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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

Calls to include Justices of the Peace in Recusals Register. SCOTLAND’S top judge has been called upon to include nearly five hundred members of the Judiciary of Scotland in a Register of Judicial Recusals which was created in response to a five year Scottish Parliament probe on lack of transparency within the judiciary.

The Lord President – Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) – is currently being consulted by the Head of Strategy and Governance of the Judicial Office on collecting recusal data from Justices of the Peace courts.

The move comes after journalists queried why JPs were not included in the current register of recusals listing when judges stand down from a case due to conflicts of interest.

The addition of Justices of the Peace to the recusals register follows recent development where Lord Carloway conceded to calls for full transparency on judicial recusals, reported here: RECUSALS JUST GOT REAL: Judicial Office concedes to reforms for Judicial Recusals Register, full case details where judges stand down from court hearings to be entered after media & FOI probe success

However, amid an ongoing probe on Justices of the Peace – where it has now been established some JPs have undeclared criminal convictions – there has been no explanation provided by the Judicial Office as to why some five hundred Justices of the Peace who comprise the bulk of membership of the Judiciary of Scotland – were left out of the publication of recusals by Lord Gill during the register’s creation in April 2014.

Moves by Scotland’s judiciary to become more transparent and open up the workings of Scotland’s courts and judiciary to the public, have come in response to MSPs consideration of judicial transparency proposals contained in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The 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.

The creation of such a register would ensure full transparency for the most powerful people in the justice system – the judiciary.

The resulting publicly available register of judicial 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.

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.

A full listing of evidence in support of the petition calling for a register of judicial interests can be found here: JUDICIAL REGISTER: Evidence lodged by Judicial Investigators, campaigners, judges & journalists in four year Holyrood probe on judges’ interests – points to increased public awareness of judiciary, expectation of transparency in court.

The move to create a register of judicial interests has also secured the support of two Judicial Complaints Reviewers.

Moi Ali – who served as Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – appeared before the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament in a hard hitting evidence session during September of 2013.

At the hearing, Ms Ali supported 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.

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

Both of Scotland’s recent top judges – former Lord President Lord Brian Gill, and current Lord President Lord Carloway, have testified before the Scottish Parliament on the petition, both failing to prove any case against creating a register of judicial interests.

A report on Lord Brian Gill’s 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”

A report on Lord Carloway’s 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

The National newspaper reports on the call to include Justices of the Peace in the Judiciary of Scotland Register of Judicial Recusals.

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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GOOD LORD, GLITCHES: “Gremlins & Glitches” theme of Lord Carloway’s opening of new legal year – Court of Session misses out on promised digital reforms, top judge takes swipe on judicial appointments in Law Society speech

Lord Carloway opens legal year 17-18. SCOTLAND’S top judge has marked the opening of the new legal year with an admission of significant problems with the rollout of digital technology in Scotland’s creaking, Victorian era courts & justice system.

Lord President and Lord Justice General – Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) – who presides over a £42milion a year 700 strong group of Sheriffs & Sheriffs Principal, Justices of the Peace and Court of Session judges who call themselves “Senators” – told his handpicked, closed door legal world audience that “Gremlins and glitches” had yet again slowed down major digital technology reforms.

Luckily for the creaking Court of Session and it’s judges – who are known to despise transparency and openly snear, perhaps even smite media intrusions into their haphazard and often calamitously costly hearings to litigants – Lord Carloway added integrated digital reforms were still some way off from impinging on salivating legal teams fees, which can in some cases have resulted in tens of thousands of pounds for what passes as a day’s ‘work’.

Carloway, spoke to an audience which included Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales  and Lady Thomas, along with Sir Declan Morgan, the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lady Morgan, Mr Justice Frank Clarke the new Chief Justice of Ireland and President of the Irish Supreme Court, Mr Justice John MacMenamin, a member of the Supreme Court in Ireland – and the new President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, Baroness Hale and her husband, Dr Julian Farrand.

Lord Carloway told his audience: “As is often the case, pronouncements, about the advent of digital technology as the panacea for procedural and evidential woes, have proved somewhat optimistic. The new digital Integrated Case Management System has been rolled out in the sheriff courts, but glitches and gremlins have slowed its process. Even assuming that the digital portal, which is designed to absorb all court documents, including productions, into the ICMS, will be operational in the not too distant future, it may still be some time before the ICMS is introduced to the Court of Session.”

However, earlier this year, in late February of this year, The Times reportedLord Carloway –  “Scotland’s most senior judge has claimed that the Scots legal system is stuck in the 19th century and needs to be modernised to provide better justice.

Lord Carloway, the lord president of the Court of Session and lord justice general of the High Court, claimed that many rules and procedures appeared to be “preserved in aspic”.

Dear oh dear. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) received over £105million of public cash in the latest Scottish Government budget. If the courts cannot achieve a visit to PC World on £100million a year to equip the ageing Court of Session justiciary with an integrated computer framework, well, the public are not getting value for money.

Admittedly, over £11million of that figure is directed to the judiciary, in an effort to split the ever burgeoning judicial budget which hit £40.5million in 2016.

Alas, as in many public body accounts in Scotland – Cayman Islands style creative accounting  became the in-thing – where some Scottish Government Minister decided it would be good figure fiddling to split the judicial budget into two. That way, the financial accounts look like the judiciary took a £12million a year hit, yet in reality they now receive a near £12million bung via the main Courts budget.

And, yet, in yesterday’s Opening of the Legal Year 2017-2018 address to the usual closed shop audience, ever closed for fear of public criticism – amongst a speech of gremlins, glitches & the goonies, Lord Carloway reverts back to the myths of a ‘respectable’ and functioning justice system, which rests firmly in the day dreams of Scotland’s judicary, and annual profits of mostly Edinburgh based law firms and cash collectors – otherwise known as the Faculty of Advocates.

Lord Carloway’s Opening of the Legal Year 2017-2018 speech in full:

Welcome everyone to the opening of the legal year. First let me thank you all for coming. Can I first introduce our guests from our neighbouring jurisdictions:

Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and President of the Courts of that jurisdiction and Lady Thomas;

Sir Declan Morgan, the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lady Morgan

Mr Justice Frank Clarke the new Chief Justice of Ireland and President of the Irish Supreme Court

Mr Justice John MacMenamin, a member of the Supreme Court in Ireland

and a welcome return to Edinburgh to the new President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, Lady Hale and Dr Julian Farrand

I am also pleased to welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, Annabelle Ewing, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs and Paul Johnston, the Director General for Education, Communities and Justice.

It is also a pleasure to have with us Liam McCollum, Chair of the Bar of Northern Ireland, Paul McGarry, the Chair of the Bar of Ireland, Seamus Woulfe, the Attorney General of Ireland and David Barniville, also from the Bar of Ireland.

Without indulging in a lengthy essay on the current state of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals, I would like to say a few words about where we are now and where we are going next.

We have now seen the structural changes of the Courts Reform Act bedding in; with the advent of the Sheriff Appeal Court, the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injuries Court and the raising of the exclusive jurisdiction of the sheriff court to £100,000. We have introduced important changes to the structure of Scotland’s tribunals, with the establishment of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and the creation of distinct chambers for housing and property and for taxation.

As anticipated by the reforms, there has been a significant reduction in both appellate and first instance civil work in the Court of Session and in summary criminal appeals to the High Court. There has also been a predicted drop in the number of commercial cases. As a consequence of all of this, this court the Court of Session ought to become leaner, trimmer and fitter in the coming years.

There ought to be a significant reduction in waiting times for civil first instance and appellate hearings. This has already happened with appeals, which are generally being disposed of (including judgment) on average within 8 months of marking. Proofs of 4 days duration are fixed within 6 months of the request to do so. However, I fully recognise that further work requires to be carried out to accommodate longer proofs, within much shorter time-scales. I include in that equation the issue of the final opinion. This will be achieved partly as a consequence of the abolition of court terms in the coming year. This has already seen some of these proofs being allocated over what was formerly known as the Summer Vacation or Recess.

The policy of having at least 4 non-commercial judges in the Outer House over a period of at least three months will continue, or rather increase to five, so as to avoid any criticism that ordinary first instance business is being regarded as less of a priority than other work. Major inroads have been made in relation to providing all judges with sufficient writing time in civil cases. Statistically, there has been a substantial improvement in the time taken to issue judgments, even if there continue to be problems in specific cases.

The High Court is already processing solemn appeals as efficiently as is reasonably practicable with disposals occurring within 6 months of the grant of leave. It is anticipated that far fewer criminal appeal courts will be needed in the coming months. This will mean that we will be able to continue to run two civil Divisions each week if necessary. The post reform developments will result in much less reliance on retired or temporary judges and, in the sheriff courts, dependence upon fee paid and retired sheriffs. I remain very conscious of the fact that almost all High Court cases require an extension of time. However, I do not consider that this is caused by an inefficiency in the system. Rather, the introduction of enhanced disclosure, the need to search electronic databases and social media and advances in forensic science have made it all but impossible to comply with timescales set in a different era whilst at the same time accommodating the diaries of parties’ legal representatives. As a result of concerted efforts over the past year, all sheriff courts are now able to fix summary trial diets within the optimal 16 week timescale. In relation to domestic abuse cases that timescale is under 10 weeks. Reform in sheriff and jury practice ought to place the sheriff courts onto a similar efficient footing to the High Court.

As I said at this time last year, the focus must now change from structure to function. As is often the case, pronouncements, about the advent of digital technology as the panacea for procedural and evidential woes, have proved somewhat optimistic. The new digital Integrated Case Management System has been rolled out in the sheriff courts, but glitches and gremlins have slowed its process. Even assuming that the digital portal, which is designed to absorb all court documents, including productions, into the ICMS, will be operational in the not too distant future, it may still be some time before the ICMS is introduced to the Court of Session.

The enormously ambitious rules rewrite project, under the auspices of the Scottish Civil Justice Council, continues apace. Having produced its first report, the project now enters a second stage designed to develop a core narrative of draft civil rules applicable in both the Court of Session and the sheriff court. It has, to some, rather dull aspects, but the development of case management powers in relation to the conduct of proofs and other hearings will see an exciting change in the way things are done and the time which it takes to do them; provided, that is, that we continue to have a judiciary committed to improvement.

The next significant reform in solemn criminal procedure will be the expanded use of recorded evidence with vulnerable and child witnesses. This is already done, although not always consistently across the board. It is in summary criminal procedure that greater change is anticipated with fundamental proposals being made following upon the “New Model” paper produced earlier this year. The plan is to have all pre-trial procedures conducted by a digital case management process. More important will be the creation of a means to store, manage and share evidence digitally and securely. The idea that truth can be ascertained by using a combination of memory test, pressure and general inconvenience to witnesses will be replaced by a system which gives far greater precedence to images and statements recorded electronically at or about the time of the relevant incident and to the need to accommodate witnesses generally.

I would now wish to thank all of my judicial colleagues, especially the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, for their continued help and support. I am grateful to the administrative judges Lords Malcolm (formerly Lord Menzies), Turnbull, Boyd and Matthews, for all their assistance throughout the year. I also thank the SCTS chief executive, Eric McQueen, the new head of the Judicial Office, Tim Barraclough, our new Principal Clerk, Gillian Prentice, and all the court clerks and other staff working here in Parliament House, in the High Court Centres and throughout the country. Their commitment and hard work remain important an driving force in ensuring not only the continued existence of the justice system but also its progress. I have also very much appreciated the court’s continuing engagement with the Law Officers, all of whom are here today, in helping to develop policies and plans, both past and future, which make the system, as it is at present, fit for the 21st century.

Not least, I wish to thank the legal profession, especially those institutions represented here today, including the Faculty, the WS, SSC and Law Society, and also all those many counsel and solicitors who have participated so willingly, and for no reward, in the committees and working groups now beavering away in the background, for their dedication to the Scottish Legal System, for the effort which all have put in over the last year and in anticipation of the invaluable work which they will be carrying out in the coming year.

Lord Carloway, Lord President 25 September 2017

THE LORD PRESIDENT’S OTHER SPEECH:

The duties of a Lord President and his judges are far and wide.

International travel junkets akin to playing diplomat, or perhaps as unmasked by media attention – just charging up the taxpayer for ‘law conferences’ around the world in 5-Star hotels with golf courses, river tours and first class travel.

Or just a trip across Edinburgh to a law conference, the Lord President does not miss an opportunity to get his oar in give a speech, even if only to a shady bunch at the Law Society of Scotland annual conference – whose members are well practiced in dodging those murky Police Scotland & Crown Office hit-a-brick-wall probes into mortgage dealing, money laundering & bulk buying of properties on the cheap.

While the focus of Lord Carloway’s speech to the Law Society of Scotland audience, already fattened on over £1.3billion pounds of legal aid since the 2008 financial crash, and countless Scottish Government contracts of up to £20million a year and tens of millions more fleeced from public authorities & public bodies, the top judge took another swipe at those who may ‘interfere’ with a measure of transparency in the junta-like regime of Scotland’s courts & judiciary.

Lord Carloway breezed to his Law Society audience: “Under the ancien regime, before the advent of the Judicial Appointments Board, judges and sheriffs were recommended to the Queen for appointment by the Secretary of State, following consultation with the Lord Advocate and, in practice, the Lord President . It was perceived, by some, perhaps many, that judges were the product of cronyism or political patronage. It is true to say that every Lord Advocate in the century or so prior to 1970 was appointed to a superior court bench. Many nominated themselves as Lord President , Lord Justice Clerk  or became judges in the House of Lords .”

“That tradition was broken not so much with the appointment of Lord Wilson of Langside, who became Director of the old Scottish Courts Administration (now the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service) and then Sheriff Principal of Glasgow, but when Norman Wylie appointed George Emslie to be Lord President in 1972. Nevertheless, Lord Advocates  continued to be appointed as Lords Ordinary and, one way or another, often progressed rapidly to similar positions of high judicial office .”

“The appointment of judges generally was political in the sense of the selection being by government; a system which is common, albeit with different focus, in many western democracies. It is seen as an element in the balance of power. Its merits and demerits have recently been analysed by the new President of the UK Supreme Court, who has mooted re-involvement of politicians from both government and opposition in the appointment of the most important chairs in the English legal system.”

“No-one would pretend that every judicial appointment from that era was of a person with complete legal and personal skills equipping him (as all judges then were) for high judicial office or a sheriffdom. There were problems. What is clear, however, is that the person who was, in practice, recommending the appointment would be fully appraised of the candidate’s qualities and failings. The Lord Advocate would be well aware of his prospective appointee’s experience, ability and knowledge. Consultation with the Lord President ensured that there was substantial input on suitability from the person who would be responsible for the new judge’s future performance and behaviour.”

Judicial Appointments

“There has been much recent public discussion, both in Scotland and in neighbouring jurisdictions, about the challenges which exist in the recruitment of new members of the judiciary. It is imperative, if Scotland is to maintain a high quality judiciary, especially at Court of Session level, that those at the top of the profession in the litigation field are highly motivated to apply for judicial office. It is equally important that the selection process itself does not deter or subsequently reject those candidates best qualified to fulfil the role. The aim must be to secure the services of those whom the profession regard as the leaders in their field and who are seen as the most able of their generation.”

“The independence of the judiciary is a vital element in our system. It is maintained primarily by selecting persons who have acted as independent advocates or solicitors throughout their professional lives, who have prosecuted and defended, and who have acted on the one hand for government, insurance companies and global conglomerates and on the other for the private individual, legal aided or otherwise, who has allegedly been oppressed or who has a legal right requiring vindication.”

“What must not be lost sight of is the simple fact, which cannot be underestimated, that for the Scottish justice system to operate properly, it needs judges and sheriffs who are not just competent lawyers with reasonable or even good people skills. It needs, at the high end, the best lawyers of the generation to lead the way; to take over the chairs of the permanent Divisions and to provide their wings. In the sheriff courts, although the same quality of legal skill and experience may not be a necessity, the appointments must be of people whom the profession recognise as prominent within their ranks.”

“I very much welcome the willingness of the new Chair of the Judicial Appointments Board to engage in a discussion about how the selection process might be improved to ensure that we do persuade the leading lights of the profession to apply for judicial office, and that the very best are successful in their applications.”

The full speech is available here:  LP Law Society of Scotland Annual Conference Keynote Address 19September2017

Put it this way. If suddenly, the Government banned elections, any form of public vote was suspended, and instead politicians were selected in the way the Lord President extols as fit for judges who head a £2.5 billion pound per annum publicly funded justice system, it would be branded undemocratic, a system of jobs for the boys, and well, in all honesty – totalitarian.

The “Greater Good” – The phrase used by the Lord President in the opening paragraph of his speech to the Law Society conference – is served by Transparency, in increasing amounts, and taken several times daily by a judiciary, courts and justice system in dire need of reform.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last annual accounts of Quarere Ltd were filed in 2009.

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

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

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

 

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RECUSALS JUST GOT REAL: Judicial Office concedes to reforms for Judicial Recusals Register, full case details where judges stand down from court hearings to be entered after media & FOI probe success

Spotlight on Judiciary brings success on Recusals. SCOTLAND’S top Judge – Lord President Lord Carloway – has conceded to calls to publish full details of cases in the Register of Judicial Recusals – a publicly available register which records  instances where judges step aside in cases due to conflicts of interest.

The improvements to the register of recusals, agreed after lengthy exchanges between the Head of Governance of the Judiciary of Scotland & journalists – acknowledge the woeful lack of detail previously entered on cases, where little was given away about the case subject, litigants, points of law involved or even whether judges had refused to recuse themselves after being asked to do so.

Soon, members of the public, court users and legal representatives will be able to find out much more about why judges have stood aside in cases, the identity (where appropriate) of legal cases, litigants, case reference numbers and legal representatives – which all appear in court opinions published online by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS).

The move has come about after Lord Caloway was quizzed on Judicial Recusals at a recent meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – where it became clear recusals of judges which had occurred, were not included on the register for reasons not well explained by Lord Carloway in his responses to former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP.

Now the register is to be corrected, and all the extra information now agreed to be entered by the Judicial Office will also be backdated to the date the recusals register came into being, in April 2014 – when Lord Brian Gill created the register of recusals in response to the Scottish Parliament’s ongoing consideration of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The further publication of information revealing the identities of solicitors & law firms bold enough to challenge the judiciary and raise motions for recusals could also significantly benefit members of the public in access to justice issues, enabling clients to select a lawyer who isn’t afraid to raise questions on the appropriateness of a judge to hear a case if there are conflicts of interest which must be raised as matters for recusal.

The extra concessions from the Judicial Office – which go further than Lord Carloway indicated during his meeting with MSPs, come after journalists pursued a Freedom of Information request seeking all information contained in forms submitted in motions from legal teams & litigants for judges to step aside in court hearings.

Initially, the Judicial Office claimed it held no information on recusals other than a form for collecting information on recusals, a blank copy which was provided to journalists, who then sought a review of the refusal to release further information.

Then, writing in response to a request for a review of the Judicial Office’s earlier decision to refuse release of detail on recusals, Mr Steven D’Arcy Head of Strategy & Governance said: “Following the Lord President’s letter to the Petitions Committee, the Register of Recusals will be extended to cover instances when a judge has recused them self and when he or she has declined to do so – a copy of the this letter can be found here. The Judicial Office for Scotland has amended the guidance for SCTS staff and a copy is attached to this letter.”

The Judicial Office does hold copies of submitted recusal forms. However, when a form is submitted the information of the recusal is placed on our website. Therefore this is exempt information as you can reasonably obtain it other than by requesting it (section 25(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002)).”

The form now issued by the Judicial Office for Scotland to collect recusal data lists the following information and terms:

Intimation of a Decision of Declinature (Recusal)

Declinature of jurisdiction, also referred to as recusal, refers to the act of a judicial office holder abstaining from participation in legal proceedings due to a conflict of interest or when his or her impartiality might reasonably be impugned.

The attached form  should be completed by clerks of court in the event of a formal motion for recusal being granted or refused in open court and accordingly recorded in an appropriate interlocutor.

The return should only be completed for recusals involving a senator, temporary judge, sheriff principal, sheriff or summary sheriff (this includes fee-paid members of the judiciary). It should not be completed when there has only been an informal administrative decision not to sit in a particular case.

The returns should be completed electronically and emailed to the Judicial Office for Scotland.

This information is being collated on behalf of the Lord President and this requirement should be completed accurately and timeously. Local records should be noted once the return has been submitted.

If you have any questions please contact the Judicial Office for Scotland.

The form of Intimation of a Decision of Declinature of Jurisdiction (Recusal) seeks, and records COURT (Location), DATE, NAME OF JUDGE, CASE NAME & REF, ACTION TYPE, MOTION (please select), GRANTED/REFUSED, REASON (please provide specific reasons), CLERK OF COURT, CONTACT DETAILS.

However, on analysing the form provided by the Judicial Office, it was plain there was a significant amount of information gathered by the form which was still to remain unpublished.

A series of discussions then took place between the Head of Governance at the Judicial Office & journalists pursuing the release of recusal information, which ultimately concluded in an agreement to publish all the information where appropriate.

Journalists asked: Just to confirm this information to be published will go right back to the first recusals in 2014 contained in the register of recusal archive?”

Mr D’Arcy responded: “…if it was 2014 then the answer is Yes. All case names/references that we can publish will be added to the list of recusal information on our website.”

A recent investigation by Diary of Injustice revealed instances where senior Court of Session judges have stood aside from cases were not entered into the register of recusals, for up to a year later, and then only after DOI journalists had queried the Judicial Office over the cases.

A full report on investigations into judicial recusals can be found here: Doubts over credibility of register of judges’ recusals – as Judicial Office admit court clerks failed to add details of senior judges recusals – then silently altered records a year later

During enquiries into failures to record recusals, Elizabeth Cutting, Head of Communications of the Judicial Office stood down from her post, leaving acting head Baktosch Gillan to reply to queries on why a recusal relating to Lord Bracadale had been concealed from the register of recusals for up to a year.

Responses from the Judicial Office claimed there had been a “clerical error”, a claim echoed by Lord Carloway during his attendance at the Petitions Committee where the top judge was widely criticised for his attempts to thwart increases in judicial transparency with the creation of a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary.

The National reported on the developments to publish full details on judicial recusals in Scotland, here:

More details to be shared about judges recusing themselves from cases

Bridget Morris Journalist 31 July 2017 The National

THE register which shows when judges have stood aside from court cases because of a probable or perceived conflict of interest is to be extended and give more details to the public.

Since the Register of Recusals – the legal term for stepping aside from a case – was started by the Judicial Office for Scotland in 2014, the public has been able to read about the location of the recusal, the reason why sheriff or judges recused themselves and the name of those sheriffs and judges, but not the name of the cases or their reference numbers.

Now, after a Freedom of Information request by the legal blogger and campaigner Peter Cherbi, full details of the cases including names and reference numbers will be added to the Register of Recusals.

The Judicial Office has decided to backdate the information to the start of the register three years ago, though sensitive matters such as child protection cases will not be included in the extended release of details.

The decision, which is understood to have been made or sanctioned by Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, the Lord President, will make accessing information on recusals much easier.

Cherbi said: “With the latest concessions offered by the Judicial Office on releasing all information with regard to recusals, this is a tacit acceptance that the content of the recusals register created by Lord Gill in early 2014 has been woefully lacking in critical detail, and has by the very lack of detail led to a register which has omitted key recusals for reasons not well explained by Lord Carloway.

“The release of case references, identities of litigants if appropriate and also, I urge, the identities of legal teams acting in such cases where recusals have been sought, gained or refused could have assisted court users and legal representatives in making a more accurate assessment of how to progress cases before judges who may have conflicts of interest which, as we have seen from recent reports do occur.”

Previous article on Judicial Recusals can be found here:  Judicial Recusals in Scotland – Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor 9 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 THREE YEARS OF NOTHING

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

By Mark Aitken, Political Editor Sunday Mail 2 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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RECUSALS UNLIMITED: Doubts over credibility of register of judges’ recusals – as Judicial Office admit court clerks failed to add details of senior judges recusals – then silently altered records a year later

Court clerks concealed Lord Bracadale’s recusal for a year. AN INVESTIGATION into the content of a Register of Judicial Recusals– maintained by the Judiciary of Scotland – has revealed court clerks concealed details relating to at least one recusal of a senior judge – and then secretly altered records a year later – and only after journalists made enquiries.

The chance discovery of one such unlisted recusal – by Lord Bracadale (real name Alistair Campbell QC) in an unidentified case during 2016 – came as journalists studied volumes of newly released court papers showing failures in the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) – who manage the Register of Judicial Recusals for publication by the Judiciary of Scotland.

However, when staff of the Judicial Office were confronted about the omission and asked why information relating to Lord Bracadale recusing from a case was not made public – it took nearly three weeks for spokesperson for the Judicial Office to come up with an explanation, claiming a “clerical error” had occurred, and that the information had since been applied to the register.

During March of this year, journalists presented the Judicial Office with a copy of a recusal signed by Lord Drummond Young which indicated Lord Bracadale had recused himself from a case during May 2016. Journalists then queried why the information did not appear on the Register of Recusals at that time.

It was not until the second week of April a spokesperson for the Judicial Office on 7 April 2017 offered an explanation to the media, which stated: “The register of recusals has now been amended to include the relevant entry. It was an oversight by a clerk which meant the necessary information was not passed on to the Judicial Office.”

The Judicial Office refused to answer further questions on the subject or identify if there were any further cases where recuals have not been recorded in the register.

The information eventually entered on the Register of Recusal now reads:

20/05/2016 Court of Session Lord Bracadale On the pursuer’s motion in relation to the judge’s previous decision to refuse the pursuer’s appeal at a procedural hearing

And a further query to the Judicial Office resulted in an email response from it’s then media chief Elizabeth Cutting which stated “As of today, 13 April, I am no longer working at the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service.”

A request “for a note to be applied to the recusal register in relation to the addition of the recusal by Lord Bracadale” made by a journalist to the Judicial Office and Lord President’s Private Office – generated no further response or action.

Additionally, there was no further explanation provided by the Judicial Office as to why a year had elapsed before the information was correctly applied to the register, and only after the media had alerted the Judicial Office to the omission of the Bracadale recusal.

Legal observers have condemned the retrospective application of information to the Register of Judicial Recusals as “poor administration” and have questioned whether the information relating to Lord Bracadale’s recusal would ever have been added, had it not been for media enquiries to the Judicial Office.

Claims by a Judicial Office spokesperson of a year long “clerical error” significantly conflict with former Lord President Lord Gill’s evidence to the Public Petitions Committee on how the Register of Judicial Recusals was maintained by Court staff and clerks.

On 10 November 2015, Lord Brian Gill appeared before MSPs at Holyrood, and stated in the official record : “There are two points to make in answer to that. One is that the register of recusals is not voluntary. To the best of my knowledge, the clerks of court are scrupulously accurate in keeping the register and therefore, wherever there is a recusal, you may depend upon its being recorded in the register.”

Lord Gill – Court clerks should handle info on judicial interests, not a public register

The Register of Recusals was created by Lord Brian Gill in April 2014 as a response to a probe by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee’s deliberations on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

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.

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 move by Lord Gill to create the Register of Recusals was aimed at dissuading MSPs from continuing an investigation into the secretive world of judicial influence, interests, and failures to declare conflicts of interest in court.

However, the investigation continued, and is now in it’s fifth year.

Gill, who eventually gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in November 2015, – available to watch in full here – Evidence of Lord Gill before the Scottish Parliament 10 November 2015 – came in for criticism after he demanded MSPs come to a decision and close the petition on his say-so during the stormy evidence session..

Throughout the meeting, the retired Lord President angrily remonstrated with Committee members who asked him detailed questions on interests and the conduct of Scottish judges.

At one point, Lord Gill gave a misleading answer to the then MSP John Wilson – who quizzed the Lord President on judicial suspensions.

And, in responses to independent MSP John Wilson, Lord Gill dismissed media reports on scandals within the judiciary and brushed aside evidence from Scotland’s independent Judicial Complaints Reviewers – Moi Ali & Gillian Thompson OBE – both of whom previously gave evidence to MSPs in support of a register of judges’ interests.

Facing further questions from John WIlson MSP on the appearance of Lord Gill’s former Private Secretary Roddy Flinn, the top judge angrily denied Mr Flinn was present as a witness – even though papers prepared by the Petitions Committee and published in advance said so. The top judge grimaced: “The agenda is wrong”.

And, in a key moment during further questions from committee member Mr Wilson on the integrity of the judiciary, Lord Gill angrily claimed he had never suspended any judicial office holders.

The top judge was then forced to admit he had suspended judicial office holders after being reminded of the suspension of Sheriff Peter Watson.

A statement issued by Lord Gill at the time of Watson’s suspension said: “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”

In an angry exchange with MSP Jackson Carlaw, Lord Gill demanded to control the kinds of questions he was being asked. Replying to Lord Gill,  Mr Carlaw said he would ask his own questions instead of ones suggested to him by the judge.

Several times during the hearing, the retired top judge demanded MSPs show a sign of trust in the judiciary by closing down the petition.

During the hearing Lord Gill also told MSPs Scotland should not be out of step with the rest of the UK on how judges’ interests are kept secret from the public.

Questioned on the matter of judicial recusals, Gill told MSPs he preferred court clerks should handle information on judicial interests rather than the details appearing in a publicly available register of interests.

Lord Gill also slammed the transparency of judicial appointments in the USA – after it was drawn to his attention judges in the United States are required to register their interests.

In angry exchanges, Lord Gill accused American judges of being elected by corporate and vested interests and said he did not want to see that here.

However, the situation is almost identical in Scotland where Scottish judges who refuse to disclose their interests, are elected by legal vested interests with hidden links to corporations.

After the hearing was over, Gill was branded ‘aggressive’ by the then Committee Convener over his evidence to MSPs.

On Thursday 29 June, the Public Petitions Committee at Holyrood will hear from Scotland’s current Lord President, Lord Carloway – who wrote to MSPs last November stating he was under the impression Holyrood had closed the petition.

Carloway later demanded the Committee provide him with a list of questions he was to be asked if he agreed to appear before the full Committee in public.

Since the exchanges last year, it has taken a further eight months to arrange Carloway’s appearance before MSPs next week.

The hearing at Holyrood with Lord Carloway comes in between a busy schedule for the Lord President – which saw Lord Carloway and many other members of the judiciary fly to various overseas destinations including a £4K public cash funded trip to the USA for the Lord President, and handing out judicial jobs including a £180K a year seat on the Court of Session bench to controversial former Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland.

Full list of Judicial Recusals from March 2014 to 12 June 2017

DATE COURT (TYPE OF ACTION) NAME REASON FOR RECUSAL

24.3.2014 Livingston Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Edington Sheriff drew to the parties’ attention a possible difficulty, namely the wife of one of the other resident Sheriffs was the author of a report contained with the process. The Sheriff asked parties if they wished him to recuse himself. The defenders, having considered the issue,made a motion for the Sheriff to recuse himself, which he then did.

8.4.2014 Forfar Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Veal Sheriff personally known to a witness

10.4.2014 Selkirk Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Paterson Sheriff had previously acted for a client in dispute against Pursuer

23.4.2014 High Court (Criminal) Lady Wise Senator had previously acted for a relative of accused

16.4.2014 Glasgow Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Cathcart Sheriff personally known to a witness

13.5.2014 Haddington Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Braid Known to pursuer’s family

14.5.2014 High Court(Criminal Appeal) Judge MacIver Conflict of interest

20.5.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Matthews Senator personally known to a witness

19.6.2014 Dingwall Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff McPartlin Sheriff presided over a trial involving the accused, where the issue to which the new case relates was spoken to by a witness

20.6.2014 Elgin Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Raeburn QC Accused appeared before Sheriff as a witness in recent trial relating to same incident

24.6.2014 Glasgow Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Crozier Sheriff personally known to proprietor of premises libelled in the charge

26.6.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lord President Relative of Senator acts for the respondent

27.8.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Brailsford Senator personally known to husband of the pursuer

28.8.2014 Oban Sheriff Court (Civil & Criminal) Sheriff Small Sheriff personally known to a party

22.10.2014 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Cowan Sheriff drew to parties’ attention that she was a member of the RSPB before commencement of a trial as the case involved an investigation carried out by the RSPB and many witnesses were RSPB officers. She invited parties to consider whether she should take the trial. The defenders, having considered the issue, made a motion for the Sheriff to recuse herself, which she then did.

8.12.2014 Alloa Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Mackie Contemporaneous and overlapping proceedings comprising an appeal and a referral from the children’s hearing relating to children from the same family

16.12.2014 Court of Session (Civil) Lady Clark of Calton Senator personally known to parties of the action.

22.01.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Extradition) Sheriff MacIver Sheriff involved in case at earlier stage of procedure 30.01.2015 Dumfries Sheriff Court(Civil)Sheriff Jamieson Sheriff had previously dealt with the issue under dispute

06.02.2015 Greenock Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Fleming Previous professional relationship between Sheriff’s former firm of solicitors and the defender

09.02.2015 Glasgow High Court (Criminal) Lady Scott Due to a previous ruling made by the Senator in relation to a separate indictment against the accused

10.02.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Jones Due to a previous finding by the Senator in relation to an expert witness whose evidence is crucial to the pursuer’s case

13.03.2015 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Cowan Accused known by the Sheriff as a regular observer of court proceedings from the public gallery

17.03.2015 Forfar Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Di Emidio Sheriff personally known to a witness

18.03.2015 Lerwick Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Mann Circumstances may give rise to a suggestion of bias

16.04.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Arthurson QC Personally known to a party of the action

12.05.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Boyd of Duncansby Senator was Lord Advocate when a successful prosecution was brought against one of the respondents

14.05.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff McColl Sheriff personally known to a party of the action

27.05.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court(Civil) Sheriff Crowe Sheriff had previously dealt a case in which the defender was a witness

29.05.2015 Glasgow Sheriff Court (FAI) Sheriff Principal Scott QC Sheriff Principal personally known to one of the deceased

04.06.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Glennie Senator an acquaintance of a party to the action

04.06.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Burns Previously acted as defence counsel in a criminal trial involving the pursuer.

24.07.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Maciver Sheriff personally known to a party in the case

11.08.2015 Banff Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Mann Sheriff personally known to a party of the action, having previously acted on behalf of the family while in private practice.

28.08.2015 Dundee Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Murray Sheriff personally known to a witness.

03.09.2015 Dumbarton Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Turnbull Sheriff previously acted for a client in a dispute against the pursuer

04.09.2015 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Mackie Sheriff involved in a dispute against a party to the action

15.09.2015 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Stirling Sheriff previously considered and refused issues which the accused wished to revisit

01.10.2015 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Taylor Sheriff was privy to certain information which related to the accused’s credibility

08.10.2015 Lanark Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Stewart Accused made complaints against staff and sheriff

12.10.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lady Clark of Calton Senator an acquaintance of a party to the action

20.10.2015 Inverness Sheriff Court (Civil)Sheriff Sutherland Personally known to a party of the action

20.10.2015 Glasgow Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Crozier Personally known to a director of accused company

12.11.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Malcolm Senator acted as senior counsel for the defenders in a related action

18.11.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lord Boyd of Duncansby Relatives of Senator involved in the action

26.11.2015 Inverness Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Fleetwood Personally known to a party of the action

27.11.2015 Court of Session (Civil) Lady Paton Her Ladyship was on the bench in a criminal appeal against conviction by the pursuer

09.12.2015 Wick Sheriff Court (Criminal) Sheriff Berry Complainer personally known to resident sheriff

22.12.2015 Lanark Sheriff Court (Civil) Sheriff Stewart Personally known to both parties of the action

26/01/2016 Court of Session Lord Uist Judge dealt with same issue and same witnesses in a case being appealed

27/01/2016 Dumbarton Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Gallacher On the Pursuer’s motion in relation to a decision in a preliminary hearing

09/02/2016 Elgin Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Pasportnikov Sheriff previously presided over related case

10/02/2016 Elgin Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Pasportnikov Sheriff previously presided over criminal matter involving complainter

24/02/2016 Glasgow Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Reid Sheriff personally known to a witness

18/03/2106 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Ross Sheriff previously presided over criminal matter involving appellant

18/03/2016 Aberdeen Sherirff Court (criminal) Sheriff Stirling Sheriff previously presided over civil matter involving accused

25/04/2016 Ayr Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Montgomery Sheriff previously acted for defender as a solicitor

03/05/2016 Lanark Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Stewart Complainer previously represented by Sheriff’s husband

20/05/2016 Court of Session Lord Bracadale On the pursuer’s motion in relation to the judge’s previous decision to refuse the pursuer’s appeal at a procedural hearing

22/06/2016 Perth Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Clapham Pursuer known to sheriff

09/08/2016 Dunoon Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Ward Sheriff personally known to a witness

19/08/2016 Greenock Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Ward Accused known to sheriff from Sheriff’s time in private practice

23/08/2016 Aberdeen Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Stirling Sheriff Stirling found against the accused company in a civil matter and wrote on same

13/09/2016 Court of Session Lord Pentland The Lord Ordinary previously acted for the first named defender

25/10/2016 Court of Session Lord Brailsford A close relative is employed by one of the parties involved in the case

10/11/2016 Kilmarnock Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Foran Sheriff personally known to a witness

17/11/2016 Dumfries Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Jamieson Sheriff previously presided over a related civil proof in another case in which parties were witnesses

18/11/2016 Court of Session (civil) Lord Glennie Earlier decision on a related issue might reasonably be thought to influence any decision in the present case

30/11/2016 Perth Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff McFarlane Sheriff acted for pursuers when practising as a solicitor

30/01/2017 Edinburgh Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Crowe Sheriff previously presided over criminal matter involving accused, which might reasonably be thought to influence any decision in the present case

13/02/2017 Portree Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Taylor QC Sheriff previously dealt with a criminal case involving parties

23/02/2017 Inverness Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Fleetwood Sheriff presided over a jury trial involving parties

29/03/2017 Perth Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Wade QC The sheriff, in her previous role as advocate depute, was heavily involved in preparing the prosecution of one of the parties in the action

06/04/2017 Kilmarnock Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Foran A witness was a former client of the sheriff in previous role in private practice

04/05/2017 Elgin Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Pasportnikov Previous knowledge of the parties through a Children’s Hearing matter

16/05/2017 Banff Sheriff Court (criminal) Sheriff Mann Sheriff personally known to relatives of the accused

12/06/2017 Glasgow Sheriff Court (civil) Sheriff Platt Sheriff personally known to a witness

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the Sunday Herald and Sunday Mail newspapers, 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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CASH IN THE CROWN: Forget millions on bonuses, mortgages, junkets & dodgy prosecutions – Holyrood Crown Office probe raises concerns, recommends changes for £113m ‘under-resourced’ & untrustworthy Prosecution service

Scots Prosecutors ‘getting by’ on £113m a year. SCOTLAND’S PROSECUTORS are “just about managing” on £113million a year of taxpayers cash – according to a report produced by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee of the ‘Role and Purpose of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).

During the ‘bombshell’ inquiry into the Crown Office – an organisation once dubbed ‘the most corrupt institution in Scotland’ by a Cabinet minister – the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee heard claims COPFS staff suffered from shortage of resources,weak morale – including more than average levels of sick leave, claims of overwork.

MSPs also heard grips from the Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC and his team over the level of public cash thrown at the infamous Edinburgh based Crown Office which now stands at a whopping £112.5million a year – according to figures in the Scottish Government’s own budget for 2016.

The report – into the ‘crime fighting’ Crown Office – which refused to prosecute the driver of the Glasgow bin lorry which left six people dead and injured 15 others in the centre of Glasgow – concludes: “On the whole, the public should have confidence that it is a rigorous and fair prosecutor. “However, the service remains under considerable pressure. There can be no room for complacency.”

The Committee’s inquiry also identified room for improvement in a number of Crown Office functions, including the support given to victims and witnesses – who are often poorly treated by COPFS staff.

However – during 2014 it was reported a senior manager in the Crown Office was suspended after openly criticising the treatment of crime victims.

John Fox, 47, made postings on an internal staff forum accusing his bosses of putting victims of domestic violence at risk. His criticism emerged days after the Sunday Mail newspaper revealed how victims of crime felt betrayed by Scotland’s justice system and were demanding reforms.

Mr Fox was formerly in charge of the 100-strong Victim Information and Advice Service (VIA), responsible for helping to improve services to crime victims and their families across Scotland. One of their tasks is to inform victims of domestic violence about the release from custody of the person charged with attacking them.

In some cases, victims of crime and witness have since alleged Crown Office employees told outright lies.

And, a recent investigation by the media reported key Crown Office employees hold secret criminal convictions for serious offences. The investigation, assisted by documents obtained by Freedom of Information legislation published here: Prosecutors own crime gang revealed  also found some victims and witnesses to crime had been threatened by Crown Office prosecutors and staff.

In a period of just two years – from November 2013 to November 2015 – the Crown Office admitted it retained records showing 15 cases reported to COPFS containing allegations of criminal offences by COPFS staff. Court proceedings were taken in 11 cases, three cases were disposed of by non-court disposal and no proceedings were taken in one case.

The charges brought against staff include assault and vandalism; road traffic offences; threatening and abusive conduct; breach of the peace; Misuse of drugs and offences against the police; data protection offences and an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

The Holyrood enquiry was apparently not handed any of this information. The inquiry did not take  steps to act upon it and quiz COPFS representatives, despite reports being available in the media  and to the inquiry – for some time.

Much of the inquiry’s focus on staff morale heard claims the Crown Office was underfunded and overworked, however figures revealed in a Freedom of Information request for the immediate three years after the collapse of several high street banks & huge cuts to public services – revealed successive Lord Advocates have spent over £572,307,16 on paying supposedly hard up staff everything from mortgages, relocation, rental costs and even phone bills, council tax and personal legal bills.

During financial year 2008/2009, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 32 employees were: £212,500.76.
During financial year 2009/2010, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 38  employees were £242,586.59.
During financial year 2010/2011, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to  26 employees were £117,220.14.

The cash expenses & junkets claims from COPFS staff continue, with figures released in another Freedom of Information request revealing a whopping £137,744.43 spent on further staff perks and junkets in 2014-2016. The FOI revealed:

During financial year 2011/2012, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to 16 employees were £85,513.21.
During financial year 2012/2013,payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to   8 employees were £38,711.35.
During financial year 2013/2014, payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages to  5 employees were £13,519.87.

The cash expenses & junkets claims from COPFS staff continue, with figures released in another Freedom of Information request revealing a further £28,090 spent on further staff mortgages, rent , phone bills, legal bills and other perks and junkets in 2014-2016. However, these figures are now thought to be in dispute – and of a much higher sum than was originally quoted by the Crown Office. Nevertheless the FOI revealed:

Payments made by COPFS for housing, rent or relocation allowances, or help with mortgages, for COPFS staff including Procurators Fiscal from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2016, were made by 33  COPFS employees, totalling an extra £28,090.

A separate Freedom of Information request revealed the hard-up Crown Office media unit spent over £376,168.06 in one year alone on media relations – this despite the Lord Advocate’s staff of 6 full time media staff and one part time employee – operating a policy of “no comment” to journalists – who are in increasing numbers of cases told to put their request for comment in a Freedom of Information request.

And, an investigation by the Sunday Mail newspaper in 2011 established the Lord Advocate had authorised massive bonuses for Crown Office staff who pocketed bonus payments of more than £580,000 in just two years.

Figures released via Freedom of Information requests revealed 419 COPFS employees shared payouts totalling £326,844 in 2009-2010, while 518 COPFS staff were handed £253,330 for 2010-11.

In 2009-2010, eight employees of the Crown Office received Bonuses of up to £20,000 while a further 15 COPFS employees received bonuses of up to £8,000.

In the same year up to 200 members of staff received bonus pay-outs of up to £500 while a further 200 COPFS employees were paid bonuses of up to £1000 each.

And, an investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper revealed supposedly hard up Crown Office staff were travelling to international destinations all bankrolled by taxpayers cash.

The allegedly hard up Crown Office spent more than £57,000 of taxpayers’ cash last year alone flying staff across the globe. Hong Kong, Mauritius, Taiwan and New York were among 15 exotic destinations visited by Crown Office employees. And since 2012, they have taken off on a total of 109 international flights to places like South Africa, Australia and Malta.

The Crown, led by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, racked up £29,504 on 39 international flights to meetings and conferences last year and £27,603 on 143 domestic trips.The number of overseas flights has remained fairly steady over three years at 36, 34 then 39. But domestic flights have increased sharply from 97 to 131, then 143 last year.

Amsterdam was the most common destination, with 30 trips since 2012. The Dutch city is a major travel hub and close to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Flights to Washington DC and Malta were in connection with the ongoing probe into the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

While the information has been available in the public arena for some time, COPFS representatives appearing in front of the Justice Committee did not face any lines of questioning of the massive cash spends on personal junkets, mortgages, rent and other bills accumulated by staff who managed to have them all paid off by taxpayers.

The Justice Committee also had to make do without attendance of Scotland’s top judge and other members of the judiciary after Lord Carloway issued a letter to all branches level of the judiciary informing them of his decision to refuse to give evidence to the Justice Committee’s probe into the Crown Office.

Lord Carloway  – who earns £222,862 a year for his role as Lord President & Lord Justice General – said the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) should give evidence to the Justice Committee, rather than individual members of the judiciary – even retired ones

Carloway’s letter went out to every high court judge, the Sheriffs’ Association and the Scottish Justices Association (SJA) – which represents Justices of the Peace.

After Lord Carloway’s decision to refuse to attend the Justice Committee was made known – the SJA pulled out of its scheduled appearance in front of MSPs.

The report found that Scotland’s public prosecutor is coping in its core role of steering trials through the courts to an appropriate outcome, but the level of adjournments and postponements is unacceptably high and inadequate communication is a key problem.

It recommends that the COPFS develop more efficient and effective ways to update people whose attendance is no longer required at a trial.

It also says the COPFS should consider concerns raised about the erosion of prosecutors’ autonomy and discretion, the lack of preparation time and the consequences for morale.

Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “An effective Crown Office is fundamental to an effective criminal justice system in Scotland.”

Ms Mitchell continued: “The committee heard many concerns during our inquiry. Across the board, witnesses identified possible improvements which could be made to how COPFS works – and better serve justice and the public. This report, its findings on the service’s strengths and weaknesses, and its recommendations are a considered, cross-party view following six months of work. These findings must be taken into account by COPFS management and the Scottish Government. There is no room for complacency, and the committee will be keeping close watch on developments.”

Justice Committee report – Role and Purpose of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

Focussing on areas of Crown Office operation, the following excerpts are reproduced from the Committee’s final report:

Digital strategy

110. The “vision” of the Digital Strategy, published in 2014, is “to have modern, user-focused justice systems which use digital justice technology to deliver simple, fast and effective justice at best cost”. It is estimated by the Scottish Government that full implementation of the strategy across the entire justice sector (including the administrative and civil spheres) could save some £20-25 million per annum. The strategy sets out three objectives—

allow people and businesses to access the right information at the right time, principally by expanding online the amount of available information about the justice system. This objective also includes a commitment, by the end of 2017, to enable victims of crime to track their case online;

fully digitised justice systems;

make data work for us, ie collect and use data including stakeholder feedback to develop a more efficient and responsive justice system.

111. It is the second of these objectives that appears to have most potential to unlock efficiencies in the prosecution system, particularly in tandem with complementary reforms envisaged under the Evidence and Procedure Review. It includes plans for—

a “digital evidence vault” enabling the secure storage of all digital evidence in civil and criminal cases;

greatly increased use of live video links to reduce the need for accused, victims and witnesses to have to come to court in all instances;

the serving of more court documentation (eg arrest warrants) digitally; and

disclosure by the COPFS of all evidence to defence agents electronically.

112. The strategy also envisages the police being equipped with body-worn cameras and the integration of all legacy force ICT services within Police Scotland. The Committee notes the potential impact of these objectives on the prosecution of crimes, although they are not within the direct remit of this inquiry. Scrutiny of these issues is within the current work programme of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing

and on

Evidence and Procedure Review

113. Lord Carloway’s March 2015 Evidence and Procedure Review concluded that the conduct of criminal trials needs to change because the process had not kept pace with entry into a digital age. The main recommendations related to—

child and vulnerable witnesses: as much as possible, taking evidence from them should be removed from the courtroom setting;

digital evidence: audio and video witness statements should ordinarily be admissible. This was seen as paving the way for the elimination of written witness statements, in most cases, in the future;

modernising criminal trial procedures: in essence, shifting the weight of trial preparation to earlier in the process, in part through greater judicial case management. Trial dates should only be fixed when it is clear that the case will be ready to run on the relevant date.

114. This was followed by a February 2016 “next steps” paper, setting out proposals on which the SCTS is currently working.158 These are intended to build on Lord Carloway’s three main recommendations and to align with relevant objectives in the digital strategy. The overall vision is of a more streamlined criminal justice system, with far less evidence having to be led in the courtroom.

115. As set out in the preceding section, the Lord Advocate and Crown Agent both indicated the COPFS’s readiness for reform, and said they saw real opportunities for progress, particularly in relation to the work of the Evidence and Procedure Review.The Crown Agent said the goal was to crystallise as much evidence as possible in advance of the actual trial.160 Amongst other things, this would greatly reduce the need for witnesses to attend trials – and the non-attendance of witnesses is one of the main causes of churn.

116. The Cabinet Secretary also set out his strong support for the Review. However, he referred in addition to a need for a “cultural change” on the part of all stakeholders if the full benefits of the Review were to be realised. He indicated that legislation would be required at some point to implement elements of the Review.

and on ‘Specialist Prosecutions’ MSPs heard evidence from a former COPFS Prosecutor linked to events in the David Goodwillie rape case – where the victim was forced to sue her assailant through the civil courts after the Lord Advocate refused to prosecute the footballer.

Specialist prosecutions

167. The Committee sought views on whether the COPFS had the appropriate skillsets it needed to carry out its prosecutorial role. This includes prosecuting the wide range of different crimes that the COPFS may encounter, ranging from historic child sexual abuse to corporate accounting fraud. As noted elsewhere in the report, the COPFS has moved towards greater specialisation in recent years, setting up offices dealing with sexual offences, serious and organised crime, and international cooperation, amongst others. The Committee notes that, in a relatively small jurisdiction such as Scotland, there are limits to this approach. There may be some types of case that only come before the criminal courts a handful of times in a few years, but which are of a particular complexity. It is hard to build up specialist expertise in such cases. Derek Ogg QC, a former head of the COPFS sexual offences unit told the Committee that, if there is considered to be a lack of in-house specialism to prosecute particularly complex crimes coming before the High Court, this could be addressed by borrowing that expertise; recruiting “locum” advocates depute with experience in that field for the duration of the case.

168. Some submissions expressed the view that the COPFS did not always have the specialist skillsets needed to prosecute certain types of crime as effectively as it should, for instance corporate or regulatory offences.HM Revenue and Customs gave positive evidence about its working relationship with the COPFS in the prosecution of crimes in which it was involved, although it indicated that the COPFS’s relative under-resourcing in some areas, for instance technology, sometimes put it under strain.

Centralised policy-making and local autonomy

184. The COPFS is a national service aspiring to achieve consistently high standards across Scotland. It is in the public interest that both accused and victims should expect the same professional standard of prosecution wherever their case calls. There was a consensus in evidence that the COPFS has become a more centralised organisation in recent years. Some evidence broadly welcomed this, but the Committee also heard views that this process had gone too far; to the point where it was impacting negatively on the COPFS’s effectiveness as a public prosecutor. Whether the COPFS was striking the right balance between pursuing centrally driven policies and letting local prosecutors take their own decisions emerged as one of the key themes of the inquiry.

Specialisation and central case-marking

185. A closely related issue is that of specialisation. In effect, specialisation is a form of centralisation, as it means that a small group of specialist prosecutors will tend to determine national approach to prosecuting particular crimes wherever they occur.

186. Specialisation has included the setting up a case-marking unit around 15 years ago. Local fiscals no longer mark cases at the initial stage of the prosecution. Instead, there are two centres – at Paisley and Stirling – where practically all cases are now marked. As the Committee understands it, the case marking process may involve not only a determination as to whether or not a case should be prosecuted, but further instructions on how to handle the case, for instance whether to accept plea bargains and, if so, on what basis.

Other types of specialisation

187. The setting up of a national sexual crimes unit at the COPFS in 2009 was welcomed by many stakeholders. They thought it had led to such cases (which now constitute around 70% of all High Court cases) being better handled at least at a strategic and policy level, with the views and interests of victims and their advocates better taken account of. This was the view of organisations including Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis. Susan Gallagher of Victim Support Scotland told the Committee that her organisation’s experience of centralisation – or specialisation – as it applied to victims was largely positive; it was when the Victim Information and Advice service had become more decentralised that inconsistency had crept back in.As noted above, the setting up of a specialist wildlife crime unit was also welcomed by stakeholders as having helped professionalise the COPFS’s approach to these offences.

Views from COPFS representatives

199. The FDA, representing fiscals, took a balanced view of the move towards a more centralised and more specialist service in recent year, recognising that it had its advantages and disadvantages. However, it was overall considered to have been positive. In relation to case-marking, the union’s Rachael Weir told the Committee that she considered it had been beneficial because it had led to greater specialist expertise in case marking being built up.

200. As noted elsewhere in the report, the Lord Advocate publicly affirmed his confidence in COPFS staff as the organisation’s “greatest asset” and expressed his “absolute trust and confidence in the judgment of those who prosecute on my behalf up and down the country”. However, the COPFS also made clear in its evidence to the Committee that one of the drivers of the move towards centralisation had been a desire to achieve greater consistency, and a higher quality public service overall.Overall, nothing in the COPFS’s evidence indicated to the Committee that the COPFS was minded to fundamentally reconsider its approach, in the light of views that had been expressed. The Lord Advocate cited learned authority from the 19th century that it was his role to ensure “the due and equal distribution of criminal justice”, so that all may have equal protection under the law, in order to underline that the concept of achieving consistency in prosecution policy was not a new one. It was his view that the current system did allow for some flexibility—

The system can accommodate matters that are of concern in local areas. Indeed, in their reports, the police might identify a particular issue as being a matter of concern. I can put it in this way: through having a national approach, we can ensure that, where there is justification for a variation from the norm to be applied in a particular locality, that is done consistently and does not depend on the views of a particular individual in a particular local area.

201. The Crown Agent said that previous less centralised models had run into problems of their own, such as some courts sitting until late evening. He said that the current system had brought greater professionalism and consistency. Inasmuch as it had probably brought down the number of court sittings, it may have reduced overall costs, although that was not, he stressed, the main reason behind the policy.In relation to the comments of the GBA and others that the current decision-making approach to individual cases can appear opaque and unnecessarily hierarchical, the Crown Agent acknowledged that there was, or had been an issue, explaining that recent internal reforms had led to the number of “approval levels” for ongoing cases being rationalised, with the grade for approval reduced to a local level.

Diversions and local knowledge

202. The Lord Advocate explained to the Committee that teams at the two central case-marking centres are organised by reference to Scotland’s six sheriffdoms. He argued this helped enable case-markers to develop local knowledge of particular areas. In relation to diversions from prosecution, the Lord Advocate said he had reflected on the evidence and posed an open question as to whether it indicated a lack of consistency across the country on the availability of diversion schemes as much as any perceived lack of local knowledge on the part of case markers.

203. Supplementary written evidence from the Crown Agent queried SACRO’s evidence that there had been a trend away from referrals to restorative justice schemes, arguing that it was not strongly supported in the follow-up information SACRO had itself provided to the Committee. The COPFS’s own statistics had indicated a gradual rise in the number of diversions from prosecution over the course of the current decade.The Committee notes that it would require further analysis to determine the extent to which diversions by case markers appear to have had outcomes that could be described as successful.

204. The Crown Agent’s written evidence also queried the JPs’ evidence to the Committee, which he interpreted as being to the effect that—

…prosecutors issue direct measures to avoid the expense of prosecuting cases in court. This is inaccurate and contrary to the Lord Advocate’s policies on decision making. The Scottish Parliament has given prosecutors a range of powers to take action against offenders and we seek to make effective use of all these powers.

205. Both the COPFS and the SCTS referred to statistics indicating that around 80% of direct measures consisting of fines or fixed penalties end up being paid.

206. The Committee notes the COPFS’s view that a drive towards increased centralisation and specialisation is likely to have helped it become a more efficient and professional organisation. The setting up of specialist prosecution units (for instance in relation to sexual offences) has been broadly welcomed. However, evidence has made clear that some trade-offs have been involved. It has been concerning to note evidence that local fiscals may sometimes find themselves running cases against their own professional judgment. The Committee also notes views that increased centralisation may have had an effect on morale and job satisfaction in local offices.

207. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS that consideration of the autonomy and decision-making capacity of local fiscals is being taken forward in its current “Fair Futures” programme being developed in consultation with its staff.

208. The Committee notes views that the centralisation of case marking has led to an erosion of knowledge as to the availability of local schemes and programmes where case markers are considering alternatives to prosecution. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to consider whether, if these perceptions are valid, Community Justice Scotland could be invited to address them in its ongoing work to develop a new model for community justice delivery.

209. More generally, the Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what monitoring there is of the effectiveness of diversion from prosecution and whether and how the results of that monitoring are fed back to the COPFS for continuous improvement purposes.

Now, turning to the recommendations of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee – funding of the Crown Office comes into sharp focus, despite evidence of massive waste of millions of pounds of taxpayers cash on Crown Office staff:

Recommendations: Resources and funding of the COPFS

The COPFS, in common with agencies across the public sector, has faced significant challenges as a result of a prolonged period of flat-lining budgets. This looks set to continue into 2017-18. The Committee notes the Lord Advocate’s remarks that he considered his 2017-18 budget to be a “sound settlement” that will enable him to continue to provide a fundamentally effective prosecution service.

For the most part, the COPFS has coped in this tougher financial environment as well as can be expected, and its frontline staff deserve credit and recognition for their resilience under sometimes difficult circumstances. It would be unreasonable for the COPFS to continue to rely on the resilience of its staff indefinitely. The Committee considers that change is necessary before the risks that are undoubtedly embedded in the prosecution system, as presently constituted, begin to crystallise.

The Committee agrees with evidence from the COPFS and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice that more efficient ways need to be found to manage the whole prosecution process. Whilst the COPFS is the single most important organisation involved in managing the prosecution process, it cannot achieve this reform on its own. The Committee notes that it is expected that change will be primarily driven by the cross-agency Justice Board, on which the COPFS is represented, and expects the Lord Advocate and Cabinet Secretary to provide the necessary backing for the Board as it proceeds in implementing key elements of the Justice Strategy

The Lord Advocate and Crown Agent have acknowledged in evidence that there is a need to address staffing concerns dating back several years. Above average numbers of staff on short-term contracts, on sick leave, or in long-term temporary promotions are danger signs. The Committee is pleased the current leadership appears to recognise this, to be listening to staff, and to be looking for ways to deal with these issues. The Committee will continue to maintain a watching brief on this issue and requests an update on staffing matters from the COPFS when it responds to this report.

In relations to matters such as job satisfaction and work-life balance, returns from staff surveys in recent years have been concerning. The Committee notes some evidence that, in these areas, the organisation might now be making progress. The Committee also notes evidence and public statements from the Lord Advocate that he has confidence in the judgment of his prosecutors and trusts them to take decisions in his name. However, it is still very early days and, in this context, indications that the COPFS may have to shed around 30 staff in 2017-18 to deal with real-terms budget cuts are worrying. It is difficult to see, given the current pressures staff are under, how further losses are sustainable. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS on the operational rationale for job losses and where they will fall.

The Committee also warns the COPFS against an over-reliance on digital solutions to deliver greater efficiencies.

Efficiency of the prosecution service

“Churn” – adjournment and delay of cases scheduled for trial – is one of the main sources of frustration for anyone having to engage with the prosecution process. The Committee accepts that a degree of churn is inevitable and unavoidable, but evidence received over the inquiry indicates that it remains unacceptably high.

The Committee accepts that the problem of delay and inefficiency in the prosecution process cannot be solved by the COPFS acting on its own. The Committee also accepts that churn is a part-consequence of the COPFS’s limited staffing resources, but calls on the COPFS to find methods of mitigating it. For instance, it should be within the capacity of the COPFS to develop more efficient and effective means of notifying those whose attendance is no longer required at a trial. The Committee asks the COPFS and the Scottish Government to take this forward within the Justice Digital Strategy.

The Committee notes evidence that 80% of Crown motions to adjourn arise because of the non-attendance of witnesses. Giving evidence in a trial is a civic duty and failure to do so can be deemed a contempt of court. The Committee accepts that there can be understandable reasons why witnesses do not attend a hearing, but seeks clarification from COPFS and Scottish Government as to: what measures are in place to encourage and, if necessary, ensure witness attendance; the extent to which these measures are being used; and whether alternative approaches are being considered over and above whatever may emerge in due course from the Evidence and Procedure Review.

No blame can be attached to witnesses for non-attendance when they have not in fact been cited to attend court. The Committee is concerned by evidence that the process is sometimes unreliable. The Committee asks the Scottish Government, COPFS and SCTS whether it accepts this evidence and, if so, what measures are being considered to address this, including for instance, the Sheriffs’ Association suggestion of a dedicated COPFS unit to issue citations.

Proposals set out in the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy are welcome and, in some cases, long overdue. Aspects of current criminal law procedure could rightly be described as archaic. The Committee notes the potential for considerable savings to be made if far fewer witnesses are required to attend court and are able to give their evidence in other ways.

However, the Committee notes with concern that the timetable for implementation of some aspects of the Digital Strategy has slipped, with some targets already missed. The Committee further notes that there appears to be no public timetable for implementing the Evidence and Procedure Review.

The Committee asks for a progress report from the Scottish Government in respect of each main element of the Review and the Strategy, setting out the timescale, the anticipated effect on the prosecution process, and where possible, the projected cost saving in relation to each such element.

The Committee also asks for an update from the Scottish Government as to what legislative changes it envisages may be required to unlock the full potential of the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy, and what plans it has in respect of these.

The Committee seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to how proposals to encourage increased judicial case management in the context of criminal proceedings will be progressed and what additional support, if any (eg training), it envisages the judiciary may require in this modified role.

The Committee also seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to whether additional funding will be required to fully implement the Digital Strategy and the Evidence and Procedure Review and, if so, whether these have been costed and what proportion of these costs fall on the COPFS.

Given acknowledged difficulties with the delivery of major IT projects in the public sector, the Committee is concerned that there should not be an over-reliance on information technology to drive reform in the criminal justice system.

Proposals set out in the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy are welcome and, in some cases, long overdue. Aspects of current criminal law procedure could rightly be described as archaic. The Committee notes the potential for considerable savings to be made if far fewer witnesses are required to attend court and are able to give their evidence in other ways.

However, the Committee notes with concern that the timetable for implementation of some aspects of the Digital Strategy has slipped, with some targets already missed. The Committee further notes that there appears to be no public timetable for implementing the Evidence and Procedure Review.

The Committee asks for a progress report from the Scottish Government in respect of each main element of the Review and the Strategy, setting out the timescale, the anticipated effect on the prosecution process, and where possible, the projected cost saving in relation to each such element.

The Committee also asks for an update from the Scottish Government as to what legislative changes it envisages may be required to unlock the full potential of the Evidence and Procedure Review and the Justice Digital Strategy, and what plans it has in respect of these.

The Committee seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to how proposals to encourage increased judicial case management in the context of criminal proceedings will be progressed and what additional support, if any (eg training), it envisages the judiciary may require in this modified role.

The Committee also seeks further information from the Scottish Government as to whether additional funding will be required to fully implement the Digital Strategy and the Evidence and Procedure Review and, if so, whether these have been costed and what proportion of these costs fall on the COPFS.

Given acknowledged difficulties with the delivery of major IT projects in the public sector, the Committee is concerned that there should not be an over-reliance on information technology to drive reform in the criminal justice system.

Effectiveness of the prosecution service

The Committee agrees with the Lord Advocate that the COPFS is, overall, “effective, rigorous, fair and independent” in the prosecution of crime. The evidence received indicates that, in general, Scotland is fundamentally well served by the COPFS in its core role as public prosecutor. However, the same evidence also makes clear that there should be no room for complacency and that the various shortcomings stakeholders have identified must be addressed.

The Committee acknowledges that the criminal justice system has not always prioritised domestic abuse as it should have or treated it with the seriousness it deserves. It was necessary for a clear message to be sent by public agencies working in the system that domestic abuse is unacceptable and would be tackled robustly, in order to give victims confidence that their case would be taken seriously. The COPFS/Police Scotland Joint Protocol on domestic violence has played an important role in that process. The Committee notes the differing views it has received during this inquiry as to the COPFS’s application of the protocol, notes the Lord Advocate’s response to it, and asks the COPFS and the Scottish Government to reflect further on the views that the Committee heard.

The Committee calls on the COPFS and Scottish Government to note evidence as to the quality and consistency of prosecution of those summary cases in relation to which special considerations do not apply by way of Lord Advocate’s guidelines to prosecutors or in the Joint Protocol on domestic abuse. Such cases include instances of antisocial behaviour, crimes of dishonesty or less serious violent crimes. The evidence suggests that these are sometimes under-prioritised.

The Committee acknowledges the COPFS’s evidence that it intends to build stronger relationships with third sector stakeholders in the prosecution of wildlife or environmental crime. The Committee asks the COPFS to respond to views heard in evidence that recommendations in the Scottish Government’s 2008 report Natural Justice, particularly in relation to post-prosecution debriefings, have not been fully implemented, and to set out its plans to address this.

The Committee is concerned by evidence of very low prosecution rates for failure to hold employer’s liability insurance, noting that the consequences of failing to be properly insured can be devastating for individuals and families. The Committee welcomes the COPFS’s commitment to explore the reasons behind the low number of referrals with relevant reporting agencies and requests an update from the COPFS.

The Committee seeks the COPFS’s view on whether there is merit in recruiting locum prosecutors to prosecute High Court cases turning on complex and specialist aspects of criminal law such as corporate fraud or health and safety breaches and, if so, whether this is part of its current practice.

The Committee is concerned by evidence that the courts are sometimes being asked to take decisions on bail without access to the full range of relevant information. This may lead to decisions being made that are not necessarily in the public interest, for instance to refuse bail on the basis of the accused’s homelessness. Whilst the safety of the public and the integrity of the prosecution process must be the paramount considerations, the public interest is not served by individuals being remanded when more suitable alternatives may be available. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government, on behalf of the Scottish Prison Service, to respond to this evidence.

The Committee notes the COPFS’s view that a drive towards increased centralisation and specialisation is likely to have helped it become a more efficient and professional organisation. The setting up of specialist prosecution units (for instance in relation to sexual offences) has been broadly welcomed. However, evidence has made clear that some trade-offs have been involved. It has been concerning to note evidence that local fiscals may sometimes find themselves running cases against their own professional judgment. The Committee also notes views that increased centralisation may have had an effect on morale and job satisfaction in local offices.

The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS that consideration of the autonomy and decision-making capacity of local fiscals is being taken forward in its current “Fair Futures” programme being developed in consultation with its staff.

The Committee notes views that the centralisation of case marking has led to an erosion of knowledge as to the availability of local schemes and programmes where case markers are considering alternatives to prosecution. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to consider whether, if these perceptions are valid, Community Justice Scotland could be invited to address them in its ongoing work to develop a new model for community justice delivery.

More generally, the Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what monitoring there is of the effectiveness of diversion from prosecution and whether and how the results of that monitoring are fed back to the COPFS for continuous improvement purposes.

Victims and witnesses and the COPFS

The Committee supports the principle that the COPFS prosecutes in the public interest and not directly in the interests of individual victims of crime: it is not “the victim’s lawyer”. The Committee understands that this may sometimes lead to difficult decisions being made that victims find painful. However, the Committee considers that the principle is key to protecting the independence and integrity of the prosecution service.

The Committee considers that there is no inherent contradiction between putting the public interest first during the prosecution process and putting victim care at the heart of criminal justice system, In particular, victims have a right to be listened to and to be treated with respect and sensitivity. Their views matter and they should be consulted, whenever possible, at appropriate points in the prosecution process.

The Committee considers that an effective, efficient and fair COPFS in everyone’s interests; accused, victims and witnesses alike. The Committee is therefore concerned by evidence that a lack of preparation time means that time limits in solemn trials are being “routinely” exceeded and seeks the COPFS’s response.

The Committee also asks the COPFS to respond to evidence that its general policy is not to seek the withdrawal of warrants for arrest of an accused for non-attendance, even where there may be exculpatory or mitigating factors. The Committee accepts that non-appearance for a court hearing is a serious matter but asks the COPFS to respond to concerns that, if this is its policy, it may impact disproportionately on vulnerable people.

The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to clarify what information (if any) public agencies must provide to families and dependents of accused people and what measures are in place to ensure that the information is provided. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS and Scottish Government as to what measures are in place to ensure that family members or vulnerable adults accused or convicted of a crime are contacted and notified.

The Committee considers that the safety and mental welfare of victims, balanced against the accused’s right to a fair trial, should be at the forefront of consideration during the prosecution process. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to confirm whether it is their understanding that Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 imposes legal duties on the COPFS, and other agencies, in relation to the hostile cross-examination of witnesses during a criminal trial and, if so, to clarify what practices and policies are in place to ensure that relevant legal requirements are met.

The Committee welcomes the Victims’ Code for Scotland and considers that the pamphlet should be available to all victims at their first point of contact with the criminal justice system. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS and Scottish Government as to current practices in relation to making the Code available.

The Committee welcomes ongoing work under the Evidence and Procedure Review to reform the way in which children give evidence during a trial but repeats its earlier concern that there is no publication date for the review’s findings.

The Committee notes that the aspiration is to make taking evidence from children in a courtroom setting the exception rather than the norm. Any reforms must continue to allow the defence to challenge and test the evidence. The Committee looks forwards to considering detailed proposals as they emerge.

The Committee welcomes the additional funding that the Cabinet Secretary provided for the victim fund, which assists families of murder victims, in the 2016-17 financial year. The Committee asks the Scottish Government to keep the fund under review to ensure that it is adequate.

The Committee considers that the evidence taken from victims of crime set out serious failings by the criminal justice system, of which the COPFS is a key component, to provide the confidence necessary for these victims to participate in court proceedings. These failings including a lack of communications, misinformation, delays and adjournments, have resulted in some of these victims concluding that they would never have reported the crime in the first place. The Committee considers that this is unacceptable and must be addressed as a priority, and repeats its view that it is imperative that the COPFS finds more effective methods for passing on accurate up-to-date information about trials in real time to all stakeholders, victims especially. The Committee acknowledges that the reasons for adjournments in criminal trials are complex and that the COPFS bears only partial responsibility for them.

The Committee asks the COPFS to clarify the extent to which it takes into account the vulnerability of victims and witnesses, and the risk to them of a prolonged or delayed prosecution process, in determining the prioritisation of cases, in the light of evidence that delays in hearing cases can disproportionately damage the mental welfare of vulnerable adults.

The Committee recognises the valuable role played by the Victim Information and Advice Service, and that there has been praise for the contribution of VIA staff members in evidence. The Committee recognises that the COPFS’s resources are finite and limited and prevent it providing as much assistance as it would like. At the same time, there are lessons for the COPFS as a whole to learn as to the way it sometimes communicates with victims of crime and with other prosecution witnesses.

Reforms under the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 have significantly widened the duties owed to victims and witnesses and have been widely welcomed. The COPFS, in common with other public agencies, is still adjusting to these changes. The Committee is concerned by evidence appearing to indicate that some of the key rights secured by that legislation are not yet a reality for victims and witnesses in their journey through the criminal justice system. The Committee asks the COPFS and Scottish Government to respond to this evidence, and to evidence that victims and witnesses are not always aware of their rights.

The Committee welcomes the Lord Advocate’s acknowledgement that the COPFS might benefit from examining the process of giving evidence from the victim’s perspective in order to see whether it could be improved.

The Committee is concerned by evidence that vulnerable witnesses did not always obtain the special measures that they had requested and that where some special measures (for instance, screens) were provided, they were not always adequate. Evidence that victims and witnesses did not always feel secure outwith the courtroom setting during the trial process is also concerning. The Committee notes that, as well as potentially affecting victims’ and witnesses’ mental welfare, this might affect the evidence they give, or in extreme cases lead them not to give evidence at all.

The Committee recommends that the COPFS carry out an audit of victims and witnesses entitled to special measures in order to determine (a) whether they are aware of their rights to ask for special measures, (b) whether reasonable requests for non-standard special measures are being met, and (c) the extent to which the provision of special measures actually assisted the individual in providing evidence and, if not, what lessons could be learned from this.

Under the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, the COPFS is required to take reasonable steps to enable victims and their families to avoid the accused during a trial. The Committee seeks clarification from the COPFS as to how it exercises that duty in practice and whether it makes victims and their families aware of its existence.

The Committee was concerned by evidence as to the lack of contact between victims and prosecutors during trial preparation, leading in some cases to a perception from victims that the Crown was not well prepared when it came to the trial. The Committee notes the explanation provided by the COPFS as to why, in the vast majority of cases, it is no longer considered appropriate to precognose victims and witnesses. However, the Committee also notes evidence that precognition by the Crown, amongst other things, may help evidence be agreed earlier, and thus help cases resolve more quickly, which is one of the main aims of the Evidence and Procedure Review. The Committee asks the COPFS to respond to this evidence.

Evidence received over the course of this inquiry shows a divergence between the intentions of the COPFS and the experience of many victims. Victims can be re-traumatised by what can come across as a mechanistic process that does not always appear to have their interests at heart. Victims and witnesses are sometimes made to feel like an afterthought. This is a system-wide problem but the COPFS, as the key organisation within the prosecution process, bears its share of responsibility. Any comprehensive solution must also be system-wide.

The Committee notes Dr Lesley Thomson’s Review of Victim Care in the Justice Sector in Scotland. Whilst welcoming the Review as a valuable contribution to the current debate as to how best to cater for victims within the prosecution process, the Committee considers that many of its conclusions have been voiced before but not acted upon.

The Committee requests a detailed response from the COPFS and the Scottish Government as to the main conclusions in the Review, including which recommendations they propose to accept, and what legislative reforms may be necessary in the light of this. The Committee further requests from the COPFS and Scottish Government a timetable for implementing recommendations in the Review. The Committee also seeks their views on the Review’s proposal that victims should have access to a single point of contact providing advice and support during their journey through the criminal justice process.

The Committee notes that the number of referrals to the VIA service has risen sharply (by around 45% in seven years) and that the Thomson Review estimates an additional 4000 referrals per annum in future thanks to recent legislative reforms. The Committee considers that without additional resource for VIA, there will almost certainly be adverse consequences for its ability to work effectively.

The Committee calls for the COPFS to audit the work VIA currently undertakes in order to come to a view on where the main demands on its services come from and whether there are areas of unmet need.

The Committee makes these recommendations in the context of what it recognises as an ongoing debate as to the future role of the VIA service. The Committee considers that obtaining more information on VIA’s current workload and on unmet need may help clarify next steps in relation to that debate.

The Inspectorate of Prosecutions

The Inspectorate of Prosecutions in Scotland has an important role to play in ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of the prosecution system and the Committee supports its work. The inquiry has laid bare the Inspectorate’s very low public profile, even amongst criminal justice stakeholders. Whilst the Inspectorate is not a public-facing complaints-handling organisation or an advocacy body, it requires the input of informed experts and stakeholders to add value to its scrutiny work.

The Committee is therefore concerned at the lack of stakeholder awareness of the Inspectorate’s output, given that its reports have touched on matters of genuine public interest.

The Committee notes the Inspectorate’s assurances that it recognises its low profile as a concern and proposes to address it. The Committee requests an update from the Inspectorate as to what work is planned and would welcome the Scottish Government’s view on what the Inspectorate proposes.

The Committee notes that it helps the Inspectorate to have ex-COPFS staff working on its investigations. They bring with them a wealth of knowledge about how the service works that is likely to add to the quality of its output. However, the Committee considers that the Inspectorate has not currently got the balance quite right. This applies particularly to the practice of recruiting most assistant inspectors from the COPFS on secondment.

The Committee notes the Inspector’s assurances that she has never been influenced to change a recommendation in her reports. However, perceptions matter, and current arrangements contribute to a perception that the Inspectorate may not be as independent from the COPFS as it was intended to be. The Committee requests the Scottish Government to reflect on these views and to respond to them.

Finally, the Committee asks the Inspector to take into account conclusions and recommendations about the COPFS made elsewhere in this report when considering her next programme of inspections.

LET’S DO JUSTICE DIFFERENTLY – JAMES WOLFFE QC

At a meeting on 17 January 2017, MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee took evidence from Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC – who told MSPs ongoing reviews suggested a “need to do criminal justice in really quite a different way”.

In the months since James Wolffe made this statement to MSPs, Wolffe has embarked on a public relations offensive in order to bring the thorny question of the removal of corroboration – a safeguard against miscarriage of justice – from Scotland’s criminal justice system – in order to secure what COPFS agents believe would be a vastly higher conviction rate – if the requirement of two independent sources of verification for evidence was dropped.

Appearing in sympathetic press, Wolffe has made known he now sides with the abolishment of corroboration and a wholesale change of the way criminal prosecutions are handled in Scotland.

However, critics say the Crown Office cannot be trusted with such radical alterations to Scots Criminal law – pointing to high levels of corruption at the Crown Office including staff who themselves hold criminal records for serious offences, and the widely known fact COPFS is heavily compromised by criminal informants, as well as legal staff who have tipped off other crooks including lawyers & financiers linked to major criminal investigations.

And – moves to drop corroboration in the past have been condemned as little more than a policy move to allow Prosecutors to make up evidence as they go along in Criminal Trials.

Legal figures from across Scotland have indicated it is their view that if  corroboration were removed from the Criminal justice system, trials would be likely to see an increase in all kinds of dodgy statements & evidence used by desperate prosecutors out for a conviction at any cost.

Evidence from Police Officers too has been widely criticised by several members of the judiciary who contend officers have knowingly given false, and at times corrupt evidence in  Scotland’s Sheriff and High Courts of Justiciary.

Legal insiders have since tipped off the media the Crown Office has conducted an internal consultation on how to ‘reinvigorate’ moves to abolish corroboration and return the issue to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee – where MSPS previously concluded only two years ago that corroboration must remain as part of Scotland’s justice system.

The Justice Committee’s decision came from an impassioned address by Lord Brian Gill, who rightly supported the retention of corroboration as a safeguard to ensure the right to a fair trial across the spectrum of Scotland’s criminal justice system.

The Justice Committee – then under the chair of MSP Christine Grahame MSP, had previously heard from anti-corroboration protagonists Lord Carloway – who is now Scotland’s top judge, and the then Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland – who Carloway has since appointed to a £180k judicial post at the Court of Session.

The Justice Committee remained unconvinced of the merits of abolishing corroboration after hearing from Carloway, Mulholland and a plethora of other groups & vested interests.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe is also facing serious questions to answer over his role in a growing scandal around cash bungs and payments to members of the Faculty of Advocates – while Wolffe was Dean of Faculty.

An ongoing media investigation into a case in which a judge & privy councillor failed to declare links to his son – who was at the time representing a construction company which admitted an incident of unlawfully dumping contaminated waste – has established a QC representing the pursuer was paid large sums of cash after he demanded the payments “in any form except beads”.

An investigation into the payments – which breach Faculty rules -, and evidence of alleged malpractice by the QC was covered up while Wolffe was Dean of Faculty.

Now, the case has re-entered the headlines as calls grow for a full investigation into legal regulators including Wolffe’s Faculty of Advocates – who dismissed the complaint without even looking at it.

Video footage of two appearances by Crown Office agents including the Lord Advocate – James Wolffe QC, follow:

Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 17 January 2017 – COPFS Inquiry & other business

Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said the probe had “unearthed some serious concerns”.

She said: “From the amount of time wasted through trials not proceeding on schedule, to the workload of prosecutors and the support offered to the victims and witnesses who appear at court. “The justice committee will publish its conclusions in due course, but we hope that the Lord Advocate will have listened to the legitimate concerns raised so far.”

Conservative justice spokesman Douglas Ross pressed the Lord Advocate on whether there would be “an overhaul of the justice system” in light of concerns raised.

Mr Wolffe said he acknowledged the challenges COPFS faces, saying “significant reform” was ongoing, with a process review suggesting “the need to do criminal justice in really quite a different way”.

Crown Agent David Harvie, the professional head of the service, said there was a “very strong argument for system change” within the justice system, and “a need and an opportunity for transformational change”.

Staff surveys have noted that 40% of Crown Office staff don’t wish to stay in the service in the long term – although Mr Wolffe argued that this is “considerably higher” than the average in the civil service, saying things were moving in the right direction. He also argued that there should be no lack of confidence in the fundamental work of COPFS, with a conviction rate of 80% in cases prosecuted.

Mr Harvie said the “vast majority” of individuals were provided with a good service, although he said he “accepts and regrets” that some had been failed.

In response to further questions about staff issues, Mr Wolffe said “we are not complacent about it”, but added that “there is encouragement to be taken” from staff surveys. He said the service had “come a remarkable distance” in his lifetime, from a position where the criminal justice system paid no regard to the needs of witnesses.

The Lord Advocate highlighted communication and support for victims and vulnerable witnesses as a particular area of focus for ongoing improvements, with ambition to deal with evidence from children and vulnerable people in a different way.

Ms Mitchell said there was a “fundamental problem” over communications with victims of sexual assault in particular, with Mr Harvie agreeing this was an issue worthy of “significant reflection” and further work.

Under the current budget draft, the Crown Office budget is maintained in cash terms, which equates to a real-terms cut.

Mr Harvie told members that £1.5m of savings had been targeted, with half of the sum coming from staff costs.

He said “probably around 30” jobs would be cut, by not replacing staff who leave or retire. The other half of the savings will come from areas like expert witness costs and pathology, although Mr Harvie conceded there was a “risk” that some could also come from staffing – albeit “not a significant risk”.

Mr Wolffe previously appeared at Holyrood to give evidence about the draft budget, at which point he argued the Crown Office had adequate resources to fulfil its role.

Scottish Parliament Justice Committee 20 December 2016 COPFS Inquiry & other business

Concluding MSPs probe of the Crown Office, Justice Committee convener Margaret Mitchell said: “An effective Crown Office is fundamental to an effective criminal justice system in Scotland.The committee heard many concerns during our inquiry. Across the board, witnesses identified possible improvements which could be made to how COPFS works – and better-serve justice and the public. These findings must be taken into account by COPFS management and the Scottish government.”

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said: “It is gratifying that the committee has concluded that COPFS is an effective, rigorous, fair and independent public prosecutor.It states that, in general, the public in Scotland is fundamentally well-served by the COPFS in that core role. That is, in large part, a tribute to the professionalism and commitment of the staff of the service. The committee has made a number of recommendations and I will wish to take time to reflect on all of those recommendations.”

For a more substantive reporting on the Crown Office, read previously articles here: Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service – previous reports and on the office of Lord Advocate here: Scotland’s Lord Advocate – Top crime officer leaves much doubt on justice.

Have a problem with the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service? Tips to tell on cases, prosecutions or presentation of dodgy evidence? Tell us more about it in confidence, by email to scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

 

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