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JUDGE THE JUDGES: Seven years, and one year on from petition passed to Justice Committee, questions on judicial conflicts of interest & Scots judges swearing dual judicial oaths in Gulf States – time to move forward on legislation for register of judges’ interests

Seven years on – Judicial probe. OVER ONE year ago, and amid much positivity – a cross party backed public petition calling for the creation of a register of judges’ interests was passed to the Scottish Parliament’s powerful Justice Committee.

The transfer of the petition came after six years of a Scottish Parliament investigation on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – including work and evidence heard by Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee.

The Public Petitions Committee’s support for creating a register of judicial interests and transfer of work to the Justice Committee – was reported in 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

Now, SEVEN YEARS on from when the petition was first filed at Holyrood, in October 2012 – further evidence from the petitioner, and supporters of judicial transparency – urge MSPs on the Justice Committee to press ahead with work on legislation to create a publicly available register of judges’ interests.

Petition 1458 is to be considered again by members of the Justice Committee on Tuesday 28 May 2019, fourteen months after the Public Petitions Committee agreed to back the petition, and pass it to the Justice Committee for further work.

However, it was revealed last week by Justice Committee clerks – that only one of the branches of the justice system requested to give evidence by the Justice Committee had replied to MSPs request for cooperation.

From the Crown Office, to the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates and even the Lord President himself – Lord Carloway –  all refused or ignored requests for evidence from the Justice Committee.

Quizzed on the work done by the Justice Committee in the last year, a Committee clerk informed the petitioner: “Before the Committee last considered your petition on 5 February, clerks approached those who have previously given evidence to the Public Petitions Committee to ask if they had anything to add to their previous submissions.”

“We approached the Lord President, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer. Only the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service responded, stating that they had nothing to add”

From contact with the Justice Committee, it also emerged the Justice Secretary –  Humza Yousaf had written to MSPs, claiming judges should be allowed to judge themselves, and that the public must rely on judicial oaths & ethics – written and approved by the judiciary – instead of transparency in courts.

The Justice Secretary also, and erronesouly, claimed existing complaints rules negated the creation of a register of judges’ interests – a claim which prompted former Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali – to write to the Justice Committee in support of the petition, and to give her views on the effectiveness of judicial complaints rules.

Moi Ali’s letter was reported in further detail here: SCRUTINY FOR JUDGES: Former Judicial Complaints Reviewer to MSPs – Judicial complaints rules are no substitute for protection generated by a full register of judicial interests

Mr Yousaf also claimed in his letter that “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.”

Mr Yousaf’s letter was reported in further 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

However, recent submissions to the Justice Committee including accounts of serving Scottish judges swearing dual oaths for high earning judicial posts in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and other Gulf States point to substantial new evidence submitted to MSPs, backing up the need for a full register of judicial interests.

Evidence and media reports in relation to the Gulf States service of Scottish judges was reported in more detail here: 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

Now, the petitioner has made a submission to the Justice Committee, calling on MSPs to hear further evidence if required, and take the petition forward to create legislation for a judicial interests regiser.

The full submission to the Justice Committee from the petitioner is reprinted here:

Submission re Petition PE1458 – A Register of Interests for Members of Scotland’s Judiciary

Noting the previous hearing of the petition, I am grateful to members comments in relation to openness and transparency not being a contradiction to the independence of the judiciary, and proposals by members to investigate the way other jurisdictions handle recusals and judicial declarations.

I would refer members to such jurisdictions as Norway and the USA – which both operate registers of judicial interests, and judicial recusals. I believe both could serve as a model to assist in the creation of a publicly available register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary.

Given members comments in relation to evidence collected by the Public Petitions Committee, I do feel it would be productive for the Justice Committee to hear further evidence from Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Moi Ali.

I believe such an evidence session would refresh members views, and support the confidence exhibited in previous expressions of cross party support during the main chamber debate on this petition in October 2014, and enhance the backing of the Public Petitions Committee in requesting the Justice Committee consider this matter.

As I have previously indicated, I believe members would also benefit by hearing in an evidence session – from Petitions Committee members whose work brought this petition forward, and hearing from MSPs such as Alex Neil – who have looked closely at how the judiciary have handled questions of transparency and conflicts of interest.

Noting the Justice Secretary’s response to the Committee, it appears unfortunate the Minister was not informed of new and widely reported evidence submitted to members in relation to senior Scottish judges holding dual judicial posts, both in Scotland and in the Gulf states – and notably with no reference to such by the Judiciary of Scotland.

It is worth noting, that due to the passage of time of this petition – considerable, and regular presentations of new evidence to the Public Petitions Committee – in relation to issues such as a lack of judicial transparency, failure of judges to interact or cooperate with parts of the Judiciary & Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 – particularly interaction with the Judicial Complaints Reviewer – and widely reported developments in court proceedings from conflicts of interest to failures to recuse – depict a markedly different view of the current state of judicial transparency, and how a Register of Interests would benefit both judges, and increase public confidence in the justice system.

None of these matters are in doubt. The Public Petitions Committee evidence – both in written form and live evidence sessions with witnesses – including two of Scotland’s top judges, both previous Judicial Complaints Reviewers, academics and Ministers, gave the Public Petitions Committee the confidence to support this petition and refer it to the Justice Committee for further action.

This is indeed contrary to the Scottish Government’s position that the judicial oath, the statement of principles of judicial ethics and the various rules made under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 operate as a ‘safeguard’ when the overwhelming evidence is – they do not work in terms of increasing transparency, accountability or public confidence in the judiciary.

Indeed, the statistics in the Register of Recusals – created as a result of this petition – now total well over 100 instances of judicial conflicts of interest – and it is important to note we would not have known about previous to this petition and the investigative work of MSPs and the media who followed these events.

It is also worth noting the Recusals Register started out in April 2014 as a very bare reference log, without much detail – notably excluded tribunal members and still does not appear to include over 400 Justices of the Peace.

The Register of Recusals has only been reformed into the slightly more detailed state in which it currently exists, due to requests from the Public Petitions Committee, MSPs and direct discussions between myself and the Judicial Office – which I have previously provided to the Petitions Committee during their work.

Clearly, there is still much work to do on the Register of Recusals – and this may be an issue which the Justice Committee could investigate further.

Given the work by MSPs on this petition to-date, and the cumulative evidence collected by the Public Petitions Committee from witnesses and written submissions – from both sides of the debate, it is clear there is a considerable benefit to both the justice system and public expectation of transparency – to creating a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary, in a form at least as already exists for all other branches of public life, including members of the Scottish Parliament.

SCOTTISH JUDGES SERVING IN THE GULF STATES:

An exclusive investigation by Investigative Journalist Russell Findlay revealed Scottish judges were serving in Abu Dhabi & UAE courts while serious Human Rights abuses were taking place against British citizens in the same countries.

The investigation also reveals how Scottish and UK judges are lured to the UAE, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar with big money salaries are available here: JUDGES FOR SALE: Special investigation into top lawmen being lured with big money jobs in Qatar and the UAE and here: Scottish judges slammed for being on payroll of oppressive regimes abroad

The report reveals TOP judges are accused of selling the reputation of Scottish justice by working for Middle East countries with toxic human rights records.

Two judges are on the payroll of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where domestic violence against women is legal and where regime critics are tortured and jailed without trial.

The most senior is Lord Hope of Craighead — Scotland’s former top judge, a member of the House of Lords and ex-deputy president of the UK Supreme Court.

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.

In recent years, retired UK judges have been increasingly lured with big paycheques to new civil courts in Qatar and the UAE states of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Lord Hope is chief justice of Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts which also employs Lord McGhie and six other male judges from the UK and Commonwealth.

Another former Lord President, Lord Hamilton, sits in a court in Qatar which is accused of backing international terrorism and using migrant slave labour.

SEVEN YEAR TRANSPARENCY PETITION:

The judicial register petition – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls 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 judicial register of interests would contain information on 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.

TOP SCOTS JUDGES FAIL IN HOLYROOD 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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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

MSPs to consider judicial interests call. A PETITION calling for the creation of a Register of Judges’ Interests in Scotland – which is now in it’s SEVENTH year is to be considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on Tuesday 5 February 2019.

The latest consideration of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary comes after members of the Justice Committee initially heard the petition in late September 2018 – with several MSPs supporting the view the petition should be taken forward.

During the Committee’s meeting, John Finnie MSP of the Scottish Greens said: “Future generations will be surprised that we do not have such a register already.”

Daniel Johnson MSP (Scottish Labour) said: “We all need to be mindful that we have a legal duty to uphold the independence of the judiciary, but transparency enhances independence. I very much support the comments that colleagues have made. We should take the petition forward.”

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.

The proposal, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on 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 move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, backing in the media, and crucial support from two of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewers – including Moi Ali

Moi Ali – who served as Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – appeared before the Public Petitions Committee in a hard hitting evidence session during September 2013,and gave full sypport to the proposals calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

Video footage of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee’s first consideration of the judciial register petition in September 2018 can be viewed here:

Register of Judicial Interests – Justice Committee Scottish Parliament 25 September 2018

Official Report: Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

Margaret Mitchell MSP (Scottish Conservatives) (Convener) : Under item 4, the committee will consider two petitions. I refer members to paper 4, which is a note by the clerk, and paper 5, which is a private paper. The committee is asked to consider and agree what action, if any, it wishes to take in relation to each petition. Possible options are outlined in paragraph 5 of paper 4. I remind members that if they wish to keep a petition open, they should indicate how they would like the committee to take it forward. If they wish to close a petition, they should give reasons. We will consider each petition in the order in which they appear on the agenda.

This is the first time that the committee has considered PE1458. The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce a register of pecuniary interests of judges bill, or amend existing legislation, to require all members of the judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests and hospitality received to a publicly available register of interests. Do members have any comments or questions?

John Finnie (Scottish Green Party):  I seem to have mislaid the paper, but from memory there were a number of recommendations around requiring further information. I would support that approach. Future generations will be surprised that we do not have such a register already. We need to be best informed, so I suggest that we get that additional information and consider the petition again.

Rona Mackay (Scottish National Party) :  I agree with my colleague, John Finnie. The Public Petitions Committee believes that a register is not unworkable and recommended it. As John Finnie said, we need to explore the petition further and get as much information as we can so that we can take it forward.

Daniel Johnson (Scottish Labour) : We all need to be mindful that we have a legal duty to uphold the independence of the judiciary, but transparency enhances independence. I very much support the comments that colleagues have made. We should take the petition forward. It makes an awful lot of sense to do exploratory work.

The Convener: Is it the committee’s wish, therefore, that we keep the petition open and seek further information?

Members indicated agreement.

Since the Justice Committee considered the petition last September, there have been explosive revelations in the media in relation to Scottish and UK judges serving in Gulf States regimes and dictatorships, where the same judges are required to swear additional judicial oaths on top of the judicial oaths already sworn in Scotland and the UK.

An exclusive investigation by Investigative Journalist Russell Findlay revealed Scottish judges were serving in Abu Dhabi & UAE courts while serious Human Rights abuses were taking place against British citizens in the same countries.

The report reveals TOP judges are accused of selling the reputation of Scottish justice by working for Middle East countries with toxic human rights records.

Two judges are on the payroll of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where domestic violence against women is legal and where regime critics are tortured and jailed without trial.

The most senior is Lord Hope of Craighead — Scotland’s former top judge, a member of the House of Lords and ex-deputy president of the UK Supreme Court.

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.

The investigation also reveals how Scottish and UK judges are lured to the UAE, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar with big money salaries are available here: JUDGES FOR SALE: Special investigation into top lawmen being lured with big money jobs in Qatar and the UAE and here: Scottish judges slammed for being on payroll of oppressive regimes abroad

Two weeks ago, the petitioner was contacted and requested to provide a submission for the Justice Committee’s consideration of the petition.

The submission to the Justice Committee took the following form:

Submission re Petition PE1458 – A Register of Interests for Members of Scotland’s Judiciary

In response to the Justice Committee’s initial consideration of this petition, I agree with the decision by members to seek further and additional information to take the petition forward and create a Register of Judicial Interests for members of Scotland’s Judiciary.

I would also like to submit further developments since members last considered the petition, where reports in the media have revealed senior members of Scotland’s judiciary serving in overseas courts, particularly in the Gulf States such as UAE, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and others.

It should be of interest to members that in the case of Lord McGhie, who is currently listed on the Judiciary of Scotland’s website as Chairman of the Scottish Land Court and President of the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, the biography of Lord McGhie’s interests does not mention the fact he also serves on the Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts.

Of note, the ADGM Court does list Lord McGhie’s service in Scotland as a member of the judiciary, however the Judiciary of Scotland omit all details of Lord McGhie’s overseas judicial service, as can be noted from the two separate judicial biographies forwarded to the Justice Committee,

An investigation by the Sunday Mail newspaper revealed 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 – yet given there is clearly no mention of his service abroad, and the fact Lord McGhie will be subject to a judicial oath in the UAE as well as adhere to his judicial oath in Scotland, clearly a register of Judicial Interests would require information such as this to be published, while currently, the Judicial Office for Scotland does not publish such information.

It would be useful for the Justice Committee to make enquiries as to the two separate judicial oaths and terms of service which Lord McGhie is subject to, here in Scotland, and in the United Arab Emirates, as clearly, such information should be present in a publicly available Register of Judicial Interests.

The dual service of Scottish judges in overseas jurisdictions, including the Gulf States should be further examined, in the light of the published reports and significant public interest in the cases of lawyer David Haigh, where a Scottish Sheriff accepted Mr Haigh’s account of Human Rights abuses, and torture in Dubai, and the case of Matthew Hedges – held for five months without explanation, then charged with, and found guilty on allegations of espionage.

In recent enquiries with the Judicial Office for Scotland, I have noted there are no recusals by Justices of the Peace since the guidance on recusals was extended to JPs as of January 2018.

However, since Tribunal members interests were added to the recusals register, recusals jumped from around 20 a year to 49 in the past year.

The lack of recusals for Justices of the Peace, who number around 450 and comprise the highest proportion in terms of numbers of Scotland’s judiciary, are worthy of scrutiny, particularly as the Scottish Justices Association have expressed negative sentiments towards reform and transparency in the past, notably in the case of media reports in relation to overseas trips by Justices of the Peace, which are covered in a Sunday Herald investigation forwarded with this submission.

As part of the further information which the Justice Committee may wish to seek on judicial conflicts of interest, I would suggest making enquiries to the Judicial Office on how the guidance on recusals is being implemented, and how far down the line it goes, for instance, in selection and subsequent training of judicial office holders prior to their service on the bench and how such guidance plays a role in every day court proceedings.

The Register of Recusals is available for inspection online http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk/68/0/Judicial-Recusals

I also suggest members study the Norway model of a register of judicial interests https://www.domstol.no/en/The-Courts-of-Justice/The-ordinary-courts-of-Norway/Dommeres-sidegjoremal/ and how such a model, with enhancements could be created for Scotland’s judiciary.

From the report of the Justice Committee’s initial consideration of the petition, I agree with the support expressed by members for progressing the petition from Rona Mackay, Daniel Johnson, and John Finnie MSP who stated “Future generations will be surprised that we do not have such a register already.”

The Scottish Parliament, by way of the Public Petitions Committee, MSPs during the full debate in October 2014 and now the Justice Committee have amassed a level of information and submissions on this petition which should go forward in the public interest to create a Registrar of Judicial Interests – and apply the same level of transparency for members of the judiciary, which already exists for all other branches of the Executive and those in public life.

However, the above submission was initially rejected, by a Scottish Parliament clerk – who claimed there was no existing biography for Lord McGhie on the Judiciary of Scotland’s website, and that Lord McGhie was in-fact retired.

The clerk was challenged on his claims after journalists confirmed the existence of the biography for Lord McGhie remained on the Judicial Office website – and that Lord McGhie had in-fact sat as recently as 2018 on cases in the Court of Session, sitting alongside Lady Paton and Lord Drummond Young.

Journalist Peter Cherbi tweeted out the sequence of his findings on twitter, here: Twitter – Content of Judicial Service Bio of Lord McGhie questioned

The clerk, who has since been identified as Seán Wixted – did not reply to the petitioner’s information confirming the existence of the biography of Lord McGhie, nor was any response given as to why court opinions also show Lord McGhie sitting in court, despite the clerk’s claim the judge was retired.

A revised submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee contained the following substitute paragraphs:

It would be useful for the Justice Committee to make enquiries in relation to members of Scotland’s judiciary who serve in overseas jurisdictions and details in relation to the two separate judicial oaths and terms of service which judges swear to, in jurisdictions such as the United Arab Emirates and here in Scotland, as clearly, such information should be present in a publicly available Register of Judicial Interests.

The dual service of Scottish judges in overseas jurisdictions, including the Gulf States should be further examined, in the light recent media coverage of the dual service of Scottish judges and significant public interest in such cases.

and added the following suggestion MSPs experienced in the petition should be asked for evidence:

Lastly, and noting the recommendations listed in papers for members consideration of this petition on Tuesday 5 February 2019, I would like to request the Justice Committee invite members of the Public Petitions Committee to give evidence to the Justice Committee on this petition, given the PPC’s six years of experience, dedication and exceptional work on this petition, which has accumulated significant evidence, testimony and backing from all sections of the community in favour of creating a Register of Judicial Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

It was further noted in emails provided to the media the petitioner was not allowed to inform MSPs of the clerk’s demand the submission was edited at the request of the Committee’s own clerk, Mr Wixted.

Previously, on the Register of Judicial Interests Petition –

A video report of the Public Petitions Committee backing for the petition can be viewed online here: Petition PE 1458 Register of Judicial Interests Public Petitions Committee 22 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.

MSP at Holyrood have previously heard over sixty two submissions of evidence, during twenty one Committee hearings, and a private meeting between two MSPs and a top judge, and two private meetings since early December 2017 to decide a way forward on their six year investigation.

Cross party support for the Petition at the Scottish Parliament saw fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate spanning from 2012 to 2018.

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.

Scotland’s second Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also supported  the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

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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Supreme Court judge Lord Rodger who found Law Society of Scotland lied over dishonesty claims in legal establishment’s stitch-up of former solicitors ‘who championed underdog’, dies after short illness

LordRodger1Former Lord President who became Supreme Court judge, Lord Rodger dies after a short illness. LORD RODGER, the former Lord President of the Court of Session who found the Law Society lied over dishonesty claims in a famous case involving former Edinburgh solicitors Gordon & Maria Thomson who were hounded out the profession for taking too much legal aid business, and who went on to become a judge in the UK Supreme Court, itself recently involved in controversial rulings on Scottish Human Rights cases which have changed the face of Scotland’s notoriously corrupt, antiquated legal system, has died after a short illness, it has been announced.

Lord Alan Rodger studied at the University of Glasgow, graduating with an MA, and at the University’s School of Law, taking an LLB. He became an advocate in 1974 and was Clerk of the Faculty of Advocates from 1976 to 1979. He was a Member of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland from 1981 to 1984, and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1985.He was an Advocate Depute from 1985 to 1988 and was appointed Solicitor General for Scotland in 1989, being promoted to Lord Advocate in 1992, at which time he became a life peer as Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, of Earlsferry in the District of North East Fife, and was appointed to the Privy Council.

Lord Rodger was appointed a Senator of the College of Justice, a judge of the High Court of Justiciary and Court of Session, in 1995, and became Lord Justice General and Lord President in 1996. He was appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 2001, upon the retirement of Lord Clyde. He and nine other Lords of Appeal in Ordinary became Justices of the Supreme Court upon that body’s inauguration on 1 October 2009.

Among the many rulings Lord Rodger will be remembered for, is that of the famous case where former Edinburgh solicitors, Gordon & Maria Thomson, who were hounded out of the Scottish legal profession by establishment elements and the Law Society of Scotland for taking ‘too much’ of the legal aid business. In a ruling on a petition to the nobile officium, Lord Rodger, then the Lord President, along with Lords Coulsfield & Marnoch, found the Law Society of Scotland, who had rigged an investigation into the Thomsons, and subsequent hearings before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal which struck off the Thomsons as solicitors, had not removed allegations of dishonesty which were part of the Law Society’s concerted effort to strike down the Thomson’s popular legal business. The ruling from Lord Rodger and his colleagues on the bench stated :

This petition to the nobile officium by Gordon Thomson and Maria Thomson comes before the court on a motion for a first order for service. Among those upon whom service is sought are the President and Council of the Law Society of Scotland. It appears, however, that a copy of the petition was faxed to the Law Society some days ago and in any event the existence of the petition was reported in the press. The Law Society were accordingly represented at the hearing by Mr. Macdonald, Q.C.

The petitioners were the subject of proceedings in the Solicitors Discipline Tribunal, the hearing in which took place over several days in 1994 and 1995. On 22 March the Fiscal and the petitioners reached a substantial measure of agreement and the proceedings were adjourned until 5 April 1995. After sundry procedure, the Tribunal issued an interlocutor on 7 April and on 8 June 1995 they issued their formal Findings which comprised seventeen numbered paragraphs. In due course the petitioners appealed to this court. Their appeal came before an Extra Division who allowed it and remitted the matter to the Tribunal. In the opinion delivered by Lord Prosser, in a passage which we do not repeat but which was based on the submissions made at the hearing of the appeal, the court indicated that they were not satisfied that all the allegations of personal dishonesty against the petitioners had been withdrawn. In the present petition the petitioners state that the position of the Fiscal at the original hearing before the Tribunal was, and the position of the Fiscal at the new hearing is, that all such allegations have been withdrawn. The petitioners therefore ask the court to exercise the nobile officium and inter alia: “to hold that the Opinion of the Court should be recalled and re-written omitting any imputation of personal dishonesty by either Petitioner and publicised accordingly….”

However great the powers of this court may be, we cannot rewrite history. Nor can any interlocutor recall the words of an opinion or unsay what the court has said in an opinion which has been issued. The petition is therefore self-evidently incompetent.

None the less, as the petitioners point out, the opinion of the court has been published on the Internet and elsewhere. If the Law Society’s position is actually that the Fiscal at the original hearing withdrew the allegations of personal dishonesty and that the Society do not allege personal dishonesty, then it is proper that this state of affairs should be given equivalent publicity. In the course of the short hearing we accordingly asked Mr. Macdonald to clarify the position of the Law Society. He readily did so. Based on what he told us, for the avoidance of doubt, we record that the Law Society of Scotland agree that the findings of the Discipline Tribunal issued on 8 June 1995, so far as inferring personal dishonesty on the part of the petitioners, did not reflect the pleas tendered by the petitioners and accepted by the Fiscal and those findings should therefore not have been made by the Tribunal.

Struck off mavericks celebrate legal victoryFormer solicitors Gordon & Maria Thomson were targeted in a fit up by the Law Society of Scotland over their law business. Gordon and Maria Thomson were originally struck off in 1995 after a 16-day tribunal hearing over what many now see as widely fabricated allegations by the Law Society of Scotland of a “substantial catalogue” of professional misconduct. The couple had become widely known through television commercials which featured Mr Thomson in biking leathers, astride a Harley- Davidson motor cycle. They were judged by the Law Society to have been too hungry for fees and to have run their Edinburgh practice in a manner which allegedly brought the profession into disrepute. Their firm, Gordon Thomson & Co, operated from the Sighthill shopping centre in Edinburgh. It also had branch offices, dubbed “law cafes”, in Methil and Glenrothes in Fife. In his advertising Thomson portrayed himself as a champion of the underdog, and clients were called “friends”. His theme tune was Tina Turner’s Simply The Best. The offices were run almost as drop-in centres where members of the public could go for a coffee and a talk with one of the staff. The Law Society condemned this as soliciting clients of other lawyers and thus decided to kill off their business, and practising certificates.

Unbeknown to myself at the time, a firm of Edinburgh solicitors who were representing me in the case of the crooked Scottish Borders solicitor, Andrew Penman, and my attempt to take the Law Society of Scotland to court, had been appointed to wind up the Thomson’s legal practice by the Law Society. One of the firm’s solicitors went onto confess the whole thing had been about money, because many Edinburgh law firms were anxious the Thomson’s were taking their business, and particularly the legal aid money which effectively subsidises some of Edinburgh’s most noted, if most useless and sometimes most crooked, law firms.

421Law Society’s Chief Executive Douglas Mill & Philip Yelland, head of Client Relations during the fit up of the Thomsons. It is worth noting that throughout the Law Society of Scotland’s determined pursuit of the Thomsons, its Chief Executive was Douglas Mill, who was forced to resign his position after video footage of a confrontation between Mill & the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary John Swinney at a 2006 meeting of Holyrood’s Justice 2 Committee was published on the internet. It is also worth noting the same individuals who were wrapped up in the Thomson case, Mr Mill & Philip Yelland, the Law Society of Scotland’s Client Relations & Regulation Chief at the time of the Thomson case, were both also involved in the same highly personalised & bitter pursuit of myself, blocking all my attempts to take Andrew Penman, his law firm Stormonth Darling, the Master Policy,  and the Law Society of Scotland to the Court of Session.

Scotland’s serving & previous Lord Advocates issued their own tribute to Lord Rodger in a Press Release from the Crown Office :

Following the sad death of Alan Rodger, Lord Advocates past and present have paid tribute.

Speaking of Mr Rodger, Frank Mulholland QC, Dame Elish Angiolini QC and Lord Boyd of Duncansby QC issued a joint statement saying: “It is with great sadness that we have learnt of Alan Rodger’s death. Those of us who have had the privilege of working with or appearing before him held him in the highest regard.”

“His sharp intellect allied to his humanity and humility made him one of the great Lord Advocate and Lord Presidents. Scotland’s legal profession is poorer for his passing. He bore his illness with great courage and has left a legacy of significant jurisprudential thinking which will stand Scotland well for many years to come. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

The Law Society of Scotland issued its own tribute to Lord Rodger

In tribute to Lord Rodger, Cameron Ritchie, President of the Law Society of Scotland said: “Lord Rodger was an eminent and distinguished figure within the Scottish legal profession. He held some of Scotland’s most distinguished positions, including Lord Advocate and Lord President, where he demonstrated immense ability and intellect. “His more recent role as a member of the UK Supreme Court; one of only two Scottish Judges served to underline his considerable contribution, not only to the justice system but to society as a whole. Above all he was a great ambassador for the Scottish legal profession and someone who will be greatly missed.”

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, who recently launched highly personalised attacks on the Supreme Court judges over their ruling in the Nat Fraser case, delivered his own commentary on Lord Rodger’s death, saying : “Lord Rodger made an outstanding contribution to public life in Scotland over many years both as a judge and as Lord Advocate. He was held in the highest regard by all those who worked with him in public service, and dedicated himself to the interests of justice during a long and hugely influential career.”

Yet in early June, the First Minister and his Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill publicly criticised the Supreme Court & its judges, (two of whom were Scottish, Lord Hope and Lord Rodger, now deceased) of being part of a ”court in London that is made up of a majority of judges who do not know Scots Law, who may have visited here for the Edinburgh Festival”.

Mr MacAskill went on to threaten to withdraw funding for the Supreme Court, saying : “When I go to the Law Society I say that I will not routinely fund ambulance-chasing lawyers. It should be said that I am not going to pay for ambulance-chasing courts. As a Government we have to pay for the Supreme Court of the UK and I think they should recognise that we’ll pay for our fair share of what goes there. But I am not paying money that would come out of the police budget, or prison budget or community payback budget because they are routinely taking cases that we as a country do not think should be going there. He who pays the piper, as they say, calls the tune.”

 

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First Minister Alex Salmond ‘could rely on Crown Immunity’ in row over Supreme Court comments & legal action threat from Human Rights solicitor

Alex_SalmondScotland’s First Minister may rely on Crown Immunity to avoid possible court challenge by solicitor. THE ROW over Alex Salmond’s comments on rulings from the UK’s Supreme Court took another twist today as senior legal figures claimed CROWN IMMUNITY for Scottish Ministers may come to the rescue of Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond in the issue over comments the First Minister made against Professor Tony Kelly, who Mr Salmond accused in an interview for Holyrood magazine of making “an incredibly comfortable living by trailing around the prison cells and other establishments of Scotland trying to find what might be construed as a breach of human rights of an unlimited liability back to 1999”.

Mr Kelly, a solicitor whose clients have included the man convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland in December 1988, has threatened to bring legal action in the English courts against the First Minister as reported in yesterday’s Herald newspaper. However if Crown Immunity is claimed by the First Minister, it is unclear if the case could proceed.

The Herald newspaper yesterday reported : “Human rights solicitor Professor Tony Kelly claims Mr Salmond “has called into question my professional integrity”. And he added: “With regret, I have had to take legal advice and following upon that, given the nature of attacks upon me, I have decided to formalise my opinion.”. Today’s Herald newspaper reports Mr Salmond has refused to apologise for any of his comments made on the Supreme Court, its judges, rulings and comments made against Mr Kelly.

In the interview for Holyrood magazine, Mr Salmond said of Mr Kelly : “You are talking about giving thousands of pounds going to people like Beggs, for example. If a system does that then it falls into total and utter disrepute because there is not a single person, outwith Professor Kelly [Tony Kelly, the human rights lawyer] who was the instigator of many of the actions, that believes that the judicial system is there to serve their interests and to make sure they can make an incredibly comfortable living by trailing around the prison cells and other establishments of Scotland trying to find what might be construed as a breach of human rights of an unlimited liability back to 1999 and that is what we were faced with.”

Mr Salmond continued : “The judicial system does not exist to serve Professor Kelly, it exists to serve the people and any judicial system which allows that to happen would fall into disrepute and what’s more, it costs lives because if you take £100m out of the justice budget you cost lives; less police, less courts, less effective justice and incidentally, less Legal Aid and it is an inevitable consequence of that sort of thing.”

In the same interview, Mr Salmond also attacked Lord Hope, a Scottish judge on the Supreme Court, saying : “All I would say to Lord Hope is that I probably know a wee bit about the legal system and he probably knows a wee bit about politics but politics and the law intertwine and the political consequences of Lord Hope’s judgements are extreme and when the citizens of Scotland understandably vent their fury about the prospect of some of the vilest people on the planet getting lots of money off the public purse, they don’t go chapping at Lord Hope’s door, they ask their Parliament what they are doing about it. I am perfectly happy if Lord Hopes wishes to exercise his freedom of speech and I hope he is happy with mine but at least I went to the bother of being elected, it may be an inconvenience but none the less has to count for something.”

In response to continuing criticisms over the First Minister’s comments on the Supreme Court and Lord Hope, and Professor Kelly, the First Minister said : “I conducted the interview with Holyrood magazine two weeks ago when we were engaged in a vigorous debate on these matters. Since then I have appointed, under Lord McCluskey, a panel of people of eminence and expertise to advise this Parliament, and then to have their views debated in this Parliament so we can address the underlying issue. I think this is the way we should do this.”

Mr Salmond continued : “The integrity of the criminal law of Scotland is a matter of concern. It was never meant to be second guessed in the way that’s happening at the present moment. “As well as a right of free speech, we have a duty as parliamentarians to articulate the public concerns and try and bring proper remedy. It is not, as Iain Gray represents it, that everyone should have human rights. It is whether this Parliament, this jurisdiction, this legal system stands in equality with every other jurisdiction in Western Europe.”

Legal insiders today claimed Mr Salmond as a Scottish Minister may rely on “Crown Immunity” from any court action brought against him, alleging the issue had already been discussed at senior levels of the Government.

A legal source said : “Mr Salmond like all Scottish Ministers, has the availability of Crown Immunity open to him should he require to use it. However the irony of Scotland’s First Minister who has an ultimate goal of independence relying on Crown Immunity to walk away from litigation brought by a solicitor who did nothing other than represent his clients on Human Rights issues will be a sad reflection on the legal system and leave Mr Salmond open to continuing widespread criticism on legal issues.”

The legal source pointed out Mr Kelly’s law firm, Taylor & Kelly already have a track record on cases involving Crown Immunity in post-devolution Scotland where the Scottish Government had lost rulings on its use of Crown Immunity defending previous cases brought by Taylor & Kelly.

Pressed on a statement the use of Crown Immunity amid rumours in legal circles Mr Salmond would claim it if faced with legal action from Professor Kelly, the Scottish Government said : “We do not wish to be drawn on the issue of Crown immunity.”

Yesterday, the Law Society of Scotland & Faculty of Advocates issued a joint statement condemning the First Minister’s remarks against senior members of Scotland’s legal profession and the judiciary.

Responding to recent comments from the First Minister; Richard Keen, dean of the faculty of advocates and Cameron Ritchie, president of the Law Society of Scotland said : “The independence of our judicial system and the need to respect the rule of law are fundamental aspects of Scottish society, as they must be of any democratic society. This is affirmed by the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act, an Act of the Scottish Parliament which obliges the First Minister and the Justice Secretary to uphold the independence of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom . Our judges must be free to decide cases independently, according to law and upon evidence. Any attempt to influence the outcome of litigation by reference to political wishes or a politician’s perception of popular opinion is a challenge not only to the courts but to the rule of law.

The statement continued : “The Scottish Government talks about the unintended consequences of establishing the UK Supreme Court. The First Minister and the Justice Secretary need to carefully reflect on the consequences of what are perceived to be repeated and now highly personal attacks on respected members of the legal profession. Such comments contribute nothing to any sensible debate on how best to provide a justice system that properly and effectively meets the needs of our changing society.”

Mr Salmond’s attack on the legal profession and members of the judiciary on issues of Human Rights rulings & criminal law may well strike a chord with some, however as a journalist & long time law reform campaigner, I have to wonder why does the First Minister not make similar criticisms or public attacks on the now very obvious corruption at the Law Society of Scotland who, as the regulator of Scotland’s legal profession continue to allow rogue solicitors to work as normal while hundreds, now thousands of ruined clients are denied any justice, any access to justice and any chance of recovery of millions of pounds stolen each year by solicitors from their clients.

John SwinneyJohn Swinney’s constructive criticism of the Law Society over corruption at the Master Policy earned him much respect. Perhaps Mr Salmond can learn a thing or two about criticising the legal profession from his number two, John Swinney, who, very singularly, took on the Law Society of Scotland at its highest levels at the Justice 2 Committee in 2006 and exposed the word of the Law Society’s Master Insurance Policy and its targeting of solicitors clients who attempted to pursue their crooked lawyers to the courts. The scandal revealed by Mr Swinney eventually led to the resignation of the Law Society’s then Chief Executive Douglas Mill. Mr Mill announced his resignation in January 2008 which I reported on HERE after video footage of the heated exchanges between Mr Swinney & Mr Mill were published on video sharing website You Tube in December 2007.

John Swinney’s attack on the Scottish legal profession’s handling of client complaints & damages claims was far more relevant & to the mark than Mr Salmond’s raging against the Supreme Court.

If Mr Salmond wants to take on the Scottish legal profession, there are far more important issues & scandals for the First Minister to raise in public of how the legal profession & the Law Society affects & treats Scots when it comes to access to justice, than his current criticisms of Human Rights rulings of the Supreme Court in London.

If Mr Salmond did choose to use his office & Holyrood majority to clean up Scotland’s legal profession, cure its corrupt regulatory practices (including the useless Scottish Legal Complaints Commission) and resolve the legal profession’s injustice against thousands of clients over the decades, a matter I once brought before Holyrood’s Petitions Committee, which was in turn killed off by Law Society demands, well, that would be another subject entirely .. and one worthy of considerable support.

Mr Salmond would also do well to bring forward the full implementation of the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill’s recommendations in the Scottish Civil Courts Review, which for now, is itself under review as I reported HERE.

 

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Human Rights, Scottish wrongs : Scots rights to Supreme Court hearings must be maintained against victorian, inflexible Scots legal system

Alex_SalmondSupreme Court battle : Alex Salmond’s understanding of Scots Law & Scots human rights appears flawed. In a week where the vast majority of headlines concerning the Scottish legal system have been taken up by the continuing arguments over the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Nat Fraser case, pitching the misunderstandings of First Minister Alex Salmond & threats from Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill against the need to maintain the human rights compliance of Scots law with European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), it may be worth reflecting on the simple fact that in this case, the Scottish Government are very very wrong and very much at odds with the protection of human rights of individual Scots, whether the case be criminal law, or civil.

MacAskill tight lippedScotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said Supreme Court judges knew Scots Law only through visiting the Edinburgh Festival. The Herald newspaper reported on Tuesday of this week that Mr MacAskill, who clearly disagrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Fraser case, had accused the Supreme Court judges (two of whom are Scottish) of being part of a ”court in London that is made up of a majority of judges who do not know Scots Law, who may have visited here for the Edinburgh Festival”. Mr MacAskill is further quoted in the article : “We just want to be treated the same as other legal systems – we’re not, because we’re undermined routinely by a court that sits in another country and is presided over by a majority of judges who have no knowledge of Scots law, never mind Scotland.”

Mr MacAskill also said the Scottish legal system should have direct access to the European Court in Strasbourg rather than the route of the London Supreme court, however, as cases can take years to reach the European Court, and Legal Aid funding from the Scottish Legal Aid Board is not always obtainable if the applicant’s face doesn’t fit, forcing Scots to wait four or more years for a fair hearing at Strasbourg rather than a trip to the Supreme Court is rather impracticable, not to mention breaching the rights of Scots to fair hearing in European law within a reasonable time.

On Wednesday of this week, the Herald newspaper reported the decision of the Scottish Government’s Cabinet to set up an expert group to examine Scotland’s relationship with the UK Supreme Court, quoting First Minister Alex Salmond as saying : “It is that desire to ensure Scotland is allowed to make its own decisions that fuels this Government’s desire for reform of the current position of the UK Supreme Court in Scottish criminal cases.”

He said it was “most certainly not”, as had been suggested by Supreme Court judge Lord Hope, “a misunderstanding of the law and the facts on the part of the Scottish Government”, adding “Our concerns are shared by senior members of the Scottish judiciary and respected legal figures, including Lord Fraser, the former Lord Advocate.” Mr Salmond is further quoted : “This is a practical and moral issue which concerns the rights of victims and their families, whose search for justice is delayed, and leads to cases being decided by a court where the majority of judges are not expert in Scots Law.” yet there are many more respected legal figures who dispute the First Minister’s version of events and view that Scots seeking justice should be forced on the long road to Europe rather than the shorter road to London.

The same day, Wednesday, Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill threatened to cut funding to the Supreme Court, reported again in the Herald newspaper. The Herald article quotes Mr MacAskill as saying : “When I go to the Law Society I say that I will not routinely fund ambulance-chasing lawyers. It should be said that I am not going to pay for ambulance-chasing courts. As a Government we have to pay for the Supreme Court of the UK and I think they should recognise that we’ll pay for our fair share of what goes there.” Mr MacAskill is further quoted : “But I am not paying money that would come out of the police budget, or prison budget or community payback budget because they are routinely taking cases that we as a country do not think should be going there. He who pays the piper, as they say, calls the tune.”

Surely Mr MacAskill’s threat of withdrawing funding from the Supreme Court is a product of desperation in an argument where clearly, with the failure of Scottish judges to understand ECHR & comply with it in rulings in Scotland, Scots should be even more actively encouraged to seek rulings in London, rather than as the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill said himself, Scotland’s “Victorian” justice system.

However, in a twist to Mr MacAskill’s position on the funding question, with the Justice Secretary clearly feeling he can withdraw funding for Scottish cases to the Supreme Court, a move many could say is intended to frustrate an individual’s access to justice, Scottish judges themselves have taken an opposite approach and appeared before Holyrood, arguing they should have the power to ensure funding from the Government if justice requires it.

Lord Hamilton judicialScotland’s Lord President, Lord Hamilton argued Courts should have power to compel funding for justice. Indeed, the current Lord President, Lord Hamilton appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, telling msps judicial independence should be maintained and also saying the justice system should have the power to ensure funding is made available for it. Lord Hamilton said : “In difficult financial times, it could be important for the courts to be able to say to the other organs of government that, to maintain a proper judicial system in a democratic society, they require funding of a certain minimum level to discharge that responsibility. It is in that provision that you have the responsibility of providing that for us.” Video footage of Lord Hamilton speaking on the question of funding for justice is available here : Lord President Lord Hamilton says the courts should have power to compel funding from Government for justice system to work properly

Today, Friday, the Herald newspaper reports the First Minister as having been forced to defend ‘Little Scotlander’ Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill over his comments against the Supreme Court and accusations against its judges. Mr Salmond, replying to questions in the Scottish Parliament said : “I fully endorse the Justice Secretary in all aspects of his excellent work.”

Clearly, the human rights of Scots are caught up in a game of political football by Supreme Court hating politicians, who are concerned a court which is generally outside their influence is showing up the Scottish justice system to be the archaic, Victorian and prejudiced model we all know it to be, words spoken by some of its own judges and officials on the ground, rather than those living in ivory towers of St Andrews House.

It should also be noted that while the Scottish Government are content to huff & puff, playing to an agenda which seeks to deprive Scots of human rights rulings within a reasonable time, not one single press release or ministerial statement has appeared on the Scottish Government’s own website this week over the Supreme Court debacle, not even a hint of the Justice Secretary’s threat to pull funding for the Supreme Court.

Readers may wish to view the following two interviews and judge for yourselves, who is acting in the public interest to protect Scots rights of access to justice & access to Human Rights :

Making politics : First Minister Alex Salmond claimed the ruling was the replacement of Scottish Law with Lord Hope’s law, even though Lord Hope is a former Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland.

Making sense : Professor & solicitor Tony Kelly : “If the Supreme court constantly has to overturn the decisions of the Scottish Court there is a problem..”

 

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