that if, by the excellence of our judges, and our legal profession and the efficiency of our courts, we make Scotland a forum of litigation that not only retains litigations that at present go elsewhere but also becomes a forum of choice for litigations from abroad..”

Lord Gill’s own speech on the issue of fracking, and personal desire for shale oil gas extraction to go ahead, as a matter of judicial policy – was at complete odds with the statement issued by Scottish Government Minister Fergus Ewing on the same day to MSPs at Holyrood.:

While Gill gave his ‘fracking is good for the legal profession, courts & judiary’ lecture, Mr Ewing told the Parliament: “I want to ensure that the voices of the communities likely to be most affected are heard, and are heard in a more formal and structured way.I am therefore announcing today that in addition to the technical work I’ve referred to on planning, environmental regulation and upon assessing the impact on public health, Scottish ministers will also launch a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction.”

An earlier report on Lord Gill’s speech on the issue of fracking can be found here: FRACKING JUDGES: Scotland’s top judge promotes shale gas extraction, big oil and renewable energy as profit incentive for courts on same day Scottish Government announce ban on fracking

 

 

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

GOOD FOR LAWYERS: Challenging year for ‘toothless, waste of time’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as complaints against lawyers rise again amid claims regulator has little impact on rogues of the legal world

Lawyers regulator proves no deterrent to poor legal services. SCOTLAND’S ‘independent’ regulator of legal services has admitted complaints against rogue solicitors & law firms have again risen in the past “challenging year” according to the latest Annual Report 2016-17 of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

The SLCC’s past year was marked by the Anderson Strathern appeal, in which Court of Session judge Lord Malcolm – real name Colin Campbell QC – ruled unlawful the SLCC’s previous practice of classifying certain single issue complaints as hybrid (raising issues of both service and conduct).

However, an investigation of the ruling by Lord Malcolm – who is also a Privy Councillor – revealed a top QC who was identified in complaints relating to the acceptance of £5,000 a time cash payments  and accusations of misrepresenting clients in a case directly involving Lord Malcolm – escaped investigation as a result of the same Court of Session ruling on 31 August 2016.

Earlier this year, the SLCC was branded a “toothless waste of time” by Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) – who called for major reform of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission after a Sunday Mail investigation revealed the SLCC refused to investigate serious complaints & cash payments involving ‘top’ planning law QC John Campbell (67) of Hastie Stable & Trinity Chambers.

Speaking to the Sunday Mail, Alex Neil said: “These technicalities show the SLCC as it stands is a waste of time. It’s not up to the job and we need major change.”

Mr Neil continued: “Parliament’s justice committee should have an urgent and comprehensive look at this and rewrite the legislation so people have a reasonable time to register legitimate complaints.”

“People need assurance that the legal profession isn’t just looking after itself all the time. People have no confidence in the system.”

A full report on the John Campbell case impacted on by Lord Malcolm’s ruling can be found here: CASH ADVANCE: QC says ‘Can I have £5k cash on the way to the Law Society?’ – MSP calls for reform of ‘toothless’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission as regulator turns blind eye on Advocates cash payments scandal.

Further litigation occurred with the Law Society of Scotland over the SLCC’s power to then reclassify cases, in which the court eventually found for the Legal Complaints Commission but resulted in a large number of complaints being suspended, with no progress made until the ruling in June.

Over the year, complaints received rose from 1,132 to 1,155, up 2% on top of the previous year’s 12% rise.

However, an analysis of the complaints statistics, and contact with persons raising complaints with the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission reveal the SLCC is more often than not – too eager to knock back complaints against solicitors – in a similar manner once practiced by the Law Society of Scotland.

In the past year, a total of 414 cases were accepted for conduct or service investigation, or a combination of the two (previous year 408), and 171 (compared with 226) were deemed ineligible as time barred or being “frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit”.

A further 251 cases (previous year 188) were resolved, withdrawn or discontinued without a formal investigation.

Solicitors accounted for 410 of the complaints accepted while 4 of the cases related to members of the Faculty of Advocates.

However, this year, the success rate of mediation was much lower – indicating perhaps complainants have become wise to a process dubbed as “rigged” by some, after it was discovered some ‘independent’ mediators have connections to some of the law firms facing complaints investigations.

In the past year, mediated resolutions were achieved in only 27 complaints (44 the previous year), a lower success rate than previously at 58%.

Sixty three cases were resolved during or at the conclusion of the investigation stage (down from 128), and the number receiving a final determination by a committee of commissioners fell from 102 to 95, of which 44 (down from 58) were upheld in whole or part.

The number of investigations in hand at the year end rose from 664 to 807, having jumped from 473 at the start of the previous year.

Residential conveyancing was again the most frequent area of complaint, at 22% of those received, closely followed by litigation (21%), then executries, wills and trusts (14%), family law (10%) and crime (7%). Commercial property and leasing accounted for 4%, as did “personal conduct”. Other categories of work, each comprising fewer than 3% of complaints, accounted for the remaining 18%.

Regarding the nature of the complaint, however, failure to communicate effectively was a clear leader at 26% (but down from 43%), followed by failure to advise adequately (20%, up from 14%), failure to provide information (14%, down from 15%), failure to prepare adequately (11%, up from 6%), failure to follow instructions (10%, up from 6%), and delay (unchanged at 8%). Other categories made up 6% of cases.

The accounts for the year, also published today, disclose a net operating loss up from £114,000 to £194,000, though income rose from £2.714m to £2.763m. Net assets fell from £675,000 to £421,000.

This year the current Chair, Bill Brackenridge, comments on coming to the end of his statutory term after five years as well as this year’s performance: “the SLCC has sought to drive efficiency within the current statutory process whilst making bold calls for reform.  This year we were pleased to see the Scottish Government announce an Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services, and we will continue to contribute to work to improve the regulatory and complaints system for consumers and lawyers”

“This year complaints against lawyers continued to rise, a further 2% on top of 12% last year.  We recognise that complaints form a tiny proportion of overall transactions in which lawyers support clients, but increasing case load continues to be a key factor in performance and costs.  This year we have also seen a continuing trend towards more complaints entering the later stages of our process.  To tackle this we’ve worked to support consumers and the sector with guides to reduce the common causes of complaints.”

SLCC Chief Executive Neil Stevenson added “this has been a challenging year, with significant litigation that has driven delays and costs and which was outwith our control.  We are delighted the court upheld our position, and hope we can now move beyond some of these challenges to work with others in the sector to improve confidence in regulation.

On a personal level one of the organisational achievements we all contributed to, and which I am most proud of, is a significant improvement on our staff engagement survey results. I’m also delighted that we are in the rare position of gender pay parity.”

The SLCC’s Annual Report and Annual Accounts are laid before the Scottish Parliament by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs.

In the past NINE years since the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission was created in 2008, the Law Society backed ‘independent’ regulator of complaints against legal practitioners in Scotland – including solicitors and advocates – has more often than not seen year on year rises in complaints while becoming involved in protracted orchestrated arguments with lawyers over funding for the legal quango.

In reality, funding for the SLCC – running at around £3million a year – is secured from a client sourced complaints levy – where hikes in solicitors legal fees to clients & consumers are used to pay for the upkeep and operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

Since 2008, the SLCC has received nearly £30 million of client sourced funds – yet it is now clear the pro-lawyer quango has had little impact on the generally poor standards of expensive legal services available in Scotland.

Currently the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is involved in lobbying against a Scottish Parliament investigation into self regulation of the legal profession, a full report on this can be found here: LOOKING OUT FOR LAWYERS: Scottish Ministers unite with lawyer dominated review panel & pro-lawyer legal regulator – to urge Holyrood MSPs delay probe on proposals for independent regulation of legal services.

The SLCC, along with the Law Society of Scotland and other legal interests have made submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee calling for MSPs to hold off on hearing petitions calling for independent regulation – until a Scottish Government review on regulation of legal services reports back at the end of 2018. The ‘independent’ review, is in actuality being run by lawyers.

ANOTHER DAY IN COURT – Unidentified Law firm accused in client complaints fails in bid to overturn investigation

The Court of Session recently ruled in favour of the SLCC in refusing an application by a firm of solicitors for leave to appeal one of the Commission’s decisions. The application came from a firm seeking leave to appeal a decision that a number of issues of complaint were accepted as eligible services complaints and were not frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit. It was unusual in that only some issues of complaint accepted were being appealed.

The full findings – by Lord Glennie are available here: NOTE OF REASONS delivered by LORD GLENNIE in the application for leave to appeal by X LLP AND OTHERS (Appellant) against SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION (Respondent).

However, it should be noted the Court ruling does not identify the law firm involved.

The SLCC’s eligibility determination that some issues of complaint should be accepted for investigation represents what is essentially a sifting function to establish whether issues of complaint require investigation. The Court endorsed the already established view that at this stage there is a low bar for accepting issues of complaint, Lord Glennie’s Notes of Reasons stating “the Commission has to decide in respect of each complaint whether it is frivolous, vexatious or totally without merit; and if it decides the complaint is any or all of these things, it must reject the complaint and notify the relevant parties.  That is a high test to be applied or, to put it another way, is a low threshold to be crossed.”

Mark Paxton, one of the SLCC’s Case Investigation Managers, explained “there can be misconceptions about the eligibility test, one of the most complex stages within the process prescribed in statute.  We have seen comments in the past that ‘too many complaints’ are let in, but the courts are once again making clear there is a high test to be met if complaints are dismissed at this stage.  We know others can think the eligibility decision is an early indication of eventual substantive outcome, which is not the case – it is simply a decision that matters need formally investigated to have sufficient information to make a decision. We are also aware that, for practitioners, the fact that this is a formal “decision”, appealable to the Court of Session, suggests that it is somehow already a stain on the practitioner’s record – which again is just not the case.”

Lord Glennie went on to reiterate that “the nature and extent of the investigation to be carried out by the Commission, and how they go about it, is pre-eminently a matter for the Commission itself.”  Having considered that there was no basis for establishing that the SLCC had erred in law or acted irrationally the Court refused leave to appeal the decision.

What was also highlighted in this case was the time and resource expended by the SLCC in carrying out this sifting function. The Court also made reference to the detail in which the SLCC had dealt with this determination, stating “The Commission’s decision in the present case is very fully reasoned… The decision deals with each complaint individually and over a number of paragraphs”.

The resources expended by the SLCC in relation to appeals bears a significant financial cost to the organisation. In this particular case, costs will be recovered following the decision of the Court to award expenses. However such an award is unlikely to recompense the full cost of all work done in relation to the appeal, and the process of contesting appeals continues to be a significant factor which the SLCC has to contend with in managing its budget.

Neil Stevenson, CEO added: “The expense of appeals has been a key driver of increasing cost in the last two years. Looking at other complaints bodies and ombuds it is very unusual for a right of appeal, especially to such a senior court, to be provided for in a complaints process on a decision simply that something needs investigated.  Our current proposals for statutory reform recommend that a more proportionate approach should be considered.”

The SLCC itself was created at a cost of over £2 million pounds of public cash in 2008 – by a Scottish Government team led by Angela McArthur – who was since appointed as Chief Executive of the Parole Board of Scotland from 2009 to present day.

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

CASHBACK, QC: Investigation reveals Scotland’s ‘top’ Planning QC demanded cash payments & cheques from clients in Court of Session case linked to serious judicial conflicts of interest

John Campbell QC – Faculty rules breached by payments from clients. A MEDIA investigation has revealed a senior Scots Queen’s Counsel who claims to be at the top of his field in Planning law – demanded and collected cash stuffed envelopes from clients involved in a Court of Session case now linked to serious failures of the judiciary to declare conflicts of interest.

An investigation by the Sunday Mail newspaper has revealed John Campbell QC (67) of Hastie Stable & Trinity Chambers – sent emails to his clients demanding the cash be handed over “in any form except beads” to pay for legal services provided to his client – the well respected former National Hunt jockey & trainer – Donal Nolan.

Campbell QC then collected the cash stuffed envelopes from clients in locations such as restaurants, a garage specialising in servicing Bentley cars, and on a site at Branchal in Wishaw.

The Branchal site became the subject of a court case against Advance Construction Ltd – who later admitted in court they dumped highly contaminated material at the North Lanarkshire site.

John Campbell QC emailed his demands for cash. “I’m writing to confirm that we agreed at our meeting on Friday that we will meet in Dalkeith on TUESDAY morning, when you will give me £5000 towards the fees of your legal team” … “Please let me know if it’s OK to meet at the Mulsanne Garage, which is at 137 High Street, and what time would suit you?”

The reference to the “legal team” within Campbell’s email confirms other legal figures who were part of the same team received payments from the cash collected directly by Campbell.

One member of that team is ad-hoc Advocate Craig Murray – of Compass Chambers. Murray has previously refused to answer any questions on his role, or disclose how much cash he received from John Campbell.

Another email from Campbell QC to his clients, seeking another £5K – reads: “Tomorrow, I am looking forward to a serious talk with you and John, but I need to collect £5000 from you, in any form (except beads!)”

However, the demands for cash payments by the QC are a direct breach of rules of the Faculty of Advocates who forbid their members from demanding cash and bungs for legal services – even though the practice is well known to occur in both criminal and civil cases.

Section 9.9 of the Faculty of Advocate’s Code of Conduct states: “Counsel should not under any circumstances whatever discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

Further rules from the Code of Conduct state clearly that fees to QCs and Advocates acting as counsel can only be collected by solicitors, and then paid over to clerks and Faculty Services.

“Normally Counsel’s fees are negotiated between the clerk and the solicitor. All fees should be paid to Counsel’s clerk.”

Additional guidance designed to cover over any direct payments ‘collected’ by Advocates states: “If any fee happens to be paid direct to Counsel, Counsel must account for it forthwith to his or her clerk.”

However, an ongoing investigation into a series of invoices issued by the Faculty of Advocates has since revealed at least one of the invoices – which had no date – was sent to the client’s solicitor.

The move by the Faculty to issue an undated invoice is now subject to allegations this is an attempt to cover up the dates of a cash collections by John Campbell.

It can also be revealed some of the payments to Campbell in cheque form were made out to to Oracle – a firm founded and co-owned by John Campbell QC and John Carruthers.

Mr Campbell and solicitor advocate John Carruthers set up Oracle Chambers in the mid 2000’s in order to create – as they claimed at the time – “a more modern, commercially responsive organisation” than they felt was provided by Faculty Services Ltd, the service company of the Faculty of Advocates.

Former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) – who is backing his constituents in their quest to obtain justice, has now called for a full probe into the allegations against Campbell.

The Sunday Mail Investigation report on John Campbell QC:

 ‘We gave top QC £5000 cash in an envelope four times’ Couple claim law expert broke guidelines as MSP calls for probe

By Craig McDonald Sunday Mail 2 APR 2017

A couple claim one of Scotland’s leading QCs breached strict guidelines and asked for legal fees to be paid direct to him in cash.

Melanie Collins and partner Donal Nolan said they made the unusual payment after John Campbell told them he needed “£5000 from you in any form”.

Melanie said she and a friend met Campbell, who once represented Donald Trump’s Scottish business, in a restaurant in Dalkeith where she handed over the sum in banknotes.

She said she paid the QC – one of Scotland’s top planning law experts – three further sums of £5000 in cash at other meetings.

The method of payment is a breach of strict guidelines issued by the Faculty of Advocates – the ­professional body all advocates and QCs belong to.

The couple’s MSP last week called for a probe into the payments.

Campbell wrote in an email to Melanie on October 10, 2012: “Tomorrow, I am looking forward to a serious talk with you and John but I need to collect £5000 from you in any form.”

The man referred to is solicitor advocate John Carruthers, who assisted in the case.

Four days later, Melanie received another email from Campbell which said: “I’m writing to confirm that we agreed at our meeting on Friday that we will meet at Dalkeith on Tuesday morning when you will give me £5000 towards the fees of your legal team.”

Melanie, 62, a former land developer, of Bonkle, Lanarkshire, said: “I and a friend met with Mr Campbell at a restaurant in Dalkeith where I gave him an envelope containing £5000.

“There were three other ­occasions when I paid him £5000 cash in envelopes.

“One was at the Dakota hotel in Lanarkshire, one was at my home in Bonkle and one was a site in Cambusnethan in Wishaw relating to the court case. Looking back it might seem odd – but I had never had any dealings with a QC before and just assumed this was the way they worked.

“I paid two further cheques, one to Mr Campbell and one to a law firm, of £5000 and £4000. The total was £29,000.”

The payments related to a civil case Donal initially planned against a construction firm in 2011. The case was heard at the Court of Session in 2013.

Melanie said: “We won the case but were awarded £20,000. Our total legal fees were in the hundreds of thousands.”

She reported the cash payments claims to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission in 2014.

The SLCC said at the time: “The complaint has been considered carefully by the SLCC. It has been decided … will not be investigated as it has not been made within time limits, for the reasons set out in the attached determination.”

The couple’s MSP, Alex Neil, the SNP member for Airdrie and Shotts, said: “All these allegations have to be investigated.

“If there has been malpractice at any stage this has to be dealt with by the appropriate ­authorities. Donal and Melanie’s problem up until now is that they’ve not been listened to when they have made the complaints.”

The SLCC could not be contacted for comment.

The Faculty of Advocates’ guide to conduct states: “Counsel should not under any circumstances whatever discuss or negotiate fees with or receive fees directly from the lay client.”

Their disciplinary tribunal can hand out fines of up to £15,000. A member can also be suspended or expelled from the faculty.

The Faculty of Advocates refused to comment last week.

Campbell, 67, said: “I have no comment to make.”

FEATURE:

John Campbell QC:

The case in which Campbell represented Mr Nolan is that of Nolan v Advance Construction Ltd, a high value damages claim in the Court of Session.

A media investigation recently revealed Inner House judge Lord Malcolm (Colin Malcolm Campbell) sat on the case no less than eight times while his son held an interest and represented the defenders – Advance Construction Ltd.

There is no recorded recusal by Lord Malcolm in the case, even though he stood aside during 2012 after he ‘realised’ his son may have been a ‘potential witness’.

Court papers obtained by journalists have since revealed alarming inconsistencies in hearings which cast doubt on the conduct of legal figures in the case – spanning eight Court of Session judges – one (Lord Malcolm) a member of the privy Council, several Sheriffs, high profile QCs and Levy & Mcrae  – the Glasgow law firm now subject to multi million pound writs in connection with the £400million collapse of a Gibraltar based hedge fund – Heather Capital.

At the time the case began, during late 2011, Advance Construction Ltd were represented by a judge – the now suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson, and the son of a judge – Ewen Campbell – who both worked for Levy & Mcrae.

It was only discovered well into hearings in the case that Ewen Campbell was the son of the judge Lord Malcolm, who sat on the case a total of eight times, and unprecedently returned to the case after stepping aside, to hand over £5K lodged by a third party for an appeal.

And, it can be revealed a recent key ruling in the Court of Session delivered by the same Lord Malcolm – scrapped a 30 year policy of regulating service & conduct complaints against members of the legal profession by the Law Society of Scotland & post 2008 – the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC).

The 2016 ruling by Lord Malcolm, reported here: CSIH 71 XA16/15 – appeal against a decision of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission conveniently allowed the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to scrap 700 complaints against lawyers, advocates and QCs, and shattering the hopes of clients poorly served by their legal representatives.

Among the complaints to be taken advantage of by Lord Malcolm’s ruling and subsequently closed by the SLCC was the complaint against John Campbell QC – which included evidence presented to investigators in relation to Campbell’s demands for cash payments.

The complaint against Campbell also included allegations and evidence in relation the QC’s conduct and service in the proof heard by Commercial judge Lord Woolman.

During the second last day of the proof, Lord Woolman stated the pursuer – Mr Nolan – had a claim as the he had lost the use of his gallop and grazing.

Campbell then acted on his own – and significantly altered Mr Nolan’s claim in the Court of Session – removing Mr Nolan’s £4m head of claim. Unusually, John Campbell also removed a claim for legal and professional expenses.

There is no trace of any legal instruction from Mr Nolan to undertake this course of action in court, nor was there any consultation with Mr Nolan’s solicitor – who would have to had provided Mr Nolan with legal advice in relation to any proposed alteration of the claim by John Campbell QC. Similarly there is no trail of any communications between Mr Nolan’s solicitor, the Edinburgh Agents and Mr Campbell.

When a complaint against John Campbell QC was lodged with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, enquiries established the legal regulator heavily relied on a letter from Craig Murray to exonerate the aging QC.

However, enquiries by journalists have established two versions of Craig Murray’s letter now exist. Both versions of the same letter were used by legal regulators to exonerate Mr Campbell from investigations by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the Faculty of Advocates.

Refusals by Murray to clarify the two separate versions of his letter have raised questions and concerns over his status as a prosecutor working for the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), amid claims he enjoys success prosecuting criminal trials in the High Court of Justiciary.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe has yet to act on the allegations involving Campbell and Murray.

James Wolffe is now caught in a conflict of interest situation given  his role in the matter of the Faculty of Advocate’s investigation of Campbell and their failure to act after evidence of the cash demands were presented during Wolffe’s time as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

Investigations into the case are set to continue amid growing calls for a full probe of Mr Campbell’s activities, and demands for Lord Carloway to act to preserve public confidence in the judicial and legal system in relation to decisions taken by members of the judiciary and certain events which took place in the Court of Session.

Has your solicitor, advocate or QC demanded cash payments from you at any stage of a civil or criminal case? Tell us more about it in confidence, by email to scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

Not rocket science, right? We all get it.

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

Transparency – Good. Vested Interests – Bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what others say:

The Sunday Mail newspaper reports:

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

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

Jan 18, 2015 By Mark Aitken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Mail:

WATCHDOG’S WITHERING ATTACK ON JUDICIARY

MY FINAL VERDICT ON JUDGES? A LAW UNTO THEMSELVES

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

By Mark Aitken Political Editor Sunday Mail 07 December 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Herald:

Clash over probe into allegations of bullying in the justice system

Paul Hutcheon, Investigations Editor Sunday 7 December 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The organisation’s witnesses were also not interviewed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Herald:

 Judicial watchdog quits from ‘straightjacket’ role

Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor Sunday 26 January 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Mail:

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

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

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

News Special : By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 15 Dec 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUDGES IN DOCK

Probed after bawling out a dog walker

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

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

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

Accused of insensitivity over disability.

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

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

However, Lord Gill disagreed with Ali’s opinion.

IF I AM NOT SURE WHAT THIS LEGALESE MEANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Herald:

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

Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor Sunday 15 December 2013

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

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

MSPs yesterday welcomed the intervention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Mail:

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

REVEALED JUDGES ESCAPE SCRUTINY

By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 22 Sept 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But judicial accountability is a completely separate issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Mail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP JUDGE REJECTS REGISTER OF INTERESTS

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

TO PLAY THE PRESIDENT: Transparency, diversity & judicial reform on the cards as hunt begins for Scotland’s next top judge & Lord President of the Court of Session

The hunt for Scotland’s next top judge. APPLICATIONS to be Scotland’s next top judge are now being considered under a closed door process & selection panel set up to find a new Lord President of the Court of Session –  some three months after the sudden retirement of Scotland’s longest serving judge – Lord Brian Gill.

The selection panel who will interview, shortlist and then recommend a suitable candidate for the position of Lord President to the First Minister by – no later than Friday 30 October – is made up of: Sir Muir Russell – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, Mrs Deirdre Fulton – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, The Rt Hon Lord Reed – Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, The Rt Hon Lady Dorrian – Senator, Inner House of the Court of Session.

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

The previous holder of the office – Brian Gill (73) retired abruptly in May 2015 after serving across three decades on the bench. Gill ended his last three years as a member of the judiciary on the top spot as Lord President & Lord Justice General from 8 June 2012 to 31 May 2015.

Brian Gill was widely respected as a reforming judge for his work on the Scottish Civil Courts Review – which saw the then Lord President issue a scathing condemnation of Scotland’s Civil justice system as “Victorian” and that of a legal system which Lord Gill said, with long experience – was “failing the litigant and it is failing society”.

However, the top judge eventually came unstuck after waging a controversial two year battle against the Scottish Parliament in an effort to thwart proposals to require members of the judiciary to declare their vast and varied interests.

The judicial transparency proposal – which provoked the now retired top judge to use loopholes within the Scotland Act against the Scottish Parliament – call for the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Now, the process begins where applications must now conform to a deadline for referees – Monday 24 August 2015 (midnight), then are subject to sifting – taking place on Wednesday 2 September 2015, invitation to interview by Monday 7 September 2015, with interviews held on Monday 5 October 2015 and finally – recommendations to First Minister by Friday 30 October 2015.

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

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

This week, the Scottish Sun on Sunday newspaper featured an in depth two page report on the hunt for a new Lord President:

 Who’ll be the judge?

REFORMS CALL AS LEGAL ELITE CHALLENGE FOR TOP JOB

By: RUSSELL FINDLAY 2 August 2015 Scottish Sun

THE hunt is on for Scotland’s new top judge — and applicants have until tomorrow to throw their wigs in the ring.

If chosen as Lord President of the Court of Session, they will be handed a £220,655 salary and enormous power.

But here, The Scottish Sun on Sunday’s RUSSELL FINDLAY finds out why tackling the judiciary’s secrecy and vested interests should be the top priority for our next top Lord — or Lady.

THE historic title dates back to 1532 when its first holder wasn’t just in charge of every Scots judge but also a community of monks.

Alexander Mylne, abbot of Cambuskenneth Abbey, near Stirling, was given the grand title of Lord President of the Court of Session by King James V. Since then bishops, barons, lords, earls and viscounts have all had turns in the lofty post.

But campaigners insist the next top beak must be prepared to do what no other Lord President has done — put an end to our legal system’s culture of secrecy and drag it into the 21st century.

The vacancy at the top of the judicial tree was created in May when the previous incumbent announced he was retiring after an astonishing public spat with Holyrood.

Lord Gill, 73, twice refused to attend the parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to discuss a proposed register of interests.

MSPs wanted him to explain his fierce opposition to moves that would require judges to reveal their personal, business and financial secrets.

He claimed the principle of judicial independence from political interference meant he could not be forced to attend.

But critics insist the law is meant to stop judges being quizzed on court verdicts, not administrative issues.

And Lord Gill’s snub united all parties in anger.

Scots Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw has since secured the issue of a fresh invite to the retired judge.

Fellow committee member John Wilson said: “It’s not up to politicians to meddle in court decisions but proper independent scrutiny of judges’ undeclared interests and conduct is long overdue.

“Their business dealings have to be absolutely clear.

“Anyone appearing in front of a judge — for a criminal or civil case — needs to know if they have any direct or indirect vested interests.”

Mr Wilson believes our legal elite should be embracing reform, not opposing it.

The independent MSP said: “This is about strengthening the credibility of our judiciary so no one can point a finger and say they were unfairly treated because a judge did not declare an interest.”

The public petition being discussed by MSPs was lodged by Peter Cherbi. The campaigner, from Edinburgh, claims he was stung by lawyers and the self-regulation which he believes protects them.

And he thinks that, after almost 500 years of men, a woman is needed at the top.

Mr Cherbi said: “It’s time for the old boys’ club to be rocked by a Lady President.

“I’d want her to maintain the judiciary’s independence and integrity while bringing it into the 21st century for both transparency and accountability.”

The role as the 45th nor-Lord President would normally be expected to go to Lord Carloway, 61, our secondmost senior judge.

But insiders say the Lord Justice Clerk is tainted by his backing of the SNP government’s failed bid to scrap corroboration in Scots Law.

The proposal was opposed by his judicial colleagues.

Another contender is Lady Smith, 60.

She could make history as first female presiding judge of the College of Justice and the Court of Session. Lady Smith would also take up the titles of Lord Justice General of Scotland and the head of the High Court of Justiciary.

But first she’d have to win approval from a selection panel, then be nominated by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, right, and the Prime Minister before being formally appointed by the Queen.

The Lord President hears complex appeals, runs our courts, makes reforms and is consulted by the UK and Scottish governments. Based at Parliament House in Edinburgh, he or she can shun MSPs down the Royal Mile at the new Parly building and is exempt from freedom of information laws.

The Lord President also cannot be held to account by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

That was one of many reasons that persuaded Moi Ali to quit after she became the first person appointed to the role. Ms Ali stood down last year because she was unable to alter the system of our judges regulating their own conduct.

She would like to see the Scottish Government give the public the same powers to scrutinise them as exists in England and Wales.

Ms Ali said: “The government should but I don’t think they will because the judiciary here is incredibly powerful. They will not be challenged. England and Wales are light years ahead in terms of holding judges to account.

“That surprises me as our government says it believes in social justice and putting citizens first, not vested interests.” Ms Ali, a Scottish Police Authority board member, also blasted Lord Gill’s snubbing of Holyrood’s Petitions Committee.

She said: “It brought into focus how out of touch he was.

“It’s about coming up to the standards expected in every other sphere of public life. He did the judiciary a great disservice because he confirmed the stereotypes.”

As for Lord Gill’s replacement, Ms Ali added: “It would be nice for it to be a woman to help redress the balance of the past 500 years.

“But it should be the right person for the job, someone who will bring about change. If that is a man, that’s fine by me.”

SCANDAL OF VICE, BOOZE AND BRAWLS

By: RUSSELL FINDLAY 2 August 2015 Scottish Sun

Disgraced … sheriffs Neilson, Lothian and Anthony all resigned

SHAMED lawmen have landed in the dock for violence, drink driving and fraud — with others forced to quit after being caught in a brothel.

Sheriff Hugh Neilson was found in a sex sauna in Glasgow during a police raid in 2004.

He said he was only there for a shave but later resigned and was last year convicted of drink driving.

Sheriff Andrew Lothian quit in 2008 over claims that he had regular sex sessions with prostitutes at an Edinburgh sauna.

And Sheriff Robert Anthony QC was forced to leave his post in 2010 when cops caught him driving on the M8 while more than three times the legal booze limit.

Justice of the Peace Peter Drummond was convicted in April of punching a man in a pub fight in Cowdenbeath.

Another dodgy law chief was convicted of benefit fraud.

But his or her identity was kept secret from the public.

Former Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali highlighted cases of alleged misbehaviour by mystery judges.

One was accused of a “tyrannical rant” at a female dog walker who was left “shaking with nerves” and felt “very intimidated”.

And an unnamed sheriff was accused of secretly recording conversations after being branded a bully.

BEAKS URGED FOR CLARITY OVER SHARES

By: RUSSELL FINDLAY 2 August 2015 Scottish Sun

CRITICS have called on judges to declare their private shares in big businesses to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Peter Watson was suspended from sitting as a sheriff by law chief Lord Gill in February.

The lawyer — whose clients included former First Minister Alex Salmond — was briefly a director of Mathon, run by tycoon Gregory King.

King was a director of hedge fund Heather Capital that was the subject of a massive fraud probe after its collapse.

Heather Capital’s liquidators Ernst & Young filed a multi-million court demand against Watson’s former law firm Levy & McRae.

We later revealed that Watson, below, had also been a director of a private bank which King planned to launch in Gibraltar — and held shares in new Edinburgh-based private bank Hampden & Co.

Last year a Scottish Sun investigation found Sheriff Principal Alastair Dunlop owned shares in a company hit with a £13.9million proceeds of crime bill for bribing Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The same sheriff also heard a case involving Tesco despite having shares in the supermarket chain.

There was no suggestion of wrongdoing but it fuelled calls for transparency.

Judges are subject to self-regulating system and take an oath to “do right” by people “without fear or favour”.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,