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JUDGE OF CONFLICT: Top judge who attacked MSPs over judicial interests probe – failed to declare relative’s role at law firm targeting MSP’s constituents’ home & farm in £6M court case linked to Lord Malcolm conflict of interest scandal

Lord Carloway failed to declare link to judicial conflict case. A REPORT being compiled for an investigation of judges’ conflicts of interest by Holyrood’s Justice Committee – will reveal Scotland’s top judge – Lord Carloway –  concealed a critical conflict of interest while giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament on a proposal to create a register of judges’ interests.

Lord Carloway’s failure to declare his own link to a case he initially claimed to know little of – while answering questions from MSP Alex Neil – was made all the more serious after the top judge himself openly attacked Mr Neil and other members of a Holyrood committee –  for daring to suggest judges should declare their relatives interests in a planned register of judges’ interests.

The report on Lord Carloway’s testimony to Holryood’s Public Petitions Committee will reveal that Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) did NOT declare to MSPs that his own son – Alexander Colin Maclean Sutherland – also worked for the merged law firm of Addleshaw Goddard-HBJ Gateley – which was trying to evict a couple at the centre of the case raised by Mr Alex Neil during the Committee hearing in 2017.

Mr Neil was invited to attend Committee hearing to quiz Lord Carloway on what legal experts say is one of the most serious cases of judicial conflict of interest in Scotland’s courts – Nolan v Advance Construction Scotland Ltd [2014] CSOH 4 CA132/11.

In the outburst from the top judge, Lord Carloway said to Mr Neil: “The suggestion is that we should start registering what our relatives are doing, where they are working and matters of that sort, which I suspect would go way beyond even what is expected of politicians.”

Alex Neil replied to Lord Carloway, stating: “No—we have to register what close relatives do.”

Lord Carloway – clearly rattled by questions from Alex Neil and fellow MSPs about another top judge who concealed he heard a case involving his own son – hit out at Mr Neil and members of the Public Petitions Committee in video footage which can be viewed here:

Lord Carloway –  Judges should not declare relatives interests   Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

The terse exchange – one of many in the evidence session – led to material obtained during a probe by journalists which revealed Lord Carloway’s son – Colin Alexander Maclean Sutherland – worked at the time for the merged law firm Addleshaw Goddard & HBJ Gateley – who became key players in the aftermath of Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

However – Lord Carloway did not declare this conflict of interest during the Holyrood hearing.

Instead; the top judge went on to attack other Committee members and Mr Neil – over their backing for a cross party supported petition to require judges to declare and register all their interests.

Minutes before the exchange, Carloway had even denied even receiving any communications from the couple at the centre of the case – however records show Carloway’s legal secretary – Roddy Flinn – now himself a Sheriff – sent acknowledgements to the couple on 24 May 2016.

Papers show Addleshaw Goddard & HBJ Gateley were acting on behalf of Kenneth Pattullo of insolvancy practitioners Begbies Traynor – who were appointed by Advance Construction’s lawyers – Levy and Mcrae – to seize the home, land, a farm, and all assets of Ms Melanie Collins & retired National Hunt jockey Donal Nolan.

The couple took on Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd – over a land contamination incident on their land in Wishaw.

The construction company – owned by businessman Seamus Shields was ultimately forced to admit illegal dumping of material in the Court of Session case before judge Lord Woolman.

However – the couple’s £6million damages claim – led by John Campbell QC – ended badly after a series of undeclared conflicts of interest by some of Scotland’s most senior judicial figures, instances where judges were switched from hearing to hearing, a series of refusals of legal costs claims, and denied requests to appeal in Edinburgh, and at the UK Supreme Court in London.

In a sequence of discussions and a meeting between Campbell and defenders counsel Roddy Dunlop QC which took place after Lord Woolman stated in court that Mr Nolan had a valid claim – John Campbell QC embarked on a series of unauthorised actions – and destroyed his own client’s case – by removing most of the financial claim – without consultation or obtaining permission to do so.

A recent probe established John Campbell – who agreed to act on a no-win-no-fee basis in the case – then went on to scam his client Mr Nolan for hundreds of thousands of pounds in unexpected legal fees, while also demanding thousands of pounds at a time – in cash – which the senior QC and now Edinburgh Quaich Project Charity Boss insisted on collecting in person

A full investigation of Campbell’s fee scam and the Faculty of Advocates role in concealing undeclared cash payments to Campbell is reported in further detail here: CASH ADVOCATE: £9K consultations & £75K meetings – Edinburgh Quaich Project Charity QC Boss scammed clients on no-win-no-fee deal – Faculty of Advocates files reveal extent of Advocates cash-for-fees HMRC tax dodge scam

Mr Nolan and his partner remain constituents of MSP Alex Neil – who has followed and supports their efforts to have the case re-opened, as well as an investigation into events.

Since the sequestration of Mr Nolan and his partner took place, after the conclusion of their court case, the couple have been the victim – of what some view as revenge for daring to take on a company with public contracts who illegally dumped hazardous waste on their land, where this same company was and is represented by law firms directly linked to senior figures in Scotland’s judiciary.

Mr Nolan and his partner have been evicted from their own home, lost their farm and land.

And – a deliberate, targeted fire attack on Mr Nolan’s stables at a farm in 2019 which resulted in the death of several horses –  is still under investigation by Police Scotland.

Sources believe the deliberate arson attack on the couple’s Morningside Farm which featured in news reports of the tragic discovery of burned bodies of dead horses – is linked to the couple’s sequestration and setbacks in court.

And, recently, evidence has come to light of burned out vehicles possibly connected to the incident which were photographed located at a premises linked to potential suspects.

Now, there are calls for an independent, public inquiry into events which occurred during the case, the role of Advance Construction, and events in the Court of Session including involvement of certain law firms and members of the judiciary who – according to court files – deliberately concealed conflicts of interest across multiple court hearings in the case.

The case – Nolan v Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd has attracted significant publicity in the press and is part ongoing probe into judicial conflicts of interest – resulting in the naming of several judges who failed to declare documented conflicts of interest in the case

Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee, and recently, the Justice Committee have received and considered evidence in relation to the actions of Lord Malcolm (Colin Campbell QC) who himself failed to declare he heard the case up to eight times while his own son – Ewen Campbell – was in the same court, representing the defenders – Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd.

The investigation into the Lord Malcolm case of serious failures to declare conflicts of interest, is reported in further detail here: CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Papers lodged at Holyrood judicial interests register probe reveal Court of Session judge heard case eight times – where his son acted as solicitor for the defenders.

Minutes before Lord Carloway hit out at Alex Neil over suggestions judges declare links to their relatives interests, the top judge snapped at the MSP stating: “I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s actions were entirely honourable and that he acted in accordance with the code of judicial ethics.”

However, the court record does show Lord Malcolm heard the case on multiple occasions while his son was in court – and new evidence has emerged from witness statements indicating Lord Malcolm’s son had also visited the site of the land contamination incident – which contradicts claims from the top judge & judicial office that Ewen Campbell had nothing to do with the case.

The original papers from Hamilton Sheriff Court in 2011 indicate that when a Sheriff Millar transferred the case to the Court of Session to be heard by Lord Malcolm – Ewen Campbell – Lord Malcolm’s son – was also present at that same hearing on 30 September 2011, along with Gavin Walker – who is a QC at Axiom Advocates.

An ongoing investigation into the case has now revealed Levy and Mcrae, representing Advance Construction in their pursuit of Mr Nolan & his partner – then sought a hearing on 14 April 2015 – to swap the original appointment of the Accountant in Bankruptcy in the sequestration of the elderly couple – to Begbies Traynor and Mr Pattullo.

That hearing took place at Hamilton Sheriff Court before the SAME Sheriff Millar – who heard the couple’s initial claim against Advance Construction in 2011 and then transferred it to be heard by Lord Malcolm in the Court of Session.

However, records show that by the time of this hearing in 2015 – accountants KPMG had already been appointed by the Accountant in Bankruptcy to handle the sequestration of Mr Nolan and his partner Ms Collins – and it can not be easily explained away by the Accountant in Bankruptcy as to why KPMG were swapped out of the sequestration for Levy and Mcrae’s choice of Begbies Traynor and Kenneth Pattullo.

Events around Levy & Mcrae’s motivated appointment of Begbies Traynor and Mr Pattullo – are now the subject of calls for an investigation by the couple’s MSP and legal experts – after it emerged assets owned by the couple which were held by the Clydesdale Bank, were transferred without notification to an offshore vulture fund known as Promantoria Ltd.

And – information has now come to light that land and assets formerly owned by the couple which were seized by Mr Pattullo & Begbies Traynor on behalf of Advance Construction (Scotland) Ltd – are now in the ownership of several persons of interest in relation to ongoing investigations of events which have occurred around Mr Nolan and his partner as a result of the collapse of their valid Court of Session claim.

The Judicial Office for Scotland were asked for comment on the following media enquiry:

“In relation to claims made by Lord Carloway to MSP Alex Neil at yesterday’s Public Petitions Committee in relation to declaring the interests of close relatives, and Lord Carloway’s mention of a son in the legal profession, can the Judicial Office confirm if Lord Carloway’s son currently works at Addleshaw Goddard LLP which has merged with HBJ Gateley.”

“On being provided with information HBJ Gateley is a pursuer in relation to obtaining decree with a view to evicting a Ms Melanie Collins & a Mr Donal Nolan from properties in Wishaw, does the Judicial Office or Lord President wish to comment on Lord Carloway’s testimony yesterday that entering the details of close relatives work in a register is going way beyond what is being proposed in terms of a register of interests for members of Scotland’s Judiciary.”

“And, in view of the claims made in relation to above, does the Judicial Office or Lord President see this as a matter which should be made clearer to the Petitions Committee after yesterday’s mention of the case during open session and Lord Carloway’s comments?”

“Finally, does the Judicial Office or Lord President have any further comment on Lord Carloway’s evidence to the Petitions Committee, and any further comment on the Petition itself?

Baktosch Gillan, who was the Acting Head of Judicial Communications at the time, gave the following reply: “In relation to your first question, the Judicial Office does not hold that information.”

Mr Gillan added: “We have nothing further to add to the Lord President’s evidence to the committee.”

To confirm Mr Sutherland’s position at Addleshaw Goddard during the time Lord Carloway gave his evidence to Holyrood in 2017, a search of the Law Society of Scotland’s online database of solicitors was made.

Days before the query to the Judicial Office in relation to Lord Carloway’s son – the name of Alexander Sutherland appeared in the Law Society of Scotland’s online search results.

However, some time after the Judicial Office issued the statement denying they held any information on the Lord President’s son’s involvement with HBJ Gateley & Addleshaw Goddard, and a potential conflict of interest – a new search of the Law Society of Scotland’s database revealed they had removed the name of Alexander Sutherland and references to his service at Addleshaw Goddard from their online database search results – which are now published as part of this report here:

The full exchange between Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) and Alex Neil MSP at the Public Petitions Committee can be viewed, with transcript, below:

Alex Neil questions to Lord Carloway Register of Judges interests Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): I apologise for being slightly late. I had to go to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. I apologise in advance if I cover ground that has already been covered.

Lord Carloway, as an issue of principle, do you think that it should be left only to a judge to decide whether they are going to recuse themselves, or should you or the keeper of the rolls be able to insist on recusal if you believe that there is a potential conflict of interest?

Lord Carloway: The short answer is that I do not believe that there is any problem with the current system, which is that the judge, who knows what his connection is to the case or the parties to it, should make the initial decision. That decision is made in open court, when the parties are present, and it is subject to review on appeal. In other words, if somebody is dissatisfied with that decision and if the litigant eventually loses the case, the decision will come before three judges who will review whether it was correct. If it was incorrect, the decision on the case would fall.

Alex Neil: The person bringing the case to court may not be aware of any conflict of interest that the judge may have and may never find out that there was one, but the judge may well have been influenced by a particular interest. Surely that is not right. If there is any potential conflict of interest, surely there should be a declaration or commitment by the judge, making an explicit statement that there is no conflict of interest. People may not have the resources to appeal, for example. Is the system not balanced against people who come to court for justice?

Lord Carloway: No, it is not. I go back to something that I mentioned earlier, which is very important. Scotland does not have a corrupt judiciary. The matter has been examined by independent persons, notably the GRECO anti-corruption body that operates under the auspices of the Council of Europe, which examined the UK judiciary, including the Scottish judiciary. It was clear that, fortunately, we, as distinct from many other countries, do not suffer from corruption in the judiciary. For that reason, it did not consider that a register of interests was necessary. If one introduces such a measure, one has to be satisfied that it is necessary and also that it is proportionate. If one analyses its proportionality, one has to look at what exactly we are guarding against. If the situation were to be that there was corruption in the Scottish judiciary—which we would discover at some point or another—of course we would have to consider measures to prevent that, one of which might be a register of certain interests. Until such time as it is demonstrated that there is corruption in the Scottish judiciary, I am entirely satisfied that there is no requirement for a register of interests and that it would be positively detrimental to the administration of justice, particularly in relation to the recruitment of judges and especially at the higher level of the judiciary.

Alex Neil: I want to draw a parallel with the register of interests that members of the Scottish Parliament have to sign and regularly update. That came about not because of any allegations or belief that the system was corrupt or that members of the Scottish Parliament are corrupt. In the 18 years that we have been here, I have not heard one allegation of corruption. The register is there not because of allegations of corruption but to ensure that there is no prejudice. If I participate in a debate and I have an interest that I have not declared, I will be open to an allegation not of corruption but of prejudice. Because there is a register of interests and because I have to declare interests in a debate or in a committee meeting such as this one, there is a transparency to ensure that I do not act in a prejudicial fashion.

To go back to the case that Mr MacDonald cited as I came in—the case of Advance Construction and Donal Nolan, in which Lord Malcolm’s son was involved as a lawyer for one of the parties—the issue there was not an allegation of corruption but one of possible prejudice or perception of prejudice. That is a very good example of why either a register of interests or a more robust system of recusal—or perhaps both—might serve the judiciary very well.

Lord Carloway: I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s actions were entirely honourable and that he acted in accordance with the code of judicial ethics. I am not sure what is—

Alex Neil: Have you investigated it?

Lord Carloway: I am aware of the background to it.

Alex Neil: No, but have you investigated it?

Lord Carloway: I have read the papers that it involves.

Alex Neil: With all due respect, Melanie Collins and Donal Nolan have written to you on numerous occasions, and at no time have you replied to them, let alone met them, so you have not heard the other side of the case.

Lord Carloway: I am sorry, but I am not aware of letters to me by those particular persons.

Alex Neil: Your office—

The Convener: Alex, let us be careful that we do not get into anything specific on that.

Alex Neil: Yes—absolutely. My point is about how Lord Carloway can reach that conclusion if he has not heard the other side.

Lord Carloway: I have read documents emanating from the persons that you have mentioned. As far as I am aware, they were not addressed to me, but I could be wrong about that. The position is that I am aware of the circumstances of the case. I am satisfied that Lord Malcolm’s conduct was entirely correct in the circumstances. That is part of the problem that you have perhaps highlighted. That case has nothing to do with a register of pecuniary interests. The suggestion is that we should start registering what our relatives are doing, where they are working and matters of that sort, which I suspect would go way beyond even what is expected of politicians.

Alex Neil: No—we have to register what close relatives do.

Lord Carloway: Can I deal with the difference between MSPs and the judiciary, which I think I dealt with earlier this morning? It is quite a different function. A politician is by nature someone who is not independent in the sense that the public expect the judiciary to be. That is not a criticism; it is a reality. As a generality, judges do not deal with the type of issues that politicians deal with. Politicians have executive power. They are dealing with major economic interests of one sort or another. As a generality, judges are not dealing with that type of thing. They are dealing with issues that are usually between private individuals but can be between private individuals and Government or others. Judges are not dealing with the type of issues that politicians are dealing with such as planning inquiries and so on at a local level or major economic development in society as a whole.

The need for independence in the judiciary is different from the kind of independence that a politician requires, because with a politician it is primarily, as Alex Neil has pointed out, about issues of a pecuniary nature. Those are not the issues that arise in most of the recusal cases with which we are concerned. What we are concerned with as judges is that we appear to be independent of all connection with the case. It is not a question of having a pecuniary interest.

If one looks at the register of recusals in the past year, I do not think that any of them were to do with pecuniary interest at all. They were to do with social connections with people—whether someone is a friend; whether a party to the litigation is a friend of a friend; and matters of that sort. Those are the types of situations that are raised by people in the practical reality of litigation and those are the issues that are being dealt with. Unless you are suggesting a register of one’s friends—and presumably, therefore, one’s enemies—the real issue with recusal in the judicial system would not be addressed.

The Convener: Last question, please, Mr Neil.

Alex Neil: If I can just finally draw the parallel between our register and what has been talked about in terms of either recusal or financial interest, MSPs—as individuals and collectively—do not have executive power per se unless they are ministers, but what is very important is the perception of fairness and the perception that justice is being carried out.

If, in any case—without referring to a specific case—a close relative of a judge is participating in the case, rightly or wrongly, the perception is that there may be a degree of prejudice. It might be very unfair, but the point is to try to ensure that the excellent reputation of the judiciary down the years in Scotland is retained. That reputation is not just for not being corrupt, which we all accept—we are not accusing anybody of corruption. The perception of fairness and the perception of not being prejudiced are also extremely important. I would argue that, certainly in at least one case recently, which we have referred to briefly, the perception is that there may have been unfairness and prejudice in the way in which the matter was conducted, particularly as the judge concerned was involved in the case not once but on a number of occasions.

Lord Carloway: I disagree entirely with your analysis of that particular case and I repeat what I said earlier. The case that you refer to did not involve the judge’s son having any active involvement with the case whatsoever. We have very clear rules in our statement of principles of judicial ethics on how to deal with such matters and it is made very clear in that statement that if a relative is the advocate in the case before one, the modern approach is that the judge should not hear the case, or one could put it another way round—the relative should not be presenting the case. Whichever way it happens to be put, the situation that we had 20 or 30 years ago, when it was commonplace for the relatives of judges of one sort or another to be advocating the case, no longer exists.

That practice no longer exists not because it was thought that there was any actual problem with the decision making but, as you say, because of a perception of unfairness. There is a clear judicial rule about that and I am not aware of any case in which it has been breached. I myself have been in a situation in which my son was involved in a firm that was litigating before me. In such a case, the judge would be expected to declare it and the parties would then decide whether to take the point. However, if they took the point and the relative just happened to be a member of the same firm operating in a different department, I would not encourage the judge to recuse himself.

The Convener: There are no final questions, so I thank you very much for your evidence. It has been helpful to clarify many of the issues that you presented to us in written evidence and to have an opportunity to explore some of the issues around prejudice, for instance.

A recent perusal of Mr Sutherland’s online legal biography at Ampersand Advocates and the Faculty of Advocates – does not mention his time at the merged firm of Addleshaw Goddard-HBJ Gateley in his online legal career:

Alexander Colin MacLean Sutherland BIO:

Year of Call: 2018; Since calling to the Bar in June 2018, Alex has developed a general practice centred on commercial law and public law, including judicial review and planning. He has appeared in the Court of Session, sheriff court and Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal. He has also provided Opinions on a wide range of matters, including contractual disputes, insolvency and property.

Before calling to the Bar, Alex trained with a commercial firm in Edinburgh. He completed his LLB at Glasgow University in 2014 and the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at Edinburgh University in 2015. Before then, he studied German and English Language at Edinburgh University, during which time he spent a year studying in Vienna.

He speaks fluent French and German and is well placed to undertake work involving consideration of documents in those languages.

Selected recent cases:
Community Windpower Ltd v Scottish Ministers (ongoing):
Inner House, Court of Session;
For the appellants. Appeal against a Reporter’s decision. With Ailsa Wilson QC.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh v (1) Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal and (2) Council of the Law Society of Scotland [2019] CSOH 104; 2020 SLT 1:
Outer House, Court of Session;
For the petitioner. Judicial review of the first respondent’s decision on expenses.

Saadi v Whiterock Investments Ltd:
Outer House, Court of Session;
For the defenders. Pursuer seeking reduction of the decree awarding his sequestration.

Ford v The Firm of W&AS Bruce [2020] SC KIR 9:
Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court;
For the pursuer. Action of damages against a firm of solicitors for failing to advise the pursuer to include a survivorship destination when disponing half of his property to his partner. Debate on prescription.

NCS Office Services (Scotland) Ltd v Emtelle UK Ltd:
Glasgow Sheriff Court (Commercial Action);
For the defenders. Proof before answer on whether one of the defenders’ employees had authority to enter into a contract with the pursuers on behalf of the defenders.

Law Society of Scotland v WM:
Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal;
For the respondent. Preliminary hearing on whether the complaint should be dismissed due to excessive delay.

However, when Ampersand Advocates welcomed Alexander Sutherland to their stable in 2018 – Mr Sutherlands spell at Addleshaw Goddard did gain a mention, without reference to his father being Scotland’s top judge – here: Ampersand welcomes Alexander Sutherland

Ampersand is delighted to welcome Alexander Sutherland to the stable who called at the Bar today.

Before calling to the Bar, Alex trained with Addleshaw Goddard LLP, formerly HBJ Gateley. During his seat in the firm’s dispute resolution department, he gained experience of a wide range of litigation in both the Court of Session and the sheriff court, including real estate and insolvency litigation. He also had seats in the real estate and corporate recovery departments.

Alex completed his LLB at Glasgow University in 2014 and the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at Edinburgh University in 2015. Before then, he studied German and English Language at Edinburgh University, during which time he spent a year studying in Vienna.

Alex’s interests lie primarily in the fields of commercial and public law. As a devil he also gained experience of planning. His principal devilmaster was Ampersand’s Laura-Anne van der Westhuizen.

He speaks fluent French and German and is well placed to undertake work involving consideration of documents in those languages.

On Alex’s arrival, Head Clerk Alan Moffat said “I am delighted that Alex has joined us. He comes with a great reputation from his time at a top firm and has been highly praised during his time on the devils course. I am very sure he will continue to impress at the Bar and expect him to be a great addition to the stable.”

In the first part of the time-honoured two-stage admission ceremony, the Dean of Faculty, Gordon Jackson, QC, said the public office of advocate carried real privileges and corresponding responsibilities.

“You have become part of a great national institution which has played, throughout its existence, a very significant role in the legal and cultural life of this nation. As a member of Faculty you will play your own particular part in the future of that institution,” he added.

In the second part of the ceremony, before Lord Clark in the Court of Session, Alex along with 6 other new calls made the declaration of allegiance.

Lord Clark said: “It is a genuine pleasure and a privilege to welcome you as members of the Faculty of Advocates and to congratulate you on this great achievement. The Faculty has long been an important and distinguished organisation. It has commonly attracted some of the ablest minds of each generation, and it continues to thrive.

“It is truly one of the great features of our society that the general public, businesses and other organisations have at their disposal people like you – independently-minded advocates who will take on and fight their causes.

“I very much hope that you thoroughly enjoy your work at the Bar and the camaraderie of your colleagues.”

Alex is a welcome addition to the depth of counsel on offer at Ampersand.

HOLYROOD QUEST FOR A REGISTER OF JUDGES’ INTERESTS

Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – originally lodged at the Scottish Parliament in 2012 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on all judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, 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.

 

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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Top judge failed to provide convincing argument against register of judges’ interests, Justice Committee evidence calls into question Justice Secretary’s misleading explanation of Scottish judges serving in Scotland and Gulf States courts

Lord Carloway failed to provide convincing reason against judicial register. EVIDENCE heard by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee during MSPs recent consideration of a cross party plan to create a register of judges’ interests – reveals Scotland’s top judge again failed to provide any convincing arguments against a proposal to require Scotland’s judges to declare all their interests.

Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – originally lodged at the Scottish Parliament in 2012 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on all judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, 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.

A Register of Judicial Recusals was created in April 2014 by now former Lord President – Lord Brian Gill – in an attempt to persuade to drop their investigation of a proposal to create a fully published register of judges interests.

However, after eight years of investigation by the Public Petitions Committee and now the Justice Committee – the proposal – which has cross party backing, media support, support from independent former Judicial regulators and has sparked wide public debate on the state of Scotland’s judiciary – has now earned the backing of Justice Committee MSPs who believe the proposal should go forward to create a full register of interests – putting judges on the same level of transparency as elected members of the Scottish Parliament.

During the hearing, John Finnie MSP said: “The debate seems to be polarised. The petition has been open for a considerable number of years, and an issue remains. The public would expect some measure of accountability.”

James Kelly MSP said: “Over the period for which the committee has been examining the issue, I have become convinced by the case for a register of interests for the judiciary.”

“I note the responses from the cabinet secretary and Lord Carloway; there is clearly a bit of a stand-off here. Members’ suggestions of taking additional evidence to take the issue forward are sensible. We should not park the issue; it is important and we should continue to press it.”

Upon consideration of written evidence and material provided by the Petitioner in response to: letter from Lord Carloway, letter from Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf and letter from Scottish Justices Association – members of the Justice Committee decided to seek evidence from constitutional and academic witnesses – and briefings on the extent of conflicts of interest relating to key stakeholders in the Scottish justice system. Video footage of the hearing can be viewed here: Register of Judges Interests Petition PE1458 Justice Committee 10 March 2020

Minutes of the meeting concluded with the following decision: Public petition PE1458: The Committee considered various pieces of correspondence received in relation to its ongoing consideration of the petition. The Committee agreed to keep the petition open and to seek further oral evidence in due course, in round-table formal, from constitutional and academic witnesses.

The Committee also agreed to seek further written briefings from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) in relation to other potential conflicts of interests relating to key stakeholders in the Scottish judicial system. The Committee will consider the scheduling of this work as part of its work programming up to spring 2021.

Response to Lord Carloway’s letter of 29 January 2020 – The letter from Scotland’s top judge – Lord Carloway to the Justice Committee in which Lord Carloway refused for the second time to give evidence to MSPs on the petition, was reported in further detail here: JUDGE JUDGES: Scotland’s top judge refuses to face MSPs on judiciary’s EIGHT YEAR battle against register of judges’ interests – Lord Carloway says he will not attend Holyrood to ‘rehearse the same arguments which have not apparently found favour’

Responding to Lord Carloway’s letter of 29 January 2020 – evidence submitted in written form by the petitioner to the Justice Committee stated:

Noting the terms of Lord Carloway’s letter, the Lord President’s earlier evidence to the Petitions Committee on 29 June 2017 is available in video format here Lord Carloway evidence on Register of Judges interests Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017 for members interest.

I would encourage the Justice Committee to engage with Alex Neil MSP, who attended that hearing and asked pertinent questions of the Lord President. I believe the Committee could gain further insight into the issue of judicial interests, and failures of judges to declare recusals, by hearing from Mr Neil.

Lord Carloway states in his letter that “Elected office and judicial office are not comparable”

I believe anyone watching the evidence session where Lord Carloway faced questions from Mr Neil, would disagree with the Lord President’s statement.

Transparency is, a public expectation of public office. A necessary guardian of fair hearing, truth, and a form which holds everyone accountable. Transparency can many times, be the foundation of public trust in politics, public life, and even the courts – where – without transparency, where would justice be?

The judiciary are the most powerful branch of the executive and therefore must be held to be the most accountable and adhere to the same level of transparency which applies to all other branches of public service.

Importantly, transparency does not impede independence of the judiciary, or even any other branch of the Executive. Rather transparency enhances public trust, and adherence to public service.

Lord Carloway states the following:I remain of the view that, from the constitutional perspective, the extent of any monitoring of judicial conduct, including judges’ interests relative to the performance of their duties, should remain a matter for the Judiciary and not for Government or Parliament.”

The policy adopted by the judiciary of ‘judges judging judges’ is what ended up blunting any meaningful powers to the office of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer to oversee judicial complaints in Scotland.

These issues involving a lack of oversight of judicial complaints powers have been widely reported in the media: My position is window-dressing, says legal watchdog with budget of £2000

Judicial Conduct, judicial interests and related issues are certainly a matter for primary legislation, and it is worth noting the office of the Judicial Complaints Reviewer was established by Section 30 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008

In terms of a failure to declare interests or to maintain a register of interests, I draw to the attention of members – the issue of Lord Hoffmann’s failure to declare interests in Regina v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, ex parte Pinochet Ugarte (1999), commonly referenced as “Hoffmann/Pinochet”

Hoffmann/Pinochet tainted the Law Lords over the question of declarations of interest despite their requirement to declare in a register, and subsequently the UK Supreme Court was created in the Constitution Reform Act 2005 Part 3 Section 23

Importantly the previous requirements of Law Lords to declare interests when they sat as Law Lords in the House of Lords, was omitted from the 2005 Uk legislation and set the stage where to this day – the Justices of UKSC have stated they themselves judge they do not require to declare their interests.

The UKSC’s position on judicial interests UKSC Judges Expenses and Interests

The statement from the UKSC justices which has been quoted by two Lord Presidents previously, reads as follows: “Against this background the Justices have decided that it would not be appropriate or indeed feasible for them to have a comprehensive Register of Interests, as it would be impossible for them to identify all the interests, which might conceivably arise, in any future case that came before them. To draw up a Register of Interests, which people believed to be complete, could potentially be misleading.”

Lord Hoffmann’s failure to declare his interests and the impact of such on public confidence could be summarised by Lord Hutton in his ruling on Hoffmann/Pinochet:

Lord Hutton said: ‘there could be cases where the interest of the judge in the subject matter of the proceedings arising from his strong commitment to some cause or belief or his association with a person or body involved in the proceedings could shake public confidence in the administration of justice as much as a shareholding (which might be small) in a public company involved in the litigation.’

While no one has been willing to discuss exactly why UKSC judges lost the previous Law Lords requirement to declare and register interests – Lord Hoffmann’s failure to declare his interests in the Pinochet case, set a standard for judges to declare interests – which even Professor Paterson in his testimony to the Public Petitions Committee agreed with.

The judiciary’s position on declarations of interests and creating a register of judicial interests, is contrary to the wider public interest and expectation of transparency – especially in our courts.

While noting the Lord President’s repeat of his earlier comments in relation to issues involving the Council of Europe, and the Judicial Council in Scotland, Lord Carloway has not provided any convincing argument against creating a register of judicial interests.

It is also very clear from Lord Carloway’s letter, the judiciary continue to maintain resistance to the very notion of a register of judicial interests, and will not create one on their own.

As the Public Petitions Committee have already found the petition’s proposal of a Register of Judicial Interests to be “workable”, and there has been consistent support including media and public interest and for the petition since it was filed in 2012 – and given the Justice Committee are minded to advance this matter as no convincing argument against this proposal has been made, I urge members to take the petition forward and advance PE1458 to primary legislation, to ensure all members of Scotland’s judiciary declare and register their interests, in the same way as all others in public life, including all 129 MSPs of the Scottish Parliament register and declare their interests.

Further evidence submitted to the Justice Committee in response to the Justice Secretary’s continuing opposition to the creation of a register of judges’ interests, noted serious discrepancies in the Justice Secretary’s claims regarding Scottish judges serving in middle east Gulf States – reported in an earlier article here: NO, MINISTER: Justice Secretary claims Holyrood transparency legislation for register of judges’ interests – would undermine top judge who refused to meet Justice Committee on EIGHT YEAR judicial register petition

The Justice Committee have previously heard and viewed detailed evidence identifying several Scottish judges who served in Scottish courts while also serving in the Gulf States. MSP John Finnie made several observations on this in an earlier Justice Committee hearing here: John Finnie MSP – Scots Judges serving in Gulf States – Justice Committee 28 May 2019

Responding to the Cabinet Secretary’s letter of 7 February 2020 – evidence submitted in written form by the petitioner to the Justice Committee stated:

Noting the Cabinet Secretary’s response, I wish to point out one of the two Scottish judges in articles submitted to the Justice Committee, was indeed serving in Scotland at the time of his service in the UAE, – dates on court opinions delivered by Lord McGhie in Scotland and previously provided to the Justice Committee show this to be the case.7

The newspaper investigation stated “Our investigation found that Lord McGhie has been registered to sit in the UAE for the past two years while he was also dispensing justice at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.” – This was accurately reported in the media: Scottish judges slammed for being on payroll of oppressive regimes abroad

Regarding Lord Hope of Craighead, members will be aware Lord Hope serves in the UAE and has done for some time, while also remaining a cross bench peer in the House of Lords, and therefore being required to declare his interests: Lord Hope of Craighead Register of Interests

As well as having a continuing effect on public life in the UK and Scotland as a peer, Lord Hope’s House of Lords register of interests list “Chief Justice of the Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts (commercial court system in Abu Dhabi)” – necessitating the swearing of a judicial oath in Abu Dhabi, Council Member and Trustee, Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association” & “Door Tenant, Brick Court Chambers, London, as an arbitrator”.

Members of the Justice Committee will be aware many retired Scottish judges are brought back into service in the Scottish Courts, or for the purposes of heading inquiries and other public service roles – such as Lord Bracadale , and others such as retired Lord President Brian Gill, who is also listed as working as a Judicial Commissioner (along Lord Bracadale) for the UK Surveillance Commissioner: Appointment of 13 Judicial Commissioners

Lord Gill is also involved in calling for a major inquiry into the land tenure system in Scotland – and therefore still maintains an influence on legislation and public life in Scotland.

Clearly, where retired judges are brought back into service, for court duty or inquiries, the Judiciary of Scotland should maintain their register of interests, given these judges are again, serving either the courts or the Scottish Government, and therefore contributing to public life in Scotland.

On the issue of recusals – in relation to financial interests (although the petition does seek to include all interests & links of members of the judiciary) for some reason there have never been any requirements for judges to disclose financial links which may result in a recusal published in the register of recusals.

And, I would draw to the attention of the Justice Committee – reports of a Sheriff heard a case involving a supermarket in which he had shareholdings, and then refused to recuse himself from the case – reported by the Herald newspaper: Pressure grows for register of judges’ interests as sheriff hears Tesco case while holding shares in company

A further report on the same Sheriff revealed he also held shares in a company which was the subject of Scotland’s biggest Proceeds of Crime order in connection with activities in Iraq, reported by the Scottish Sun: Judge has Shares in Bribe Firm

I have previously drawn members attention to the promotion of former top prosecutor Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland to the position of a Senator of the Court of Session. It is a matter of record Lord Mulholland supported Lord Carloway’s review to abolish corroboration and previously appeared before the Justice Committee as Lord Advocate, as a witness expressing such support.

The fact Scotland’s top prosecutor was given a position as a top judge in the Court of Session, is a matter of public interest, and as anyone may conclude, could create multiple conflicts of interest particularly given the short gap between Lord Mulholland’s retirement as Lord Advocate and elevation to the judiciary.

These are issues which are clearly of relevance to a register of judges interests and should be included in such a register, given there are clear examples of cases in the past where prosecutors, promoted to members of the judiciary have heard cases and appeals by persons they previously prosecuted, but failed to declare any interest in court.

Over the course of six years of investigation and consideration by the Public Petitions Committee of evidence and hearings, every opportunity was given to myself and others, to respond to hearings, evidence and submissions from others in relation to Petition PE1458.

There is a stark contrast in these submissions, where only the judiciary and vested legal interests have taken an opposite view to transparency and declarations of interest – to the point Lord Gill refused twice to appear before the Petitions Committee, and now Lord Carloway has refused to appear before the Justice Committee on this petition.

Everyone else, and including two Judicial Complaints Reviewers who filed submissions with the Public Petitions Committee, and the Justice Committee, support the creation of a register of judicial interests.

Given the Cabinet Secretary’s comments and the lack of any further arguments advanced by the Scottish Government and Lord President against the creation of a register of judicial interests, I would urge the Justice Committee to move forward and advance the petition to primary legislation.

An earlier article featured new material presented to the Justice Committee on the issue of how Justices of the Peace were deliberately excluded from the recusals register created by Lord Gill in April 2014 – reported in further detail here: INJUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Judge admits Scottish Courts concealed conflict of interest recusals – Justices of the Peace were told by Court staff any cases where JP judges decided to step down from court hearings – would NOT be recorded in official register of judicial recusals

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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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Holyrood Justice Committee to continue work on register of judges’ interests – MSPs to seek evidence from constitutional experts & info on conflicts of interest of key stakeholders in the justice system

MSPs to continue work on judicial register. THE Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee will continue work on a cross-party backed petition calling for the creation of a register of interests for all Scottish judges: Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

On Tuesday, members of the Justice Committee voiced their support for the plan to create a judges’ register of interests – despite intense opposition from Scotland’s top judge Lord Carloway – who refused to face questions from MSPs on judges’ interests .

Justice Committee members also decided to seek evidence from constitutional and academic witnesses – and briefings on the extent of conflicts of interest relating to key stakeholders in the Scottish justice system.

During the hearing, John Finnie MSP said: “The debate seems to be polarised. The petition has been open for a considerable number of years, and an issue remains. The public would expect some measure of accountability.”

“I note the comments about intrusion into the independence of the judiciary, and I wonder if there is any opportunity to investigate that further as a way forward. I am conscious that the petition has been around for a long time.”

James Kelly MSP said: “Over the period for which the committee has been examining the issue, I have become convinced by the case for a register of interests for the judiciary.”

“I note the responses from the cabinet secretary and Lord Carloway; there is clearly a bit of a stand-off here. Members’ suggestions of taking additional evidence to take the issue forward are sensible. We should not park the issue; it is important and we should continue to press it.”

Rona Mackay MSP said: “It is a very important issue, and it will not just disappear. As a committee, we should investigate it further and take some wider evidence to inform our views. I would be in favour of doing that at this stage. Albeit that we have—as John Finnie says—reached an impasse, it is incumbent on us to take a wider look.”

The move by the Justice Committee comes amid strong and continued opposition to the judicial transparency proposal from Scotland’s top judge – Lord Carloway, and Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf who both oppose any moves to require judges to disclose their interests in the same way others in branches of government, boards and all 129 MSPs disclose and register their interests.

Earlier this week, MSPs were provided with evidence from a senior Justice of the Peace that the official Register of Judicial Recusals – created by former Lord President Lord Brian Gill – was an incomplete record of conflicts of interest in Scotland’s courts.

Writing in a letter to the Justice Committee Convener, Justice of the Peace Dennis Barr said: “We have been advised by Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) staff, that in instances where the JP has initiated the recusal themselves, it is treated as an informal administrative decision not to sit in a particular case, and as such is not recorded.”

The startling admission from Mr Barr – that judges were told by Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) staff – that any cases where Justices of the Peace stood down from a court case due to conflict of interest – would NOT be recorded – completely undermines assurances to MSPs from retired top judge Brian Gill, and current Lord President Lord Carloway – that the recusals register was an accurate register of Scottish judges standing aside from cases due to conflicts of interest.

Mr Barr’s evidence to the Justice Committee was reported in further detail here: INJUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Judge admits Scottish Courts concealed conflict of interest recusals – Justices of the Peace were told by Court staff any cases where JP judges decided to step down from court hearings – would NOT be recorded in official register of judicial recusals

Continued opposition from the Scottish Government to the judicial transparency proposal – in the form of a letter from Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to the Justice Committee, is reported in further detail here: NO, MINISTER: Justice Secretary claims Holyrood transparency legislation for register of judges’ interests – would undermine top judge who refused to meet Justice Committee on EIGHT YEAR judicial register petition

The Justice Secretary claimed that adding the requirement of judges to declare their interests could undermine Scotland’s top judge and intrude on the judiciary’s independence – similar arguments which have been constantly put forward by the Scottish Government & judiciary to the Public Petitions Committee – who investigated the petition for over six years and backed the plan to create the judicial register.

Further reporting on the register of judges’ interests petition and conflicts of interest of Scottish judges can be found on STV News here: Judging for ourselves if conflict of interest in courts and here: Scots judges facing pressure to declare their interests

The cross party backed judicial register petition filed at the Scottish Parliament in 2012 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on all judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, 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.

Minutes of the meeting of Tuesday’s Justice Committee reveal the following decision:

Public petition PE1458: The Committee considered various pieces of correspondence received in relation to its ongoing consideration of the petition. The Committee agreed to keep the petition open and to seek further oral evidence in due course, in round-table formal, from constitutional and academic witnesses.

The Committee also agreed to seek further written briefings from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) in relation to other potential conflicts of interests relating to key stakeholders in the Scottish judicial system. The Committee will consider the scheduling of this work as part of its work programming up to spring 2021.

Video footage of Tuesday’s hearing can be viewed here:

Register of Judges Interests Petition PE1458 Justice Committee 10 March 2020

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Conservative) Convener:  Agenda item 7 is consideration of petition PE1458, which is a proposal to establish a register of judicial interests. I refer members to paper 4, which is a note by the clerk. Do members have any questions or comments?

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green): We have had some very interesting contributions from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and from various representatives of the judiciary, as well as comments on each of those from the petitioner.

The debate seems to be polarised. The petition has been open for a considerable number of years, and an issue remains. The public would expect some measure of accountability. I note the comments about intrusion into the independence of the judiciary, and I wonder if there is any opportunity to investigate that further as a way forward. I am conscious that the petition has been around for a long time.

I am supportive of the principle, and I note everything that has been said. However, we seem to have hit an impasse. I am keen to hear the views of different people—constitutional lawyers, for example.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD): I agree with John Finnie. Intuitively, I am supportive of the idea of a register. However, I do not underestimate some of the concerns that have been raised by the cabinet secretary and representatives of the judiciary—particularly on the independence of the judiciary.

The debate is rather polarised, and it is difficult to see where compromise might be possible. However, I wonder whether we might proactively elicit views from academics in the area, with a view to testing some of the arguments that they made to us in their helpful evidence.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP): It is a very important issue, and it will not just disappear. As a committee, we should investigate it further and take some wider evidence to inform our views. I would be in favour of doing that at this stage. Albeit that we have—as John Finnie says—reached an impasse, it is incumbent on us to take a wider look.

Dr Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): It is clearly an important issue, which merits our having a conversation or a discussion about it in the committee.

On principle, as the petition has been in the system for eight years, we should take evidence with a view to bringing the matter to a conclusion. It is not fair to have petitions in the system for that length of time without bringing them to some kind of conclusion. However, I would be happy to hear evidence on it.

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab): Over the period for which the committee has been examining the issue, I have become convinced by the case for a register of interests for the judiciary. I note the responses from the cabinet secretary and Lord Carloway; there is clearly a bit of a stand-off here. Members’ suggestions of taking additional evidence to take the issue forward are sensible. We should not park the issue; it is important and we should continue to press it.

The Convener: I should note that there is a petition that we have been dealing with for in excess of eight years—the Megrahi case petition. However, as members have said, it is not an ideal situation. Given the impasse and the diametrically opposed views, does the committee wish to seek further information on the record in a formal meeting with constitutional lawyers and others, in an effort to move forward and with a view to looking at the pros and cons of the petition? We could then take a formal decision on it. We could also ask the Scottish Parliament information centre and the clerks for a note on the wider issues, perhaps even taking into account any conflict-of-interest issues that might have a bearing on how court decisions are taken.

Liam McArthur: I agree with that. Such an evidence session might be better using a round-table format, rather than having a more traditional evidence session. Due to the fact that the cabinet secretary and, previously, the petitioner referred to the situation in New Zealand, which has now taken a different course, it would certainly be useful in the information that is to be provided by SPICe to have an understanding of the thought process that the New Zealand Parliament went through to arrive at the decision that it reached in relation to the same issue.

The Convener: Are we all agreed that that is the way forward?

Members indicated agreement.

The National reported on developments at the Justice Committee here:

 Scottish judges and government on collision course over interests register

By Martin Hannan The National 11 March 2020

THE Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament is on a collision course with the Scottish Government and leading Scottish judges after the Committee voted to continue its inquiries into the possibility of legislation to set up a register of the financial and other interests of judges.

Lord Carloway, Scotland’s senior judge, and justice secretary Humza Yousaf both told the committee by letter yesterday that they were opposed to such a register, indicating that the petition for such a register raised in 2012 by journalist and law blogger Peter Cherbi should now be dropped.

The Committee decided otherwise, however, and agreed to keep the petition open and to “seek further oral evidence in due course, in round-table formal, from constitutional and academic witnesses”.

The Committee also agreed to seek further written briefings from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) in relation to “other potential conflicts of interests relating to key stakeholders in the Scottish judicial system”.

In a surprise move directly against the wishes of Yousaf and Carloway, the Committee agreed to consider the scheduling of this work as part of its work programming up to spring 2021.

Yousaf had told the Committee: “I would caution however that if such a register were to be established by way of legislation, rather than through the powers of the Lord President, this may be perceived as undermining the principle of judicial independence and the separation of powers between the judiciary and other branches of government.”

Yet Carloway, the Lord President and Lord Justice General, has long made known his opposition to such a register, and he told the Committee in his letter that he would not be attending to give his views.

Speaking at yesterday’s meeting, John Finnie MSP said the debate on the issue had become “polarised”.

He said: “There is an issue here that remains to be dealt with and I think the public would anticipate that there is some measure of accountability.”

Peter Cherbi told The National: “Noting the Justice Committee meeting today I am grateful to those MSPs who declared their support for the register of judicial interests – and all the MSPs who have previously worked on this petition to support it and advance the issue of judicial transparency

“Clearly the debate has become very polarised as John Finnie said during the hearing. This polarisation has come about because the judiciary are entrenched in their opposition to the same level of transparency which applies to all other branches of the executive.

“It is no accident this petition has lasted eight long years, where at every turn the judiciary have sought to undermine the petition at every hearing, invoke anyone, from government ministers to vested legal interests in an effort to shut down the petition and any debate on judicial transparency.

Sadly, the effort expended by judges against this petition, is an indication judges have something to hide and fear disclosure.”

UNCONVINCING TOP  SCOTS JUDGES WHO REFUSED TO BE TRANSPARENT:

Scotland’s recent two top judges failed to convince MSPs that a register of interests is not required for Scotland’s judiciary

Former Lord President Brian Gill, and current Lord President Lord Carloway consistently argued the existence of judicial oaths and ethics – which are both written, and approved by  judges negate any requirement for further transparency in the judiciary.

However, both the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – who investigated the judicial interests petition for six years, and the Justice Committee – who have considered the petition since 2018, found the judiciary’s arguments against transparency to be “unconvincing”.

Video footage and a full report on Lord Brian Gill giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament in November 2015 can be found here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests – Petitions Committee Chief brands Lord Gill’s evidence as “passive aggression”

Video footage and a full report on Lord Carloway (Colin Sutherland) giving widely criticised evidence to the Scottish Parliament in July 2017 can be found here: REGISTER TO JUDGE: Lord Carloway criticised after he blasts Parliament probe on judicial transparency – Top judge says register of judges’ interests should only be created if judiciary discover scandal or corruption within their own ranks

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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INJUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Judge admits Scottish Courts concealed conflict of interest recusals – Justices of the Peace were told by Court staff any cases where JP judges decided to step down from court hearings – would NOT be recorded in official register of judicial recusals

Court staff concealed judges’ recusals from register. AN ENTIRE TIER of Scotland’s judiciary were told by Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) staff that any cases where Justices of the Peace stood down from a court case due to conflict of interest – would NOT be recorded in an official Register of Judicial Recusals – according to papers released by Holyrood’s Justice Committee in relation to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The recusals register – set up by a former top judge to record conflicts of interest leading to judges standing aside in court hearings – has until this year failed to publish recusals by Justices of the Peace – according to an admission by the Secretary of the the Scottish Justices Association (SJA) to Holyrood’s Justice Committee.

Writing in a letter to the Justice Committee Convener, Mr Barr – who is also a Justice of the Peace – admitted to unrecorded instances where he personally has stood aside in court cases – said “We have established that recusals by JPs do happen occasionally, but to date all such instances have been initiated by the JP themselves.”

Mr Barr also claimed in his letter Court staff had informed the Scottish Justices Association that any recusals by Justices of the Peace in cases of conflicts of interest – would not be recorded.

Mr Barr said: “If I may use myself as an example, I have recused myself on three separate occasions, sitting in the JP Courts in Glasgow over the past ten years, as I have personally known the accused. We have been advised by Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) staff, that in instances where the JP has initiated the recusal themselves, it is treated as an informal administrative decision not to sit in a particular case, and as such is not recorded.”

The admission from the Scottish Justices Association comes amid an EIGHT YEAR probe by the Scottish Parliament in moves to create a register of judges’ interests.

The cross party backed judicial register petition filed at the Scottish Parliament in 2012 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on all judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, 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 Register of Judicial Recusals was created in April 2014 by the then Lord President – Brian Gill – in an attempt to persuade to drop their investigation of a proposal to create a fully published register of judges interests.

However, Lord Gill deliberately excluded all Justices of the Peace (numbering around 300 judges) from the recusals register in 2014.

To this day, no convincing explanation has been offered as to why a significant number of members of Scotland’s judiciary were allowed to keep all their conflicts of interest secret from the public during court hearings.

And – only one recusal by a Justice of the Peace has since been recorded – coincidentally, just after the date of the Scottish Justices Association letter to Holyrood’s Justice Committee.

The recusal is listed as occurring on 04 February 2020 at Dumfries JP Court as “Of member’s own accord – accused’s family are known to the Justice”

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee will hear Petition PE 1458 on Tuesday 10 March 2020, and will consider evidence submitted from the Scottish Justices Association.

Letter from the Scottish Justices Association to Margaret Mitchell MSP, Convener, Scottish Parliament Justice Committee

Dear Ms Mitchell,

Petition 1458 – Proposal to establish a register of judicial interests

With reference to both your letter to Mr Gordon Hunter, the Chair of the Scottish Justices Association, on 22nd November 2019, and his reply dated 24th November 2019 on the matter of Justice of the Peace (JP) recusals, I can now advise that we have investigated this matter further.

We have established that recusals by JPs do happen occasionally, but to date all such instances have been initiated by the JP themselves. If I may use myself as an example, I have recused myself on three separate occasions, sitting in the JP Courts in Glasgow over the past ten years, as I have personally known the accused. We have been advised by Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) staff, that in instances where the JP has initiated the recusal themselves, it is treated as an informal administrative decision not to sit in a particular case, and as such is not recorded.

If, however, the court receives a formal motion from either the Procurator-fiscal or the defence agent then it must be recorded by the Clerk of the Court and details must be sent to the Judicial Office, where the information is collated on behalf of the Lord President. This formal notification is recorded irrespective of whether the motion for the recusal was granted or refused. This arrangement has been in place in the JP Courts since 2018.

It is evident from the pro-forma used by SCTS staff acting as Clerk of the Court, for recording such motions, that use of the pro-forma applies to all levels of the Judiciary in Scotland, including JPs. In discussions with SCTS in each of the six Sheriffdoms it became clear that nobody could recall the use of the pro-forma in any Scottish JP Court over the past two years.

I do think it important to stress that in principle JPs do consider themselves to be fully integrated members of the Scottish Judiciary and would seek to be subject to the same processes and procedures as other members. The lack of formal motions for the recusal of JPs is, we believe, more reflective of the fact that JPs are representative members of the community they live within and serve; and clearly wish to demonstrate their impartiality in the cases that come before them. The relative minor nature of the criminal cases heard by JPs may also be a factor, notwithstanding the fact that some cases may have a relatively high public profile.

I can assure you that all of the Sheriffdom Legal Advisors (SLAs), who sit alongside JPs in court, are aware of the requirement to use the standard pro-forma when a formal motion for a recusal is made. I am not aware of any formal recording of instances where a JP has recused themselves from a case, and thereby it would not be possible to provide the public with such details.

As far as the S JA believe, this policy of regarding self-recusals as informal administrative decisions, and thus not recorded, applies to all levels of the Judiciary in Scotland. To this extent we understand that we are treated in the same manner as Sheriffs, and indeed Senators, and it is an approach that we would vigorously support.

I hope that this clarifies the position, but if you do require any further information then I and all other members of the SJA Executive Committee would be very happy to assist.

Yours sincerely Dennis W Barr

Responding to Mr Barr’s letter to the Justice Committee, the petitioner provided further information to MSPs of the variance in how recusals of Justices of the Peace have not been recorded – and evidence where senior figures at the Judicial Office had misled enquiries on the issue of Justice of the Peace recusals.

Response to letter from Scottish Justices Association 27 January 2020

The Scottish Justice Association’s view of how Justices of the Peace recuse themselves and how recusals are recorded, appears to contradict information previously provided on recusals by Justices of the Peace – by the Head of Strategy and Governance for the Judicial Office in material which I have previously provided to the Public Petitions Committee, and which has also been reported in the media.

In a query to the Judicial Office, I was informed on 21/12/2017:

“The JP courts will start reporting any recusals to us (Judicial Office) come January.  When we may see the first we don’t know until we get one of course.  But January we have asked them to start sending us any notes of recusals and that will be reported on our website.

I am in touch with the tribunal presidents but don’t yet know when we will be able to start reporting in this area.  I’ll hopefully have an update for you re timescales come mid-January on tribunals”

There are admissions in the SJA response of Justices of the Peace, including the author of the letter Mr Dennis Barr – recusing themselves from cases.

In the case of Mr Barr – he states “If I may use myself as an example, I have recused myself on three separate occasions, sitting in the JP Courts in Glasgow over the past ten years, as I have personally known the accused”

Mr Barr goes on to state: “We have been advised by Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) staff, that in instances where the JP has initiated the recusal themselves, it is treated as an informal administrative decision not to sit in a particular case, and as such is not recorded.”

I draw members attention to my submission of 29 November 2017 – PE1458/JJJ to the Public Petitions Committee on the issue of Justice of the Peace which refer to communications between myself and the Judicial Office on JPs recusals. The Justice of the Peace issue was also reported in the media: Campaigner calls on Scotland’s top judge to extend register of recusals

Justices of the Peace were excluded from the creation of the Register of Recusals in 2014 – despite making up the largest membership of Scotland’s judiciary. No reason has been given for their exclusion.

Successive hearings by the Public Petitions Committee and requests for my response to Committee hearings, improved the coverage and content of the Register of Recusals over the course of this petition, however, not until 2018 and after communications with the Judicial Office were Justices of the Peace included in the recusals register,

There is only one single published recusal of a Justice of the Peace – coincidentally – which was published in the recusals register at Judicial-Recusals – Judiciary of Scotland after the SJA’s letter to the Justice Committee of 27 January.

The recusal is listed as occurring on 04 February 2020 at Dumfries JP Court as “Of member’s own accord – accused’s family are known to the Justice”

Mr Barr states in his response to the Justice Committee: “I do think it important to stress that in principle JPs do consider themselves to be fully integrated members of the Scottish Judiciary and would seek to be subject to the same processes and procedures as other members.”

I feel the time has come to ensure JPs recusals are formalised and properly published in the same way as recusals of other members of the judiciary which have been published since April 2014..

Justices of the Peace – who comprise a significant number in the total membership of Scotland’s judiciary, should be included in a publicly available register of judicial interests.

In January 2019, DOJ reported on the lack of any published recusals involving Justices of the Peace in Scotland, the article can be found here: THE UNRECUSED: Mystery as 450 Justices of the Peace fail to register one single recusal in a full year after conflict of interest rules change for Scotland’s secretive army of lay magistrates

In response to media enquiries last year – the Judicial Office claimed it had not been informed of any recusal motion by any of Scotland’s Justices of the Peace.

The Judicial Office said: “We have received no notification of a JP recusing themselves from a case since the guidance came into force, which was in January 2018”

In response to further enquiries for information relating to any refusals of Justices of the Peace to recuse, the Judicial Office stated: “We are to be informed if a formal motion for recusal is granted or refused, or if the Judicial Office holder decides at their own accord to recuse.  Nothing has yet been reported to us.”

However – the admission in the letter from the Scottish Justices Association to the Justice Committee throw previous claims of not being informed of judicial recusals into doubt.

Guidance requiring Justices of the Peace to declare conflicts of interest and recuse themselves from court hearings came into force in 2018 after calls for JPs to be brought into line with rules of recusals which apply to the remainder of Scotland’s judiciary.

This guidance was created after a report on DOJ here: DECLARE YOUR JUSTICE: Judicial Office consults with Lord Carloway on including Justices of the Peace in Register of Judicial Recusals – as questions surface over Lord Gill’s omission of 500 JPs from judicial transparency probe.

In an UPDATE to this article, the National featured a report on evidence submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee ahead of the hearing on Tuesday 10 March.

Battle for Scottish judges to register interests in court cases

By Martin Hannan The National 10 March 2020

ALMOST eight years since it was registered, a public petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for a system in which judges must register their financial and other interests reaches a crunch point today.

Journalist and law blogger Peter Cherbi first registered his petition in 2012 and it has been supported by both the Petitions and Justice Committees at Holyrood.

It is the latter committee which will meet today to discuss comprehensive refusals to start such a register made by both Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf and Scotland’s most senior judge and head of the judiciary, Lord Carloway, the Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General.

The latter’s predecessor, Lord Gill, agreed in 2014 that a register of judges’ recusals – when a judge stands aside because of a perceived or actual conflict of interest – would be kept.

The National can reveal, however, that this register has NOT been kept for Scotland’s 250-plus Justices of the Peace (JPs) despite assurance by the Judiciary Office that it would be. According to a leading JP, that’s because they don’t have to.

In a letter to the Justice Committee, Dennis Barr, secretary of the Scottish Justices Association states: “If I may use myself as an example, I have recused myself on three separate occasions sitting in the JP courts in Glasgow over the past ten years, as I have personally known the accused.”

Barr goes on: “We have been advised by Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) staff, that in instances where the JP has initiated the recusal themselves, it is treated as an informal administrative decision not to sit in a particular case, and as such is not recorded.”

Peter Cherbi commented: “I was assured in 2017 that such a register would be kept. The register of recusals was created in April 2015 by the then Lord President – Brian Gill – in an attempt to persuade MSPs to drop their investigation of a proposal to create a fully published register of judges interests. However, Lord Gill deliberately excluded all Justices of the Peace.

“To this day, no convincing explanation has been offered as to why a significant number of members of Scotland’s judiciary were allowed to keep all their conflicts of interest secret from the public during court hearings.”

Cherbi is adamant that a register of interests is necessary and is hopeful the committee will carry on with it despite Humza Yousaf ‘s opposition. Yousaf says that it is “not necessary”, while Lord Carloway stated: “I remain of the view that, from the constitutional perspective, the extent of any monitoring of judicial conduct, including judges’ interests relative to the performance of their duties, should remain a matter for the Judiciary and not for Government or Parliament.”

Cherbi told the Committee in a letter: “While noting the Lord President’s repeat of his earlier comments in relation to issues involving the Council of Europe, and the Judicial Council in Scotland, Lord Carloway has not provided any convincing argument against creating a register of judicial interests. It is also very clear from Lord Carloway’s letter, the judiciary continue to maintain resistance to the very notion of a register of judicial interests, and will not create one on their own.

“I urge members to take the petition forward and advance PE1458 to primary legislation, to ensure all members of Scotland’s judiciary declare and register their interests in the same way as all others in public life, including all 129 MSPs of the Scottish Parliament.”

A report in the Scottish National newspaper in 2017 also featured the calls for JPs to register recusals, which can be viewed here:

Campaigner calls on Scotland’s top judge to extend register of recusals

Exclusive by Martin Hannan Journalist The National 3rd October 2017

SCOTLAND’S Justices of the Peace should have to register their recusals when they step aside from cases in their courts due to conflicts of interests, according to the man who is leading a campaign on judges’ interests.

The judicial register of recusals was established by Scotland’s most senior judge in April 2014, former Lord President Lord Gill, and the judiciary website shows all such recusals by judges and sheriffs and the reasons why they stepped away from a case.

Now legal campaigner Peter Cherbi has called for the register to be extended to Justices of the Peace, who are lay magistrates dealing with less serious cases such as breach of the peace or minor driving offences.

For five years Cherbi has been petitioning the Scottish Parliament on the issue of judges’ interests, and he sees a register of recusals as vital for public confidence in all the judiciary.

Cherbi said: “Given there are nearly 500 Justices of the Peace in Scotland who must act in accordance with the same rules laid down for other members of the judiciary, JPs should now be included in the Register of Recusals.

“I am surprised Lord Gill omitted Justices of the Peace when he created the Register of Recusals in April 2014. This was a significant omission, given the numbers of JPs across Scotland, and Lord Gill should have corrected this flaw before he left office in May 2015.

“I note Lord Carloway (left) has not attended to this glaring omission since taking office as Lord President in January 2016 until now being asked to do so.

“The omission of Justices of the Peace from the Register of Recusals has left out a significant portion of the judiciary and therefore concealed a more truer representation of numbers of recusals and interests across Scotland’s judges and courts, which are of significant public interest.

“I shall be informing the Public Petitions Committee of this development and if the need should arise, I will request MSPs write to the Judicial Office and Scottish Justices Association to make enquiries as to when JPs will be added to the Register of Recusals, and to seek an explanation why they were originally left out from the data, despite it being a relatively simple operation to include JPs in the recusals statistics.”

The National contacted the Scottish Justices Association, which represents the Justices of the Peace, but no reply had been received by the time we went to press.

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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NO, MINISTER: Justice Secretary claims Holyrood transparency legislation for register of judges’ interests – would undermine top judge who refused to meet Justice Committee on EIGHT YEAR judicial register petition

Justice Sec. Humza Yousaf opposes judicial transparency. SCOTLAND’S Justice Secretary has attempted to block further action in an EIGHT YEAR Holyrood judicial transparency probe – by claiming any primary legislation created by MSPs to require judges to declare their interests – could undermine Scotland’s top judge – who is also opposed to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Writing in a letter to Margaret Mitchell MSP – Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee – Justice Secretary Humza Housaf claimed: “I would caution however that if such a register were to be established by way of legislation, rather than through the powers of the Lord President, this may be perceived as undermining the principle of judicial independence and the separation of powers between the judiciary and other branches of government.”

The cross party backed judicial register petition filed at the Scottish Parliament in 2012 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on all judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, 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.

Mr Yousaf also told the Justice Committee that recent details of Scottish judges working in the Gulf States while serving in Scotland were not relevant because since the judge was allegedly acting as a judge on a temporary basis – the rules did not apply to him.

However court opinions previously provided to MSPs confirm Scottish judges heard cases in the Court of Session while also working in the United Arab Emirates.

The Justice Committee previously considered material in relation to Scottish judges serving in the Gulf States & United Arab Emirates – reported in further detail here: JUDICIAL REGISTER: Justice Committee to hear evidence from ex-Judicial Investigator, top judge on judicial interests register, MSP says Scottish judges should not be involved with Gulf States implicated in unlawful wars, mistreatment of women’s rights

John Finnie MSP – Scots Judges serving in Gulf States – Justice Committee 28 May 2019

During a hearing on 28 May 2019, Justice Committee member John Finnie MSP said “I do not agree with the idea that anyone connected with the Scottish judiciary could have any role whatsoever in the United Arab Emirates.”

“I looked yesterday at the Human Rights Watch world report, which does a country by country breakdown. The United Arab Emirates is a country that is intolerant of criticism, which has played a leading role in unlawful acts in Yemen, and whose treatment of migrant workers’ rights and women’s rights is shocking. It is a country that permits domestic violence.”

I do not think that any reasonable examination of the role of a public official—and I get the point about the separation of the judiciary—would say that involvement in such a country is acceptable.”

“I believe that we need to do something and I am not content with the cabinet secretary’s response, which is just playing out the same line as before—that there is nothing to see here and we should move on.”

“I do not think that this issue will move on until we have the openness and transparency that people rightly expect of public office.”

Earlier in April 2019, Mr Yousaf wrote to the Justice Committee, claiming ““no further evidence has been provided to the Justice Committee that strengthens the arguments already put forward in favour of the introduction of the register.”

However, the 2019 letter from the Justice Secretary was found to have copied much of it’s content from a letter dated April 2014 – from the then Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to the Public Petitions Committee – reported in more detail here: COPY MINISTER: ‘Copied’ content from ex Minister sent by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to Holyrood MSPs – Public must rely on judges judging judges for transparency, Scottish Government will not create register of judges’ interests

The latest attempt by the Scottish Government to scupper the eight year probe of a cross party supported petition to create a register of judges’ interests comes after a previous Minister for Legal Affairs – Paul Wheelhouse told the Public Petitions Committee in 2014 the judiciary were concerned gangsters could see their interests.

It later transpired Mr Wheelhouse was accused of misleading MSPs after files obtained via Freedom of Information revealed there was no basis for such claims, and Ministerial advisers had attempted to hunt down any leads to back up Mr Wheelhouse – without success.

And, despite Mr Wheelhouse misleading claims of gangsters & judges – a probe by journalists uncovered instances of members of Scotland’s judiciary representing some of the country’s top gangsters in the same courts in which they serve as judges.

Former Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse evidence to the Public Petitions Committee can be found here: TOO MANY SECRETS: Legal Affairs Minister ‘anti-transparency’ evidence to MSPs a ‘poor substitute for top judge’ as Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee consider next move on proposal to create a register of interests for judges

Mr Wheelhouse’ evidence to MSPs came during a concerted attempt by Scotland’s then top judge – Brian Gill – to block MSPs from continuing to investigate plans to create a register of judges’ interests – which – later in October 2014 – saw a full debate at the Scottish Parliament, resulting in cross party support for Petition PE1458.

In 2015, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also intervened in the petition, demanding the petition be closed due to the judiciary’s concerns of media and public scrutiny of judges interests – reported in further detail here: INTERESTS INTERVENE: First Minister joins top judge in bid to block register of judicial interests as MSPs consider recalling Legal Affairs Minister over dodgy evidence & private meeting with Lord Gill

Despite a barrage of opposition from Scotland’s judiciary and vested legal interests, the Public Petitions Committee continued work on Petition Pe1458 for a number of years, concluding a register of judges’ interests could, and should be created.

The decision by the Public Petitions Committee to endorse the petition was reported in further detail here: JUDICIAL REGISTER: Holyrood Petitions Committee calls for legislation to require Scotland’s judges to declare their interests in a register of judicial Interests

MSPs on the Public Petitions Committee also looked at a model used by Norway for declarations of judges’ interests, supporting the introduction of a similar register in Scotland.

In Norway, judges must complete a register of interests listing honorary posts, investments, memberships of political parties, companies, religious communities and charities among others.

The Norwegian model of judicial interest disclosure was hailed by the Public Petitions Committee as model for Scotland’s judges to follow.

More on Norway’s register of judges’ interests can be found here: NORWAY, M’LORD: Judicial interests register of Norway cited as example to follow for Holyrood MSPs six year investigation to create a register of judges’ interests in Scotland

And in November 2019, the Convener of the Justice Committee wrote to Lord Carloway informing the top judge MSPs were minded to support the petition as the judiciary had not put forward any convincing arguments against the creation of a register of judges’ interests p reported here: JUDGES MUST DECLARE: Holyrood Justice Committee back cross party supported proposal to require Scotland’s judges to declare all financial interests and other links in a publicly available register of judicial interests

Scotland’s top judge Lord Carloway also wrote to the Justice Committee in late January, refusing a second request from the Justice Committee to face questions on his opposition to the creation of a register of judicial interests.

Lord Carloway’s most recent refusal to give evidence and his letter are reported in further detail here: JUDGE JUDGES: Scotland’s top judge refuses to face MSPs on judiciary’s EIGHT YEAR battle against register of judges’ interests – Lord Carloway says he will not attend Holyrood to ‘rehearse the same arguments which have not apparently found favour’

Letter from Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to Margaret Mitchell, Convener Justice Committee 07 February 2020

Public Petition PE 1458: Register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

Thank you for your letter of 22 November asking me to review the evidence you heard on 19 November and the previous evidence taken regarding this petition and to then set out in detail why I do not think it is necessary to establish a register.

The evidence of 19 November: Written Evidence

On the 19 November, the Committee considered written evidence in the form of a letter from the petitioner. I think it is important to address a number of issues with the evidence contained in his letter. The Lord President does not appoint judges or sheriffs to the bench. Judicial appointments are made by the Scottish Ministers on the recommendation of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland (JABS). JABS are an independent statutory body and carry out a rigorous recruitment process which involves written application, tests, interview, references and background checks carried out before recommendations are made based on merit from candidates who meet statutory criteria.

The petitioner highlights the press coverage of two former Scottish judges sitting in other jurisdictions. One of these judges was retired, the other was still a temporary judge at the relevant time. Once a member of the judiciary has retired, the individual would not be included in any proposed register of interests. Temporary judges are not full time salaried judiciary. These are judges who can be called on to cover gaps in the court rota and therefore not covered by the restrictions on other employment which full time judiciary are. Whilst a register of interests would have disclosed this additional work, it would not have prevented it being carried out.

Since the Petition was originally introduced to the Parliament, a register of recusals was introduced in 2014 and, I understand, is being used by both the judiciary and those appearing in court. From 1 February 2018, the register was extended to also include members of the Scottish Tribunals. The reasons for recusal tend to relate to personal knowledge of a litigant or witness or previous involvement in another relevant case. The register of recusals does not appear to have highlighted the sort of problems with conflicts of interest of the nature that the petitioner is concerned about. For clarification also, there are 277 justices of the peace, rather than 450.

The proposed reforms to the law of corroboration in Scotland, which the petitioner refers to, were aimed at addressing the difficulty in prosecuting certain types of criminal cases . These proposals were based on detailed research and analysis conducted by Lord Carloway and set out in a published report. It is difficult to see the relevance of this as evidence in support of a register of judicial interests.

The petitioner cites extensive written submissions of evidence in relation to this petition and the Committee have asked that I review all previous evidence. In doing so, I can see that almost half of those submissions are from the petitioner and over one third are either correspondents declining to make a submission or from the Scottish Government, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service or the Lord President and present evidence which is not in support of the register. The petitioner’s submissions do not always raise new evidence and cover some matters that would be outwith the scope of this petition.

Oral evidence: In terms of the oral evidence taken, a considerable part of this discussion focussed on the system for complaints about members of the judiciary. I note the point raised that Scotland differs from other jurisdictions in that upheld complaints are not published. I agree that this is a matter that consideration could be given to as it is transparent and consistent with the complaint process for many professions, however complaints against the judiciary are the responsibility of the Lord President and there may be valid reasons why complaints are not published. I also note the distinction that was explained by Ms Ali between judicial decisions and service complaints about the judiciary. This was followed by discussion on independence and accountability.

I have also considered the written and oral submissions from Professor Alan Paterson, the academic who has contributed views on this petition. I note that Professor Paterson told the Public Petitions Committee that he had not reached a concluded opinion on a register of interests for the Scottish judiciary. He explains that this question comes back to the role of the judiciary in a democracy and there is a need to balance judicial independence and accountability. Professor Paterson told the Public Petitions Committee that he considers transparency as part of accountability. I would agree with this point and I’m of the view that the judiciary’s decision making is transparent and subject to appeal.

International factors: At the time the Petition was lodged, and in a number of the petitioner’s subsequent written submissions, reference is made to the New Zealand Parliament’s consideration of a judicial register of interests. By a large majority, the New Zealand Parliament voted down a Bill to create a register after considering the whole issue and its difficulties. Few analogous jurisdictions to Scotland have legislated for a judicial register of interests, and those that have did so in response to evidence of challenges specific to those jurisdictions. South Africa, for example, created one as part of cementing its new democracy.

The Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) is an independent international body tasked with monitoring and advancing anti-corruption measures in countries across the world. It has examined the need for a judicial register of interests twice in Scotland and the most recent report of the Fourth Evaluation Round concluded that there was no evidence of corruption in relation to the judiciary in Scotland or of judicial decisions being influenced inappropriately. They do not recommend the introduction of an asset declaration scheme.

Ways to introduce a scheme: Your letter also asked for the Scottish Government’s view of what would be involved in establishing such a register and whether this would require primary legislation or could be achieved by some other means.

At present, and in line with the requirement to uphold the continued independence of the judiciary, set out in section 1 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008, Scottish Ministers do not have existing powers to establish such a register, whether voluntary or mandatory. Accordingly primary legislation would be required to implement any such register.

I would caution however that if such a register were to be established by way of legislation, rather than through the powers of the Lord President, this may be perceived as undermining the principle of judicial independence and the separation of powers between the judiciary and other branches of government.

Conclusion: My predecessors set out in detail in earlier correspondence the safeguards in place. These safeguards are the judicial oath, the statement of principles of judicial ethics and the various rules made under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 which concern complaints about the judiciary and judicial conduct. I would draw particular attention to the statement of principles of judicial ethics. This is some thirty five pages long and sets out clearly the standards judicial office holders are expected to meet. Breach of the ethics can result in serious consequences for a judicial office holder. Having considered the evidence, I share the views of both of my predecessors that there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary.

As mentioned previously, in the time since this petition was lodged with the Parliament, further measures have been introduced for, and by, the judiciary; such as the register of recusals and publication of judicial expenses and overseas travel. I believe that these measures have increased the transparency of the judiciary.

I am also mindful of the statutory requirement within the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008, that Scottish Ministers and Members of the Scottish Parliament must uphold the continued independence of the judiciary.

I have given further consideration to the matter and have considered the evidence before the Justice Committee. I remain of the view that it is not necessary to establish a register of interests. I hope the detail of this letter explains my reasons for that

EIGHT YEAR JUDICIAL INTERESTS PROBE:

The judicial register petition – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests.

A full debate on the proposal to require judges to declare their interests was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was overwhelmingly supported by MSPs from all political parties.

The lengthy Scottish Parliament probe on judicial interests has generated over sixty two submissions of evidence, at least twenty one Committee hearings, a private meeting and fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate and has since been taken over by Holyrood’s Justice Committee after a recommendation to take the issue forward from the Public Petitions Committee in March 2018.

A full report containing video footage of every hearing, speech, and evidence sessions at the Scottish Parliament on Petition PE1458 can be found here: Scottish Parliament debates, speeches & evidence sessions on widely supported judicial transparency petition calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland’s judiciary.

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has consistently supported calls for a judicial interests register over multiple hearings – where MSPs have spoken out on Scottish judges involvement in the Gulf States, reported here: JUDICIAL REGISTER: Justice Committee to hear evidence from ex-Judicial Investigator, top judge on judicial interests register, MSP says Scottish judges should not be involved with Gulf States implicated in unlawful wars, mistreatment of women’s rights

A report on the Justice Committee’s consideration of the Judicial Interests Register Petition in May 2019 – where MSPs backed the petition – can be found here: JUDICIAL REGISTER: Justice Committee investigate approach to judges’ interests in other countries – MSPs say ‘Recusals register not comprehensive enough’ ‘Openness & transparency do not contradict independence of the judiciary’

A report on the Justice Committee’s consideration of the Judicial Interests Register Petition in February 2019 – where evidence in relation to Scottish judges swearing dual judicial oaths and working for Human Rights abusing Gulf States dictatorships – can be found here: JUDICIAL REGISTER – MSPs urged to take forward SEVEN year petition to create a Register of Judges’ Interests as Holyrood Justice Committee handed evidence of Scottish Judges serving in Gulf states regimes known to abuse Human Rights

TWO TOP SCOTS JUDGES FAIL IN HOLYROOD JUDICIAL TRANSPARENCY PROBE:

Both of Scotland’s recent top judges failed to convince MSPs that a register of interests is not required for judges – even after both Lord Presidents attempted to press home the existence of judicial oaths and ethics – which are both written, and approved by – judges.

Video footage and a full report on Lord Brian Gill giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament in November 2015 can be found here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests – Petitions Committee Chief brands Lord Gill’s evidence as “passive aggression”

Video footage and a full report on Lord Carloway (Colin Sutherland) giving widely criticised evidence to the Scottish Parliament in July 2017 can be found here: REGISTER TO JUDGE: Lord Carloway criticised after he blasts Parliament probe on judicial transparency – Top judge says register of judges’ interests should only be created if judiciary discover scandal or corruption within their own ranks

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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