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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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DECLARE IT, M’LORD: MSPs seek further evidence on proposals to create register of judges’ interests, Lord President to be invited to face Holyrood Committee after May 2016 elections

Lord Carloway to face questions on judicial register. A THREE YEAR Holyrood probe on proposals to require judges to register their interests is to be continued into the next Parliamentary session – with a call to invite Scotland’s latest top judge – Lord Carloway – to give evidence on plans to bring the judiciary into line with transparency rules which apply to all other branches of Government.

The decision to call in the Lord President – who is on record opposing proposals to require judges to declare their interests – came last week after MSPs sitting on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee heard further evidence and submissions on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Speaking in favour of continuing the petition, Petitions Committee Convener Michael McMahon MSP (Scottish Labour, Uddingston and Bellshill) said: “We have written to the new Lord President, whose position is no different from that of the outgoing Lord President. However, we invited the outgoing Lord President to come to the committee to discuss the petition; does the committee want to extend the same invitation to the new Lord President, so that we can explore the issue?”

Mr McMahon continued: “There is still a live debate on the matter, and I would certainly be reluctant to close the petition without having exhausted the discussion and examined the issue—almost to destruction, I think. There are serious questions to ask.”

Committee member Kenny MacAskill MSP (SNP, Edinburgh Eastern) asked for the petition to be placed in the Committee’s legacy paper for the next Petitions Committee – which will come into being after the elections to the Scottish Parliament  on 5 May 2016.

The former Justice Secretary – who is set to publish a book revealing more on his decision to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi – convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in December 1988 – also hoped the next Petitions Committee would consider the process of selecting a new judge for the US Supreme Court to fill the vacancy after the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Mr MacAskill said “It would also be up to the future committee to consider what will be on-going in the United States of America, where judicial declarations go to an extreme that we might not wish to emulate—I am thinking of the replacement of Justice Scalia.”

John Wilson MSP (Independent, Coatbridge North and Glenboig) agreed with moves to keep the petition open, and backed calls to contact the Lord President, and a University of Strathclyde Law Professor who has researched judicial interests.

Mr Wilson said: “The petitioner has suggested that the committee write to Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde, who has apparently done some independent academic research on the subject. It might be as well writing to the Lord President and asking him to consider whether he would appear before the committee. That might also be something for the legacy paper. We should also suggest that the committee invites Professor Alan Paterson to give some independent academic scrutiny of what has been requested in the petition.”

Mr Wilson also revealed former Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – Moi Ali, had recently written to The Scotsman newspaper, urging the establishment of a register.

During an evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013 – Ms Ali backed the creation of a register of judicial interests – providing MSPs with a powerful first hand, honest and highly detailed account of the workings of Scotland’s judiciary and lack of judicial transparency & accountability.

Current Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson also backed plans to require judges to declare their interests, during an evidence  session of the Public Petitions Committee held in June 2015.

The cross party supported proposals – debated at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – call for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Video footage & transcript of Public Petitions Committee debate:

Petition PE1458 Register of judicial interests Scottish Parliament 23rd February 2016

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458) 23 February 2016

The Convener: PE1458, which was brought by Peter Cherbi, is on a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

We have written to the new Lord President, whose position is no different from that of the outgoing Lord President. However, we invited the outgoing Lord President to come to the committee to discuss the petition; does the committee want to extend the same invitation to the new Lord President, so that we can explore the issue? There is still a live debate on the matter, and I would certainly be reluctant to close the petition without having exhausted the discussion and examined the issue—almost to destruction, I think. There are serious questions to ask.

Kenny MacAskill (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP): There is clearly still debate about the matter. It was the Judicial Complaints Reviewer who initially indicated a change in tack, which was upheld.

Where we can take the matter and whether it should be this committee that pursues it, I am not sure. Lord Carloway, the new Lord President, has made his position quite clear. It seems to me that the question is whether anyone else wants to pick the issue up. We could ask the new Lord President the same questions that we asked of the former Lord President, but given that we have his response in writing, I do not know where that would take us.

The question is whether the Justice Committee or the Scottish Government wants to pursue the issue. My recollection is that it is about six months since we heard from the minister but there was no indication of any change in perspective.

The Convener: There are still issues to be debated and it would be useful to get the new Lord President’s views on the record. The question is whether we, as an out-going committee, extend that invitation or put it in our legacy paper so that the new committee can pick it up and run with it.

Kenny MacAskill: I would be inclined to leave it in the legacy paper on the basis that we have had a reasonably full letter from Lord Carloway. If we were to squeeze him in within the next fortnight, I am sceptical as to what we could get from him that we have not already had in writing.

John Wilson: The petitioner has suggested that the committee write to Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde, who has apparently done some independent academic research on the subject. It might be as well writing to the Lord President and asking him to consider whether he would appear before the committee. That might also be something for the legacy paper. We should also suggest that the committee invites Professor Alan Paterson to give some independent academic scrutiny of what has been requested in the petition.

I spent half an hour this morning trying to get the updated register of interests of judicial members of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. I am assured that it is on the site somewhere, but although I tried for half an hour this morning, it was impossible to find. The latest register of interests that I have comes from last year and so is not up-to-date enough to include Lord Carloway. I know that he registered no interests when he was Lord Justice Clerk.

We have been told that there are safeguards in place, but it would be useful to know how the general public get the information that they are looking for. If it is difficult to get the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service judicial service register, it raises other questions about where we are going and whether we are making it more difficult for people to find out judicial interests.

The former Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali, has recently written to The Scotsman, urging the establishment of a register—just as she did when she gave evidence. The current Judicial Complaints Reviewer has also said that it would be helpful to have a register of judicial interests.

I would like to think that the future Public Petitions Committee could take the issue forward and invite Lord Carloway and others to come and give evidence, perhaps answering some of the questions that arise further down the road.

The Convener: The suggestion is that we put it in our legacy paper and write to Professor Paterson, as John Wilson suggested, so that his response would be available to the new committee, which could take it into consideration. Is everyone happy with that?

Members indicated agreement.

Kenny MacAskill: I am fine with that. It would also be up to the future committee to consider what will be on-going in the United States of America, where judicial declarations go to an extreme that we might not wish to emulate—I am thinking of the replacement of Justice Scalia.

The Convener:It is interesting to watch what is happening there and compare it.

Writing in the Scotsman newspaper, Moi Ali said :

“I hope that when the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee reconsiders a proposal to implement a register of interests for the judiciary next Tuesday, it does not accept the Lord President’s advice to throw out this petition.”

“When I was Scotland’s first independent Judicial Complaints Reviewer, I gave evidence to the committee in support of a register of interests. I am a ministerially-appointed board member in Scotland, where I am rightly required to complete a register of interests to provide assurance to the public that my dealings are above board. For the same reason, the judiciary should also complete such a register.”

“The judiciary can take away people’s assets, separate families, and lock people away in prison. Given this position of power, it is essential not only that they have absolute integrity – but crucially, that they are seen to be beyond reproach.”

“A register of interests is a way of demonstrating that a judicial office holder is impartial and has no vested interest in a case – financially, through family connections, club/society membership or in any ­other way.”

“Conversely, the refusal to keep a register of interests creates public suspicion that in turn undermines judicial credibility. Thus, a register of interests is good for the judiciary and good for the public.”

JUDICIAL BLOCK: Transparency on judicial interests not welcome in my court – Lord Carloway.

Last month, Diary of Injustice reported on written evidence provided by Lord Carloway to the Public Petitions Committee on plans to require judges to declare their interests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The widely backed proposals – debated at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 – call for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The petitioner provided MSPs with examples of judicial public comments, stating: “On the same day the media reported that the Scottish Government announced a moratorium on Shale Gas Fracking, the previous Lord President Lord Gill spoke out, declaring “Our resources of energy may be increased by the retrieval of shale gas, if that should be allowed. It seems to me therefore that the opportunity that our natural resources present should be served by the court system.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(iii) the impracticality of such a register; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that this assists the Committee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Not rocket science, right? We all get it.

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

Transparency – Good. Vested Interests – Bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what others say:

The Sunday Mail newspaper reports:

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

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

Jan 18, 2015 By Mark Aitken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Mail:

WATCHDOG’S WITHERING ATTACK ON JUDICIARY

MY FINAL VERDICT ON JUDGES? A LAW UNTO THEMSELVES

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

By Mark Aitken Political Editor Sunday Mail 07 December 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Herald:

Clash over probe into allegations of bullying in the justice system

Paul Hutcheon, Investigations Editor Sunday 7 December 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The organisation’s witnesses were also not interviewed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Herald:

 Judicial watchdog quits from ‘straightjacket’ role

Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor Sunday 26 January 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Mail:

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

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

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

News Special : By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 15 Dec 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUDGES IN DOCK

Probed after bawling out a dog walker

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

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

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

Accused of insensitivity over disability.

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

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

However, Lord Gill disagreed with Ali’s opinion.

IF I AM NOT SURE WHAT THIS LEGALESE MEANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Herald:

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

Paul Hutcheon Investigations Editor Sunday 15 December 2013

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

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

MSPs yesterday welcomed the intervention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Mail:

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

REVEALED JUDGES ESCAPE SCRUTINY

By Russell Findlay Sunday Mail 22 Sept 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But judicial accountability is a completely separate issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Mail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP JUDGE REJECTS REGISTER OF INTERESTS

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The judicial transparency proposal calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NO REVIEW OF JUDICIAL COMPLAINTS REVIEWER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VESTED INTERESTS INTERVENTION:

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

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

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

 

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COURT BANKING, M’LORD: ‘Unworkable’ register of judicial interests reveals top judges’ financial links to world of big money, insurance giants, vested interests & banks fined billions in plea deals with financial regulators

Register reveals judicial links to bank cartels & rate rigging. A REGISTER of judicial interests – described by Scotland’s former Lord President Lord Brian Gill & First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as being “unworkable” – has revealed financial links between some of Scotland’s top judges & banks fined by regulators for rigging international exchange rates, failure to report to regulators, and operating in cartels like “the mafia”.

The documents, released by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service in response to a Freedom of Information request – reveal the latest lists of shareholdings & interests of Scotland’s top judges – who are fighting to prevent the public from scrutinising their hidden wealth.

Also disclosed for the first time are the shareholdings of non judicial members who sit on the Scottish Courts Service Board (SCSB) – now renamed as the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service Board (SCTSB) – the influential body which makes decisions on how the courts operate.

Among those who now feature in the register of interests for top judges who decide on court administration are new faces to the SCTS Board, including Lady Anne Smith – who was appointed head of the Tribunals by former top judge Lord Brian Gill.

The substantial declarations of shareholdings reveal judicial links to financial institutions such as JP Morgan – fined over foreign exchange & Libor rate rigging, Goldman Sachs – fined for reporting violations by US authorities & Barclays – who were fined a record £284.4 million by British regulators and around £1.5bn in total as part of a UK and US settlement with authorities over the foreign exchange trading scandal.

MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee are currently investigating a plan to create a register of judicial interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

If the judicial transparency proposal becomes reality, all members of Scotland’s judiciary – instead of just the elite few who sit on the board of the Scottish Courts – will be required to declare their vast and varied interests from membership of charities to undeclared paid work, property ownership, financial wealth and connections to big business & the legal profession among a host of details many in public life are already required to enter in declarations of interests.

JUDICIAL DECLARATIONS: ‘Unworkable’ register is very workable … and very revealing:

President of Scottish Tribunals – Rt Hon Lady Smith: Shareholdings: Artemis Fund Managers, Barclays, Blackrock AM, Brown Advisory, Goldman Sachs, Global Access, Henderson Investment, Ishares PLC, JP Morgan, Lazard Fund Managers, Pimco Global, Skandia Investment, Vanguard Funds PLC.

Lord Justice Clerk Lord Carloway: None, Sheriff Principal Duncan L Murray: None, Sheriff A Grant McCulloch: None significant, Dr Joseph Morrow: None

Sheriff Iona McDonald:  Glaxosmithkline, Royal Dutch Shell, Unilever, Equiniti, Barclays, Standard Life, HBOS, Royal Mail.

Johan Findlay OBE JP:  Aviva, Vodaphone, Santander, Unilever, Norwich Union, Legal & General, Fidelity Funds Network, Lloyds Banking Group, Thus Group, HBOS, Trafficmaster, Standard Life.

Eric McQueen: None, Dr Kirsty J Hood: None, Professor R Hugh MacDougall: None

Simon J D Catto: Aberdeen Football Club PLC, Scottish Power UK Plc, Royal Mail PLB.

Joe Al-Gharabally: RBS, Ryan Air, Aviva, AT&T.

Anthony McGrath: Accys Technology, Alexander Mining, Apple, Ashley House, Asian Citrus, Augean, Avanti Comms, Barclays Bank Bond, Billings Services, Camkids, Cell Therapeutics, Centamin, Chariot Oil, Chemring, Coal Of Africa, Consolidated General Minerals, Correro, Cupid, East West Resources, Emblaze, Essenden, e-Trade Financial, Fox Marble, Globo plc, Goldenport Holdings, Goldplat, Heritage Oil, HSBC Holdings, lmic, Infrastrata, Interpublic, Jubilee Platinum, Lloyds Banking, Magnolia Petroleum, Mobile Streams, Norseman Gold, Polo Resources, Pure Bioscience, Quindell, Reach4entertainment, Resource Holdings, Royal Bank of Scotland, Saltire Taverns, Stagecoach, Standard Charter, STV, Tanfield, Tower resources, Volga Gas, Westminster Group.

And, in further documents released by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service – the last snapshot of the Scottish Court Service Board (SCSB), reveals the final declaration of interests, directorships & shareholdings of Scotland’s now retired top judge Lord Brian Gill – who bitterly fought proposals to increase judicial transparency by creating a register of judicial interests.

SCSB Interests 2015. Lord President – Rt Hon Lord Gill: Director of Scottish Redundant Churches Trust, a company limited by guarantee registered in Scotland (SC162884). President of the Royal Society for Home Relief to Incurable, Edinburgh Trustee of the Columba Trust: a trust for the benefit of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Vice President of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland,Trustee of the Royal School of Church Music, a registered charity for the promotion of church music in the Christian Churches (Reg No 312828) Chairman of Council, Royal School of Church Music, Trustee of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Endowment Trust: a trust for the benefit of RCS and its students, Trustee of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Trust: a trust for the benefit of the RCS and its students, Director of the Royal School of Church Music, a company limited by guarantee registered in England (Reg’d No 250031)

Shareholdings: Henderson UK Growth Fund Retail Class Acc, Aviva Investors UK Equity Fund, Newton Global Equity Fund, Scottish Widows UK Growth Sub-Fund, HSBC Balanced Fund (Retail Acc), Royal Mail Plc,TSB Group Plc, Urban and Civil Plc, Vestry Court Ltd.

Hon Lord Bannatyne: Chester Street (Limited Partner) Ltd on behalf of the Board if the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh Member of the Board of the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh Shareholder as Trustee for the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh, in Chester Street (General Partner) Ltd Member of the Clergy Disciplinary Tribunal of the Episcopal Church, Member of the Clergy Disciplinary Tribunal of the Episcopal Church.

Shareholdings: Dimensional Emerging Mkts Core Equity, Dimensional Global Short Date Bond, Dimensional Global Targeted Value, Dimensional UK Small Companies, Dimensional UK Value, Ishares FTSE EPRA UK Prop, L&G All Stocks Gilt Index, L&G All Stocks IL Gilt Index, L&G UK Index I, Vanguard FTSE D World ex-UK Equity Index.

Sheriff Principal R Alastair Dunlop QC: Chair of Local Criminal Justice Boards in Tayside Central and Fife,Commissioner of Northern Lighthouses, Elder of Gorebridge Parish Church of Scotland, Member of Royal Northern & Clyde Yacht Club, Member of the New Club, Edinburgh, Trustee of St John’s Kirk of Perth Trust.

Shareholdings: Astrazeneca, BHP Billiton, Blackrock AM UK Gold & General, Bluescope Steel, BNY Mellon Newton Global, Carador Income Fund, CG Real Return Inc, Diageo, Findlay Park FDS American Smaller Cos, Intercontinental Hotels, Lomond Shipping Co, Lloyds Bank, M&G (Guernsey) Global Leaders, National Grid, Oakley Capital Investments, Pernod Ricard, Real Estate Credit Investors, Rio Tinto, Royal Bank of Scotland, Royal Dutch Shell, Scottish Oriental Smaller Cos, Tesco, Verizon Communications, Vodafone, Weir Group.

INTERESTS FOR REGISTER:

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

However, in an unprecedented intervention by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on behalf of the wealthy secretive elite judiciary who head Scotland’s courts, Ms Sturgeon attacked the idea of judicial transparency and plans to create a register of interest for judges.

The First Minister – herself a former solicitor – joined the now retired Lord President Lord Brian Gill in accusations of aggressive media & litigants – in an attempt to block the judicial transparency proposal. The First Minister also quoted the 73 year old former judge, backing his claim such a register – which revealed Gill’s own substantial interests – is “unworkable” and cannot possibly be applied to the entire judiciary.

The First Minister claimed in a letter to the Petitions Committee: The breadth of such a register would make it virtually unworkable. It would need to cover not only financial interests, but also memberships of groups and associations and familial and social relationships. Even so, such a register might not capture relevant issues that could arise.”

Ms Sturgeon continued: “The position of the judiciary is different from that of MSPs and others who hold public office. The judiciary cannot publicly defend themselves. The Lord President has cautioned that such a register could also have unintended consequences. Consideration requires to be given to judges’ privacy and freedom from harassment by aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants. In addition, there is currently no evidence that judges who should have recused themselves from cases have not done so.”

Aside from legal vested interests ‘aggressive’ opposition to the judicial transparency plan, the proposal to require judges to declare their interests has powerful backing from judicial watchdogs.

Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – Moi Ali supported the judicial transparency proposal during an evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013.

In a letter to the Public Petitions Committee, Ms Ali told MSPs: The position of the judiciary is incredibly powerful. They have the power to take away people’s assets, to separate families, to lock people away for years. Some of these people will not have committed a crime. They may be women who want protection from abusing partners, fathers who want access to their children, or people whose home is at stake due to various legal or family wrangles. People going through the court system face stress and anxiety, perhaps financial pressures, and fear about the future. Their perspective is important and must be a consideration in this matter.

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

Current JCR Gillian Thompson OBE gave further support for the plan to create a register of interests for judges during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

Multiple property ownership and interests in real estate, buy to let and property companies is big business for members of the judiciary and their family members – however there are no details or disclosures of any property directly owed by the SCS Board members contained in the declarations released by the SCS.

Additionally, the limited disclosures of SCS Board & SCTSB contain no references to outside earnings & work, relationships to law firms, big business and others more detailed declarations which may be picked up by a fully published register of judicial interests as is currently under investigation by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.

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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NEW BROOM TO TELL: Judicial transparency in the dock as Holyrood MSPs set to quiz Judicial Complaints Reviewer on support for a register of interests for judges

New Judicial Complaints Reviewer to face Holyrood. SCOTLAND’S new Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) will appear before the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee tomorrow, Tuesday 23 June, to give evidence on her support for a register of judicial interests.

Gillian Thompson OBE – former head of the Accountant in Bankruptcy (AIB) who has held the post of JCR since summer 2014 – replacing Moi Ali – Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer who stood down last year due to a lack of regulatory power – is expected to continue support for a proposal calling for judges to be required to declare their vast wealth and secretive links to business, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The judicial transparency proposal calls for the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

The petition has cross party support from MSPs who backed a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests at Holyrood on 7 October 2014 – reported along with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges.

Writing in a letter to the Public Petitions Committee  in January, Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson backed calls to make judges more accountable on their secretive interests.

Gillian Thompson told MSPs: “As a general principle I am in favour of those in public life, whether paid or unpaid, being required to maintain a register of interests including hospitality given or received.”

“We live in an age in which transparency about interests and activities of those in the public eye is regarded as good practice. There is a perception that anything less is the result of attempts to hide things. In the case of Judges, it is clear that court users and the public more widely seek reassurances of fairness and impartiality. I think it is difficult for those outside the Judiciary to understand the notion that the Oath taken by Judges on appointment should be regarded as sufficient evidence of their commitment to uphold the principles of public life.”

“Of course a register as called for by this petition would require to be kept up to date and the burden of cost and responsibility would have to be borne by, most likely, the public purse. It seems to me however that the costs attached would be offset to a degree by an increase in confidence and, conceivably, a drop in complaints.”

JCR Gillian Thompson’s backing for Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary comes after Moi Ali – Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer – quit her role as JCR after describing the job as “window dressing” during an evidence session with MSPs in September 2013, reported along with video coverage 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

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

The full written report on the eye opening 2013 evidence session with Moi Ali and the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee was published here : Evidence from Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali to Public Petitions Committee on Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali backed register of judicial interests: A further letter of support from Moi Ali while she held the post of Judicial Complaints Reviewer told MSPs of the “incredibly powerful” nature of the judiciary and why a register of judicial interests would help judicial transparency and public confidence in the justice system.

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

“I think it likely that the number of complaints against the judiciary would fall were there to be a published register of interest for judicial office holders. I have received complaints about perceived conflicts of interest that have come to light after court proceedings. A register of interests would allow issues to be dealt with at the time, thus averting the need for a complaint. That would be good for the judiciary and for the public.”

“The position of the judiciary is incredibly powerful. They have the power to take away people’s assets, to separate families, to lock people away for years. Some of these people will not have committed a crime. They may be women who want protection from abusing partners, fathers who want access to their children, or people whose home is at stake due to various legal or family wrangles. People going through the court system face stress and anxiety, perhaps financial pressures, and fear about the future. Their perspective is important and must be a consideration in this matter.”

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

Gillian Thompson’s appearance before MSPs at Holyrood follows a secret meeting between Scottish Ministers and Lord President Lord Gill – who demanded proposals on requiring judges to declare their interests – be halted.

The secret meeting between Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse and Scotland’s now retired top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill (73) and his aides was held in February – to discuss joint efforts between the Scottish Government and senior judicial figures to combat a long running Scottish Parliament investigation into proposals to increase transparency of the judiciary – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The existence of the secret get together between Scottish Government Ministers and judges desperate to conceal their vast and varied interests from the public – only came to light in a letter of intervention from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee at the end of March.

NEW JCR SCRUTINISED REGISTERS OF INTEREST FOR COURT STAFF:

Diary of Injustice previously reported on concerns regarding hospitality involving Scottish Court Service employees where the former AIB Chief was asked by the Scottish Court Service to investigate reports of irregularities in hospitality given to court staff. The request for the investigation came after the SCS received Freedom of Information requests regarding hospitality in the courts, prompting concerns some staff may have accepted gifts or hospitality but failed to register.

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

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

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

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

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

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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