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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Holyrood Petitions Committee calls for legislation to require Scotland’s judges to declare their interests in a register of judicial Interests

MSPs support creation of Judicial Register. A SIX YEAR Scottish Parliament investigation of a petition calling for the creation of a register of interests for judges has received the backing of a powerful Holyrood Committee – who have concluded the proposal to increase judicial transparency – should become law.

On Thursday, 22 March 2018, the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament held it’s 25th hearing to discuss Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Members of the Committee concluded that such a register should be introduced into law – and cast aside arguments put forward by two top judges that such a register was “unworkable

Petitions Committee Convener Johann Lamont MSP (Scottish Labour) said: “In the course of our consideration of the petition, positive developments have occurred—most notably the introduction and further development of a register of judicial recusals. The register brings welcome transparency to instances where a judge may decide, or be requested, to decline to hear a particular case. “

“The committee particularly welcomes the recent agreement of the Lord President to expand the information that is captured in the register. However, the core action that was requested by the petition was the establishment of a register of financial interests.”

“We have given much thought to this request, hearing views both for and against such a register. Having taken those arguments into account, the committee has concluded that a register of financial interests is not unworkable, and it is the view of this committee that such a register should be introduced.”

Deputy Convener Angus MacDonald MSP (Scottish National Party) added: “This is another long-running petition, having been live since December 2012—for as long as I have been on the committee. It was originally based on a similar move in New Zealand, which was subsequently withdrawn.”

“Along with a wide range of back benchers from across the political spectrum, I spoke in favour of the introduction of a register of interests during a debate in the chamber in the previous session. It is clear to me that we need to ensure transparency and openness in public life as well as ensuring that people can have confidence in those holding public office. I believe that a register of interests along the lines of the system operating in Norway, which I have looked at, is the way to go. However, I am aware that the committee as a whole has not taken a view on that.”

“The petition has already secured a result, which you have referred to, with the introduction of a register of recusals, which was brought into effect in April 2014, directly as a result of this petition. You also referred to the fact that the current Lord President, Lord Carloway, has agreed to extend the scope of the register of recusals.”

“I would be keen for the Scottish Government and the Judicial Office for Scotland to do some further work on the introduction on the introduction of a register of financial interests. However, as you have suggested as possibly being the way forward, in the first instance we should refer the petition to the Justice Committee to allow it to move the issue forward.”

The Petitions Committee have since written to the Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, and Lord Carloway.

When responses are received, MSPs will consider further action.

Video footage and a transcript of the Public Petitions Committee hearing follows:

Petition PE 1458 Register of Judicial Interests Public Petitions Committee 22 March 2018

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458):

The Convener:  The next petition, PE1458, calls for the introduction of a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. As members will recall, we have previously agreed to write to the Lord President and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, and have considered a draft letter at previous meetings. The petition has received much consideration since it was lodged in 2012. I express my gratitude to the petitioner for raising the issue and to all those who have engaged in discussions on the issues that are raised in the petition, including the Lord President, Lord Carloway, and his predecessor, Lord Gill.

In the course of our consideration of the petition, positive developments have occurred—most notably the introduction and further development of a register of judicial recusals. The register brings welcome transparency to instances where a judge may decide, or be requested, to decline to hear a particular case. The committee particularly welcomes the recent agreement of the Lord President to expand the information that is captured in the register. However, the core action that was requested by the petition was the establishment of a register of financial interests. We have given much thought to this request, hearing views both for and against such a register. Having taken those arguments into account, the committee has concluded that a register of financial interests is not unworkable, and it is the view of this committee that such a register should be introduced.

In reaching that view, the committee is very clear that it does not consider there to be a basis for any suggestion of corruption in respect of Scotland’s judiciary or of inappropriate influences on judicial decision making. Rather, it is the view that we have reached, based on the principles of transparency and openness in public life. While that is the view of this committee, we also understand that the Lord President and the Scottish Government have indicated they do not support the introduction of a register.

Would it be appropriate for us to invite the Justice Committee to consider the petition in light of our recommendation? Would members be content to write to the Lord President and the Scottish Government setting out our view and to refer the petition to the Justice Committee for its consideration? Do members have any comments?

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): This is another long-running petition, having been live since December 2012—for as long as I have been on the committee. It was originally based on a similar move in New Zealand, which was subsequently withdrawn. Along with a wide range of back benchers from across the political spectrum, I spoke in favour of the introduction of a register of interests during a debate in the chamber in the previous session. It is clear to me that we need to ensure transparency and openness in public life as well as ensuring that people can have confidence in those holding public office. I believe that a register of interests along the lines of the system operating in Norway, which I have looked at, is the way to go. However, I am aware that the committee as a whole has not taken a view on that.

The petition has already secured a result, which you have referred to, with the introduction of a register of recusals, which was brought into effect in April 2014, directly as a result of this petition. You also referred to the fact that the current Lord President, Lord Carloway, has agreed to extend the scope of the register of recusals.

I would be keen for the Scottish Government and the Judicial Office for Scotland to do some further work on the introduction on the introduction of a register of financial interests. However, as you have suggested as possibly being the way forward, in the first instance we should refer the petition to the Justice Committee to allow it to move the issue forward.

Rona Mackay: I broadly agree with what my colleague has said. That is a natural way forward for the petition. I do not think that we can take it any further, given the history that we have just heard. I think that it is sensible to send it to the Justice Committee for its consideration.

The Convener:  Do we agree to write to the Lord President and the Scottish Government setting out our view and to refer the petition to the Justice Committee for its consideration?

Members indicated agreement.

Decision: PE1458 by Peter Cherbi on Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. The Committee agreed to write to the Lord President and the Scottish Government setting out its view that a register of interests should be introduced and to refer the petition to the Justice Committee, under Rule 15.6.2 of Standing Orders, for its consideration.

The judicial interests petition – filed at Holyrood in October 2012 and first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

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

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

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

The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, is widely supported in the media and  in public debate as a result of media coverage.

The petition secured early support of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali, and her successor – Gillian Thompson.

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

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

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

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

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

The letters sent by the Public Petitions Committee to Lord President Lord Carloway, and Justice Secretary Michael Matheson recommend the creation of a register of judicial interests:

Dear Lord Carloway,

Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to create a Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill (as is currently being considered in New Zealand’s Parliament) or amend present legislation to require all members of the Judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests & hospitality received to a publicly available Register of Interests.

As you may be aware, the above petition was lodged in December 2012 and has been considered by the current Public Petitions Committee and its Session 4 predecessor. Over this period MSPs have taken on board the arguments for and against a register of interests and the nature of the interests that might be covered in such a register. This letter sets out the conclusions that the Public Petitions Committee has reached on the petition.

In setting out these conclusions, I would emphasise that the Committee absolutely recognises that an independent and well-functioning judiciary is, and must be, an essential part of our system of government.

I also make clear that the Committee’s consideration of the petition, and the views set out in this letter, reflect our viewpoint that there is no basis for any suggestion of corruption in respect of Scotland’s judiciary or of inappropriate influences on judicial decision making.

The Committee has reached its views based on the wider contemporary picture of transparency and openness in public life wherein preventing the perception of any undue influence is important in ensuring confidence in those holding public office.

Register of recusals

One of the welcome developments in the course of this petition has been the introduction of a register of recusals. The Committee notes that this register was brought into effect in April 2014 directly as a result of the petition and a meeting between the then Lord President, Lord Gill, and representatives of the Session 4 Public Petitions Committee. In recent discussions with the Committee, and the petitioner, you agreed to extend the scope of the register of recusals. As a result, the register will now ensure transparency about recusal across courts and tribunals in Scotland. The Committee very much welcomes these measures.

In doing so, we note that this addresses one of the arguments made against a register of financial interests – that it would not capture those instances where consideration of any potential conflict in a case was based on a social or personal connection that may not be known about prior to a case coming to court.

The Committee agrees that the practicalities are such that it would not be possible or proportionate to require advance registration of personal connection with parties that may at some point be relevant within a particular case. However, we do consider that public transparency of such connections is vital and the register of recusals is the tool that strikes an appropriate balance in this regard.

We would also observe that the value of collating information about recusals is that it enables analysis to be undertaken of the way the recusal systems operates and for this analysis to inform ongoing thinking about the administration of justice through the Scottish courts.

Register of financial interests

Turning now to the core question of a register of interests, the Committee’s most recent consideration of the petition focussed on seeking to understand and explore some of the arguments put forward against the introduction of such a register.

These arguments have included—

• a risk of online fraud due to retribution from dissatisfied litigants (which, it was argued, may have an inhibitory effect on the administration of justice if judges start to decline roles on public bodies such as the board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service) and,

• the possibility of the existence of a register of interests having a damaging effect on recruitment.

Members do, of course, have an understanding of the practical operation of a register of interests given the duties that apply to elected members. However, in considering the arguments put forward, we have not considered the role of judges as analogous to the role of elected members or had in mind any particular model for a register of interests that might be appropriate for judges.

Instead, our consideration has been based on an understanding of the expectations that apply to all holders of public office, whether elected or unelected, in relation to disclosure of financial interests. As we noted above, such disclosures not only allow for demonstration that decision-making is not influenced by personal interests but also prevent the perception of the influence of interests on decision-making.

Having considered these arguments and the thinking behind them, the Committee has not been convinced that a register of interests is an unworkable idea and it is the view of the Committee that such a register should be introduced.

Recognising that the Scottish Government and the Judicial Office for Scotland have indicated that they do not support the introduction of a register, the Committee today agreed to refer the petition to the Justice Committee, inviting that Committee to consider the petition further, in light of our recommendation.

Yours sincerely: Johann Lamont MSP Convener

The National reported on the success of the six year petition calling for a register of judicial interests, in the following articles:

Judges register backed by MSPs to become law

Martin Hannan Journalist 23 March 2018

IT’S taken nearly six years and 25 hearings but as The National predicted yesterday, a register of interests for all Scottish judges is set to become law.

The petition for a register by legal issues campaigner Peter Cherbi will now go the Justice Committee at Holyrood with a recommendation that the register becomes law.

The current and previous Lord Presidents, Lord Carloway and Lord Gill respectively, both strongly opposed the register which they feel will make it difficult for judges to be recruited.

Committee chair Johann Lamont said: “The committee has concluded that a register of financial interests is not unworkable and it is the view of the committee that such a register should be introduced.”

She said the committee’s view had been reached with regard to “the principles of openness and transparency in public life”.

Having achieved his success after years of work, Peter Cherbi told The National: “I am delighted to hear the Public Petitions Committee support the creation of a register of interests for judges, and applaud their work on this petition.

“From filing the petition in 2012, being a part of the process to submit evidence, report on hearings, and observing witness evidence, I am very impressed that Holyrood followed this through from committee, to a full debate in the main chamber in October 2014, where the petition gathered overwhelming cross party support, to now, with the decision to recommend the creation of a register of judicial interests.

“Key evidence from Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali in September 2013 was, I believe, the turning point and a key moment where the proposal for register of judicial interests gathered steam.

“MSPs were able to hear for themselves from someone within the justice framework how a register of interests for judges would not only benefit transparency, but also bring back much needed public trust and respect to the justice system and our courts.

“My sincere thanks to MSPs Angus MacDonald, David Torrance, current Convener Johann Lamont, ex-convener David Stewart, Jackson Carlaw, particularly Alex Neil who asked key questions several times in the process, former MSPs Chic Brodie and John Wilson and all members of the Public Petitions Committee past and present who have given their considerable time, effort and input into this petition, have taken the time to study the evidence, and arrive at the conclusion transparency in the judiciary is a good thing, and not as Lord Carloway and Lord Gill claimed ‘unworkable’.”

This is a good day for the Scottish Parliament and for transparency.

The Sunday Mail print edition reported on the Petitions Committee backing for legislation to require judges to declare their interest, and also featured a report on Alex Neil MSP – who supports the judicial transparency proposals and is prepared to bring in a Members Bill to create a register of judges’ interests:

BATTLE TO BRING IN JUDGES’ REGISTER

Sunday Mail 25 March 2018

Ex-minister Alex Neil will defy Nicola Sturgeon with a bill forcing Scotland’s judges to declare their interests.

Holyrood’s petitions committee have asked the Government to legislate for a register which may include details of financial, professional and personal connections of judges, sheriffs and justices of the peace.

Sturgeon is expected to reject the committee’s recommendation. But Neil believes there is enough cross-party support to raise his own bill, in a rare act of SNP backbench rebellion.

He said: “If no bill is brought forward by the Government, I would intend to do so myself, as there is significant support from other MSPs.”

Former health secretary Neil backs the register after representing constituent Donal Nolan, who took Advance Construction to court over a land dispute.

It later emerged that judge Lord Malcolm sat on the case despite his lawyer son Ewen Campell acting for the construction firm.

Neil said: “If the committee decide to recommend a bill, it is absolutely necessary as I have seen from cases such as Nolan v Advance Construction where there were undeclared interests.”

The Scottish Sun print edition also reported on the Petition Committee’s backing for a register of judicial interests and Alex Neil MSP’s plan for a Member’s Bill:

JUDGE LIST IS BACKED

Scottish Sun 23 March 2018

MSPs defied Nicola Sturgeon yesterday by calling for judges to list their financial ties.

Holyrood’s cross-party Public Petitions Committee backed a register of interests for the judiciary.

Its convener Johann Lamont said the move was based on “principles of transparency and openness in public life”.

Top judge Lord Carloway claimed the register would hit recruitment and the Government has said it was “not needed”.

Last night Nats MSP Alex Neil warned if plans for the list are not backed he is “prepared to do it as a Member’s Bill”.

A further report in The National newspaper:

MSPs to call for judges’ register in Scotland after years-long campaign

Martin Hannan Journalist 22 March 2018

AFTER nearly six years and 25 sittings of evidence and debate on the petition to create a register of judges’ interests, The National has learned that the Holyrood Petitions Committee is set to recommend legislation to the Scottish Government.

The petition lodged by legal issues campaigner Peter Cherbi in 2012 called for a Register of Pecuniary Interests Bill and when it meets later today, the Petitions Committee will have a draft letter before it suggesting the Scottish Government brings in such a register.

Cherbi’s petition has been strongly supported by MSPs such as Alex Neil and equally strongly opposed by members of the judiciary led by the current and former Lord Presidents, Lords Carloway and Gill respectively, who said it could be harmful to judges and their recruitment.

Cherbi said last night: “Everyone apart from the judiciary, and apparently those with a desire on becoming a judge, gets the idea that judges should declare their interests in a register, just like everyone else in public positions.

“For the judiciary to have stalled this transparency proposal on their reasoning that judges should be given a pass from transparency just because they are judges does not fit in with modern life or expectations by the public of openness in government and the justice system.

“Two top judges have given evidence. Both adopted overwhelmingly aggressive positions to the idea that the same transparency which exists across public life, and which they are charged with enforcing in our courts, should be applied to them.


“Yet amidst their inferences that justice would shut down, judges could not be hired, and the world would stop turning, neither Lord Carloway nor Lord Gill could make a convincing case against creating a register of judicial interests.

“Prosecutors, police, court staff, even the legal aid board – all key parts of the justice system have registers of interest. Therefore there can be no exclusion from transparency for the most powerful members of the justice system – the judiciary itself.

“Who would have thought judges would have been so fearful of transparency and disclosing their own interests, that it would have taken six years for the Scottish Parliament to reach this stage of recommending legislation? Time now to take openness forward for our judiciary, which will ultimately help regain a measure of public confidence in the courts.

“This is a win win for Scotland. We as a team, petitioners, the media, Judicial Complaints Reviewers, those in our courts and even the legal profession who back this move – changed the judiciary’s expectations of openness and requirements of transparency.”

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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NORWAY, M’LORD: Judicial interests register of Norway cited as example to follow for Holyrood MSPs six year investigation to create a register of judges’ interests in Scotland

Norway’s judicial interests register cited as example for Scotland. A SIX YEAR Scottish Parliament investigation to create a register of judicial interests for judges of the Judiciary of Scotland – should follow the model used by an operational judicial register in Norway which has been in use for some years.

Unlike in Scotland, where judges have lobbied to remain exempt from public transparency of their interests, the Courts of Norway have operated a Register of extra-judicial activities for many years, which lists jobs, investments and other interests of members of the Norwegian judiciary.

The website of the Courts of Norway states that “The rules on registration of interests apply to all judges, including deputy judges.”

“Full-time and provisional judges are covered if appointed or employed for a period exceeding one month. ‘Interests’ cover membership, offices or other forms of commitment other than a company, organisation, association or body of the state, county or local authority.”

The Norway model has been put forward to members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – as an example of an operating register of judicial interests in a country close to Scotland which should be included in the evidence base accumulated by Holyrood over the past six years of studying how to move forward on legislation to create a register of interests for all judges in Scotland.

A register of judicial interests for Scotland would include all judges – from the Lord President, down to Justices of the Peace, and members of tribunals.

On Thursday, 22 March 2018, the Public Petitions Committee will hold the 25th hearing to discuss Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

A further request has been filed with the Public Petitions Committee to contact Norway’s judiciary, seeking  material and information on how their register operates, and any insight the Norwegian judiciary & Government hold on how the register has benefited their judiciary and justice system.

A late submission to the Public Petitions Committee states: “Given the six years of evidence collected by the Scottish Parliament on the merits of creating a register of judicial interests for Scotland, to have evidence from a working register of interests as part of the public debate and the Parliamentary record of this petition is a worthwhile step to take.”

“While the recusals register does not tell the full story on conflicts of interest, having up until now, carefully avoided any mention of financial conflicts of interest & disclosures relating to instances where judges have been asked to recuse but have failed to do so, the recusals register is again, another indicator that an accurate, updated and fully published register of judicial interests is beneficial to the public, court users, and public scrutiny of the judiciary.”

Readers can View here the Register of extra-judicial activities from the Courts of Norway website.

The judicial interests petition – filed at Holyrood in October 2012 and first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

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

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

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

The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, is widely supported in the media and  in public debate as a result of media coverage.

The petition secured early support of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali, and her successor – Gillian Thompson.

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

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

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

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

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

NORWAY: A register of judges’ interests Scotland could adopt, and improve upon:

THE COURTS OF NORWAY:

To ensure that no one is any doubt about the impartiality of a judge in a case, there is a ‘register of extra-judicial activities : View the Register of extra-judicial activities (pdf)

This lists honorary posts, investments etc. that a judge may be engaged in alongside his/her duties as a judge. The purpose of the register to ensure full openness. This page provides details of what is registered and how to search the register.

The rules on registration of interests apply to all judges, including deputy judges. Full-time and provisional judges are covered if appointed or employed for a period exceeding one month. ‘Interests’ cover membership, offices or other forms of commitment other than a company, organisation, association or body of the state, county or local authority.

What is registered?

The rules basically require all interests to be registered with the exception of:

  • Membership of political parties, religious communities, stakeholder organisations and non-profit organisations.

  • Offices and the like in non-profit organisations with fewer than 100 members.

  • One-off lectures and the like.

What should be registered:
  • Investments in individual companies exceeding NOK 200,000 at the time of investment or ownership exceeding 10% of the company. The duty to register does not cover bank accounts, unit trusts or the like. The size of investment does not have to be registered.

  • Honorary posts in associations, societies, organisations or political parties with over 100 members.

  • Membership of brother- or sisterhoods, e.g. the Freemasons or Odd Fellow.

  • Employment in private or public sector companies.

  • Participation in committees, boards or the like set up by the public sector. The same applies to private arbitration boards or the equivalent.

  • Other involvement, e.g. in education, exam censor, authorship, arbitration or other types of activity.

  • The last position held before being appointed as a judge.

An interest should be deleted from the register when more than three years have passed since it ended.

How Norway’s Judiciary works:

Background:

Independence of the Courts

The independence of the Courts of Justice protects all citizens against arbitrary decisions and abuses committed by other branches of state power, This independence is a consequence of Norway being a constitutional democracy. The Constitution sets clear limits on legislative and executive power even when decisions are carried by a majority vote.
Control of the other branches of state power

The Courts of Justice exert a control function regarding new laws and changes to existing laws that are proposed by the National Assembly. If a law is against the Constitution by, for example, violating the constitutional rights of one or many citizens, a court may set aside the law in any trial where such rights are deemed to have been violated. In a case brought before the Supreme Court where two or more judges deem that a specific law breaks the constitution the case is settled in a plenary meeting of the Supreme Court. This may result in the Supreme Court setting aside the law in question in the settlement of the case.This implies that the Supreme Court through its rulings can control or limit the legislative power of the National Assembly. This control or limitation by the Supreme Court has only occurred on very rare occasions.

In concrete cases the Courts of Justice also have the authority to check on decisions made by the government or other subordinate administrative bodies. In such cases the Courts of Justice will decide whether the administration has remained within the framework of the law, whether the resolution is based on accepted facts and correct proceedure, and that the administration’s judgement is not improper or seriously unreasonable. If such errors have occurred, an administrative pronouncement can be ruled invalid by the Courts of Justice. However, it should be noted that such a ruling can only occur in response to an actual dispute brought before a court.

How independence is guaranteed

According to our Constitution judges’ decisions in each and every case are to be independent of external influence. Judges’ verdicts cannot be instructed or influenced. The decisions of the Supreme Court cannot be rejected or altered by other authorities.

Over the last few decades the situation has changed somewhat. The influence of international courts of justice has grown, especially regarding the international conventions on human rights. Amongst others, the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg plays an important role in the development of law and jurisdiction in Norway. When, in future, the Court of Human Rights interpretes the convention differently from the Supreme Court the Norwegian Supreme Court must act in accordance with the guidelines and rulings made in Strasbourg. So even though the Supreme Court is the ‘last instance’, the Supreme is obliged to take into consideration the decisions of the Court of Human Rights.

A verdict can only be altered by a superior court of justice after an appeal proceedure. In criminal cases the usual deadline for appeal is 14 days after the verdict is handed down. In civil cases the deadline is one month. A superior court on its own initiative cannot instruct a subordinate court on its proceedings in any one specific case. However, if one party makes an appeal or an interlocutory appeal against a verdict, the court of justice processing the appeal may rule that the subordinate court must process the case again. The subordinate court must then abide by the interpretation of the law which constitutes the basis for the superior court’s ruling.

The National Assembly (Stortinget) passes general laws which the Courts of Justice apply in all cases heard in court. The Courts of Justice are independent in their interpretation of the law. This means that the courts, headed by the Supreme Court, have a a great influence on how the letter of each law is applied in each individual case. Furthermore, there exists large areas of the law wherecourt rulings and interpretations have developed or evolved contemporary law and jurisdiction.

The Courts of Justice and all judges must be protected from external influence over rulings and verdicts. For a state to be democratic and legal the judges must be both independent and impartial with regards disputing parties and all interests represented by such parties. The parties in a case may request a judge to step down if the judge in question has any connection with the case or the individual parties which might raise doubts over the impartiality or independence of the process. Judges have a personal responsibility to ensure that they do not give grounds for disqualification in any individual case.

Although the independence of the courts is guaranteed by the Constitution, all courts are not insulated from democratic developments insociety.The National Assembly passes regulations relating to the organisation of the courts, for example: how many courts shall be provided throughout the nation, where they shall be situated, the number of presiding judges for each court and the proceedure for appointing judges. All of the latter are practical matters reflecting the ever changing developments in society. The Courts of Justice are administratively subordinate to the independant Norwegian Courts Administration (NCA).

Judges cannot be dismissed

Judges appointed according to the constitutional regulations have, like other civil servants, an especially protected employment status according to § 22 of the Constitution. They hold permanent positions and cannot be dismissed or moved against their will. They can only be dismissed following a court hearing and a verdict of guilty. Permanently appointed judges can be suspended, but such a decision can only be carried out by the King in cabinet. Civil or criminal proceedings to remove a judge must be started immediately following the King’s decision to suspend a judge. Like other civil servants permanent judges can be punished for breaking the law while carrying out their duties or for offences committed outside their workplace. However, the decision about whether to prosecute for offences relating to a judge’s duties may only be taken by the King in cabinet. Permanently appointed judges cannot be indicted for public order offences according to the regulations for all civil servants. Supreme Court judges enjoy even stronger protection and can only be removed through an impeachment process.

Judges are guaranteed protection of office to enable them to make rulings and give verdicts that may be unpopular, judges have to be free of the fear of dismissal because their decisions are not supported by the authorities or by other judges. By granting judges such a secure position, all parties appearing in court are ensured an independent and impartial ruling from the Courts of Justice.

What does it mean to be a lay judge in a norwegian court? (film)

The Courts must have the people’s confidence

The decisions of judges often have great significance for many individual citizens. It is a vital requirement in a state governed by law that all the citizens of that state respect a court’s ruling as well as the laws on which such rulings are based. The courts need the trust of the people in order to maintain their authority and legitimacy. It is the legitimacy and the authority of a court which ensures that rulings are respected. The credibility of the courts must not be weakened by the perception that courts can be influenced by any external pressure.

In order for the courts to be able perform in a free and independent manner it is necessary that they have sufficient professional and economic resources to be able to fulfil their tasks.

Both the costs and the duration of court proceedings can have a negative effect on whether an ordinary citizen will take their case to court. An efficient rather than a long drawn out processing of cases is itself a guarantee of legal protection. “Justice delayed is justice denied”. The issue of reducing the duration of case processing has received a great deal of attention in recent years in Norway. Norwegian courts are now among the most efficient in Europe in this context.

A brief history of the Norwegian courts

The Viking Age

We know that there were legislative, judicial and executive authorities as early as the 10th century. In those days the kinship group was the most important executive power; crimes and conflicts were resolved by negotiation between the kin-groups, often involving agreement on the penalty. In the course of the 11th century there developed local and regional assemblies (bygdeting and lagting), which also functioned as courts; the Norwegian word ting still means both. Their most important function was to reach solutions to various disputes and their formation was driven by population growth, bigger districts and increased collaboration between districts. King Håkon I “the Good” changed the composition of the assemblies from universal attendance to representation by delegates. The most famous regional assemblies from that period are the Gulating for Western Norway and the Frostating for the Trøndelag in the middle of the country. The Hålogaland, Eidsivating and Borgarting assemblies developed in the 12th and 13th centuries, but never achieved the same influence as Gulating and Frostating. Legislative codes from the Gulating and Frostating were rediscovered in modern times. The development of the assemblies and the discovery of the codes clearly show that the rule of law was well on the way to becoming centralised as early as the 12th century.

The most usual legislative instance at that time was customary law: that is to say, there were many rules of law, but not laid down by any public authority. Customary or common law is still in use today not only in international law, but also in national areas such as constitutional and administrative law, some parts of private law and the law of damages.

The High Middle Ages

In the course of the High Middle Ages the king acquired more power, and ultimately discharged all three roles – legislative, judicial and executive. The Church also had a role in all three areas, resulting in a constant tug-of-war for supremacy. The need for codification increased, and in 1274, under king Magnus VI “Lawmender” the old regional laws were reworked and called the National Law (Landsloven). This was meant to be authoritative for the regional courts and to some extent for the district courts.

The Law was regarded as an administrative unification of Norway, the political unification being traditionally dated to 1030. The National Law also involved amendments to the judicial and executive aspects of the legal system, such as royally appointed court presidents (lagmenn) to chair the proceedings between the parties. More higher courts (lagting) were created, and sited in towns or other centres. Crime was no longer conceived as an offence against the kin-group, but as against the King. The period saw not only the beginnings of centralisation, but also of bureaucratising and professionalisation.

The Union period

Norway was in union with Denmark, and intermittently with Sweden too, from 1390 to 1814, a period in which the Norwegian legal system saw further professionalisation. Norwegian cases began in the city or district court, proceeded to the higher courts and finally to the Overhoffretten in Oslo, from 1624 called Christiania. After Denmark created a Supreme Court in 166 1, Norwegian cases could be appealed there.

The Danes had little knowledge of Norwegian laws and legal thinking, and therefore settled cases by their own laws. The Supreme Court was subject to the king, and until 1771 all decisions made by the Supreme Court were to be reviewed by him. In 1771 this review power was abolished, except for death sentences. In the course of the Danish Union, attempts were made to increase the distinction between the judicial and executive powers, at the same time as the king maintained his position as the fount of legislation.

The National Law promulgated under Magnus “Lawmender” was still applicable law in Norway. As the 17th century progressed a need was felt to update it, leading to the Norwegian Law (Den norske lov) of 1687, which was to a certain extent based on the Danish code of 1683. The Supreme Court in Denmark could now deal with two legal codes that were more or less similar.

The separation of powers and the Norwegian Constitution

The principle of “separation of powers” – that is, between the legislative, executive and judicial functions – was formulated by the French philosopher Montesquieu. Montesquieu’s separation of powers was central to the Norwegian constitution of 1814, adopted after that year’s separation from Denmark. The King was the executive power, the Storting the legislative power and the courts the judicial power. The Norwegian constitution was more liberal than many others, inter alia being based on the principle of popular sovereignty.

Norway acquired its own Supreme Court in 1815. The Norwegian constitution remained in force after the young state entered a union with Sweden, and so the final Norwegian independence in 1905 did not represent any change in the Norwegian legal system. During the German occupation of 1940-45 the Supreme Court resigned, and judges were appointed who were loyal to the occupiers. Neither the judges nor their decisions from this period were recognised after Liberation.

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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LOOK AFTER THE LAWYERS: Law Society proposals to pro-lawyer legal review seek to reclaim control of regulation & complaints, appoint ‘window dressing’ ombudsman & criminalise ‘misuse’ of the word “lawyer”

Law Society proposal retakes control of regulating lawyers. AMID a series of failures by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) to clean up poor standards of legal services and deal with complaints against solicitors, the Law Society of Scotland are proposing the return of control of regulation to the legal profession.

Earlier this week, and with sights set firmly on retaking control of the floundering SLCC,- the Law Society of Scotland submitted a series of proposals for ‘reforming regulation’ to the ‘independent’ review of legal services regulation – set up by the Scottish Government last year.

The move by the Law Society of Scotland comes amid a string of court setbacks for the SLCC involving Law Society backed challenges to the single regulator’s authority to hold solicitors to account for dishonesty, poor standards of legal service, overcharging & asset stripping of clients on an industrial scale.

However, the Scottish Government backed legal review group now hearing the Law Society’s proposals – was actually created in consultation with the Law Society itself, and is comprised of pro-lawyer decision makers from the world of ‘public appointments’ along with lawyers & advocates from the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates & Crown Office.

The ‘independent’ review panel – complete with an ‘independent’ chair are:  Christine McLintock – immediate past president Law Society of Scotland, Alistair Morris – chief executive of the management board, Pagan Osborne (Law Society of Scotland), Laura Dunlop QC – Hastie Stables (Faculty of Advocates), Derek Ogg QC – MacKinnon Advocates (Faculty of Advocates), Neil Stevenson – chief executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, Nicholas Whyte – chair of Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, Ray Macfarlane –  chair of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Jim Martin – outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, Dr Dame Denise Coia – chair of Healthcare Improvement Scotland, Prof Lorne Crerar – chairman, Harper Macleod LLP, Prof Russel Griggs – chair of the Scottish Government’s Independent Regulatory Review Group.

There is one sole ‘consumer representative’ on the review panel, listed as – Trisha McAuley OBE – independent consumer expert

Now, eager to wrestle power back from the SLCC on dealing with client complaints & consistent media coverage of woefully poor regulation of lawyers, the Law Society of Scotland has told the Scottish Government’s lawyer dominated review group that the current regulatory framework is “in drastic need of modernisation” and is “no longer fit for purpose”.

One of the key proposals from the Law Society, calls for the creation of yet another ‘independent legal role’ which would have oversight of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The SLCC was created by the Scotitsh Government in 2008, with this year marking it’s tenth year in the role of single regulator of the legal profession.

However, the single regulation model has cost the Scots public dear – with the legal regulator burning through £30 million in complaints levies from solicitors – which are recovered from huge hikes in legal fees to clients.

The newly proposed role of Ombudsman – harking back to the vile days of the “Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman” would in practice – have to be filled by a person who is approved by the Law Society of Scotland and other vested legal interests.

The comparison with the former SLSO – which lacked any real powers and frequently backed away from holding the Law Society to account for mistakes, would render the newly proposed Ombudsman position of little real use to consumers, and more of a rubber stamp to lawyers eager to look after their colleagues in the face of complaints investigations.

The Law Society is also calling for the term “lawyer” to be protected in law –  in the same way the title “solicitor” is – where currently, it is a criminal offence for anybody to pretend to be a solicitor.

The move comes in the face of increased competition in business from companies & individuals who can call themselves a “lawyer” but are not qualified to the point of being a solicitor.

However, there are a number of cases were suspended or struck off solicitors have, or currently are still using the term “solicitor” to con unsuspecting members of the public out of tens of thousands of pounds of legal fees – including legal aid – yet the Law Society and SLCC have taken no action against these “solicitors” who still claim to be on the solicitors roll.

A press release from the Law Society of Scotland claims the wide-ranging reforms it has submitted, on behalf of it’s own members, will allow it to keep pace with global developments within the sector and improve consumer protection.

However, over the ten years since the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission came into being, at a cost of around £30 million pounds in complaints levies recouped from hikes in legal fees to clients, the SLCC, Law Society and the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal have all miserably failed to protect consumers from rogues in the legal profession who are the cause of over 1000 complaints every year to legal regulators.

The latest proposals from the Law Society – which in actuality seek to retake control of regulation – set out a series of recommendations in its submission to an independent review of legal services regulation which lawyers claim include expanding consumer protections to currently unregulated areas of legal services, regulating firms operating beyond Scotland and overhauling the legal complaints system, which it says is overly complex, expensive and lacks proper oversight.

The recommendations by the Law Society to the legal review panel whose members were approved by the Law Society, include:

  • expanding consumer protections to currently unregulated areas of legal services
  • better regulation of legal firms as entities in addition to the regulation of individual solicitors to better protect consumers
  • new powers to suspend solicitors suspected of serious wrongdoing
  • widening the Law Society’s membership to improve standards amongst other legal professionals
  • protection of the term ‘lawyer’ to mean those who are legally trained and are regulated

Graham Matthews, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The Scottish legal sector is highly successful. It provides for over 20,000 high quality jobs and generates over £1.2 billion for the Scottish economy annually. However we have long argued for the need for reform to the current patchwork of regulation that governs legal services in Scotland.

“There has been enormous change within the sector in recent years and the current system – some of which is almost 40 years old – is struggling to meet the demands of today’s fast-changing legal market. That’s why we have called for completely new, flexible legislation which will allow much needed reforms and ensure we have a regulatory framework that is fit for purpose, addresses the challenges of modern legal practice – from cross-border working to technological advances enabling AI legal advice – and which puts protecting consumers at its core over the long term.

“We believe the scale of the changes needed justifies a new, single piece of enabling and permissible legislation that can adapt to changes within the sector over the next four decades and beyond. Any new prescriptive legislation, or simply making further amendments to existing legislation will quickly be outdated.”

The Law Society is seeking the ability to regulate law firms operating beyond Scotland and to strengthen its regulation of firms as entities, as well as its individual solicitor members.

Mr Matthews said: “There is a strong economic case for the Law Society being able to seek to become a regulator of legal services beyond Scotland, as having a single regulatory model for cross-border firms could make Scotland a more attractive jurisdiction for a firm to base its operations. Additionally, as firms must meet robust financial compliance and new anti-money laundering requirements are due to come into effect in June, it makes sense to extend the regulatory regime on a firm-wide basis to help improve consumer protection.”

Mr Matthews added that new legislation should encompass the unregulated legal advice sector.

He said: “No one knows the full scale of the unregulated legal sector, but many consumers who believe that they have obtained advice from a qualified, regulated legal professional only find out they have no recourse to redress when things go wrong. As we look to the future, there is no doubt that technological advances will mean increasing use of artificial intelligence in delivering legal services around the globe and it’s our view that any new regulatory framework must be flexible enough to make provision for this.”

In its submission, the Law Society has criticised the current legal complaints system as being complex and confusing and has called for the creation of an independent legal ombuds which would have oversight of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC). Unlike the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates, the professional bodies for Scottish solicitors and advocates, which are overseen by the SLCC, there is nothing in law to stipulate oversight of the SLCC itself.

Mr Matthews said: “We want to streamline the complaints system, which for many is slow and overly bureaucratic, and have recommended that while the SLCC would continue to handle service complaints and the Law Society would continue to deal with all matters of professional discipline of Scottish solicitors, a key difference would be to allow either organisation to receive complaints and pass on those relevant to the other body to create a simpler, speedier and more cost effective process.

“Another critical improvement would be to introduce proper oversight of the SLCC. While the SLCC must submit its draft budget to the Scottish Parliament each year and ministers can make recommendations, they do not actually have the power to interfere with its budget or operation. This has led to significant, above-inflation hikes in the annual levy on Scottish solicitors for the past two years. Having an independent ombudsman would also simplify the appeals process and make it much less costly than the current process of taking appeals to the Court of Session.”

Summary of recommendations

  • The repeal of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 and those parts of the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 which relate to the regulation of legal services and for the introduction of new enabling and permissible legislation for the regulation of legal services in Scotland and the Scottish solicitor profession, with the flexibility to move with the times and which allows for proactive regulation to ensure consumer protections remain robust.
  • Amending those sections of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 which relate to the regulation of legal services and the Scottish solicitor profession to address the difficulties in interpretation and application.
  • A new regulatory framework allowing for the flexibility for the Society to seek approval from the Legal Services Board to be an authorised regulator for those multi-national practices operating in Scotland. 
  • That any new regulatory framework makes provision for the regulation of legal services provided remotely by artificial intelligence.
  • Retaining an independent professional body for the regulation and professional support of the Scottish solicitor profession.
  • Retaining a separate and independent discipline tribunal for decisions in serious cases of professional misconduct.
  • That all legal service providers providing services direct to the consumer be regulated, strengthening consumer protections and enhancing consumer confidence in the Scottish legal sector.
  • That the term ‘lawyer’ be a protected term, in the same way as solicitor, and only those able to demonstrate recognised legal qualifications, and who are regulated, are permitted to use the term.
  • That primary legislation provides the permissible powers for the Law Society of Scotland to extend entity regulation to those firms wholly owned by solicitors.
  • That a new system for dealing with complaints about legal services and solicitors is introduced, recognising the paramount aim to protect consumers whilst allowing the Society to continue to deal with the professional discipline of its members, and adopting relevant processes to make the system speedy, effective and efficient whilst recognising the differences between consumer redress and professional discipline.
  • That primary legislation provides for the permissible power for the Law Society of Scotland to open up membership to non-solicitors.

In the Law Society of Scotland’s Public Relations  strategy to retake control of complaints – Leading Legal Excellence, the legal profession sets out their ambition to secure what they call a modern, flexible and enabling legislative framework.

The Law Society Press Release also states: “Most of the legislation covering the operation and regulation of the legal market is over 35 years old. It’s increasingly out of date and unfit for purpose.  Whilst some reforms were brought in 2007 and 2010, the whole framework can be confusing and, in some cases, contradictory.

“That is why we believe new legislation is needed to better protect consumers and allow the Scottish legal services market to thrive.”

REGULATION REVIEW:

An independent review of the regulation of legal services was announced by the Minister of Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing on 25 April 2017.

The purpose of the review will be to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling.  The review is intended to ensure a proportionate approach to regulation that supports growth in the legal services sector.  It should also place consumer interests firmly at the heart of any system of regulation, including the competitive provision of legal services.  The review will focus on the current regulatory framework, the complaints and redress process for providers of legal services including solicitors and advocates, and ongoing market issues such as investigating the benefits of regulating firms as well as individual solicitors.

A full report on the Scottish Government’s review of legal services – unmasked as a lawyer dominated pro-self regulation panel – can be found here: REGULATED REVIEW: Scottish Government panel to look at self regulation of lawyers – Former Cabinet Minister calls for review to include judiciary, and panel membership to strike ‘better balance between lawyers & non-lawyers’

The panel members who make up the so-called ‘independent’ review of legal services include:

*Two former Presidents of the Law Society of Scotland;

* The current Chief Executive of the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission;

* An outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman widely criticised for ineptitude;

* The current chair of the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) – who struck off only six solicitors last year;

* The chair of a law firm whose partners have regularly appeared before the SSDT;

* A QC from an advocates stable where colleagues have been linked to a cash payments scandal;

* A former Crown Office Prosecutor & QC linked to events in the David Goodwillie rape case – where the victim was forced to sue her assailant through the civil courts after the Lord Advocate refused to prosecute the footballer.

More recently, MSPs who sit on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee were subject to calls to delay their investigation of petitions calling for fully independent regulation of the legal profession in Scotland.

Proposals before the Scottish Parliament calling for views on scrapping self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland received representations from Scottish Ministers , the Chair of a pro-lawyer review panel and a Law Society-backed legal regulator – calling for MSPs to back off from investigating regulation of legal services.

Unsigned letters from the Scottish Government, the Chair of an ‘independent’ review group dominated by lawyers, and the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – call on members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to wait until the end of a two year review – conducted by lawyers – before MSPs conduct any independent investigation of lawyers investigating themselves.

However, when the Scottish Government created the ‘independent’ review last April, 2017, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) said the ‘independent’ review created by the Scottish Government, should include judges – and the membership of the review team should be expanded to balance up the panel’s current top heavy legal interests membership.

And, in a case related to significant failures of legal regulation, Alex Neil  branded the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)  “a toothless waste of time” – after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC – John Campbell – who is caught up in a cash payments scandal – which has since led to information provided to journalists on other Advocates & QCs who have demanded & pocketed substantial and apparently undeclared cash sums from clients.

Video footage of the Petitions Committee’s deliberations on proposals submitted by the public to reform regulation of legal services in Scotland, can be viewed here:

Regulation of legal profession reform – Public Petitions Committee 21 September 2017

A full report on recent submissions to the Public Petitions Committee can be found here: LOOKING OUT FOR LAWYERS: Scottish Ministers unite with lawyer dominated review panel & pro-lawyer legal regulator – to urge Holyrood MSPs delay probe on proposals for independent regulation of legal services

 

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REGISTER, THE SIXTH: Holyrood probe on calls for a register of judges’ interests will enter SIXTH YEAR with 23rd Petitions Committee hearing to decide on way forward for publicly available judicial transparency register in Scotland

Holyrood probe on judicial interests enters sixth year. A FIVE YEAR Scottish Parliament investigation of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – will now enter an unprecedented SIXTH YEAR – after a private meeting decided to carry forward  proposals for judicial transparency into 2018.

At a meeting of Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee on Thursday 21 December 2017, the judicial transparency petition was scheduled as the last item – to be debated in private  – as MSPs looked for a way forward on the cross party supported proposals.

However, MSPs did not conclude on a way forward at that meeting, and decided to take forward the petition into next year for further scrutiny and consideration.

The proposal – to create a register of judicial interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary, was originally filed with the Scottish Parliament in 2012.

The  latest move by Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee to look for a way forward – comes after the petition secured powerful backing of former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP (SNP).

In an interview with The National newspaper, and a posting on Mr Neil’s Facebook page, Alex Neil said : “It is now time for the Petitions Committee itself to look at using the powers of parliamentary committees to introduce a Bill to set up a judicial register of interests.”

Alex Neil added: ““There is no doubt in my mind at all that it is long overdue. I do not see why judges should be any different from ministers or MSPs, and they should need to declare interests as most people in public service do these days.

“A Bill of this nature is badly needed, and if it can be done on an all-party basis through the Petitions Committee, then the committee’s members should not wait and should act now to sponsor a Bill.

“I am very supportive of the Petitions Committee, which I think is a very good committee, and it is now time for them to seriously consider bringing forward their own Bill on this matter, as I have no doubt that the case for such a register has been thoroughly made out.”

The latest developments – in the 22nd hearing of Petition PE1458 on calls to create a register of judges’ interests – comes after MSPs previously heard over sixty two submissions of evidence, during twenty one Committee hearings, including a private meeting between two MSPs and a top judge, and fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate spanning from 2012 to 2017.

The judicial interests petition – first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

A full report containing video footage of every hearing, speech, and evidence sessions at the Scottish Parliament on Petition PE1450 can be found here: Scottish Parliament debates, speeches & evidence sessions on widely supported judicial transparency petition calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland’s judiciary

Video footage of the short hearing prior to MSPs debating the judicial interests register proposals in private, follows:

Register of Judicial Interests PE 1458 Public Petitions Committee 21 December 2017

A brief report from the Public Petitions Committee on the meeting reports the decision as follows:

Consideration of a continued petition (in private): The Committee considered a draft letter on PE1458 by Peter Cherbi on Register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. The Committee agreed to consider a further draft letter at a future meeting.

Journalists involved in the petition expressed their thanks to members of the Public Petitions Committee for keeping the debate open and welcomed the continued public & parliamentary debate on the judicial register – which continues to bring in key intelligence on judicial interests & cases where serious conflicts of interest have been ignored in both criminal and civil cases in Scotland’s courts.

JUDICIAL REGISTER MUST GO FORWARD:

The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, is widely supported in the media and  in public debate as a result of media coverage.

The petition secured early support of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali, and her successor as JCR – Gillian Thompson.

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

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

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

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

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

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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ALL THE LORD PRESIDENT’S INTERESTS: Scottish Parliament debates, speeches & evidence sessions on widely supported judicial transparency petition calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland’s judiciary

Scottish Parliament probe judicial interests & register proposal. A FIVE YEAR Scottish Parliament probe into Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary has generated over sixty two submissions of evidence, twenty one Committee hearings, a private meeting and fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate.

The proposal, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, is widely supported in the media and  in public debate as a result of media coverage.

The petition has also secured the support of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewers Moi Ali, and Gillian Thompson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The timeline of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on Petition PE1458:

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Scottish Judiciary Scottish Parliament 8 January 2013

The Committee decided to call for submissions on the petition from the Lord President, the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates and Crown Office.

Petition PE1458 Register of Judges Interests 5 March 2013 Scottish Parliament

Petition PE1458 by Peter Cherbi calling on the Scottish Parliament to legislate to create a Register of Interests for Scotland’s judiciary was heard today 5 March 2013. The Committee decided to call for further evidence and also to invite the Lord President Lord Gill and others along to speak to MSPs and be questioned on the matter.

Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament 16 April 2013

 

A petition calling for a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary has again been debated at the Scottish Parliament, where upon the Lord President Lord Gill’s refusal to attend the Petitions Committee to give evidence, the Petitions Committee decided to repeat its invitation to Lord Gill to attend, and also agreed to seek the views of the Judicial Appointments Board and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scottish Judiciary 25 June 2013 Scottish Parliament

Members of the PPC decided to invite Moi Ali, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer to give evidence and also to contact Dr Kennedy Graham MP of the New Zealand Parliament. Dr Graham currently has a bill before MPs in New Zealand calling for a Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges. During the debate it was noted Lord Gill has refused to attend the Scottish Parliament to discuss the petition and judge’s interests, but has attended the Justice Committee to discuss court closures in Scotland.

Evidence from Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali on Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament

Moi Ali, Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer gives evidence to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament regarding Public Petition PE1458 calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary.

Petition 1458 Register of Judicial Interests Public Petitions Committee 28th January 2014

Following a private meeting between Scotland’s top judge, the Lord President Lord Brian Gill, and the Convener & Deputy Convener of the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament,the Committee agreed today, 28 January 2014 to defer consideration of Petition PE1458 by Peter Cherbi calling on the Scottish Parliament to create a register of judicial interests, pending receipt of a letter from the Lord President.

The Convener, David Stewart MSP and Deputy Convener, Chic Brodie MSP reported back to members on what had been said at the private meeting with Scotland’s top judge who refused to attend the Scottish Parliament to be questioned on his deep seated opposition to the proposal to requie Scottish judges to declare all their interests, hidden wealth, family & business links and other matters which may impact on cases being heard before judges in Scottish courts.

Committee Member John Wilson MSP requested details of the private meeting with the judge be put on the official record of the Committee, and Jackson Carlaw MSP drew attention to the fact had it not been for the Petitions Committee asking tough questions there would not even be any letters forthcoming from Lord Gill.

The petition will be heard once a letter has been received from Scotland’s top judge, who appears to be set against any attendance to face questions on why judges should not be required to register their interests, unlike all other public officials, politicians, Government Ministers and others.

Petition 1458 Register of Judicial Interests Scottish Parliament 4 March 2014

The Committee agreed to seek time in the chamber for a debate on the petition. The Committee also agreed to write to the Lord President and the Scottish Government.

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee

The Committee agreed to continue the petition, and is seeking a debate in the main chamber of the Scottish Parliament. The Committee also agreed to write to the Lord President and the Scottish Government for more detailed responses.

The next fifteen video clips are from the debate held at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 09 October 2014, in which MSPs, Scottish Government ministers and members of the Public Petitions Committee spoke in the debate. The full text of the speeches of each MSP can be found here: DEBATING THE JUDGES: Cross party support for proposal seeking a register of interests for members of Scotland’s Judiciary as Scottish Parliament holds first ever debate on judicial accountability & transparency

David Stewart MSP opening speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament

David Stewart: The committee’s motivation in giving consideration to the issue and in seeking time in the chamber to debate it is a point of principle and comes from the starting point of there being an assumption of openness and transparency in all areas of public life in order to shine a light, if you like, into every corner of Scottish society.

Roseanna Cunningham MSP opening speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament

Roseanna Cunningham: The setting up of a register of judicial interests would be a matter for the Lord President, as head of the judiciary in Scotland. The Lord President takes the view that a register of pecuniary interests for the judiciary is not needed. Furthermore, a judge has a greater duty of disclosure than a register of financial interests could address.

Graeme Pearson MSP opening speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament

Graeme Pearson: Until the petition was discussed, there was no knowledge of recusals in the public domain. I welcome the fact that, as of April this year, the Lord President has introduced a register of recusals. It is fair to say that without the petition and the work of the Public Petitions Committee, such a register would probably not have been considered.

Jackson Carlaw MSP opening speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament

Jackson Carlaw: It is perhaps difficult to take on the judiciary, because judicial independence is always mentioned. As I said, that is a cornerstone of democracy, but because there has been no separation of accountability and independence, it is easy for the judiciary to say, ‘We are independent, so don’t interfere in that.’ Unless independence and accountability are separated, legislation will continue to include no requirement for more openness and transparency.”

Angus MacDonald MSP Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct 2014

Angus MacDonald: If we as elected members have to register and declare our interests, I see no reason why members of Scotland’s judiciary should not be subject to a full and publicly available register of judicial interests.

Anne McTaggart MSP Register of Judicial Interests debate – Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct 2014

Anne McTaggart: In Scotland, claims continue to emerge of trials that have been unfair as a result of religious, ethnic or national bias. As long as those claims continue to exist, it is the Parliament’s job to promote fair government. In conclusion, I declare my support for the petition and encourage support from all the other MSPs.

David Torrance MSP speech Register of Judicial Interests debate Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct

David Torrance: Although I understand that conflicts of interest are on occasion declared in open court prior to taking on a case, the introduction of a register of interests would provide a more consistent and sound basis on which to move forward.

Neil Findlay MSP speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct 2014

Neil Findlay: We need to do much more to make our society less secretive and less closed, and I think that the register that we are discussing is just one step towards that end. I, for one, give it my full support and urge other MSPs to do the same.

Joan McAlpine MSP speech Register of Judicial Interests debate Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct 2014

Joan McAlpine: I gently suggest to the Lord President, in whose gift it is to set up a register, as we cannot legislate for it in the Parliament, that he should be mindful of the need for the judiciary to move with the times, along with every other public institution, in order to retain the confidence of the public.

John Wilson MSP speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 Oct 2014

John Wilson: A register of interests for judges is an area in which we could move forward and build more confidence in the system that we have in place.

Stewart Stevenson MSP speech Register of Judicial Interests debate Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 October 2014

Stewart Stevenson: I encourage Lord Gill and his successors to think about recalibrating their relationship with Parliament.

Jackson Carlaw MSP closing speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 October 2014

Jackson Carlaw: Mind you, I would point out that we, too, swear an oath, but we nonetheless still subscribe to a register.

Elaine Murray MSP Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 October 2014

Elaine Murray: “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.” Therefore, the issue is not that anyone doubts the judiciary’s integrity, but that the public need to see that integrity.

Roseanna Cunningham MSP closing speech Register of Judicial Interests debate Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 October 2014

Roseanna Cunningham: A number of members referred to the register of interests of MSPs. However, the situation is different, because we are directly accountable to the electorate.

Chic Brodie MSP closing speech Register of Judicial Interests debate Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 9 October 2014

Chic Brodie: There is concern that a register would have unintended consequences—a phrase that has been used often in the debate—for the judiciary’s freedom and privacy and its freedom from harassment from the media or dissatisfied litigants. Those are concerns, but they are no less so for others in public life, including MPs and MSPs, who may be attacked publicly for non-declaration of interests. Although it is argued that the establishment of a register may have the unintended consequence of eroding public confidence in the judiciary, it might equally be argued that its absence might have the same effect.

The debate at the Scottish Parliament now returns to deliberations of the Public Petitions Committee on Petition PE1458 – A Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s Judiciary:

Register of interests for judiciary Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 28 October 2014

Paul Wheelhouse Register of Judicial Interests Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 9 Dec2014

Minister for Community Safety Paul Wheelhouse gives evidence to the Public Petitions Committee on their investigation of proposals to create a register of judicial interests as called for in Petition PE1458. Mr Wheelhouse on behalf of the Scottish Government opposes the creation of a register which will inform the public about what judges have, their interests, links to big business, banks, shares in corporations and tax avoidance scams.

Petition 1458 Register of interests for Scotland’s Judiciary Scottish Parliament 12th May 2015

The Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee discussed Petition PE1458 on Tuesday 12 May 2015. The Committee agreed to call Gillian Thompson OBE – Scotland’s current Judicial Complaints Reviewer to give evidence on the creation of a register of judicial interests.

Evidence of Gillian Thompson Judicial Complaints Reviewer Register of Interests for Judges Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament 23 June 2015

The Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee discussed Petition PE1458 on Tuesday 23 June 2015. The Committee took evidence from Gillian Thompson OBE – Scotland’s current Judicial Complaints Reviewer who gave evidence in support of the creation of a register of judicial interests.

Lord Brian Gill evidence to Public Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 10 Nov 2015

Lord Brian Gill, former Lord President and Lord Justice General of Scotland gives evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on Petition PE1458 calling for a register of interests for judges.Gill refused two earlier invitations to appear before the Public Petitions Committee in 2013 and was dubbed “Lord No No.”. Several times during the debate the 73 year old ‘retired’ Lord Gill called on the panel of MSPs to show faith in the UK judiciary and scrap the petition along with calls for greater transparency of judges interests.

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for Judges Public Petitions Committee Holyrood 1 Dec 2015

Petitions Committee member Kenny MacAskill MSP calls for the committee to invite the new Lord President upon their appointment to appear to give evidence. Convener Michael McMahon MSP agrees to write to the new Lord President.

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

The Committee decided Lord Carloway is to be called to give evidence, MSPs will also contact Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde for evidence.

Petition PE1458 Public Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 29 Sept 2016

The Petitions Committee decided to call Lord President Lord Carloway to give evidence, and also hear from Professor Alan Paterson of the University of Strathclyde.

Petition PE1458 Register of Interests for judges Public Petitions Committee 22 Dec 2016

MSP Angus MacDonald (SNP) moves to call Professor Alan Paterson to give evidence to the committee and for msps to consider evidence from the Professor then to contact the Lord President, Lord Carloway.

Professor Alan Paterson Petitions Committee PE1458 19th Jan 2017

Professor Alan Paterson evidence to Public Petitions Committee on creating a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

PE 1458 Public Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 30th March 2017

Members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee decide to invite Lord President Lord Carloway to provide evidence before the Committee at a future date, and to invite Alex Neil MSP to appear before the Committee at the same meeting. The decision was taken after Lord Carloway offered concessions on the recusal register of Scotland’s judiciary – created as a result of this petition.

Lord Carloway Register of Judges interests Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

Lord Carloway gives evidence to the Public Petitions Committee on a proposal to create a register of judicial interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. The proposal has been investigated by the Scottish Parliament for five years, there is wide support for the register, from cross party msps to the media to both Judicial Complaints Reviewers.

The Petition will next be heard on Thursday 7 December 2017 where the Public Petitions Committee will be asked to consider taking evidence from Baroness Hale, President of the UK Supreme Court, and to seek further evidence on the operation of Norway’s Register of Judicial 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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LOOKING OUT FOR LAWYERS: Scottish Ministers unite with lawyer dominated review panel & pro-lawyer legal regulator – to urge Holyrood MSPs delay probe on proposals for independent regulation of legal services

Ministers, lawyers & legal regulator seek Holyrood probe delay. A PROPOSAL before the Scottish Parliament calling for views on scrapping self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland – has received representations from Scottish Ministers , the Chair of a pro-lawyer review panel and a Law Society-backed legal regulator – calling for MSPs to back off from investigating regulation of legal services.

Unsigned letters from the Scottish Government, the Chair of an ‘independent’ review group dominated by lawyers, and the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – call on members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to wait until the end of a two year review – conducted by lawyers – before MSPs conduct any independent investigation of lawyers investigating themselves.

A letter from the SLCC states: “The SLCC is certainly confident that the independent review of legal regulation will actively consider the issues we have been raising over the last 18 months, and which the petitions support from a public perspective, and look forward to the final report on these complex issues currently expected in July 2018.”

However, in reality the issues raised by the SLCC in a report titled “Reimagine Regulation” do little for consumer protection, leaving complaints and investigations firmly in the hands of lawyers, as was reported last year, here: ROGUES REIMAGINED: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission calls on Scottish Government to reform “complex and legalistic” solicitors’ self regulation & complaints system

Meanwhile, representations from the Scottish Government, and an unsigned letter from the Chair of a lawyer dominated review panel – are careful not to demand outright, but infer MSPs halt their consideration of calls to scrap the historically biased system of self regulation of lawyers in Scotland.

The latest submissions from the three pro-lawyer groups come in the wake of a call for evidence by the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee on two public petitions seeking to replace self regulation of the legal profession in Scotland with fully independent regulation of legal services – as occurs in England & Wales.

In September, MSPs called for views on bringing Scotland into line with the rest of the UK – where a much greater independent level of legal regulation exists compared to the current Law Society of Scotland & SLCC pro-lawyer regulation model.

Petition 1660 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission with a view to making the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent.

Petition 1661 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland, which is currently delegated to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, by creating a new independent regulator of legal services with powers equivalent to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Legal Ombudsman, Bar Standards Board and Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal which serve consumers and clients of legal service providers in England and Wales.

Earlier this year, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) said the ‘independent’ review created by the Scottish Government, should include judges – and the membership of the review team should be expanded to balance up the panel’s current top heavy legal interests membership.

In another development, Alex Neil recently branded the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)  “a toothless waste of time” – after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC – John Campbell – who is caught up in a cash payments scandal – which has since led to information provided to journalists on other Advocates & QCs who have demanded & pocketed substantial and apparently undeclared cash sums from clients.

During the debate on the two petitions – on 21 September – members of the Public Petitions Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

It is also open for anyone else to put their views to the Petitions Committee on these petitions, or for constituents to request their MSPs submit material on their constituents behalf.

Regulation of legal profession reform – Public Petitions Committee 21 September 2017

Legal Profession (Regulation) (PE1660 & PE1661)

The Convener: The next two new petitions are PE1660 by Bill Tait and PE1661 by Melanie Collins, both of which raise similar issues in relation to the current system for complaints about legal services in Scotland. Members have a copy of the petitions and the respective SPICe briefings.

PE1660 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission to make the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent. PE1661 calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland, which is currently delegated to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, by creating a new independent regulator of legal services with powers equivalent to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Legal Ombudsman, the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, all of which serve consumers and clients of legal service providers in England and Wales.

Do members have any comments or suggestions for action on the petition?

Michelle Ballantyne: First of all, I note that there is a review under way. However, although it was launched in April, it is not due to report until the end of next year, which seems an awfully long time.

I am concerned about a turkeys voting for Christmas arrangement with regard to oversight of this matter. There needs to be some clear water between lawyers and those who review them, and this feels a bit close for comfort. We should check where the review is going and what it is looking at, because if it has been launched, the question is whether we need to be doing something parallel alongside it.

Angus MacDonald: Both petitions are extremely timely. Bill Tait and Melanie Collins have highlighted serious issues with regard to the legal profession and the way in which the SLCC operates in respect of complaints. I agree with Melanie Collins that there is a strong argument in favour of creating a new independent regulator of legal services, and I agree with Bill Tait’s call to make the process of legal complaints more transparent and independent.

In recent years, we have seen a degree of conflict between the SLCC and the Law Society of Scotland over the operation of the complaints system. I am sure that I was not the only MSP to receive representations from the Law Society earlier this year, stating frustration and disappointment at the increase in the SLCC levy to be paid by solicitors. It also stated that the complaints system was slow, complex, cumbersome and expensive. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the right time to look at this issue.

As Michelle Ballantyne has mentioned, the Scottish Government has acknowledged that the current process for people wishing to make complaints about their solicitor is too slow and complex, so I was certainly pleased to see the Scottish Government launch its independent review of the regulation. However, I take on board Michelle Ballantyne’s point about the review not being due to report back until the end of 2018; the period seems quite lengthy, but clearly, we can contact the Government for clarification. Given the similarity of the two petitions, there is a strong argument for joining them together to help move them forward.

The Convener: First of all, does the committee agree to join the petitions together? It seems to me that they deal with the same issues.

Members indicated agreement.

Brian Whittle: Am I correct in thinking that the Law Society called for a change and was rebuffed?

Angus MacDonald: I am not entirely sure—it certainly was not happy.

Rona Mackay: It was about the levy. It was not happy with some of the SLCC’s operation, but, as far as I am aware, it has not formally called for a change.

Brian Whittle: I thought that it was investigating this very point and was rebuffed. I might be wrong.

The Convener: It would be worth getting it clear in our own heads where all of this stands. We can obviously ask for that information.

The suggestion is that we write to the Scottish Government about the review’s timescale and remit, and I think that we should write to the relevant stakeholder bodies to ask about what issues they have. It does not feel that long since the legislation was passed, so it would be a natural time to look at and reflect on whether it has been effective and what the alternatives might be. My sense is that, when the legislation went through Parliament, we wrestled with the options—it did not go through without debate. Perhaps we should look at whether this is a bedding-in issue or an actual structural problem and whether, as the petitioner suggests, the issue needs to be revisited and a different kind of regulatory body put in place.

I think that we have agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates. Citizens Advice Scotland was mentioned, as was the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Are there any others?

Angus MacDonald: Would it be worth contacting the Judicial Complaints Reviewer? Although it deals with judicial complaints, as per the title, it would be good to get its view, if it has one. Of course, it is not compelled to reply.

The Convener: Do we agree to deal with both petitions in that way?

Members indicated agreement.

The latest submissions from the Scottish Government, the Chair of the Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, are reprinted below:

PE1660/E & PE1661/E Scottish Government submission of 6 November 2017

I refer to your letter dated 28 September 2017 seeking the Scottish Government’s views on petition PE1660 by Bill Tait with regards to the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and petition PE1661 by Melanie Collins regarding amending the regulation of the complaints about the legal profession.

The independent review of the regulation of legal services, announced in April 2017, has been set up to look into these matters and that we understand that the chair, Esther Roberton, will be responding to the committee separately.

The chair is due to report to Ministers by the end of July 2018 and will include the review findings around the complaints handling system.

PE1660/D & PE1661/D Chair of the Independent Review of the Regulation of Legal Services submission of 23 October 2017

I refer to your letter dated 28 September 2017 seeking the Scottish Government’s views on the calls from Bill Tait to review the operation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, and from Melanie Collins to reform and amend the regulation of complaints about the legal profession in Scotland.

The independent review of the regulation of legal services was announced by the Minister of Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing on 25 April 2017. I chair the review and my deadline to report to Ministers is by the end of July 2018.

As described in the remit for the review, which is broad, its purpose is to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling. We are committed to ensuring that our recommendations focus on consumers, providers of legal services and the market place for legal services in Scotland. The time is right to appraise the regulatory system, which last saw substantial changes as a consequence of the 2010 Act, and which the current regulators and others agree is ready for review.

The panel, made up of individuals with experience in legal services, consumer interests, regulatory systems, and complaints systems have met five times to date.

Gathering evidence from a full range of stakeholders with an interest in our work is crucial to help inform our findings. This includes professional bodies, regulators, consumer bodies, a wide range of providers of legal services, business organisations and others. Stakeholder events will take place in November-December, with a formal call for evidence launching at the turn of the year.

The review is also considering relevant information such as regulation in other sectors and in legal services regulatory systems from other parts of the world, and has commissioned a specific study into unregulated legal services.

I have copied this letter to the Justice Committee and am happy to provide further updates if either committee wishes those in due course.

PE1660/C & PE1661/C Submission from Scottish Legal Complaints Commission of 31 October 2017

Thank you for your letter of 26 September about the Petitions Committee on 21 September about petitions PE1660 (Bill Tait) and PE1661 (Melanie Collins) relating to regulation and complaints in legal services.

We spoke on 27 October. For some reason, which neither of us could identify, we had not received the original letter, although had been expecting it and indeed had emailed on 10 October to ask if we were to receive such a letter. We’re very grateful, therefore, that you allowed us a short extension to respond.

We agree there is a strong case for reform in some areas, we have actively lobbied for this, and we’re confident the current Independent review of the regulation of legal services will address matters.

In this letter the SLCC sets out our general position on reform first, which significantly pre-dates the petitions, and then addresses some specific issues raised in the petitions.

THE SCOTTISH LEGAL COMPLAINTS COMMISSION

The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is the independent gateway for all complaints about solicitors, advocates and commercial attorneys. We have experience of handling over 10,000 complaints, and last year alone awarded consumer redress over £324,000. An independent Consumer Panel also helps guide our work.

For a two-page summary of our work, and its impact on consumers see: https://www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk/media/69464/annual review.pdf

OUR PROPOSALS FOR REFORM

The SLCC has actively called for radical change to the regulation of the sector. In July 2016 we published our paper #ReimagineRegulation, which is available on our website: https://www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk/reimagine-regulation.aspx. A detailed set of supporting appendices provide, among other things, a history of the Scottish Parliament’s involvement in these issues since the parliament’s creation.

We hope this is of assistance to the Committee.

The SLCC robustly highlighted key areas for change which we believe could deliver better results for the sector and for the consumer:

1. Unravelling the current complex complaints maze

Up to four statutory bodies can be involved in a single case, causing duplication and delay. We provide a visual representation of the ‘customer journey’ to highlight the current problems.

2. Reducing statutory detail that focuses on processes, not outcomes for people

Complex and inflexible processes have lost sight of the principles of better regulation and distracted from a focus on the outcomes for the public and sector.

3. Ensuring that when redress is awarded the client receives it

In too many cases redress is awarded but failings in the current system mean the complainer does not receive it, undermining confidence in the system.

4. Targeting risk, and not seeing all legal services as the same

For example, conveyancing is a major driver of all regulatory costs across more than one statutory body – how do we either better support, or more proportionately regulate, in that area to reduce this consumer detriment?

5. Embedding the consumer principles

Professional voices in debates in regulation are always informed, strong, and well resourced. We need to understand consumer’s need, and hear their voice, if regulation is to be credible.

6. Learning from complaints and data to improve future outcomes

Modern regulation is about identifying and targeting risk, and creating proportionate and agile structures to tackle issues in fast moving markets. 10 years after our establishment we too often find it is the same basic issues causing problems with consumers, with little done (it being outwith the SLCC’s remit) to tackle the root cause.

SPECIFIC ISSUES RAISED IN THE PETITIONS

A key question is raised about a single regulator, or at least complaints body, and the SLCC believe this merits serious consideration. The cost and confusion caused by four different bodies, for a sector of only 11,000 professionals, is an issue in its own right.

Even if a single body is not eventually possible, debating that model will more sharply focus the discussion on the core purpose and aims of regulation in the sector, and the key mechanism to reduce risk and support a sustainable market, rather than starting discussion from the perspective of the current fragmented roles and responsibilities.

The SLCC also agrees oversight issues need considered. At the moment there is a fractured framework. For example, whilst the SLCC is overseen by an independent Board of Commissioners appointed by government, is subject to Freedom of Information, and comes within the remit of Audit Scotland, not every organisation involved in regulation is currently so transparent, nor under such financial scrutiny. At the moment no bodies, including the SLCC, come under the best practice promoted by the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. As we continue the journey of the modernisation of legal regulation a single approach to oversight, with consistent minimum legislative requirements, would be a positive outcome.

Several statutory levies are payable by lawyers, and the value of the fees, and the balance of spending between regulatory and representative functions, should be considered in the round. None of the bodies currently involved have their budgets approved by parliament. In all governance matters legislation is balancing the need for regulation independent from government with what are appropriate governance structures. As with many issues raised, this may be best looked at in the round, as from the lawyer and consumer perspective it is the total cost of regulation which is key.

The SLCC had already raised concern at the only route of appeal being to the Court of Session. This point was made in our paper last year about reform, and we believe the legislation should be amended to allow a more proportionate mechanism. This is part of reducing the current complaints maze, so there is a single investigation, and single set of decisions, and a single appeal.

The SLCC supports the emphasis placed on independent regulation. We believe expert input into regulation is absolutely essential, and that a regulator must be credible to the profession as well as the public. However, the best model for delivering this has been contentious in previous parliamentary debates. The overwhelming trend in UK terms for regulation has been around an ongoing journey from self-regulation to independent regulation (for example, only today, joint work has been published by the four UK health departments on the evolution of governance in the regulation of health professionals:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/promoting-professionalism-reforming- regulation para 4.18 onwards). These petitions highlight that this is likely to be the expectation of the public.

In all of this public and consumer voices are vital. There is a deeply worrying lack of independent research into consumer needs and detriments in Scotland in the legal sector. The SLCC’s Consumer Panel has been instrumental in flagging this in recent years. However, the government’s own previous review of legal regulation in 2006 had raised this as a concern, and the situation has, if anything, deteriorated further since then (for example with Consumer Focus Scotland no longer in existence and doing work in this field). A top priority should be the creation of a better evidence base from those who use services, alongside the professional voices.

Ignoring those consumer voices has consequences, and this is relevant to one specific issue raised in this petition. In debating the legislation that led to the creation of the SLCC consumer groups valued transparency, and that the SLCC should be able to publish decisions about complaints. However, after extensive lobbying by other interests a decision was made that not only would the outcome of complaints not be published, but that a new criminal offence would be created for any divulgence of information, an offence so wide that it covers even confirming if a complaint has been received. This is out of step with other professions and sectors, and other jurisdictions, where there is more discretion to publish when there is public interest. The SLCC understands the frustration of complainers, but must abide by the current legislative framework. As with most issues covered in the petition, we had raised this ourselves last year in our paper on reform.

LEVY

We noted in the discussion within the committee mention of our consultation on the levy for solicitors last year (the fees all solicitors, advocates and commercial attorneys need to pay each year, set to cover the cost of processing complaints).

Although in past years the SLCC had managed to reduce the levy, a significant increase was proposed last year. This was driven by a number of factors, the two biggest of which were a rise in complaints and a judicial review, and 17 appeals to the Court of Session, launched by the Law Society of Scotland.

The rise in complaints had been steep, with a 12% increase in complaints against solicitors within 12 months. This has now been followed in the subsequent year by a further 2% rise, and current predictions are that complaint numbers are continuing to increase. We recognise paying the cost of complaints is not popular with any sector, and as a member led organisation the Law Society would always challenge costs, but a more positive debate would have focussed on how to tackle the common cause of complaints and reduce harm to the public.

In terms of the number of litigations by the professional body, we were pleased to win the ‘test case’, and to have the court confirm SLCC had been acting in a way consistent with ‘good public administration’. We had publicly warned these litigations would cause cost, delay and worry to complainers and practitioners, and were unnecessary, as proved to be the case. We were disappointed that in their lobbying against the levy the Law Society did not mention its own actions were one of the big drivers of cost.

CONCLUSION

I hope our #ReimagineRegulation paper displays a body which is not only ‘up for’ change, but actively trying to stimulate a debate about how parliament, government, consumers and the profession can work together to create a better system in Scotland.

The SLCC is certainly confident that the independent review of legal regulation will actively consider the issues we have been raising over the last 18 months, and which the petitions support from a public perspective, and look forward to the final report on these complex issues currently expected in July 2018.

Reimagine Regulation – SLCC priorities for a consultation on legal services regulation

Reimagine Regulation – SLCC appendices to our main paper

SLCC Annual Review 2017

LAWYERS REVIEW THEIR OWN REGULATION: Third attempt by SCottish Government at reforming biased system of solicitors self regulation.

The latest review of the way lawyers regulate themselves marks the third attempt at addressing problems created by Scotland’s pro-lawyer system of self regulation, where lawyers write the rules, and look after their own.

In 2001, the Scottish Parliament’s Justice 1 Committee, under the Convenership of Christine Grahame MSP, met to consider evidence in relation to calls to reform regulation of the legal profession.

The inquiry, gained by the late, widely respected MSP, Phil Gallie, heard evidence in relation to how complaints were investigated by the legal profession.

However, Mr Gallie was replaced by Lord James Douglas Hamilton, and the Committee eventually concluded not to amend how the Law Society regulated Scottish solicitors.

A second, more substantive attempt to reform regulation of the legal profession came about in 2006, with the Scottish Parliament’s then Justice 2 Committee taking on consideration of the proposed Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act, which received Royal Assent in 2007.

The LPLA Act led to the creation of the now widely derided Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – once touted as an ‘independent’ solution to handing complaints against solicitors and advocates.

A mere nine years after the creation of the SLCC in 2008, the badly run legal quango, often itself the subject of scandal, charges of incompetence and downright bias – has become as much a threat to consumer protection as the Law Society itself was in the days when complaints were handled at the Law Society’s former HQ in Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh.

Regulating the legal profession: Usual suspects selected by legal profession to carry out independent review on regulation of solicitors:

The independent review of the regulation of legal services in Scotland is expected to consult widely with stakeholders and report to Scottish ministers by the end of 2018.

The independent chair of the review is Esther Roberton, current chair of NHS 24. Ms Roberton has extensive senior leadership experience in the NHS and other areas of public life.  She is also currently a board member of the Scottish Ambulance Service (2014-18).  She was chair of SACRO (2010-2014) and until recently also sat on the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service Audit and Risk Committee (COPFS ARC).

The review panel have confirmed their participation as follows:

•      Christine McLintock – immediate past president Law Society of Scotland
•      Alistair Morris – chief executive of the management board, Pagan Osborne (Law Society of Scotland)
•      Laura Dunlop QC – Hastie Stables (Faculty of Advocates)
•      Derek Ogg QC – MacKinnon Advocates (Faculty of Advocates)
•      Neil Stevenson – chief executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
•      Nicholas Whyte – chair of Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal
•      Ray Macfarlane –  chair of the Scottish Legal Aid Board
•      Jim Martin – outgoing Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
•      Dr Dame Denise Coia – chair of Healthcare Improvement Scotland
•      Prof Lorne Crerar – chairman, Harper Macleod LLP
•     Prof Russel Griggs – chair of the Scottish Government’s Independent Regulatory Review Group
•     Trisha McAuley OBE – independent consumer expert

A full report on the Scottish Government’s review of legal services – unmasked as a lawyer dominated pro-self regulation panel – can be found here: REGULATED REVIEW: Scottish Government panel to look at self regulation of lawyers – Former Cabinet Minister calls for review to include judiciary, and panel membership to strike ‘better balance between lawyers & non-lawyers’

 

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REGISTER THE JUDGE: Transcript reveals weak & evasive evidence of Scotland’s top judge to Holyrood judicial probe on widely supported proposals calling for judges to declare & register their interests

Lord Carloway failed to make any convicting argument against judicial register. PUBLICATION of a transcript of evidence given by Scotland’s top judge before the Scottish Parliament – has reveal how poorly Lord Carloway faired in attempts to close a five year Holyrood probe on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The now published written report of the meeting at Holyrood – depicts a blundering, weak & evasive performance from Lord Carloway – who gave evidence to members of Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee on 29 June 2017 – in connection with calls to require judges to declare their interests in a publicly available register similar to MSPs and other branches of Government.

The written transcript of the surprisingly short 36 minute hearing – along with video footage – illustrates how Lord Carloway – lashed out transparency, court users, litigants the press, public, the internet and even social media – as reasons the judiciary should remain exempt from declaring their interests.

Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland)- who earns over £220,000 a year – also declared to MSPs that creating a register of interests for judges would deter recruitment of ‘talented’ lawyers – reported in more detail by The National newspaper and across the media..

During the evidence session, the transcript reveals the full extent of how Carloway dodged question after question – with claims of ignorance on key points of judicial administration in Scotland – and even on the workings of foreign jurisdictions which Carloway himself has links to.

In response to questions from MSPs on comparisons between US judges declarations of interest and the refusal of Scotland’s judiciary to do likewise – Lord Carloway said he had no idea how US judges and their judicial system operated.

However – records of declared judicial overseas travel show Carloway has jetted to North America many times at taxpayers expense for ‘legal conferences’ alongside lawyers & judges from the US, Canada & other nations – reported in more detail here: EXCESS BAGGAGE: Lord Carloway’s £4K trip to Washington DC, Lady Dorrian’s £6K trip to Melbourne – Judicial overseas junkets rocket to £43k as new Lord President abandons Brian Gill’s edict on public cash for judicial jollies

As the top judge fumbled response after response, it became evident MSPs were not buying into Lord Carloway’s dismal, widely criticised stance against the proposals calling for judicial transparency and bringing judges into line with other branches of the Executive – who are all required to declare and register their interests.

Evidence from the top judge reached a low point in the hearing – when Lord Carloway claimed a register of judicial interests is not required – unless scandal or corruption ‘is discovered’ – by the judiciary – and and investigated from within their own ranks.

Lord Carloway’s stuttering performance was brought to a swift end by the Convener after detailed lines of questions from Alex Neil MSP saw Scotland’s top judge bounce from subject to subject, unable to offer a single clear reason as to why judges should be treated any differently from others in public life.

The Scottish Sun newspaper reported Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) slammed Lord Carloway’s “extremely unconvincing” argument. Mr Neil added: “He put no rational case against.”

Lord Carloway’s appearance before MSPs was rated as “poor” by legal insiders, comparing the session to that of his predecessor Lord Brian Gill, who gave evidence to MSPs in November 2015 – after resigning earlier from the post of Lord President in May 2015.

Gill, who had waged a three year battle against the petition, refused to attend the Scottish Parliament on several occasions – a refusal resulting in heavy criticism in the press and from politicians who said Gill had insulted Holyrood.

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

The proposal, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Carloway evidence on Register of Judges interests Petitions Committee Scottish Parliament 29 June 2017

Meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee 29 June 2017

Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener (Johann Lamont): I welcome you all to this meeting of the Public Petitions Committee. I remind people to switch their mobiles and other devices to silent.

At agenda item 1, we are dealing with a continued petition, PE1458, which calls for a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. We will take evidence from the Lord President, Lord Carloway, who is accompanied by Roddy Flinn, the legal secretary to the Lord President. I thank you both for joining us this morning.

We have copies of a number of recent submissions, including the most recent correspondence from Lord Carloway. In order to make the most efficient use of our time, I suggest that we move straight to questions from members. I will open the questioning.

I want to explore some of the issues that you have identified as potential risks or inhibitions to the administration of justice should a register of financial interests be introduced. One of those is the risk of retaliation by a dissatisfied litigant by way of online fraud. You have commented that that has not, to the best of your knowledge, happened in respect of those judges who are currently required to disclose interest, but that the sample size of those judges is too small to derive comfort from.

In identifying that potential risk, have you given consideration to the experience of other holders of public office who have to declare their financial interests? For example, members of the Scottish Parliament, local authority councillors and members of public bodies all have a role in making decisions that may leave people dissatisfied. Are you aware of any individuals in those categories who have been victims of retaliation by way of online fraud?

Lord Carloway (Lord President of the Court of Session): I am not aware of details of members of other public institutions being subjected to online fraud, but judges are in a peculiar position in relation to this matter. They make decisions that inevitably cause disappointment to one party to a litigation, and those people are, or can be, resentful. I appreciate that that can happen in wider public life, but it is a particular problem for the judiciary.

The losing party can, in some extreme cases, blame the judge for the failure of their case and seek to find a reason beyond the actual decision as to why the judge found against them. It is not unknown for persons to form a malicious or hostile intent towards a judge, or even judges in general, if they are disappointed with the outcome of their case. They can become paranoid or suspicious about the reasons for what is a simple finding of fact in law by the judge, and I would be concerned if they were to source, and potentially damage, the judge’s personal or pecuniary interests.

The Convener: Do you think that there is a general culture of people looking for explanations beyond the decision? Do people do that already, not necessarily in respect of financial matters but by interrogating any connections that judges might have that might explain a decision?

Lord Carloway: It is a relatively common phenomenon, especially with party litigants, who, if they lose their case or a particular aspect of it, may search for reasons as to why that has happened. They will search for reasons that are outwith the obvious—in other words, that they lost the case because they were wrong in law or in fact. They will seek reasons as to why the judge found against them, and they will search for things that are peripheral to the case. That is a problem that we have to deal with—“put up with” is perhaps the wrong expression.

The Convener: Do you think that that is compounded by the world of online communication? Is online fraud now a particular issue?

Lord Carloway: As followers of blogs and so on in relation to judges will know, there is quite a lot on the internet that is, shall I say, not terribly complimentary about particular judges. Again, that is something that we have to put up with on a daily basis. We are subject to basic abuse by litigants of one sort or another on the internet, and that should be guarded against.

In the First Minister’s letter to the convener of the predecessor committee, she specifically referred to the particular need to consider

“judges’ privacy and freedom from harassment by aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants.”

That is exactly the type of thing that I am talking about.

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): Good morning, Lord Carloway and Mr Flinn. I very much appreciate your attendance at the meeting.

You have identified a possible risk to the inhibition of justice in judicial recruitment or in judges starting to decline positions on bodies such as the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service in the event that judges are required to disclose financial interests. Given the principles that guide conduct in public life, why should a requirement for transparency act as a disincentive for judicial office-holders but not for other people who hold public office, such as MSPs?

Lord Carloway: A judge or a sheriff is, indeed, like many people, a holder of a public office. The critical distinction between a judge and an MSP, for example, is, of course, that the judge has to be independent of any form of Government. That is what we are looking at. A judge is therefore in exactly the opposite position from those whose work has a political dimension.

I hasten to add that the system here has an international reputation for fairness and not being corrupt, and we are extremely keen to protect that reputation. Members might have seen in the papers that the Council of Europe has an anti-corruption organisation called GRECO, which has specifically examined the potential for corruption in the United Kingdom judiciary, including the Scottish judiciary, in recent years. Its findings, which I think I quoted in the papers, were fairly clear. It did not find “any element of corruption in relation to judges” in the United Kingdom, “nor was there any evidence of” judicial “decisions being influenced in an inappropriate manner.”

Because of that, it did not see any necessity to introduce a register of interests specific to the judiciary.

To answer Angus MacDonald’s question a little more directly, we in Scotland do not have a career judiciary in the sense that we have judges who begin their judicial life at the point of leaving university, as judges in many countries on the continent do. We recruit our judges and sheriffs from people who are generally, although not exclusively, in private practice. They are recruited in their 40s and 50s, and perhaps sometimes even a little later as far as the senior judiciary is concerned. We have a relatively small pool of lawyers of excellence who are capable of taking on the job of being a member of our senior judiciary.

Members may be aware that there are currently certain problems with the recruitment of the senior judiciary in particular because of certain steps that have been taken relative to pay and pensions generally. We have particular difficulties with recruitment at the moment and, if I were to say to senior members of the profession, which they are before they are recruited into the judiciary, “By the way, if you wish to become a judge, you will have to declare all your pecuniary interests and open them to public scrutiny,” I have no doubt whatsoever that that would act as a powerful disincentive for lawyers of experience and skill to become members of the judiciary. I assure the committee that we need them more than they need us.

Angus MacDonald: You mentioned the career judiciary. You will be aware that we took evidence from your predecessor, Lord Gill. It is probably fair to say that he did not have a high regard for the system in the United States, where there has been a register of judicial interests, as you will be aware. What is your view of the fact that the United States has successfully introduced a register of judicial interests? Do you agree that it has helped to increase confidence in the judiciary in that part of the world?

Lord Carloway: I am not in a position to make any comment whatsoever about the United States judiciary. I simply do not know enough about it to make a meaningful comment. You will be aware that there are problems in relation to the United States judiciary, but I am simply not qualified to comment on the depth of the situation.

I can comment on something that I am sure that the committee is aware of, which is that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom considered this matter because, previously, as members of the House of Lords, its members were required to have a register of interests. It was decided that members of the Supreme Court should not have to have a register of interests, and I would have thought that, if that is the view of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, we should give some consideration to it, even if, of course, we are not bound by its decisions in that regard.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con): Good morning. In relation to any changes to the current system of recusal whereby it is for a judge to decide whether to recuse, you have commented on the inefficient disposal of business in the courts. I would like to explore the balance between the efficient disposal of business and having systems in place that ensure there is trust in judicial decisions. In that respect, is there any way of quantifying the risks to the efficient disposal of business and, if so, whether your office has carried out an assessment of that?

Lord Carloway: Are you talking about the process of declining jurisdiction, or recusal, as it is put?

Brian Whittle: Yes.

Lord Carloway: I preface my remarks by saying that, as far as I have a concern about this topic, it is not that judges are failing to recuse themselves in particular situations, because I am quite satisfied that they do so when they should. My concern—this is also to do with the disruption of business—is to do with judges or sheriffs who are recusing themselves unnecessarily in circumstances in which they should not do so. That is a much more common phenomenon.

One has to bear in mind that we have litigants who will effectively try to forum shop—that is to say that they will encounter a judge or sheriff who is not to their liking, and they will attempt to remove that judge from the proceedings on pretexts such as their having some remote connection with the case or the people involved in it. That type of thing can cause major problems in the management of business.

In normal cases in which someone is represented by a member of the legal profession, if there is a genuine concern that the judge or sheriff has an interest in the case, that will be raised informally with the clerk of court and, in practical terms, the sheriff court judge will simply decide not to be involved in that particular case. Again, that is not something that can be done in every court—particularly not in courts that only have one sheriff, and especially if it is not raised in advance.

What happens, in the sense of practicalities and reality, is that civil business—which, again, is primarily what we are talking about here—can be allocated relatively late in the day, and a sheriff or a judge might only on the day in question be faced with an application formally in court to decline jurisdiction in that case. If he does so, it is likely that that case will simply have to go off, with all the inconvenience that that involves.

There was a specific point about whether we think that judges should not deal with this question but should pass to another judge. Do you wish me to deal with that point?

Brian Whittle: Yes, please.

Lord Carloway: The answer to that particular problem is this: if a judge does not recuse himself in circumstances in which he should have done, any litigant who is dissatisfied with that and loses the case can appeal that and the matter will be reviewed by three judges. Therefore, there is a form of open, public scrutiny of the decision not to recuse a judge. If there were a system whereby that judge could not decide that matter himself or herself—after all, it is he or she who knows whether he or she has a direct connection with the litigation or the persons involved in it—and that person had passed on the matter to another judge or sheriff, the business in that case would be ceased for the period until that matter was decided. The business that is scheduled for the other sheriff or judge would also be ceased in order that the other judge could take the decision. That other judge is likely to find the decision difficult if he or she does not know the particular facts.

I hope that I am, in a realistic sense, explaining the disruption to business that such decisions can involve. The simplest way to deal with them is the way in which we are dealing with them at the moment. First of all there is the informal route, which means that the judge or the sheriff is not hearing the case in the first place; if that judge decides that he or she should hear the case in any event and is faced with a formal motion to recuse himself, that matter is dealt with transparently in open court and is subject to the appeal process.

Angus MacDonald: We have received a submission on this petition from Melanie Collins, in which she highlights a recusal that had, for whatever reason, not been added to the register of recusals. That was only noticed, or challenged, one year after the omission.

When Lord Gill gave evidence to the committee, said: “To the best of my knowledge, the clerks of court are scrupulously accurate in keeping the register and therefore, wherever there is a recusal, you may depend upon its being recorded in the register.”—[Official Report, Public Petitions Committee, 10 November 2015; c 3.]

Does it not concern you that, in the past, recusals have failed to be listed in the register of recusals? Are you not also concerned that the register is being altered—in some circumstances, years later—and only when members of the public, the media or litigants point out that there are gaps in it?

Lord Carloway: I note that there was an error in not recording one incidence. I am not particularly concerned about that. The position is that all recusals that appear in the register are as a result of events that occur in open court, in a public forum, and they are recorded in the interlocutor of the court concerned. I think that committee members have a copy of the interlocutor of the court order that deals with the recusal. That is a public document, which is open to public scrutiny. It is a result of the hearing in open court in which the parties would be well aware of the decision and they would have a record of it. Therefore, it does not particularly concern me that there was an unfortunate error in transposing that information into a register of recusals, which is for a different purpose.

Angus MacDonald: Is that the only error that you are aware of?

Lord Carloway: It is the only error that I am aware of. The judge or the sheriff will make a decision in open court. The direction to the clerks of court is that they should transmit that to the judicial office, so that it can be recorded in the register. If that was not done—it was not done in this case—that is regrettable, but it is not a matter of deep concern to me. One mistake in many instances does not cause me a concern about the general system.

Angus MacDonald: But you can understand how Melanie Collins would not feel that it was—

Lord Carloway: She was involved in the litigation. She must have known that the decision had been made, because she is the person who was presumably in court at the time. She, or her representatives, would have received a copy of the court order dealing with the recusal.

Angus MacDonald: Okay. Thank you.

The Convener: I welcome Alex Neil MSP to the meeting. He, too, has an interest in this item. I will take committee members first and if Alex Neil wants to ask a question after that he may do so.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP): Good morning, Lord Carloway and Mr Flinn. You talked about problems that you perceive there would be with recruitment should a register be introduced. I may have missed a discussion of this in our background briefing, but what is the Law Society’s view on a register of interests?

Lord Carloway: I do not know the answer to that.

Rona Mackay: Fair enough.

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con): Good morning, Lord Carloway and Mr Flinn. I welcome your indication that you would have no problem extending the register of recusals to cover instances where judges have considered recusal but have made the decision not to recuse. You indicated that what you considered may provide additional transparency—that follows on from Angus MacDonald’s comment. Have you considered options for the ways in which the register could be made transparent when any additions or amendments are made to it?

Lord Carloway: Sorry, what is that in relation to?

Maurice Corry: Options to make it more transparent.

Lord Carloway: Do you mean that we could, for example, put the parties’ names in?

Maurice Corry: Yes.

Lord Carloway: That has been considered, but it is not thought to be particularly necessary or helpful. I return to the fact that all decisions whether to recuse are done in the public forum—they are done in open court. If anyone has an interest in seeing a particular court interlocutor, they can do so. For example, if someone was looking at the register of interests and wanted more details of that, I am sure that we could provide them with those details. However, we are often anxious not to put parties’ names in registers of a public nature such as this, because it is usual for cases to involve considerable sensitivities, such as children and so forth. Therefore, we would be reluctant to do that, but it could be done.

Maurice Corry: It could be done, but it would have to be looked at very carefully.

Lord Carloway: Yes.

Angus MacDonald: Would you be content to see information about the date on which an entry is made or a way of noting amendments to entries in the register, such as to correct clerical errors, which we are aware happened on at least one occasion? Would that enhance transparency?

Lord Carloway: Yes. That is a fair point. We could have a protocol that, if an entry was made after a fortnight, there should be a footnote to say, “Entered on such and such a date.”

Angus MacDonald: That is good.

You will be aware that there was a similar petition in New Zealand two or three years ago, which was eventually withdrawn.

Lord Carloway: I thought that it was defeated.

Angus MacDonald: Yes. Are you aware of whether any register was introduced in New Zealand, along the lines of a register of recusals or a register of interests, after that?

Lord Carloway: I am not. I thought that the matter ended with the defeat in Parliament.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Neil: Have you investigated it?

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

Alex Neil: No, but have you investigated it?

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

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

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

Alex Neil: Your office—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Convener: Last question, please, Mr Neil.

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

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

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

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

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

We might ask the petitioners to respond in writing to the evidence to allow us the opportunity to reflect on it, if members are so minded. When we consider the petition at a future meeting, we can consider any further actions that members might deem appropriate having read that response. We might want to make recommendations or suggestions to the relevant decision makers, but it is not within the committee’s powers to implement the action that is called for in the petition. However, we will take a view on the petition and dispose of it to somebody else who will make that decision. Today’s evidence has clarified many of the issues in my mind. Are members agreed to take the action proposed?

Members indicated agreement.

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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