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Tag Archives: Gillian Thompson

APPROVED BY M’LORD: Former Police Chief & Legal Complaints board member receives approval from Lord Carloway to fill ‘window dressing’ Judicial Complaints Reviewer post

Ex top cop & SLCC Board member is new Judicial Investigator. A FORMER Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police who served as Convener of the Standards Commission for Scotland and was a board member of a tainted legal complaints quango – has been approved by Scotland’s top judge to investigate judges and serve as Scotland’s third Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR).

Ian Gordon, who also formerly served as a board member of the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) and is currently Acting Commissioner with the Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman Office – will now serve as Judicial Complaints Reviewer from 1 September 2017 to 31 August 2020.

Ian Gordon’s appointment as JCR, which is required to be approved by Scotland’s top judge – currently Lord Carloway – was announced by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson yesterday, Monday 14 August.

However, MSPs from across the political spectrum have called for the judicial watchdog to be given new powers and a review of the role undertaken by the Scottish Government amid controversy over the lack of powers to the JCR.

Moi Ali – Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer branded the JCR role as “window dressing” in evidence to MSPs at Holyrood during September 2013 – featured in a report here: As Scotland’s top judge battles on against transparency, Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life

Moi Ali continually called for extra powers until she quit the role in 2014 amid lack of cooperation from the judiciary & Scottish Government.

Gordon’s appointment as Judicial Complaints Reviewer comes after both his predecessors complained the SNP Government starved the post of resources.

Last week, the Sunday Herald published a further report on the controversy around the office of Judicial Complaints Reviewer, revealing current Gillian Thompson has published further concerns on the relevance and efficacy of the job.

Gillian Thompson said her contracted hours of just three days a month “inevitably” led to delays, “inconvenience for complainants” and ultimately “a poor service”.

She said she doubted public expectations were being met, complained her access to investigation files was limited, and urged ministers to “review the relevance of the role”.

Gillian Thompson published two annual reports on her work as JCR, last week – which contain no case histories after the Scottish Government suggested such references be excluded in published reports.

Several weeks ago Thompson was caught in a controversy where documents released by the Scottish Government revealed she had accused her predecessor of being the source of media interest in the lack of published annual reports by the JCR.

The accusations turned out to be false, and the Scottish Government ordered journalists to destroy the initial release of documents, which was swapped for another version by Stuart Lewis, a Senior Media Manager for the Scottish Government’s Justice & Education hub. Lewis refused to identify who took the decision to order destruction of the FOI documents.

Further concerns have been raised after the Scottish Information Commissioner dodged calls to look into the case, after journalists called for a re-examination of how exemptions are used by the Scottish Government where Thompson’s written accusations were then censored under the guise of ‘protecting free and frank discussions between officials’.

A full report and publication of the FOI documents on the controversy around Thompson and the Scottish Government’s FOI release can be found here: Scottish Government request destruction of FOI papers – Files reveal Ministers silence on judicial complaints & civil servants attempts to exclude case histories from Judicial Investigator’s annual reports

Ms Thompson’s predecessor Moi Ali also complained a lack of funds and support had made the role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer “enormously frustrating and difficult”.

Today, it has been reported LibDem MSP Liam McArthur has urged Mr Matheson to review the post of JCR.

In a letter to the Justice Secretary, Mr McArthur said: “The only two holders of the post have both provided blistering accounts of their experiences. In appointing the third JCR the Scottish Government cannot ignore the criticisms of his predecessors and the serious questions that surround the credibility of this office. It is clear that the current system is not working.”

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said: “Given the criticism levelled at the Scottish Government by the former reviewer, it appears her successor has quite a job on his hands.

“If this role is to be a success, ministers have to provide the resources and support necessary. We can’t afford for this to be yet another wasted 12 months.”

Labour MSP Claire Baker added: “It is clear that the new JCR needs far greater support.

“For the SNP to simply announce a new JCR but fail to address any of the serious structural shortcomings in the role is simply unacceptable.

“The Scottish Government cannot hide from their responsibility. They must fully fund and resource the new JCR so that he can carry out his role in the best interests of the public.”

However the biography issued by the Scottish Government on Mr Gordon contains no references to his time as one of the first intake of Board members at the discredited Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The SLCC was recently branded as a “toothless waste of time” by former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC caught up in a cash payments scandal.

The team responsible for setting up the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and it’s board members in 2008 was led by Angela McArthur, Chief Executive of the Parole Board since December 2009

During Mr Gordon’s time on the board of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the pro-lawyer regulator lurched from controversy to scandal, where media reports revealed board members infighting over dealing with members of the public, campaign groups, and drunken exchanges between board members & senior SLCC staff.

Ministerial Announcement of new Judicial Complaints Reviewer: Judicial Complaints Reviewer appointed

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson has announced the appointment of the third Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Ian Gordon is a retired Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police. He is currently an Acting Commissioner with the Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman Office.

He was seconded to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and was the lead police officer on the annual statutory inspection of five UK police forces, and was a member of the UK Police Professional Standards Group. He has conducted criminal, conduct and complaints investigations in the UK and undertaken enquires abroad on behalf of the Foreign Office.

Mr Gordon was also a Convener for the Standards Commission between 2010 and 2017 and contributed to a focused improvement to awareness of the codes of Conduct by elected members and Boards of Public Bodies.

This appointment was established by the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 to review, when asked, the handling of a complaints investigation into members of the judiciary, to ensure that it has been dealt with in accordance with The Complaints About the Judiciary (Scotland) Rules 2016. The Reviewer has no powers to consider the merits of any complaint or the disposal of the complaint.

The appointment will be for a period of three years from 1 September 2017 to 31 August 2020, and will be paid a daily fee of £217. The appointment has been made with the approval of the Lord President.

All appointments are made on merit and political activity plays no part in the selection process.

FROM EX-COP TO JUDGING JUDGES – BIOGRAPHY IAN GORDON:

Ian Gordon is listed as Chair on the website of the Ericht Trust and is an active director of the Ericht Trust which is also registered as a company limited by guarantee, managed by a Board of Trustees who are elected at an Annual General Meeting, and a Company Secretary.

The Ericht Trust has since reported in March 2017 to be in the process of changing it’s name to the Erich Trust.

The Ericht Trust describes itself as a ‘not for profit’ charitable organisation, which focuses on community development and regeneration in line with Scottish Government policies on community empowerment. It is a member of Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS). DTAS provides support to its members and a link into a network of the many comparable Trusts working for the benefit of their communities across Scotland. Being part of this bigger family gives strength to the organisation when voicing opinion or seeking support from Government and Local Authorities.

The object of the Trust is to stimulate a range of community projects which will benefit residents and businesses and draw visitors to this area.

A register of interests posted by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission also listed Mr Gordon as a director of Quarere Ltd.

Quaere Limited was set up on 20 Dec 2006 has its registered office in Perthshire. Its current status is listed as “Dissolved”. The company’s first directors were Marion Therese Gordon, Ian Alexander Gordon. Quaere Limited has no subsidiaries.

The company was listed under the headings of SIC 2003:7414 — Business And Management Consultancy Activities & SIC 2007: 70229 — Management Consultancy Activities (Other Than Financial Management)

Last annual accounts of Quarere Ltd were filed in 2009.

Other interests listed in Mr Gordon’s register of interests from his time at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission include:

• Associate Professor in Policing for Charles Sturt University (Australia).
• Formerly Chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) Professional Standards Business Area.
• Vice-Chair of ACPOS General Policing Business Area.

Previous articles on the Judicial Complaints Reviewer and complaints against Scotland’s judiciary can be found here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Reviewing complaints against Scotland’s judiciary

 

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READ THE SHRED: Scottish Government request destruction of FOI papers – Files reveal Ministers silence on judicial complaints & civil servants attempts to exclude case histories from Judicial Investigator’s annual reports

No JCR annual reports in 3 years. FILES RELEASED by the Scottish Government reveal Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) took an undisclosed decision in 2016 not to publish annual reports on complaints about alleged judicial misconduct, while civil servants agreed further annual reports could be watered down.

The documents – obtained under the Freedom of Information act reveal a three year silence on annual reporting of complaints about the judiciary by Gillian Thompson OBE, who currently serves as Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer until August 31 2017.

Emails from the Scottish Government to the JCR also reveal a civil servant in the Justice Department told Ms Thompson she could water down the length of reports on her work, and did not need to include examples of cases – which had been a hallmark of previous annual reports published by Scotland’s first JCR – Moi Ali.

And, key passages of the documents provoked a storm in the media after now redacted paragraphs revealed Ms Thompson had wrongly claimed her predecessor was the source of media articles in relation to the role of the JCR – when in fact the articles reporting on a lack of annual reports from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer had been down to good journalism.

Upon the material being reported to the Scottish Government as unsuitable for publication, on the grounds there was a clear breach of Freedom of Information legislation relating to publication of comments of third parties and material likely to inhibit free & frank discussion between officials, the Scottish Government’s media team took over the handling of the matter, and demanded the documents already released to journalists be destroyed.

Stuart Lewis, Senior Media Manager for the Scottish Government’s Justice & Education hub provided an unsigned letter stating: You also brought to our attention the remarks made on page 28 of the pdf document. These remarks were made by a third party and do not reflect or represent the views of the Scottish Government. On reflection, those remarks should also have been considered to be personal data.

This was an oversight which we take seriously. We will circulate guidance across the Justice Directorate for use in responding to future FOI requests and specifically about redaction of personal information including personal data.

In the circumstances, we would ask you not to circulate this information any further and ask that you confirm that you have deleted/destroyed the information. We have included a redacted copy of the information for publication which excludes this personal data.

We are very grateful to you for drawing this matter to our attention and for giving us the opportunity to address it before you publish our response.

The initial release of documents from the Scottish Government were subsequently destroyed. However, what became clear from the release of information was that exemptions of disclosure which supposedly protect “free and frank discussions” between civil servants are being used to conceal potentially defamatory statements & conjecture between public servants unhappy about attention from the media on public interest issues.

The files, since released in a second cleaned up version by the Scottish Government, also reveal major changes appear to have been planned for the way in which JCR annual reports were to be published, after an email from an unidentified Scottish Government civil servant informed Gillian Thompson there was no need to refer to actual cases in her annual report.

An excerpt from an email, dated 8 September 2015 reads: “We look forward to receiving your Annual Report in due course and agree that there is no need for this to be a lengthy document, nor to include examples of cases.”

An excerpt from a letter, dated 3 October 2016 reveals the decision taken by Ms Thompson against publishing annual reports – despite a Ministerial direction obtained by Ms Thompson’s predecessor to ensure the public found out about the work of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

An extract from a letter from Gillian Thompson to Neil Rennick, Director of the Scottish Government’s Justice Department reads: From the beginning of my tenure I have prioritised the reviews requested by those who believe that their complaint has not been handled by the Judicial Office for Scotland in line with the relevant Rules. It took me well into 2015 to clear the backlog I inherited and the reviews that came to me in the first 6 months.

My view is that the role of the JCR is to provide the service available within the narrowly drawn legislation as efficiently and effectively as possible given the constraints, including the time constraints.

I have always viewed the preparation of a report on activity and effort as second order. My contract refers to a responsibility to “as directed by Scottish Ministers to prepare and publish reports on investigations”. The wording implies that a direction will be given and does not specify what should be reported or when.

I confess that whilst I have accepted that what is meant is to follow Moi Ali’s example I have not attached the same level of importance to providing a report as she did. [REDACTED]

I have not produced a report for 2015 or 2016. The interest also suggests that producing one report followed closely by another will mean that I will have to divert available time to handling the fallout after each rather than undertaking reviews

Early in October I said that I would put aside casework and concentrate on drafting reports. As of this letter I have 7 reviews outstanding and there may be more once I go to VQ tomorrow. I think that for me to feel that I am providing the level of service that complainants are entitled to expect I have to revert to case handling.

I have decided, therefore, that I will conflate the reports and produce an end of term/tenure report in August 2017.

This decision was not announced in public, or on the Judicial Complaints Reviewer’s website.

A further scrutiny of the FOI released documentation also reveals attempts at ‘information management’ in response to enquiries on the role of the JCR, where civil servants suggest Gillian Thompson take the same line as Scottish Government in response to an MSP’s enquiry.

A redacted email from a civil servant in the Scottish Government’s Justice Department to Gillian Thompson reads: “The line that we intend to take in the response to the MSP enquiry is that certain arrangements were set up for the previous JCR. However, these have been comprehensively reviewed and we are in the process of changing over to more secure arrangements – having been maintained on a transitional basis as you inherited the office to maintain continuity. Could we take this line with [redacted] and you could respond from your SCOTS account to avoid any further Gmail related criticism? You might say that you can’t currently gain access to the correspondence on the old Gmail account as it’s in the process of being changed over.”

An issue which does stand out from much of the discussions between Gillian Thompson and the Scottish Government, is the lack of any communication with two Lord Presidents, Lord Gill, and his successor Lord Carloway on the subject of the missing JCR annual reports.

Not one document or communication from an anxious Lord President or Judicial Office exists in the FOI release, provoking questions why the judiciary were keen not to enquire as to why no annual reports were being produced by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer for the past three years.

As things currently stand, the only annual reports from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer which currently exist are those written by Moi Ali, Scotland’s first JCR.

Diary of Injustice has previously published the JCR annual reports authored by Moi Ali, here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2011-2012, Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2012-2013 and Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2013-2014

The Sunday Herald reported on the release of documentation and the Scottish Government’s request files be destroyed, here:

Cover-up row after government asks writer to destroy watchdog letter released under FOI

Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor 9 July 2017

THE Scottish Government is at the centre of a cover up row after asking a journalist to destroy a document released under freedom of information laws.

Civil servants provided a letter showing that Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) Gillian Thompson had wrongly claimed her predecessor may have been behind a media story about her.

Days later, the Government stated: “We would ask you not to circulate this information any further and ask that you confirm that you have deleted/destroyed the information.”

In 2016, the Sunday Herald revealed that Thompson, whose role includes examining whether complaints against judges were handled properly, had not published an annual report since taking up the job.

This was in contrast to the previous post-holder Moi Ali, who had fought for the right to publish a yearly account of her annual activity in the job.

Peter Cherbi, who publishes a blog on legal issues, asked the Scottish Government for all communications and discussions with the JCR going back several years.

In a letter to Scottish Government Justice Director Neil Rennick, dated October 2016, Thompson wrote: “I have always viewed the preparation of a report on activity and effort as second order.”

She added: “I confess that whilst I have accepted that what is meant is to follow Moi Ali’s example I have not attached the same level of importance to providing a report as she did.”

Thompson then inaccurately stated that Ali may have had a role in the story about her not publishing an annual report: “Indeed if our difference of view needed highlighting, on one reading of the recent [Sunday] Herald article, she seems to have been a source in outing the fact that I have not produced a report for 2015 or 2016.”

After receiving the letter, Cherbi got an email from the Government which tried to backtrack on this part of the freedom of information release.

Addressing Thompson’s comment, the Government stated: “These remarks were made by a third party and do not reflect or represent the views of the Scottish Government. On reflection, those remarks should also have been considered to be personal data. This was an oversight which we take seriously.”

Cherbi told this newspaper: “As a journalist I am concerned about being asked by the Scottish Government to destroy material which clearly the public have a right to know given the matter at hand – transparency and accountability of the judiciary and courts.

“Moi Ali as JCR was and remains a staunch supporter of judicial transparency. She was very attentive as JCR, produced annual reports, gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament, stood up to an overbearing judiciary and went so far as to ask for more powers for the JCR role.”

Ali said: “I was categorically not the source of this media coverage about the JCR, and only provided a reactive, on-the-record response to the Sunday Herald. I am equally disappointed that Scottish Government shared Ms Thompson’s baseless conjecture, without my knowledge, with a freelance journalist. This is not acceptable, although I accept their subsequent sincere apology for their error.

“When I wrote to Ms Thompson asking how she proposed to remedy the situation, I received a reply noting my concerns. I have now written again asking for a retraction and apology, as it is damaging to one’s reputation.”

Thompson said: “I made an observation to my lead contact in Scottish Government. I did not make it public.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Some personal data was included in error within a larger release of information requested under FOI legislation. We acted quickly to correct this as soon as it was brought to our attention. We are sorry for this breach of our standards and have apologised to those affected.”

The Sunday Mail newspaper also reported on the lack of annual reports from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, here:

 THREE YEARS OF NOTHING

Scotland’s judicial watchdog has failed to produce a single annual report in her three years in the job.

By Mark Aitken, Political Editor Sunday Mail 2 July 2017

In 2014, Gillian Thompson was appointed Judicial Complaints Reviewer to investigate complaints by the public against judges.

Her contract ends next month – but she has so far failed to produce any annual reports.

Former civil servant Thompson replaced Moi Ali, who in her final report detailed complaints of alleged racial biogtry, bullying, lying, conflicts of interest and making secret recordings of meetings.

Legal campaigner Peter Cherbi said: “I’m a little concerned at Ms Thompson’s policy of not producing a report each year given the public expectation of being kept updated on judicial transparency and complaints about judges.

“Yet at the same time, this goes to the very heart of the lack of powers handed to the Judicial Complaints Reviewer and a significant lack of resources for one person to deal with queries and complaints against a 700-plus strong judiciary.

“It would have always been open for Ms Thompson to inform the public about the lack of resources and support for the JCR’s office.

“Moi Ali did a fine job on speaking out in office and speaking to the Scottish Parliament. If more had been said in these past three years, perhaps the JCR role could have been given greater priority with some much needed scrutiny.”

Ali was appointed as Scotland’s first JCR in 2011 but resigned in 2014 saying she got no co-operation from law chiefs.

And documents revealed under freedom of information laws show that in April, Thompson also wrote to Holyrood justice director Neil Rennick about the lack of support she received.

She said: “In looking back over my experience as JCR, I believe that the lack of any such support did have a detrimental effect on my first 18 months in office from which I seem to have never recovered.”

Another email reveals that she submitted a draft of her 2014-15 report only last November. The report has yet to be published.

In an email to Holyrood staff, Thompson wrote: “Clearly it is very late but I hope it is a reasonable read.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The priority of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer has been to ensure complaints from members of the public have been properly dealt with, which she has done.”

Previous articles on the Judicial Complaints Reviewer and complaints against Scotland’s judiciary can be found here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Reviewing complaints against Scotland’s judiciary

 

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JUDICIAL REPORTS AXED: Reports by trailblazing Judicial Investigator exposing lack of accountability & power of Scottish judges – removed in bid to silence debate on judicial transparency

Key reports on judges by crusading Judicial investigator removed from public view. GROUND BREAKING reports written by a trailblazing Judicial investigator on the inner workings of the Judiciary of Scotland have been removed from public view  by the Scottish Government – in an apparent bid to wipe evidence of the lack of accountability of Scotland’s elite, secretive and all-powerful judiciary.

The three hard hitting reports – authored by Moi Ali – Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) are no longer available on the JCR’s website after they were removed by the Scottish Government – who control the website.

The key reports cover the years 2011-2014 – when Lord Arthur Hamilton, and subsequently Lord Brian Gill – served as Lord President & Lord Justice General. Gill (75) – who was Lord Justice Clerk in 2011, succeeded Lord Hamilton to the top judicial post in June 2012.

The ground-breaking insight into Scotland’s judiciary also formed part of evidence submitted to a Scottish Parliament investigation into proposals to create a Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary: Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The disappearance of the three highly acclaimed and critical reports on heavy handed secretive Scottish judges was revealed in an investigation this week by the Sunday Herald newspaper.

Diary of Injustice has republished the JCR annual reports making them available to the public once more here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2011-2012, Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2012-2013 and Judicial Complaints Reviewer Scotland Annual Report 2013-2014

The Sunday Herald investigation also revealed Gillian Thompson OBE – who took over the role  of Judicial Complaints Reviewer from Moi Ali in late 2014 – has not produced an annual report in the two years since she was appointed to the post.

Gillian Thompson is known to support calls to create a register of interests for judges.

During the summer of 2015, Ms Thompson appeared before the Public Petitions Committee and fully backed proposals to require judges to declare their interests.

In response to questions from members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, JCR Gillian Thompson OBE told MSPs: “I do not see that there is a reasonable argument to be made against people who are in public service—I might go further and say, in particular, people who are paid by the public pound—providing information, within reason, about their other activities.”

A full report and video footage of Gillian Thompson’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament and her support for a register of judicial interests can be found here: Judicial watchdog tells MSPs – Judges should declare their interests in public register.

However, little has been heard from the JCR since Ms Thompson’s 2015 Holyrood appearance and the Sunday Herald article states the current JCR “could not be reached”.

And the lack of an annual JCR report since 2015 comes despite a Ministerial Directive to the JCR to produce an annual report which former JCR Moi Ali described as “an important form of public accountability”.

The Ministerial directive – listed in page four of the 2012-2013 annual report, states : “Appointed Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer in 2011, I published my first annual report in January 2013 for the period to August 31st 2012. The JCR has no independent power to publish reports and may do so only if directed by Scottish Ministers. This year I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Justice for an open-ended direction to publish an annual report, which he issued. Now, successive JCRs will have a clear requirement to report annually. Stakeholders have a right to know about the work of public appointees: the publishing of an annual report is an important form of  public accountability.”

Serving as Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013.

Ms Ali gave a full account of her role as Judicial investigator to MSPs, and went on to describe oversight of Scottish judges as “Window Dressing”.

At the hearing, Ms Ali also backed proposals before the Scottish Parliament calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

The full transcript of evidence from Moi Ali during her tem as Judicial Complaints Reviewer can be found here: Evidence from Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali to Public Petitions Committee on Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary, video footage of the hearing can be viewed here:

JCR Moi Ali gives evidence to Scottish Parliament on a proposed Register of Judicial Interests

Writing in a further letter to the Public Petitions Committee Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali told MSPs of the “incredibly powerful” nature of the judiciary and why a register of judicial interests would help judicial transparency and public confidence in the justice system.

Moi Ali stated: “I write not from the viewpoint of the judiciary, who have a vested interest in this issue. I write from the perspective of the Scottish public. I write not on behalf of those who hand down justice, but those who are on the receiving end. It is important that their voice is heard. They have a right to know that justice is being done, an essential component of which is that it is seen to be done. A register of interests is a tangible way of showing that justice is being done.”

“Given the position of power held by the judiciary, it is essential not only that they have absolute integrity but crucially, that they are seen to have absolute integrity. Again, a register of interests is a way of demonstrating that a judicial office holder is impartial and has no vested interest in a case –financially, through family connections, club/society membership or in any other way. Conversely, the refusal to institute a register of interests creates suspicion that in turn undermines judicial credibility. So once more, a register of interests is good for the judiciary and good for the public.”

If the judicial transparency proposal becomes reality, all members of Scotland’s judiciary – instead of just the elite few who sit on the board of the Scottish Courts – will be required to declare their vast and varied interests including their backgrounds, personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land interests, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

The proposal to require all members of the judiciary to declare their interests gained cross party support from msps during a debate on the petition – held at the Scottish Parliament on 7 October 2014, and reported along with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges. MSPs overwhelmingly supported a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests.

The Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee is due to hear Petition PE1458 on Thursday 29 September 2016.

A submission from the petitioner to MSPs asks the Committee to invite Professor Alan Paterson to give evidence in a public session.

Writing in evidence to MSPs earlier this year, Professor Patterson heavily criticised the “Recusal Register” – which was set up by Lord Gill as a result of a private meeting with MSPs in a bid to head off the intense probe by MSPs into judicial interests and transparency.

A full report on Professor Patterson’s written evidence to MSPs can be found here: Law Professor – room for widening transparency to include more than pecuniary interests, current recusals register is not complete.

MSPs have also received a request to take forward earlier recommendations to invite the new Lord President – Lord Carloway – to appear before the Public Petitions Committee and face questions on his opposition to judicial transparency and declarations of judicial interests.

Lord Carloway is known to oppose opening up a register of judicial interests. In an earlier letter to MSPs, the latest in a long line of Lord Presidents blasted calls for judicial transparency.

The top judge – who succeeded Brian Gill as Lord President – claimed in a letter to the Petitions Committee that justice could be brought to a halt if judges were forced to declare their wealth and interests.

Lord Carloway (real name: Colin Sutherland) told MSPs: “The proper administration of justice could be inhibited by the disclosure of the judiciary’s otherwise confidential financial arrangements. In that connection, there is the possibility that an individual judge may be the subject of misconceived criticism, deriving from the disclosure of personal financial information, where those interests are tangential and de minimis.”

A full report on Lord Carloway’s opposition to judicial transparency can be found here: Top judge Lord Carloway hits out at judicial interests register proposal

A suggestion has also been passed to MSPs to contact current JCR Gillian Thompson to establish if there are any further views she wishes to put forward in terms of support for the petition already given by Ms Thompson during an evidence session held at the Scottish Parliament during June 2015.

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

 

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SCRUTINY ON THE BOUNTY: Court staff accepted gifts from law firms probed by Police for alleged legal aid fraud – days after appointment of Scotland’s latest top judge Lord Carloway

Court staff accepted gifts from lawyers being investigated by Police. DOCUMENTS obtained by journalists reveal just a few days after Lord Carloway was named as Scotland’s new top judge – Court staff employed by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) accepted gifts from law firms under criminal investigation for alleged legal aid fraud.

The information came to light in an unpublished register of gifts and hospitality to Scottish Court Service staff – released in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The ‘Gifts and Hospitality’ register now identifies law firms & hospitality providers – after DOI journalists previously approached Scottish Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew for help in breaking court secrecy.

Entries in the latest gifts register reveal that on 22 December 2015, Central Court Lawyers gave hospitality in the form of ‘Cake, 6 wine and 12 beers’ to Livingston Sheriff Court staff – who then entered the items into a “staff raffle”.

However, it was reported by the media during February 2015 that Central Court Lawyers were under investigation by Police Scotland for irregularities in legal aid claims.

Last year, when the story was reported, Police Scotland confirmed “Central Court Lawyers are assisting us with our inquiries.”

Officers are thought to have interviewed serving and former employees of Central Court Lawyers as part of their inquiry, which began in 2014.

Central Court Lawyers – based in Livingston – was established by lawyer Neil Robertson and solicitor-advocate Ian Bryce in 1997.

Ian Bryce has held a number of positions at the Law Society of Scotland, including vice-convener of the legal aid negotiating team.

Central Court Lawyers has previously been included in the Legal 500 – a publication listing the top law firms in the UK.

The Hospitality & Gifts Register 2015-2016 reveals staff took hospitality from legal aid probe lawyers.

In response to media enquiries, a spokesperson for the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) claimed gifts had not been accepted.

The spokesperson said: “SCTS staff at Livingston Sheriff Court have not accepted hospitality from Central Court Lawyers. A small gift was accepted on behalf of staff in December 2015 and entered in the staff Christmas raffle.

The spokesperson continued: “This was fully declared in the Gifts and Hospitality Register.”

The SCTS were asked why staff accepted gifts from law firms under investigation by Police Scotland for legal aid irregularities.

A spokesperson said in response: “Gifts with a value over £15 require to be approved by a senior manager and the giver advised that details will be entered onto the register for transparency. If a manager has any concern regarding the offer of a gift HR will offer further advice.”

Previous versions of the hospitality register – Hospitality and Gifts to Court Staff 2010-2013have also included the names of solicitors such as Niels S Lockhart – who was investigated by the Scottish Legal Aid Board after he claimed over £600K in just two years.

Lockhart – who gave hospitality to staff at Ayr Sheriff Court in 2012 – subsequently withdrew from the legal aid register – with no action taken by the Law Society of Scotland or the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

Neils Lockhart continued to receive legal aid payments for unpaid accounts even after he quit the legal aid register, reported in further detail here: CASH TRAPPED: £1.2m legal aid Lawyer demanded more public cash after being barred from legal aid register

In response to details published by DOI during March 2015 in last year’s hospitality register to court staff – lawyers accused each other of using hospitality to poach clients from rival law firms and increase firms volume of legal aid business – reported in further detail here: GIFT HORSE: Secret gifts register reveals rogue lawyers & law firms using hospitality relationships with Scottish Court Service staff to increase legal aid business, poach clients from rival solicitors

Asked for comment on the current status of the investigation into Central Court Lawyers, the Scottish Legal Aid Board refused to provide further details.

A spokesperson for SLAB said: “It is inappropriate for us to comment on whether we are conducting specific investigations or enquiries into a solicitors’ firm, or if we are, what they involve.”

“The intention is not to be unhelpful but, for example, where there is an investigation we don’t generally comment because this would be premature in terms of the stage any enquiry has reached in determining if the matters being examined are improper or unlawful.”

“To do so would be inappropriate if an investigation subsequently concluded that nothing improper or unlawful had occurred. It could also be potentially prejudicial if an investigation found improper or unlawful activity and the matter was subsequently referred to the Crown.”

Court staff at Hamilton Sheriff court were also rapped on the knuckles for failing to properly record gifts from a number of local law firms who operate in the area.

An entry in the register reveals “A number of local solicitors firms including but not restricted to:Kenneth Greener & Co; Linda George Family; Diarmid Bruce; Ness Gallagher; Lanarkshire Law Practice gave “25 boxes/tins of chocolates; 10 boxes of biscuits; 18 bottles of wine; 2 bottles of spirits;   21 miniatures of whisky/baileys; 3 large cakes; 1 recipe book.” to local court staff.

The failure to adequately record the ‘hospitality’ drew ire from Court chiefs who said “The correct procedure for recording gifts was not followed in this instance. Management in this court has been reminded of the need to follow the procedure in future.”

A number of law firms & solicitors who operate at Hamilton & Livingston Sheriff Court have previously been investigated for legal aid fraud.

Commenting on earlier versions of the register – an Edinburgh solicitor said: “The contents of the court hospitality register read as a who’s who of legal aid investigations just waiting to happen.”

Previously – Diary of Injustice reported on concerns regarding hospitality involving Scottish Court Service employees where Gillian Thompson – who now serves as Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – was asked by the Scottish Court Service to investigate reports of irregularities in hospitality given to court staff.

The request for the investigation came after the Scottish Court Service received Freedom of Information requests regarding hospitality in the courts, prompting concerns some staff may have accepted gifts or hospitality but failed to register.

Report said SCS Registers insufficient, Court staff involved in private gains failed to declare. Gillian Thompson’s Report on Hospitality & Gifts in the SCS stated:  “The information currently captured on the registers is insufficient to provide assurance that staff are using their common sense and considering issues such as conflict of interest.

Ms Thompson went on to recommend the “SCS should revise the Policy on Acceptance of Gifts, Rewards and Hospitality to ensure that it is fit for purpose for all staff, taking account of the various roles performed within SCS. It may also be time to revisit the levels of value for gifts and hospitality.”

The former AIB’s report also revealed court staff were using their positions to earn money privately from their links with lawyers and law firms operating in courts, stating “Several staff raised the issue of sheriff clerks who carry out extrajudicial taxations and private assessments and who personally benefit financially from these activities.”

Ms Thompson’s report roundly condemned this practice, stating: “Not only is it inappropriate in terms of the civil service code requirements for staff who are public servants to be able to receive private gain from their employment it is also highly divisive when other staff see such benefits being derived from simply being in the right post of Auditor of Court within the Sheriff Courts.”

Ms Thompson recommended in her report the “SCS should bring the practice of sheriff clerks profiting privately from their employment by SCS to an end as quickly as possible”.

HOW COURT CHIEFS LOST HOSPITALITY INFORMATION BATTLE

When DOI launched an initial investigation into hospitality and graft among court staff, the Scottish Court Service refused to release information relating to the gift register, claiming “the names of the gift or hospitality provider would be deemed as personal information” and “as the provider of the gift or hospitality was not made aware at the time that their name may be released, we consider disclosure of such is likely to bring the Scottish Court Service into conflict with the data protection principles.”

However, the Freedom of Information request – from DOI – triggered a review of hospitality policy at the Scottish Court Service, leading to names of ‘’hospitality’ providers being added to the register.

Richard Warner of the SCS said: “I can advise you that due to your request for this information, the Scottish Court Service has changed the policy covering hospitality and gifts to ensure that the provider of any hospitality or gift are made aware that their name shall be entered on to our register and may be disclosed if requested in any future information request. This policy change shall take effect as from 1 January 2014 so the release of names may be considered in any future request for gifts or hospitality offered from this date. The policy also states that if the provider does not consent to their name being considered for release then the gift or hospitality cannot be accepted by a member of staff.”

After a request for review of refusal to disclose the information, the SCS again refused – this time around, claiming it would cost them too much to contact each law firm to ask permission to disclose their ‘hospitality’ to court employees. The SCS claimed they would have to contact every lawyer who gave a gift and this would cost too much to provide the information.

DOI journalists took the matter up with Rosemary Agnew – the Scottish Information Commissioner – who requested Courts Chief Eric McQueen provide an explanation as to why the courts were blocking release of information on hospitality relationships between the legal profession and court staff.

John Kelly, Freedom of Information Officer at the SIC said: “Having written to and discussed the matter with the SCS, without being required to do so by way of a formal Decision Notice, the SCS has agreed to provide you with the information requested, subject to redactions in terms of section 38(1)(b) of FOISA on the basis that to disclose some of the names of individuals would breach the first data protection principle of the Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA). I understand that the names of Solicitor and Law Firms will be provided.”

After the intervention of the Scottish Information Commissioner, the SCS subsequently released the hospitality list to DOI.

Richard Warner for the SCS said: “Having reconsidered your request, and the SCS response, I now attach a list which indicates law firms where this information has been recorded.  For the reasons stated in our earlier response this does not include the names of any individuals concerned as there could have been no expectation on their part that this information would be circulated or published widely.  As indicated previously, steps are being taken to ensure that individual persons are made aware at the relevant time that their details made be released as a result of an information request.”

While the position of Scotland’s latest top judge on court staff transparency is unknown – Lord Carloway has already attacked proposals to bring the judiciary into line with court employees and others in public life who are required to register their interests, gifts and hospitality.

Carloway recently attacked proposals before the Scottish Parliament – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – calling on judges to register their own interests and hospitality.

Reported in further detail here: LORD NO-WAY: Top judge Lord Carloway hits out at judicial interests register proposal – Lord Carloway claimed justice could grind to a halt in a constitutional calamity if judges were forced to declare their vast wealth, property owning interests, professional links and other financial affairs – just like politicians, members of public bodies, local councillors are required to reveal in publicly available registers.

Lord Carloway (real name: Colin Sutherland) told MSPs: “The proper administration of justice could be inhibited by the disclosure of the judiciary’s otherwise confidential financial arrangements. In that connection, there is the possibility that an individual judge may be the subject of misconceived criticism, deriving from the disclosure of personal financial information, where those interests are tangential and de minimis.”

The widely supported proposals – debated at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – call for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial 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.

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

Previous articles on hospitality and gifts to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, reports on gift giving to court employees and investigations by Diary of Injustice on the relationship between law firms and SCTS staff can be found here Hospitality and Gifts to the Scottish Courts.

 

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LORD NO-WAY: Top judge Lord Carloway hits out at judicial interests register proposal – tells Holyrood ‘justice could suffer’ if judges are forced to reveal secret wealth, tax, land ownership & financial links to big business

Lord Carloway – opposes judicial interests register. SCOTLAND’S newly appointed top judge – Lord President Lord Carloway – has attacked proposals before the Scottish Parliament calling for judges to be required to declare their financial interests and links to big business as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The widely backed proposals – debated at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – call for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial 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

However, Scotland’s latest top judge – on a salary of £220,655 a year – has declared his opposition to calls for a register of judges’ interests, with Lord Carloway claiming – the judiciary must remain exempt from the same transparency rules which apply to all other branches of Government, public bodies and the Scottish Parliament.

Writing to Michael McMahon MSP, convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, Lord Carloway said: “It is of great constitutional importance that the judiciary remain functionally distinct from both elected representatives, who make the law, and the Government, who promote changes to the law and take executive decisions in areas involving wide discretionary powers covering many areas of economic interest.

And, the top judge – who recently published a speech on making Scotland’s courts ‘fit for the 21st Century’ – claimed justice could grind to a halt in a constitutional calamity if judges were forced to declare their vast wealth, property owning interests, professional links and other financial affairs – just like politicians, members of public bodies, local councillors are required to reveal.

Lord Carloway (real name: Colin Sutherland) told MSPs: “The proper administration of justice could be inhibited by the disclosure of the judiciary’s otherwise confidential financial arrangements. In that connection, there is the possibility that an individual judge may be the subject of misconceived criticism, deriving from the disclosure of personal financial information, where those interests are tangential and de minimis.”

The move by Scotland’s latest Lord President to undermine the Scottish Parliament’s efforts to increase judicial transparency follows a bitter three year campaign against the petition – led by Carloway’s former boss – Lord Brian Gill – which culminated in an ‘aggressive’ evidence session with the former top judge at Holyrood in November 2015.

Responding to Lord Carloway’s letter, the petitioner told the Committee: “Lord Carloway presents the same view of his predecessor Lord Gill in that a register of interests for the judiciary is unnecessary or undesirable. Similarly, as Lord Gill has already inferred, Lord Carloway speaks of constitutional problems if the judges are asked to declare their interests.”

“In reality, there are no constitutional issues created by this petition, nor is there an impediment to the creation of a register of judicial interests. Such a register already exists for the Scottish Court Service and Tribunals Board, of which Lord Carloway and others declare their interests.”

“As members of the Petitions Committee have already discussed, it would be no great effort to expand the already existing register to include the entire judiciary. The Committee is also well aware other jurisdictions have implemented registers of judicial interests, without difficulty or an end to justice as we know it.”

“It is not enough to say, as the Lord President suggests, the judiciary should be excluded from the public’s expectation of transparency, simply because the judiciary say so upon their own rules.”

“Thankfully, there is a general realisation, and acceptance, that registers of interest in public life are required, promote transparency and assist in the process of good government and detection of vested interests where they should not be.”

Lord Carloway added judges were unable to speak out in public or defend themselves against criticism – despite a series of recent headlines where judges have embarked on highly publicised criticisms of Police Scotland, the Crown Office, the media and other public bodies.

Responding to the Lord President’s claims of a judiciary under a vow of silence – the petitioner told the Committee: “Lord Carloway suggests in his letter judges are unable to speak out in public. Not so. The media have covered numerous examples where members of Scotland’s judiciary have spoken out in public, on government policy, reforms in the courts, cuts to legal aid, or more recently where senior members of the judiciary have become embroiled in public arguments with the Police and Prosecutors on evidence presentation in court.”

The petitioner provided MSPs with examples of judicial public comments, stating: “On the same day the media reported that the Scottish Government announced a moratorium on Shale Gas Fracking, the previous Lord President Lord Gill spoke out, declaring “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.”

“The current Lord President himself was recently reported in the media to have availed himself of opportunities to speak out against certain interests he appeared to believe contributed to blocking Scottish Government policies such as the removal of corroboration – a move rejected by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.”

“Transparency underpins our modern democracy, and should underpin our courts and judiciary in equal measure. A register of judicial interests enhances transparency, and is both in the public’s interest, and that of the judiciary.”

The petitioner concluded his response by asking members of the Public Petitions Committee to call the Lord President to give evidence and to contact Law Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde – who has published a book and material on judicial interests.

Letter from Lord Carloway to Michael McMahon MSP, Convener, Public Petitions Committee.

Lord Carloway: The proposal for a public register of the judiciary’s interests, gifts and hospitality is both unnecessary and undesirable.

I have had the benefit of reading the views offered by my predecessor, Lord Gill, both in correspondence and in evidence on 10 November 2015. I agree with his views regarding:

(i) the sufficiency of current safeguards protecting the impartiality of the judiciary;

(ii) the potential for unintended consequences of the register;

(iii) the impracticality of such a register; and

(iv) the petition not, in fact, achieving its stated aims.

The petition raises the issue of the balance to be struck between the principles of openness and transparency in public life, on the one hand, and the proper administration of justice, on the other. I support the need for openness and transparency, where appropriate. There is a potential for tension between these principles and the proper administration of justice. Within the proposals in this petition there lies the potential only to undermine the latter, without advancing respect for the principles in any meaningful way. For example, it was Lord Gill who made the point, with which I agree, that the vast majority of matters that in theory could undermine judicial impartiality, such as familial and social relationships, would not be addressed by such a register.

The proper administration of justice could be inhibited by the disclosure of the judiciary’s otherwise confidential financial arrangements. In that connection, there is the possibility that an individual judge may be the subject of misconceived criticism, deriving from the disclosure of personal financial information, where those interests are tangential and de minimis. It is inappropriate for judges to make public comment beyond their judicial opinions in relation to individual cases. Therefore, unlike an elected representative or a member of the Government, a judge enjoys no right of reply. Judges thus have no scope to remedy unjustified reputational and professional damage by explaining their decisions or responding to criticism.

The appropriate safeguard with regard to the judiciary is not a register of interests, but the obligation to decline jurisdiction in a case (“recuse himself/herself”) where he or she has any real or perceptible conflict of interest, whatever the nature of that conflict. In that regard, in the interests of openness and transparency, all instances of (and reasons for) recusals are published on the judiciary’s website.

It is of great constitutional importance that the judiciary remain functionally distinct from both elected representatives, who make the law, and the Government, who promote changes to the law and take executive decisions in areas involving wide discretionary powers covering many areas of economic interest. The danger that representatives and the Government could be influenced by personal interest is ameliorated by the relevant disclosure requirements incumbent upon them. The judiciary’s function is not that of law-making nor is it equivalent to any kind of executive power. The same considerations do not apply.

Lord Gill said that judges, “by their imaginative development of the law, […] improve and extend the law, explaining it in their judgments”. I echo this characterisation, but it is not reasonable to suggest that a judge, through the means Lord Gill explained, would be able to dispense jurisprudence over a period of time that would advantage a particular financial interest which he or she had.

I hope that this assists the Committee.

Amid calls for Lord Carloway to be called to give evidence and take questions on his opposition to judicial transparency, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee will consider the petition again next week, on Tuesday 23 February 2016.

In a previous session of the Public Petitions Committee MSPs took evidence from the current Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – Gillian Thompson – who said: “I do not see that there is a reasonable argument to be made against people who are in public service—I might go further and say, in particular, people who are paid by the public pound—providing information, within reason, about their other activities.”

MSP Jackson Carlaw (Scottish Conservative, West Scotland) told colleagues during the same hearing: “The clerk has advised me that it is not competent for the committee to initiate a bill of its own. Of course, it is open to any member of the Parliament to do so, in this session or the next.”

“As Ms Thompson has said, there seems to be a clear public interest in the issue, which has found expression. In the absence of a more substantive argument than the impression that it is not something that people want, the committee should be reluctant to allow the petition to run into the sand. We should do all that we can to sustain it and pursue its objectives for as long as we feel able to do so.”

Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali, also backed the petition.

During an evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013 – Moi Ali provided a first hand, honest and highly detailed account of the workings of Scotland’s judiciary and lack of judicial transparency & accountability.

Ms Ali wrote a further letter to MSPs while she held the post of Judicial Complaints Reviewer – writing of the “incredibly powerful” nature of the judiciary and why a register of judicial interests would help judicial transparency and public confidence in the justice system.

Moi Ali said: “I write not from the viewpoint of the judiciary, who have a vested interest in this issue. I write from the perspective of the Scottish public. I write not on behalf of those who hand down justice, but those who are on the receiving end. It is important that their voice is heard. They have a right to know that justice is being done, an essential component of which is that it is seen to be done. A register of interests is a tangible way of showing that justice is being done.”

“Given the position of power held by the judiciary, it is essential not only that they have absolute integrity but crucially, that they are seen to have absolute integrity. Again, a register of interests is a way of demonstrating that a judicial office holder is impartial and has no vested interest in a case –financially, through family connections, club/society membership or in any other way. Conversely, the refusal to institute a register of interests creates suspicion that in turn undermines judicial credibility. So once more, a register of interests is good for the judiciary and good for the public.”

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

 

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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.

 

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REGISTER ADVICE: Scottish Parliament asked to recall Legal Affairs Minister over refusal to reveal government’s secret legal advice on register of judges’ interests

Scottish Minister refused to disclose secret legal advice on judges interests. A SCOTTISH Parliament Committee has been asked to recall Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse to face questions on secret legal advice commissioned by the Scottish Government on proposals to create a register of interests for the judiciary.

The existence of the secret legal advice – compiled while Lord Brian Gill was head of the Scottish judiciary – and effectively head of the entire justice system – came to light after details obtained via Freedom of Information legislation were handed to MSPs.

The request to recall the Legal Affairs Minister to face questions from the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee comes after Paul Wheelhouse refused to discuss or disclose the content & provider of the secret legal advice – with MSPs who are investigating Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The judicial transparency proposal calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial 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.

Responding to a written request from the Petitions Committee to disclose information on the secret legal advice, Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse told MSPs: “In line with the long standing position under successive Ministerial Codes including the most recent version (2015 edition), other than in exceptional circumstances, the Scottish Government does not comment on the source or content of its legal advice, including why legal advice was sought, nor does it provide specific dates about when legal advice was provided.”

Mr Wheelhouse continued: “I am sorry not to be more helpful in this regard but I am sure you can appreciate the good reasons for this guidance which we follow. Paragraph 2.30 of the Code requires Ministers and officials to ensure that their decisions are informed by appropriate analysis of the legal considerations, and that the legal implications of any course of action are considered at the earliest opportunity. Therefore the Committee can be assured that the Government draws on oral and written legal advice as appropriate from its lawyers, from Counsel and from Law Officers.”

While the content of the legal advice is currently unknown – it is thought to have played a role in the Scottish Government’s efforts to undermine MSPs investigations into plans to require judges to declare their vast wealth, links to big business & other interests.

There are concerns as to why the Scottish Government commissioned the secret legal advice on a petition calling for a register of judicial interests, and then failed to mention the existence of the advice during letters from Scottish Ministers including former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill – to the Public Petitions Committee during MSPs investigation of the petition.

The existence of the secret legal advice was also concealed by Scottish Ministers during a full Parliamentary debate on the petition at Holyrood last October 2014 – reported with video footage of the debate, here: Debating the Judges.

And, Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse did not reveal the existence of the key legal advice on judicial interests during an evidence session he attended at Holyrood in December 2014 – in which the Minister claimed gangster threats meant there could be no register for judges.

An investigation by the Sunday Herald newspaper later established the Legal Affairs Minister misled the Committee, and no such gangster threats Mr Wheelhouse referred to in evidence, were ever made.

Writing to the Petitions Committee, the petitioner has now sought the recall of Mr Wheelhouse.

The petitioner said: “The content of the legal advice and what it says with regards to the application of equivalent levels of transparency & declarations of interest to the judiciary – as exist with others in public life, is sufficiently important to be debated in public.”

MSPs on the Public Petitions Committee requested details relating to the legal advice after they were handed details obtained via Freedom of Information legislation – revealing the Scottish Government had secretly commissioned legal advice on the petition.

The subject of the Scottish Government’s legal advice was discussed during an evidence session at Holyrood on 23 June 2015 where MSPs heard from Scotland’s current Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) Gillian Thompson OBE – who told MSPs she fully supports the creation of a register of judicial interests.

Voicing support for the petition, Ms Thompson told MSPs: “I do not see that there is a reasonable argument to be made against people who are in public service—I might go further and say, in particular, people who are paid by the public pound—providing information, within reason, about their other activities.”

After taking evidence from Gillian Thompson, Petitions Committee member & Independent MSP John Wilson called for “clarification of when that legal advice was sought and why the Government felt it necessary to seek that advice”.

Since the Petitions Committee asked to see the Scottish Government’s legal advice on judicial interests, it has now been established via an on-going Freedom of Information investigation that Lord Gill may also have taken legal advice on the petition.

Given the legal advice obtained by the Scottish Government was compiled while Lord Brian Gill was head of the Scottish judiciary – it would be surprising if the provider of the legal advice disagreed with Lord Gill’s policy of opposition to the petition and any increase in judicial transparency & accountability.

After the top judge suddenly retired in May 2015, quitting office after he gave 30 days notice, Gill (73) remained bluntly opposed to any moves to compel judges to declare their interests.

The top judge – who spent two of his short three year term as Lord President leading a bitter campaign against plans to require the judiciary to declare their vast wealth & business interests – wrote a series of terse letters to MSPs lobbying against the judicial transparency proposal.

Lord Gill – branded “Lord No-No” for refusing to give evidence at Holyrood – lashed out in letters at the media, litigants, court users & the public, describing all as “aggressive” – in an attempt to shut down an investigation by Holyrood MSPs of judicial vested interests and calls for highly paid judges to register their interests like all others in public life.

At one point, Gill implied he may have to consider restricting the judiciary’s interaction with Scottish Parliamentary Committees. And, in the same letter, the Lord President claimed judges could not be hauled before the Scottish Parliament due to loopholes in the Scotland Act .

Justice Diary recently revealed Lord Brian Gill emerged from his brief summer retirement – taking up an appointment as a supplementary panel judge at the London based UK Supreme Court.

Lord Gill has now finally agreed to give evidence at Holyrood, next month, reported here: U-TURN, M’LORD: Top judge Lord Gill to appear before Scottish Parliament to face questions on judicial transparency & calls to create a register of judges’ interests

NO REVIEW OF JUDICIAL COMPLAINTS REVIEWER:

In a double blow to judicial transparency, Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse also told MSPs he did not think four years was long enough to conduct a review of the role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR).

The Legal Affairs Minister said in his letter: “I agree, in principle, with the proposal for a review of the JCR role. However, I am not minded to commission a review at this stage given the relatively short period of operation of the office and the fact that the role is to be extended by the Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014.”

“In the circumstances I would propose to consider a review of the role once the office holder is exercising the new functions under the Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014. The review could then look comprehensively at the role and remit of the JCR, including assessment of the workload, capacity matters etc across the full range of functions carried out by the JCR.”

The Minister’s refusal to commission a review of the office & powers of JCR comes after the current JCR Gillian Thompson called for a review of the role.

JCR Gillian Thompson told the Committee in her evidence: “I have said to the Scottish Government that we are four years into the role and I am the second person in the role so it is probably time to start thinking about the possibility of reviewing whether what was originally envisaged under the primary legislation, which was passed in 2008, is what is still required.”

“As a former civil servant, I am always supportive of the idea that, if we have a policy and a concept and the Parliament has agreed to legislation, once it has been in force for a while, at some point or another—a three or four-year period seems not unreasonable—we should go back to have a look at the legislation to see whether it still meets the requirements.”

Gillian Thompson’s predecessor – Moi Ali resigned from the role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer in 2014 after describing the job as “window dressing” during an evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013

VESTED INTERESTS INTERVENTION:

Earlier this year it emerged a secret meeting was held in February between Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse and Lord Gill during February – to discuss joint efforts between the Scottish Government and senior judicial figures to undermine proposals for increased judicial transparency.

Some weeks after the meeting, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued a letter of intervention declaring she felt judges should be able to conceal their interests and other activities – activities which now extend from shareholdings in corrupt businesses to lobbying for fracking interests to tax avoidance and more. The Scottish Government’s attempt to thwart a register of judicial interests was reported in the media here: INTERESTS INTERVENE: First Minister joins top judge in bid to block register of judicial interests

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

 

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