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PARLIAMENT ACCOUNTS: How Scotland’s judiciary & courts blew £58 million of taxpayers cash on ‘improvements’ to the Court of Session & Parliament House

‘Sundries’ befitting courts & judges: £2.78m. SCOTLAND’S top judges and their attendants at the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) don’t do detail when it comes to accounting for a £58 million raid on taxpayers cash – to fund ‘improvements’ to Parliament House – seat of the Court of Session.

According to documents released by the SCTS in response to a Freedom of Information request, the staggering £57,517,062.82 splurge on the well known, if rotting, bleak and life ending Parliament House gives little detail to public eyes on exactly what work took place.

In one accounts category, a grand total of £2,780,612.72 of public cash falls under the heading of “Sundries under £100K” – reminiscent of an entry from the ledger of Al Capone’s not so fabled book keeper in the days of  “The Untouchables”.

And, ironically, the City of Edinburgh Council – who used to own the building before Scottish Ministers took the titles for themselves – were paid the sum of £2,436,439.45 as part of the works plan – small compensation for the loss of a building right in the centre of Edinburgh, valued potentially as a site in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

The ‘full’ figures released in documents provided by the SCTS in terms of where the money went reveal the following: Aedas ARCHITECTS £3,014,605.06, Amec Initial building contractor £101,669.52, Archibald McKellar Ltd furniture £259,024.15, City of Edinburgh Council Costs for decant to 1a during works  £2,436,439.45, Currie and Brown Project managers £3,292,438.75, Davis Langdon Cost consultants £554,067.40, Dinardo Partnership Services consultant  £112,672.00, GHI Fit out contractor £858,338.19, Guardian  Storage and removals £269,646.09, Hands of Wycombe  furniture £377,036.41, Heriot Video AV AV court kit £219,729.81, Interserve  Main contractor £42,030,146.95, Thomas Johnstone Limited Fit out contractor £1,021,776.27, W Stewart Client advisor £188,860.05, Sundries under £100k Miscellaneous £2,780,612.72, TOTAL £57,517,062.82

In truth, and to those who have passed through the unfriendly halls of this intimidating structure – which also serves as the command post of Scotland’s Lord President & Lord Justice General – currently Lord Carloway (Colin Sutherland), Parliament House differs little from the mid 1990’s.

Just how was this multi million pound judicial gorge on the public purse explained to the public and Scottish Parliament? Watch the following:

SCTS Chief Eric McQueen to MSPs – We spent £58 million of public cash on Parliament House

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen gave evidence on the massive £60 million taxpayer funded spend on Parliament House.

The Court Service Chief told MSPs: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting beside Eric McQueen was Lord President Brian Gill, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI also revealed the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) – refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates. Attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover the Parliament Hall titles ended in a failed legal action, reported here: WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Previous reports on the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court – Parliament House can be found here: Parliament House – The lost titles to the City of Edinburgh

 

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WOLFFE’D HALL: Edinburgh Council admit defeat in Parliament House titles fiasco – officials no longer pursuing recovery of Scotland’s top court buildings to common good public ownership

Top court now owned by ‘public body’ run by judges. THE City of Edinburgh Council have this week confirmed no further action is being taken by the council to recover ownership to the common good of Parliament House – the seat of Scotland’s top courts.

In a statement issued to the media, a spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council said in relation to Parliament House: “We are not pursuing legal action regarding ownership of the Parliament House.The building, however,  remains in public ownership and is publicly accessible.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) now have full title to Parliament House – granted to them by Scottish Ministers.

However as the SCTS is a public body which is effectively controlled by a quango commanded by Scotland’s top judges – the status of “public ownership” may well fall to be a loosely applied term given how the titles came to be in the possession of the courts after Scottish Ministers took ownership of Parliament House from the common good.

The City of Edinburgh Council’s costly £53K legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was destined to be heard in the very same court buildings – was abandoned almost as instantly as papers were served by the council’s legal agents on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and Scottish Ministers- reported in further detail here:  WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Commenting on the Laigh Hall – a large area of building which runs underneath Parliament House and was ‘gifted’ to the Faculty of Advocates by the Scottish Government, a Council spokesperson, said: “Shortly after Scottish Ministers registered these buildings they transferred the title for Laigh Hall to the facility of advocates. We understand that this transfer is subject to Scottish Ministers having first refusal to reaquire the property in the event of a sale.”

A spokesperson for the council also confirmed earlier moves by Edinburgh Council to ‘persuade’ the SCTS & Scottish Government to voluntarily hand back ownership, were also at an end.

DOI has previously published documents released under Freedom of Information legislation which revealed lawyers representing trustees of the Faculty of Advocates informed Registers of Scotland (RoS) that the Laigh Hall – part of the Parliament House complex – had been occupied by the Faculty for some 150 years, with no recorded titles – yet Scottish Ministers and Registers of Scotland went ahead and granted ownership to the Faculty of Advocates.

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI also revealed the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) – refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates.

Records of titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stands in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scotland’s current First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon also weighed in on the debate, but only after being asked questions during a session of First Minister’s Questions.

The First Minister gave little indication the Scottish Government were willing to ensure titles were handed back to the City of Edinburgh Council : Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015 and as the Council have now confirmed, the matter is closed.

DOOMED TOP COURT TO UP STICKS?

Amid rumours of plans loosely based around the Scottish Government’s desire for “modern justice centres” to one day move the Court of Session out of Parliament House, questions remain on who will ultimately benefit financially from any redevelopment of the imposing, gargantuan buildings which make up Scotland’s top court and power seat of the judiciary.

The sprawling complex of high value, if aging buildings – located in the centre of Edinburgh – are described as “inaccessible” “Victorian” and “unfit for modern court needs” in loose discussions between interested parties and land developers.

However, development possibilities for Parliament House reveal a host of difficulties in turning “an overly ornate set of imposing buildings” into a mixture of office, business and residential units.

Concerns of resistance from the legal profession, elements of the judiciary and a “public outcry” appear to be uppermost in the minds of developers and politicians who may wish to move the judges out of their plush Parliament House headquarters to a “greenfield site”.

In the last few years, ‘improvements’ to Parliament House saw £58 million of taxpayers cash spent on updating the constantly crumbling court buildings – which also house the offices of Scotland’s powerful judicial clique and their top judge – the Lord President, currently Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland).

Some in the legal fraternity have since pointed to the recent multi million pound expenditure on improvements as part of a move to clean up Parliament House before a possible transfer of court staff and court functions and eventual sale of the buildings to the private sector.

It also emerged during hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in the summer of 2013 – the Scottish Court Service (SCS) – the predecessor to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) had previously demanded around £120 million of taxpayers cash be spent on renovating Parliament House.

£60M TO ‘IMPROVE’ PARLIAMENT HOUSE:

In the summer of 2013,  Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill – head of the Scottish Court Service Board, and the Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eric McQueen appeared before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on court closures and the millions spent on Parliament House – yet neither the judge nor the Courts chief mentioned their astonishing secret to the MSPs present – that the title to Scotland’s highest court buildings had been swiped by the Faculty of Advocates in a deal on the sly with Scottish Ministers.

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen gave evidence on the massive £60 million taxpayer funded spend on Parliament House.

The Court Service Chief told MSPs: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting beside Eric McQueen was Lord President Brian Gill, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Previous reports on the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court – Parliament House can be found here: Parliament House – The lost titles to the City of Edinburgh

 

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WOLFFE HALL: Edinburgh Council racks up £53K legal bill in failed bid to recover ownership of Parliament House – as papers reveal Faculty of Advocates “occupied” Laigh Hall for 150 years without recorded title deeds

Costs mount for return of Scotland’s top court buildingsAN UNSUCCESSFUL legal action by the City of Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of Parliament House – the sprawling, high value land estate situated in Edinburgh’s old town comprising Scotland’s top court buildings – has so-far cost taxpayers £52,991 – according to figures released to the media.

The costs of legal advice and other legal services provided to the council, revealed in a Freedom of Information disclosure, list law firm Burness Paul as the largest single expense at £38,726, followed by Counsel’s fees listed as £10,620K and ‘experts’ and other professional fees reaching a total of £2,400 after VAT.

However, the council’s legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was to be heard in the very same court buildings it had lost ownership of – was later abandoned – reported in further detail here:  WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI revealed the then Dean of Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) – refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In one letter dated 2 April 2015 to former Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice  Alex Neil MSP – James Wolffe told the Minister he did not object to a meeting between representatives of the City of Edinburgh Council and the Faculty of Advocates. However, Wolffe added to the same letter “At the same time I would not wish to give any expectation to you or the council as to the outcome of any discussion.”

In a separate email to a senior Scottish Government civil servant – James Wolffe added: “I am advised that the of refurbishing the Laigh Hall following the grant of title to the Faculty was £242,270 plus VAT, with professional fees of £33,537 plus VAT.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service also disclosed their own figures incurred following legal fees in the action against the City of Edinburgh Council regarding the titles of Parliament House, Parliament Hall and the Laigh Hall. The SCTS admitted it had incurred legal costs in respect of advice from solicitors amounted to £4,388.20 and costs of £3,980 in instructing Counsel.

The full listing of Legal Fees to City of Edinburgh Council: Parliament Hall Titles: Burness Paull 38,726.40, Charges/Diligence-Other Registers search fees 108.00, Counsel’s fees 10,620.00, Courier Charge 30.90, Court Dues 213.50, Court Officer fees 479.28, Experts/Other Professional fees 2,400.00, Registers Form Reports 60.00, Registers – Copy/Extract Dues 236.40, Registers Direct search fees 21.60, Travel Expenses 94.92, Totals £52,991.00

LAIGH HALL ‘OCCUPIED’ BY FACULTY OF ADVOCATES WITH NO RECORDED TITLES:

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates.

Additionally, the position of the Faculty of Advocates in relation to their ownership claim over the Laigh Hall becomes a little clearer in a chain of correspondence from the Edinburgh law firm of Shepherd and Wedderburn to RoS, which follows on from a letter from Registers of Scotland to a law firm marked “Destroy correspondence after archive”.

In a letter dated 19 January 2006, a solicitor – David A Smith of for Shepherd & Wedderburn appears to admit the Faculty of Advocates “occupied” a key part of Parliament House known as the Laigh Hall, but held no recorded title to it.

Mr Smith writes to Registers of Scotland, stating: The Disposition by The Scottish Ministers is stated to be for no consideration, and as I indicated to you In the course of our telephone conversation, the position with regard to the Laigh Hall is that the Faculty of Advocates has occupied the Laigh Hall for approximately 150 years, and the records of the Faculty indicate that although the Faculty did not have a recorded title to the Laigh Hall, the Senior Officer Bearers of the Faculty in the Nineteenth Century were of the opinion that the Faculty had “undoubted title” to the Laigh Hall.

Parliament House Is in the course of being redeveloped by The Scottish Court Service, and in the course of the redevelopment it became clear to all concerned that The Scottish Ministers did not have a registered title to the whole of Parliament House and it was agreed in the course of discussions between The Scottish Court Service and the Faculty that The Scottish Ministers would register a title to the entire building and they would then grant the Faculty a Disposition of the Laigh Hall in order to regularise the de facto position which has applied since the mid Nineteenth Century.

In the hope that this explanation will be sufficient for your purposes, I look forward to hearing from you with a receipted Form 4 and confirmation that the Registers of Scotland will now process the Faculty’s application for registration of its interest on the back of the application which was recently submitted on behalf of The Scottish Ministers in relation to the whole of Parliament House.

The solicitor at Shepherd  & Wedderburn acting for the ‘trustee’ for the Faculty of Advocates – David A Smith, was none other than David Alexander Smith – the husband of Court of Session judge Lady Anne Smith.

After his retirement from Shepherd & Wedderburn, David Smith served a term as a board member of the Scottish legal Complaints Commission (SLCC), where he sparked findings by Kevin Dunion – the then Scottish Information Commissioner – who demanded the release of censored comments by Smith targeting victims of corrupt solicitors who came before the pro-lawyer legal regulator.

PARLIAMENT HOUSE PUBLIC OWNERSHIP TITLE SWINDLE:

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it was clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

During an earlier check on the titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stood in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government’s position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

 

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EXHIBIT A, M’LUD: From £58m refit to land titles giveaway, jets to junkets & no Lord President, may it please the court Scots shall visit the Parliament House Edfringe exhibition

Parliament House exhibition – Scotland’s seat of judicial power A YEAR in the life of Scotland’s Parliament House – the seat of almost invincible, untouchable and certainly – inflexible judicial power can be a frustrating, trying, and somewhat onerous one to bear.

The past year has seen Scotland’s top judge again called to account for his aggressive posture against transparency on judicial interests.

Judicial air junkets again came into focus – revealing state visits to Qatar and the judiciary’ jet set life style – flying round the globe at taxpayers expense.

Explanations of attending boring law conferences are always put forward – but suspicions linger m’luds are not always – as Princess Leia claimed – on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.

The shocking revelations from an investigation by Land Reform campaigner Andy Wightman that land titles to Scotland’s top court buildings were simply handed over by Scottish Ministers to the overpaid Faculty of Advocates before £58million of taxpayers money was spent updating the somewhat “Victorian” court buildings (a £58m refit originally budgeted for £120m).

Then, there was the episode where Lord Gill – Scotland’s now former top judge became so incensed with the media, he issued an edict threatening to ban journalists access to court papers.

And finally, to cap off the performance, Lord Gill – Scotland’s longest serving judge and Lord President leaves the stage in a rather abrupt style after three years and retires, leaving no anointed replacement to fill the top post.

Life inside the secretive cloistered world of Parliament Hall & Parliament House, has never been so much in the spotlight.

Exhibition leaflet on the £58million public spend on Parliament House However, putting all this aside for a few weeks while judges jaunt off on holidays to the likes of (name a dictatorship, tax avoidance haunt or junket destination here), our great Parliament House justice complex stands open at the mercy of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, ensuring those of you who wish to see how the [square] ‘wheels’ of Scottish justice have managed to chug along for the last 500 years.

You, the public paid for it, all £58 million and much more over the years.

So, in this traditionally wet Scottish summer, why not take a few hours out of the next two weeks to visit what many legal insiders will tell you – is the true seat of power in Scotland – Parliament Hall – where frowns from judges and lobbying from the almost lethal and very legal ‘establishment’ can effectively skewer legislation from our democratically elected sovereign Parliament at Holyrood.

‘Parliament House, The Hidden Gem’, features colourful, life size panels on the history, traditions and work of Scotland’s supreme courts.

The exhibition will be open weekdays, Monday to Friday, 10:30 to 16:00 as venue 402 for the Edinburgh Fringe from 7 August to 25 September and then for Doors Open Day on Saturday 26 September. 

It was created to mark a five-year, £58 million refurbishment of Parliament House completed on time and under budget. The work modernised the 17th century, 700-room building, while preserving its traditional courtrooms.

Well worth a visit, for £58million.

 

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PARTY LORD: Judicial excess in the dock as Scotland’s top judge celebrates £58million taxpayer funded court refit with £36K exhibition & party bash at Parliament House

Lord Gill hosted taxpayer funded posh party for court refit. SCOTLAND’S top judge celebrated a £58million taxpayer funded refit on the Court of Session by holding a £36K exhibition and party which included trumpeters, archers and a get together for senior political figures and members of Scotland’s legal establishment.

However, Lord President Lord Brian Gill, 73, banned guests from drinking alcohol to toast the refit of Parliament House – Gill’s seat of power in the Royal Mile.

Documents obtained via Freedom of Information legislation show worried court staff debated whether they could obtain favourable press coverage for the event – which was held close to the independence referendum.

Principal court clerk Graeme Marwick asked Lord Gill about the possibility of alcohol being served to guests who included the Lord Advocate, top politicians from the Scottish Government and figures from the church. However, Gill said No.

The minutes of the discussions arranging the party reveal court staff worries that guests would not be able to meet and interact without a glass of wine.

Court staff meeting papers reveal discussions on exhibition & booze ban party. Under the heading of disadvantages of Gill’s booze ban,  one court official criticised the booze ban, saying there would be “No opportunity for a post ceremony glass of wine and canapes/entertainment and networking amongst the guests.”

Eager to provide senior guests with suitable music to accompany their sausage rolls and buffed, a member of staff queried: “Should there be entertainment at the function- possibly a string quartet from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland?”

Lord Gill agreed to spend £750 hiring trumpeters from Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire. Gill is also a trustee of the Royal Conservatoire, based in Glasgow.

To the sound of music and political chatter, guests of the Lord President’s taxpayer funded bash were eventually treated to soft drinks and canapés – costing £3,620.

One legal insider joked “Given who was in attendance I wouldn’t be surprised if someone brought along an emergency flask of booze”

Hosting the event, Lord Gill also unveiled a brass plaque marking the major refurbishment of the sprawling Parliament House site, comprising of some 700 rooms within the sprawling complex of buildings.

However, speeches given by politicians and legal luminaries at the event failed to mention concerns which have now surfaced relating to who actually owns which parts of the Parliament House complex –  which has since been in the news after it had been discovered Scottish Ministers had gifted some of the titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

Details surrounding the loss of Parliament House to Edinburgh – come from an investigation undertaken by well known land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – who discovered that in 2006 the Scottish Government asked Edinburgh City Council to confirm the ownership of Parliament House – which includes Parliament Hall and Laigh Hall. The moves by the Scottish Government to clarify ownership of the court buildings occurred prior to the taxpayer funded £58 million refurbishment project (originally budgeted at over £120m) of the sprawling court buildings.

However, after inquiries by government lawyers on the exact ownership of Scotland’s most highest courts, Edinburgh City Council concluded they were unaware of who owned Parliament House. This led to ownership transferring to Scottish Ministers who then allowed the Faculty of Advocates to register the title deeds to the interior of the building in its name.

It transpired the Faculty of Advocates had in-fact, lobbied the Scottish Government to hand over ownership.

Writing on his blog, Mr Wightman said: “The Faculty of Advocates has for centuries regarded Parliament House as theirs. They had almost exclusive use of it and so, by means as yet unclear, within a month of Scottish Ministers taking ownership, the Faculty persuaded Scottish Ministers to convey to its ownership for no consideration the room known as the Laigh Hall within Parliament House.”

A trove of eighty eight pages of documents  obtained from the Scottish Government under Freedom of Information legislation later revealed Scottish Ministers plan to do nothing over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

Throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it is clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

During a First Minister’s Questions session at Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon was asked by Alison Johnstone  MSP (Lothians, Green Party) about the Parliament Hall land grab by the Faculty of Advocates.

In her reply, featured here: Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015 Nicola Sturgeon claimed she found no fault on the part of the Scottish Government – who handed over the titles to the Faculty of Advocates – effectively little more than a lawyer’s lobby group. The First Minister went on to warn “ there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council” without giving a real explanation of why the titles were transferred in the first place.

The titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – currently stand in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

TOP JUDGE SILENT OVER PARLIAMENT TITLE SWAP

Taxpayers not invited to Gill’s £36K bash  got an informative leaflet on the £58million public spend on Parliament House. During the summer of 2013,  Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill – head of the Scottish Court Service Board, and the Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eric McQueen appeared before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on court closures and the millions spent on Parliament House – yet neither the judge nor the Courts chief mentioned their astonishing secret to the MSPs present – that the title to Scotland’s highest court buildings had been swiped by the Faculty of Advocates in a deal on the sly with Scottish Ministers.

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen gave evidence on the massive £60 million taxpayer funded spend on Parliament House.

The Court Service Chief told MSPs: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting beside Eric McQueen was Lord President Brian Gill, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Pressed for a statement on why Lord Gill or Eric McQueen did not inform the Justice Committee of the fact tens of millions of pounds of taxpayer money had been spent on a building partly owned by the Faculty of Advocates – the Judicial Office refused to give any comment.

 

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WOLFFE HALL: As Edinburgh City Council demand return of Parliament House land titles, papers reveal Scottish Ministers refused to help recover ‘gift’ of Scotland’s top court buildings to Faculty of Advocates

Court battle looms over Scotland’s top court buildings swiped by legal fraternity AS LAND GRABS go, the Faculty of Advocates ‘assuming title’ to parts of the nation’s top court buildings – Parliament House in Edinburgh – must rank pretty high on the list of Scottish land swindles.

Even more so if you take into account the land grabbers in this case – highly paid advocates clad in Victorian robes – who appoint each other as judges, prosecutors and the like, and debate ordinary folk’s lives, loves & rights as if they did not even exist – have the last say and last word on ‘justice’ and many aspects of politics and public life in what passes for ‘modern day’ Scotland.

The great Parliament Hall land title swindle – revealed by land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – where land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates – has now prompted Edinburgh City Council to demand the return of what is, common good property – our top courts – which clearly have significant interest to the nation.

However, Scottish Ministers – including the First Minister, lawyers and other Govt. advisers, appear to feel otherwise.

A trove of eighty eight pages of documents  released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation reveal the Scottish Government plan to do nothing over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it is clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

The titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – currently stand in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen’s Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”. Sidney Brailsford is none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government’s position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

“The City of Edinburgh Council has intimated to the Scottish Government that it considers that it is the rightful heritable proprietor of both Parliament House and the Laigh Hall. It contends that the property was part of the Common Good Fund which is made up of grants of land owned by the Council. Consequently it maintains that Scottish Ministers should never have taken title to it. Representatives of the Council have asked that the position be rectified and the property returned to the Council. Scottish Government officials have met with Council officials and suggested to them that their remedy lies with the Keeper.

The Council may feel compelled to take action because, in their view,the property may have been part of the Common Good. Ministers, will be aware of disputes over Common Good land in the past. For example, when the Long Leases (Scotland) Act 2012, which converts ultra-long leases to ownership, was going through Parliament [redacted] land reform campaigner argued that the Waverley Market in Edinburgh was part of the common good. Edinburgh City Council said it was not part of the common good but still argued that the Waverley Market should not convert to full ownership under the Bill, so that the Council would remain the landlord in the lease over the property. In the end, the Bill was amended so that commercial leases with less than 175 years to run were not covered, which had the effect of excluding the Waverley Market from the Bill.”

An internal Scottish Government briefing of the meeting which took place between Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government makes for grim reading at the Council after Scottish Government civil servants stated the Council’s claim for a return of the titles may rest on moral rather than any legal right:

“Parliament House – Meeting With City of Edinburgh Council – 3 Dec. 2014 – – Main Points

SG – this was a courtesy meeting to hear what the concerns of CEC were as they had had difficulty finding somebody in central government to engage with.

CEC – an elected member had triggered an examination of the Parliament House non domino title and CEC officials concluded that the title trail was mistaken and CEC had an interest still. They had examined titles from the 1550s, 19th century, 1905 Common good records, 1925 entry in registers etc.

They were unhappy with the Scottish Ministers title and the subsequent transfer to the advocates and the SCS. It seemed that their case rested on a perceived moral right, rather than any legal titular right.

SG emphasised that it had no locus because:
• Questions about land registered titles are for the Keeper and the Keeper’s indemnity;
• The Scottish Government had transferred the property to the Advocates (Laigh Hall), and the Scottish Courts Service** a judicial led body at arms-length from the SG and so we could not discuss what we did not own.”

A detailed briefing prepared by a civil servant sets out what happened and how the Faculty of Advocates ‘secured’ ownership to parts of the sprawling, highly prized real estate which is Scotland’s top court and symbol of judicial & legal power:

“The position as regards title to the entire property is unclear, however, it would appear that Scottish Ministers (formerly the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions) did own part of it and so steps were taken to register a title in order to remove any uncertainty. Consequently, a voluntary registration was granted in favour of Scottish Ministers on 23/11/2005 with a date of entry of 10/11/2005.

As part of the process of registration the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland received a letter from the City of Edinburgh Council confirming that the Council had no right, title or interest in the property. On that understanding, the Keeper issued Ministers with a Land Certificate without exclusion of indemnity which has the effect of the Keeper having to indemnify a proprietor who suffers a loss as a result of the title being successfully challenged.

Scottish Ministers subsequently made an onward transfer in January 2006 of part of the property, namely Laigh Hall which sits underneath Parliament Hall, to the Faculty of Advocates who now hold a registered title.

When the Scottish Court Service became an independent body corporate on 1 April 2010 title to Parliament House was transferred to it under the Property Transfer Order made under powers in the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008. Scottish Ministers therefore no longer hold a title to either Parliament House or the Laigh Hall.”

At this time Edinburgh City Council is thought to be considering its next move.

If legal action is to take place, the Council will ultimately be represented by top advocates who as members of the Faculty of Advocates will have an interest in ownership in Parliament House. The case will be defended by the Faculty of Advocates and will be heard in a court within Parliament House – partly owned by the Faculty of Advocates and the ‘arms length’ institution of the Scottish Court Service – so ‘arms length’ it squanders £60 million of taxpayers money on buildings not even owned by taxpayers.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ’s Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.

TOP JUDGE SILENT OVER PARLIAMENT TITLE SWAP

In the summer of 2013,  Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill – head of the Scottish Court Service Board, and the Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eric McQueen appeared before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on court closures and the millions spent on Parliament House – yet neither the judge nor the Courts chief mentioned their astonishing secret to the MSPs present – that the title to Scotland’s highest court buildings had been swiped by the Faculty of Advocates in a deal on the sly with Scottish Ministers.

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen gave evidence on the massive £60 million taxpayer funded spend on Parliament House.

The Court Service Chief told MSPs: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting beside Eric McQueen was Lord President Brian Gill, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Pressed for a statement on why Lord Gill or Eric McQueen did not inform the Justice Committee of the fact tens of millions of pounds of taxpayer money had been spent on a building partly owned by the Faculty of Advocates – the Judicial Office refused to give any comment.

 

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