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DECLARE YOUR JUSTICE: Judicial Office consults with Lord Carloway on including Justices of the Peace in Register of Judicial Recusals – as questions surface over Lord Gill’s omission of 500 JPs from judicial transparency probe

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

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

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

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

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

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

The petition, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests.

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

The resulting publicly available register of judicial interests would contain information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaigner calls on Scotland’s top judge to extend register of recusals

Exclusive by Martin Hannan Journalist The National 3rd October 2017

SCOTLAND’S Justices of the Peace should have to register their recusals when they step aside from cases in their courts due to conflicts of interests, according to the man who is leading a campaign on judges’ interests.

The judicial register of recusals was established by Scotland’s most senior judge in April 2014, former Lord President Lord Gill, and the judiciary website shows all such recusals by judges and sheriffs and the reasons why they stepped away from a case.

Now legal campaigner Peter Cherbi has called for the register to be extended to Justices of the Peace, who are lay magistrates dealing with less serious cases such as breach of the peace or minor driving offences.

For five years Cherbi has been petitioning the Scottish Parliament on the issue of judges’ interests, and he sees a register of recusals as vital for public confidence in all the judiciary.

Cherbi said: “Given there are nearly 500 Justices of the Peace in Scotland who must act in accordance with the same rules laid down for other members of the judiciary, JPs should now be included in the Register of Recusals.

“I am surprised Lord Gill omitted Justices of the Peace when he created the Register of Recusals in April 2014. This was a significant omission, given the numbers of JPs across Scotland, and Lord Gill should have corrected this flaw before he left office in May 2015.

“I note Lord Carloway (left) has not attended to this glaring omission since taking office as Lord President in January 2016 until now being asked to do so.

“The omission of Justices of the Peace from the Register of Recusals has left out a significant portion of the judiciary and therefore concealed a more truer representation of numbers of recusals and interests across Scotland’s judges and courts, which are of significant public interest.

“I shall be informing the Public Petitions Committee of this development and if the need should arise, I will request MSPs write to the Judicial Office and Scottish Justices Association to make enquiries as to when JPs will be added to the Register of Recusals, and to seek an explanation why they were originally left out from the data, despite it being a relatively simple operation to include JPs in the recusals statistics.”

The National contacted the Scottish Justices Association, which represents the Justices of the Peace, but no reply had been received by the time we went to press.

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

 

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CRIME ON,CROWN: Historical Abuse probe dropped as Crown Office forced to pay £10K to law firm Clyde & Co – after judge suspends Police search warrant to obtain evidence relating to accusations against ‘influential’ clients

Crown Office paid £10K to law firm subject of Police raid. SCOTLAND’S Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has been forced to pay £10K public cash in legal and ‘other fees’ to a law firm representing a ‘important client’ in relation to a botched search blocked by a judge.

The payment of £10,021.38 to Edinburgh law firm Clyde & Co (formerly Simpson & Marwick) was revealed by prosecutors in response to a Freedom of Information request amid ongoing media enquiries which have now established any possible criminal prosecution in connection with the allegations of abuse is “dead in the water”.

The events surrounding the search warrant occurred last summer, in which Police Officers obtained a search warrant to raid the premises of Edinburgh law firm Clyde & Co, in relation to material officers believed the firm held relating to evidence of historical sexual abuse of minors.

A search warrant issued by a Sheriff upon an application from the Crown Office to raid the law firm, resulting in two police officers attending the offices of Clyde & Co at 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh, at 10am on 22 July 2016 with a search warrant to obtain the evidence.

However, a stand off ensued while Clyde & Co applied to the court for a judge to revoke the search warrant.

The search warrant was subsequently revoked blocked by senior judge Lord Brodie after counsel for Clyde & Co claimed legal professional privilege was attached to the alleged evidence of abuse.

While the Crown Office have now admitted they were required to pay legal & other fees to Clyde & Co, prosecutors refused to divulge any further information on the case, citing the information was held as part of a criminal investigation – which has now been dropped.

Christine Lazzarin for the Crown Office stated in the FOI response: “Firstly I should clarify that a Bill of Suspension hearing emanates from criminal proceedings and any correspondence held between COPFS, the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS), Police Scotland and Clyde & Co in relation to this hearing is exempt.”

“By way of explanation, this correspondence is held by a Scottish Public Authority, namely the Procurator Fiscal, for the purposes of an investigation which the Procurator Fiscal had a duty to conduct to ascertain whether a person should be prosecuted for an offence and it is therefore exempt from release in terms of Section 34(1)(a)(i) of FOISA.”

“This is not an absolute exemption and I have therefore considered whether the public interest favours disclosure of the information, notwithstanding the exemption.”

“Whilst I appreciate that there is a great deal of information in relation to the hearing publically accessible on the SCTS web-site, I consider that there is a strong public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of correspondence in connection with allegations of criminality and consequently the Bill of Suspension hearing.”

“The confidentiality of such information ensures that the agencies involved in the criminal justice process can report to the Procurator Fiscal in a manner which is free and frank and for this reason I consider that the public interest favours upholding the exemption.”

“You have also asked for information about fees, costs, legal expenses or other funds paid by COPFS to SCTS and Clyde & Co. I can advise that COPFS paid a total of £10,021.38 in fees, and other legal costs to Clyde & Co after the hearing.”

Further enquiries into the case by the media have now established the investigation into the case of alleged abuse has now been dropped – with legal insiders at the Crown Office blaming the Crown Office handling of the search warrant, and the effect of Lord Brodie’s order cancelling the search warrant.

Legal sources have also speculated Police Scotland may have been forced to pay the same law firm – Clyde & Co – for their actions in seeking to serve the warrant and obtain the alleged evidence of abuse.

During the Financial year 2016 to 2017, a mysteriously large sum of public cash – £213,933.24 was paid to Clyde & Co by Police Scotland according to figures obtained in a recent media investigation into Police payments to law firms, reported in more detail here: Concerns on Public Bodies Legal Fees spending as figures reveal Scottish Police Authority fork out over £1m in legal fees, Police Scotland spend at least £1.3 million on external lawyers

However, faced with further searching enquiries, Police Scotland have point blank refused to disclose any further information about their payments to Clyde & Co and other law firms.

While the Crown Office have now dropped a prosecution in relation to the alleged abuse, the media are eager to speak to anyone involved in the investigation, or the victims themselves, who can if they wish come forward to DOI, by way of contacting the blog at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

This latest floundered investigation into what is alleged to be an influential figure in relation to historical abuse crimes – is another blow for the failing leadership of the Crown Office – under current Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC & Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo (sister of Glasgow solicitor & former Law Society of Scotland President – Austin Lafferty)

Last month, it was revealed the Crown Office has given jobs – without interview – to relatives of high ranking Crown Office staff, who then went on to be charged with drug dealing offences – information which came to light in an ongoing investigation into Prosecutors interests and a secret Crown Office register of interests, reported in more detail here: DECLARE THE CROWN: Secrecy block on Crown Office Register of Interests – after fears info will reveal crooked staff, dodgy business dealings, prosecutors links to judiciary, criminals, drugs dealers and dodgy law firms

The Sunday Mail newspaper reported the payments from the Crown Office to Clyde & Co here:

Court chiefs fork out £10k to law firm after botched raid in abuse probe

‘Standards were not met’ when cops turned up with a warrant at Clyde and Co’s Edinburgh office and tried to seize ‘privileged and confidential’ material.

By Craig McDonald Sunday Mail 8 OCT 2017

Prosecutors have paid £10,000 to a law firm after a botched raid on their offices.

Police wanted to seize files from Clyde and Co lawyers that they believed related to an abuse investigation.

But the firm objected, stating the material was “privileged and confidential”.

Despite this, two officers turned up at the firm’s Edinburgh branch with a search warrant in July last year. The warrant was eventually blocked after a court hearing.

Judge Lord Brodie later ruled “standards were not met” regarding prosecutors’ handling of the case.

The Crown Office have now paid £10,021 in legal fees and costs to Clyde and Co.

Detective Constable Nicola Gow called Clyde and Co by phone on July 7 last year to tell the firm they had information in their files that might be relevant to a criminal inquiry.

Graeme Watson, a partner, told her he would check what information he could provide but that “client files were privileged and confidential”.

Gow said she would discuss it with her superior officer but told the firm “a search warrant might be sought”.

Watson wrote to the sheriff clerk in Edinburgh stating the files were covered by the “Data Protection Act, confidentiality and agent-client privilege”.

Two police officers turned up at the firm’s building in the city’s Albany Street with a warrant at 10am on July 22.

Clyde and Co went to court to have it blocked. In his judgment, Lord Brodie found the procurator fiscal’s actions in applying for the warrant “to have been oppressive”.

He said the wording was “misleading, if not simply inaccurate” and “requisite standards were not met”.

The Crown Office said last week: “We note the terms of Lord Brodie’s decision. The Lord Advocate has taken steps to ensure there will be no repeat of this situation.”

Police Scotland said: “As this is a matter for the Crown Office, it would be inappropriate for us to comment.”

Clyde and Co declined to comment.

POLICE STAND OFF AS JUDGE BLOCKS SEARCH WARRANT:

A full report on the opinion by Lord Brodie and his revocation of the Police Scotland search warrant was published by Scottish Law Reporter here: Police raid on Edinburgh law firm halted by judge – Lord Brodie hits out at Crown search warrant tactics against Clyde & Co over historic sex crimes investigation

An excerpt from the Bill of Suspension, signed by Lord Brodie in relation to the search warrant follows:

NOTE BY LORD BRODIE in BILL OF SUSPENSION by CLYDE AND CO (SCOTLAND) LLP Complainers;

against THE PROCURATOR FISCAL, EDINBURGH Respondent:

Complainers:  Smith QC; Clyde & Co

Respondent:  No appearance (Crown Office did not appear at hearing)

22 July 2016

[1]        The complainers in this bill of suspension are a limited liability partnership, being solicitors with a place of business at Albany House, 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh. The respondent is the Procurator Fiscal, Edinburgh. The complainers seek suspension of a search warrant granted by the sheriff at Edinburgh on the application of the respondent, dated 21 July 2016 and timed at 1537 hours (“the search warrant”). The application which came before me, on 22 July 2016 not long before 1700 hours in chambers, was for interim suspension of the warrant. As at that time the bill had not been warranted for service. Having heard Mr  Smith on behalf of the complainers, I adjourned in order to allow my clerk to advise Crown Office that the application had been presented and to invite the attendance of an advocate depute to represent the respondent. That invitation was made by telephone at a little after 1700 hours. It was not taken up. Having heard Mr Smith further, I suspended the search warrant ad interim, granted warrant for service of the bill and continued the matter to a date to be fixed.

[2]        The circumstances in which that application was made, as I understood them from what appeared in the bill, in two telephone attendance notes and the explanation provided by Mr Andrew Smith QC, who was accompanied and instructed by Mr Graeme Watson, Solicitor Advocate, a partner in the complainers, are as follows.

[3]        A client of the complainers is S.  The complainers have acted for S in relation to claims for damages against it by individuals on the basis of its vicarious liability for alleged acts which occurred at a particular location, L.  These claims have been discontinued on account of an acceptance that any claims were time-barred. It is averred by the complainers that in course of taking instructions from representatives of S these representatives “disclosed certain matters and were provided with advice… which advice and information being disclosed was privileged.” As I understood matters, the complainers retain in their possession documents and files, both paper and digital, generated in the course of acting for S which include information and advice in respect of which S, whose specific instructions have been taken on the point, asserts legal privilege.

[4]        On 7 July 2016 Detective Constable Nicola Gow contacted the complainers by telephone. She spoke to Mr Watson. There were at least three telephone calls between DC Gow and Mr Watson on that day. I was shown copies of Mr Watson’s telephone attendance notes. DC Gow indicated that she was aware that the complainers held certain information in their client files for S that might be relevant to a criminal inquiry which was currently being undertaken.  She already had copies of some documents but wished to obtain originals of these (including what she described as “originals” of unsigned statements held digitally), the litigation files and such other documents which were in the possession of the complainers. Mr Watson advised that the complainers would check what information they had access to with a view to establishing its whereabouts and what might be capable of being produced. Mr Watson indicated that the client files were privileged and confidential. Mr Watson advised that in the event of him receiving instructions to do so, he was willing to excise from the file certain material in order to assist the police inquiry. DC Gow suggested that they might arrange a time to look at the files together. Mr Watson said that he would need to take instructions on that proposal but that a provisional date for such a joint consideration of the files could be arranged. DC Gow indicated that she would discuss matters with her superior officer but that a search warrant might be sought.

[5]        On 11 July 2016, in anticipation that an application for a warrant might be made, Mr Watson, on behalf of S wrote to the Sheriff Clerk in Edinburgh requesting that the Sheriff Clerk contact the complainers in the event of any application to the sheriff with a view to S being represented at any hearing before the sheriff. Mr Watson explained in that letter that the complainers and S had provided such assistance to Police Scotland as they could within the confines of the Data Protection Act 1998, confidentiality and agent-client privilege. The letter included the sentence: “In our submission it would be oppressive and prejudicial for a warrant to be granted without first hearing from [S].” No reply has been received to that letter.

[6]        Subsequent to the conversations between Mr Watson and DC Gow and prior to 22 July 2016 neither the police, the respondent nor any other representative of the Crown contacted the complainers in relation to recovery of documents held by the complainers.

[7]        At about 1000 hours on 22 July 2016 two police officers attended at the offices of the complainers at 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh, claiming to be in possession of the search warrant which they proposed to execute. Initially they were reluctant to allow Mr Watson to read the search warrant and then they were reluctant to allow him to copy it. Once Mr Watson had succeeded in persuading the police officers to allow him to read and copy the search warrant he was able to ascertain that it had been granted at common law in terms of the crave of a petition at the instance of the respondent in these terms:

“to any Constable of Police Service of Scotland and/or members of staff from the Scottish Police Authority or any other Officer of Law with such assistance as they may deem necessary, to enter and search the offices, out buildings and storage facilities of Clyde & Co, Albany House, 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh and to be at liberty to secure and take possession of any papers relating to L whether in electronic or paper format, and any other evidence which may be material to the investigation into the alleged abuse at L held by said Clyde & Co, whether in a computer system or otherwise.”

Insofar as material to the issues raised in the bill, the averments in the petition were as follows:

“[S] have provided copies of documents referring to a code of conduct for staff … a punishment book, lists … statements, including what purports to be a statement taken from [a named person] and signed by her …

[S] have indicated that the originals of these documents are held by their legal representatives, Clyde & Co, Albany House, 58 Albany Street, Edinburgh. A request has been made to have these documents released to Police Scotland, however, the solicitor has refused to release these documents, citing reasons of client confidentiality.

The solicitor has indicated that they will provide the originals of the documents already provided in copy format only.

“There are reasonable grounds for believing that evidence material to the investigation … is found within the documents being withheld by the solicitor.  The solicitor has indicated to an officer of Police Scotland that there are two boxes of papers and electronic records relating to [L].”

The full note by Lord Brodie – which was published three months after the events of the search warrant took place, can be found here: COPFS Bill of Suspension – Clyde & Co – Lord Brodie

It is also worth noting the Scottish Government have recently announced the scrapping of time bar on historical sexual abuse cases, as the case referred to Lord Brodie does contain references to claims in relation to allegations of abuse becoming time barred.

The Scottish Government announcement on scrapping time bar for claims in relation to historical sexual abuse states the following:

The Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017 is a piece of legislation which changes the rules around the time limits within which you can make a claim for compensation in the civil courts. Usually you have to make your claim within three years of the injury, or (if it is later) three years from your sixteenth birthday.

This change will mean that there will no longer be a time bar on childhood abuse claims in the civil courts. (It applies to abuse of a person under the age of 18.) There will no longer be a requirement to make a claim within the three years or to ask the court to use its discretion to allow the case to go ahead after that period.

The law usually prevents claims being taken to court more than once. The Act makes a limited change to this for childhood abuse claims. If you took a claim to court before the Act became law, but lost because of the time bar, the Act means that you should not be prevented from taking another claim to court.

This change is in relation to the three year limitation period, which is relevant to abuse that took place on or after 26 September 1964.

The commencement of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Act 2017 means survivors of child abuse no longer face the ‘time-bar’ that requires personal injury actions for civil damages to be made within three years of the related incident.

Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs Annabelle Ewing, who took the legislation through Parliament, said the move was an important part of wider Scottish Government action to support survivors of childhood abuse.

Ms Ewing said: “Child abuse is the most horrific betrayal of our young people and, even where such crimes were committed decades ago, we will do all we can to help survivors get the justice they deserve. Police Scotland and the Crown continue to work tirelessly to bring perpetrators to justice through our criminal courts. And, while it may not be the right way forward for all, survivors may now be considering the option of accessing justice through the civil courts.

“This legal milestone would not have happened but for the courage of many adult survivors whose persistence and dedication have shone a light on the dark realities of child abuse. Through their brave testimonies they have made clear the great hurt and damage caused by the very individuals and institutions who should have cared for them.

“Alongside our national survivor support fund, the establishment of the independent public Inquiry into in-care childhood abuse, and the current consultation on a potential financial redress scheme, this removal of the civil time-bar underlines the Government’s commitment to ensuring Scotland is beginning to make amends for the grave failings of the past.”

Welcoming the introduction of the Act, Joanne McMeeking, Head of Improving Care Experiences at CELCIS at the University of Strathclyde, said: “The abolishment of the time bar is the result of many years of successful campaigning by survivors. It is a welcome addition to the package of effective reparation as outlined in the Action Plan on Justice for victims of Historic Abuse of Children in Care.”

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland’s Crown Office – in Crown detail

 

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LEGAL REGULATION PROBE: Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee seek views on replacing Scotland’s ‘lawyer-lawyer’ regulation – with ‘UK style’ fully independent regulation of solicitors & legal services

MSPs seek views on reform of legal regulation. TEN YEARS after the contentious passage of the Legal Profession & Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 – which saw the creation of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) as the lawyer-lawyer led regulator of legal services – MSPs are to seek views on creating a fully independent non-lawyer regulator of Scots legal services.

Two petitions calling for a complete reform of legal services regulation in Scotland have been debated by members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.

MSPs have now decided to call 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.

The move by MSPs comes after the Scottish Government announced a ‘review’ of legal services regulation in Scotland, back in April 2017.

However, the Scottish Government ‘review’ – will not report back until the end of 2018 and with non binding recommendations – and has come in for significant criticism after it was found there was only one consumer related interest among the legal related membership.

When the review was announced earlier this year, former Cabinet Minister & SNP MSP Alex Neil said the review remit should also include judges.

Alex Neil said: I hope it produces radical and robust proposals. I also hope it covers the judiciary as well as lawyers.”

Mr Neil also called for greater fairness in the panel’s membership, to include members from outside the legal establishment.

Mr Neil added: I hope the membership of this review panel will be expanded to get a better balance between lawyers and non-lawyers”

A full report on the Scottish Government’s review of legal services 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’

After members discussed the two petitions, the Petitions Committee agreed to join these petitions together for future consideration on the basis that they raise similar issues.

The Committee also 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.

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.

HOLYROOD BRIEFING: MSPs hear of differences between Scotland & UK on regulation of legal services:

Background (taken from the SPICe briefing)

Scotland – complaints against lawyers

4. The SLCC was set up by the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 2007 (the Act) to deal with complaints against legal practitioners (primarily solicitors or advocates) in Scotland.

5. It is an independent body whose Board is appointed by the Scottish Ministers in consultation with the Lord President of the Court of Session. It is supported by a management team and staff who carry out investigations.

6. The SLCC is funded by a levy paid by legal practitioners and is required to consult with the relevant professional bodies when setting its annual budget. A copy of the finalised budget has to be laid before the Scottish Parliament no later than 30 April in each year (the budget is not, however, subject to parliamentary approval).

7. The SLCC acts as the initial gateway for complaints. Unresolved complaints have to be made to it in the first instance. Complaints made directly to a professional body (e.g. the Law Society of Scotland (Law Society) or Faculty of Advocates (Faculty)) have to be forwarded by these bodies to the SLCC.

8. Once the SLCC has received a complaint, it assesses whether it is a:

1. Service complaint – i.e. related to the quality of work; or a

2. Conduct complaint –i.e. related to a legal practitioner’s fitness to carry out work and behaviour outside of business.

7. Cases often involve issues of both service and conduct, with the result that both the SLCC and professional bodies can investigate different aspects of the same complaint.

8. If the complaint, or part of the complaint, concerns inadequate professional service, the SLCC investigates following procedures laid down in its rules and the Act. The SLCC can ultimately:

• Award the complainer up to £20,000 for any loss, inconvenience or distress resulting from inadequate professional service.

• Require the relevant legal practices/practitioners to reduce fees, re-do work and rectify any mistakes at their own expense.

• Report the matter to the relevant professional body if the practitioner shows a lack of legal competence.

9. Decisions of the SLCC can be appealed to the Court of Session.

10. If the complaint, or part of the complaint, concerns the conduct of a legal practitioner, the SLCC passes it on to the relevant professional body to investigate. The SLCC is not permitted to investigate conduct complaints, but it can investigate the way these have been handled by the relevant professional organisation (known as a handling complaint).

11. The Law Society is able to impose sanctions on solicitors whose conduct has been “unsatisfactory” and can prosecute solicitors before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) where behaviour amounts to professional misconduct. The maximum compensation payable to a complainer is £5,000. In the most serious cases the SSDT can suspend a solicitor’s practising certificate or strike them from the roll of solicitors.

12. The Faculty deals with conduct complaints through a Complaints Committee comprising an equal number of advocates and lay members. Its decisions can be appealed to the Faculty of Advocates Disciplinary Tribunal – chaired by a retired senior judge and whose members include advocates and lay persons. In September 2016 the SLCC published a report which audited the operation of the Facultys investigation and disciplinary processes.

13. For further details on the complaints system see:

• The SLCC’s overview of the process for dealing with service and conduct complaints.

The Law Societys overview of how it deals with conduct complaints,

The Facultys overview of how it administers conduct complaints

14. In recent years there has been a degree of conflict between the SLCC and the Law Society over the operation of the complaints system. For example, in December 2016, the Law Society announced that it had commenced legal action against the SLCC over the way in which it categorises complaints as service complaints or conduct complaints. In addition, in April 2017 the Law Society noted in a press release that it was “frustrated and disappointed” about the increase in the SLCC levy to be paid by solicitors. The press release also referred to the complaints system as being, “slow, complex, cumbersome and expensive.”

England & Wales – complaints against lawyers

15. In England & Wales complaints about poor service against legal practitioners are dealt with by the Legal Ombudsman. Issues of professional misconduct are referred to the relevant “approved regulator” – i.e. the Bar Standards Authority (for barristers) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (for solicitors), who can take disciplinary action. For details see the House of Commons Librarys briefing on complaints against solicitors and other lawyers.

Scottish Parliament Action

16. In session 4, the SLCC submitted a letter to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in which it argued that a review of the complaints procedure was needed. In response, the Justice Committee wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and received a response dated 31 October 2012 indicating that the SLCC and Law Society were, “developing a consensual approach to reach an agreement on the key improvements required.” Regulations amending the powers and duties of the SLCC were subsequently scrutinised by the Justice Committee, which recommended their approval by the Parliament (approval was granted on 13 August 2014).

17. The adequacy of the complaints system has also been raised in the current parliamentary session (see for example Motion S5M05079 lodged by Douglas Ross MSP on 6 April 2017).

The motion lodged by Douglas Ross, who is now an MP at Westminster read:

Motion S5M-05079: Douglas Ross, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 06/04/2017

SLCC’s Proposed Levy Increase of 12.5%

That the Parliament recognises the concerns of solicitors and advocates following the announcement that the annual levy on legal practitioners to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) is set to rise by 12.5%; understands that the SLCC has argued that recent increases in the number of complaints received against solicitors requires a commensurate increase in its budget; believes that some solicitors and advocates consider that these costs could be absorbed by the SLCC without a rise in the levy; understands that the Law Society of Scotland submitted a paper to the SLCC in response to the plans, but that its proposals were rejected and the increase was maintained; recognises the reported concerns among legal practitioners that the levy can be adjusted by any amount without a mechanism to effectively challenge it; acknowledges what it sees as the risk that the increase in the levy could be passed on to consumers, and calls on the SLCC to carefully consider the feedback that it has received from solicitors, advocates and the Law Society of Scotland.

Supported by: Dean Lockhart, Alexander Stewart, John Lamont, Alison Harris, Peter Chapman, Liz Smith, Gordon Lindhurst R, Edward Mountain, Donald Cameron R, Liam Kerr R, Miles Briggs, Murdo Fraser R, Adam Tomkins, John Scott, Margaret Mitchell, Rachael Hamilton R, Jackson Carlaw, Annie Wells, Jeremy Balfour, Ross Thomson, Brian Whittle, Jamie Greene, Alexander Burnett, Bill Bowman, Maurice Golden

Scottish Government Action

18. On 25 April 2017, the Scottish Government announced the launch of an independent review of the regulation of legal services in Scotland including the complaints system. According to the Scottish Government, the review

“…follows concerns that the current legislative framework is not fit for purpose and has not kept up with developments in the legal services market. There are also worries that the current processes for people wishing to make complaints about their solicitor are too slow and too complex.”

19. The review is expected to report to Scottish Ministers by the end of 2018.

FLAWED LEGAL SERVICES REVIEW – How Scottish Government’s attempt at independent review of lawyers ended up back in the hands of … lawyers:

In April 2017, the Scottish Government announced an ‘independent’ review into how lawyers regulate their own colleagues – with a remit to report back by the end of 2018.

The move by Scottish Minsters, coming after discussions with the Law Society of Scotland – is intended to answer concerns  amid rising numbers of complaints about poor legal services and the diminishing status of Scotland’s legal services sector,

However, former Cabinet Minister Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) said the review 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.

Mr 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 caught up in a cash payments scandal.

The review, led by NHS 24 chair Esther Roberton, is intended to make recommendations to modernise laws underpinning the legal profession’s current regulatory system including how complaints are handled.

This follows concerns that the current legislative framework is not fit for purpose and has not kept up with developments in the legal services market. There are also worries that the current processes for people wishing to make complaints about their solicitor are too slow and too complex.

However, doubts about the impartiality of the panel have been raised after the announcement by Legal Affairs Minister Annabelle Ewing revealed a top-heavy compliment of figures from the legal establishment who are keen on protecting solicitors’ self regulation against any move to increase consumer protection by way of independent regulation.

The list of panel members includes:

*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.

Announcing the review, Legal Affairs Minister Annabel Ewing said: “Members of the public must be able to have confidence in the service they get from their solicitor. While this happens most of the time, I have been listening carefully to concerns that the current regulatory system in Scotland may leave consumers exposed and does not adequately address complaints.”

The latest move by Scottish Ministers to reform self regulation of solicitors and advocates comes years after a move in England & Wales to more robust independent regulation of legal services – which has left Scots consumers & clients at a clear disadvantage.

And while clients in the rest of the UK have much more of a chance to obtain redress against legal professionals who consistently provide poor legal services – and see their lawyers named and shamed in public by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Legal Ombudsman (LeO).

Review should include judiciary:

Scotland’s judges have earned themselves widespread criticism and condemnation at Holyrood and from the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – after top judges failed to address complaints and become more transparent and accountable like other branches of Government.

Ongoing efforts by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to create a register of judges’ interests have been flustered by two Lord Presidents – Lord Gill & current top judge Lord Carloway.

The proposal to bring greater transparency to Scotland’s judiciary – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – 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 current review could include the judiciary in terms of how judges regulate themselves, however the Scottish Parliament should be left to get on with the task of creating a register of judges’ interests – given the five years of work already undertaken by MSPs on the thorny question of judicial declarations.

REVIEW THE REVIEW: Third attempt 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

The Scottish Government’s review of legal services 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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SUPREME SECRETS: UK Supreme Court refuses to publish recusal data – Court rejects release of info on UKSC justices conflicts of interest in response to Freedom of Information recusals probe on top UK court

Top UK court obstructed Scots media judicial recusals probe. THE UK Supreme Court (UKSC) has refused to disclose how many of it’s justices have recused themselves from court hearings over conflicts of interest or requests to step aside from cases.

And, the top court’s refusal to disclose the information only came about after the Information Commissioner (ICO) decided to issue a decision notice forcing the Supreme Court to respond to Freedom of Information requests submitted in May 2017.

Unlike in Scotland, where the Judiciary of Scotland publish a Register of Judicial Recusals– listing judges who have stood aside in cases for certain conflicts of interest (not including financial, wealth or other status related interests), the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court in London does not publish any recusal information.

However, Freedom of Information requests seeking disclosure of the UK Supreme Court’s recusal data encountered obstacles after UKSC officials took a decision to refuse to respond to Scottish journalists FOI requests.

And, it can also be revealed the Ministry of Justice – the body in charge of all courts in England & Wales followed the Supreme Court’s anti-transparency position – refusing to respond to a similar FOI request again sent from Scotland in May 2017.

Four months after the original Freedom of Information request was made to the UK Supreme Court, and amid numerous reminders to UKSC officials, the Information Commissioner’s office was contacted in July for assistance.

After discussions with ICO staff, the Information Commissioner gave the top court an extra month to reply.

However, the Supreme Court again refused to respond to any Freedom of Information requests from Scotland on the subject of recusals.

A legal insider claimed the refusal to reply to the requests originated over fears the material was to be referred to at the Scottish Parliament in connection with a five year probe on judges’ interests and a call to create a register of judicial interests – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

However, after the Information Commissioner again contacted Scottish journalists making the requests, the ICO confirmed it would issue a determination to order the UK Supreme Court to respond to the requests.

In an email of 25 August 2017, Matthew Cresswell of the Information Commissioner’s office informed journalists seeking the recusal information: “As the Supreme Court have failed to respond to your information request within the statutory time limit set out in section 10(1) of the FOIA, the Commissioner can now start the process of ordering a decision notice on this case. A decision notice is a legally binding document that will require the public authority to provide a response.”

Coverage of the case then appeared in The National newspaper on 30 August – which prompted the Supreme Court to finally issue a response to the Freedom of Information requests.

However, the UKSC refused to divulge any details of UKSC justices’ recusals, citing cost grounds of gathering the information.

Paul Brigland, for the UK Supreme Court claimed logging errors where the real reasons for a lack of reply to the FOI requests, rather than a determined policy by the UK Supreme Court not to respond to a Scottish Freedom of Information request.

Paul Brigland, the Head of Office and Building Services & Departmental Records Officer said: “Firstly, I would like to apologise for the mishandling of your request and the failure to reply. This is entirely due to an error in our logging process in which this request was incorrectly marked as dealt with, but had in fact been mistaken for a separate request you made under the FOLA at the same time which we responded to within the correct time limit. I hope you will accept our apologies for this error. I should also explain that since you made your request we have changed the way in which we log and handle FOI requests, so this situation should not arise in the future.”

Paul Brigland then confirmed the UKSC held information relevant to the request.

Mr Brigland said: “I can confirm that we do hold some information relevant to your request.”

However, Paul Brigland claimed the work involved and cost would prohibit the information being disclosed.

Brigland added: “In order to provide you with the information on the scale that you have requested would require a search of individual paper case records. We do not maintain a central record of any such requests as there is no business need to do so.”

“Section 12 of the FOLA makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in determining whether the Department holds the information, locating, retrieving and extracting the information.”

“As your request is widely framed, I estimate that it will take us more than 3.5 working days to determine appropriate material within the scope of your request, and locate, retrieve and extract that information.”

“I am sorry that on this occasion I cannot suggest ways in which you could narrow the scope of your request to bring it within the cost limit. This is because any information sought under a revised request, for example requesting information for a shorter time period, would still be exempt under section 32 (court records).”

“However, outside the terms of the Act, and to be helpful, I can explain the following.”

“Where there are reasons that a Justice considers there might be an issue of recusal, that information is sent to the Justice chairing the panel (normally the President or Deputy President) and then a letter is sent to the parties. I can confirm that there have been no instances where we have written to parties that has subsequently led to a request from the parties for a Justice to stand down.”

“Similarly, I can confirm that there have been no instances where a Justice has recused themselves following a request initiated by a party to a case.”

However, the explanation offered by the UKSC does not actually confirm if any justices have refused to recuse themselves following any request from litigants or parties to do so.

And, as no register of recusals currently exists at the UK Supreme Court, legal insiders have suggested the explanations from the UKSC on recusal data should be taken with a pinch of salt.

A legal insider has suggested legal teams operating in the UK Supreme Court are dissuaded from – or not minded to ask for recusals.

The source said “ justices do not take well to their position being questioned to recuse from a hearing”.

A solicitor from England who has now come forward on the issue said he was aware of certain cases at the Supreme Court which may have necessitated a recusal.

The solicitor, who has studied the details contained in Scotland’s register of judicial recusals said it was clear in some cases before the UKSC, comparable examples of justices links to issues do exist, and therefore should be acknowledged in a similar register of recusals at the Supreme Court.

However, the solicitor cited the Supreme Court’s determination to avoid declaring justice’s interests in a register of interests as one reason which the UKSC is avoiding publishing any data on it’s justices’ recusals.

Amid the Supreme Court’s refusal to release information on recusals, Scottish journalists asked for a review of the decision, which was handled by William Arnold, the Head of Corporate Services.

Mr Arnold did not provide a review response on material with the UK Supreme Court logo, instead responding by email in the following terms.

Willian Arnold said: “As Mr Brigland explained, the UK Supreme Court does not maintain any formal central register of requests  to Justices to recuse themselves  from particular cases, since there has never been any operational need to do so.”

“Identifying the record of any such requests would therefore entail reviewing all the case papers in every case heard since January 2014 to the present date. I am satisfied that Mr Brigland was correct in assessing that carrying out this review would require staff resource input, which would exceed the cost limit for answering FOI requests of £600.”

“As Mr Brigland went on to say, this would be a pointless exercise in any event, because any such recusal request, if one was found, would form part of the records of the individual court case; and in Section 32 of the FOI Act Parliament has enacted an exemption of court records from the FOI regime. This exemption is not subject to any kind of public interest test, so the UKSC would not in any case be able to release any such recusal request, if one was found, to you under the FOI regime. I agree with this analysis.”

“In order to try to be helpful, Mr Brigland, however, went on to tell you, outside the provisions of the Act, since this is not recorded information which the UKSC holds, that the practice is that where a Justice considers he might have interests which might generate a request for recusal, a letter is sent to the parties outlining those interests.”

“Nobody here of those staff who have been at the UKSC since its inception in 2009 can remember any instance where such a letter has resulted in a request from a party to a case for a Justice to recuse themselves. Equally nobody here can recall any instance where a party has ever initiated a request for a Justice to recuse themselves, so the question of acceding to or rejecting such a request has never arisen.”

Mr Arnold went on to contradict Paul Brigland’s initial explanation where he stated the UKSC did hold material in relation to recusal information.

William Arnold stated: “The only sentence in Mr Brigland’s letter which I do repudiate is on page one  where he says “I can confirm that we do hold some information relevant to your request.”

“He may have been thinking of the letters we send to parties, where a Justice believes they have interests they should disclose, as set out above, but it is not clear to me that these are strictly relevant to your request; and I cannot find any other evidence which leads to the conclusion that the UKSC ‘holds some information relevant to your request’.”

“Indeed I have reached the opposite conclusion – that we likely do not hold any such information, although we could not be formally sure of that without carrying out the review of all our cases, which on cost grounds, as set out above, we have declined to do.”

A barrister who studied the correspondence from the UK Supreme Court, including the initial FOI response and the UKSC’s review – said the responses were evasive.

He also noted the UKSC’s position on holding no recusal data revolved around process where a letter is sent out to parties in relation to a justices’ conflict of interest – rather than an interest being raised by a party or legal representative.

The barrister said: “The UK Supreme Court has existed for eight years. I think it highly unlikely not one single request for a recusal at the Supreme Court has been made during such a considerable length of time.”

While the UK Supreme Court remains determined to refuse any further disclosure of information on judicial recusals, the Information Commissioner has been contacted again over the Ministry of Justice’s refusal to answer similar requests for disclosure of recusal information from the English courts.

A decision from the Information Commissioner on this matter is awaited.

However, the position Scottish users of the UK Supreme Court now face is that judges in Scotland are required to publish their recusal data, while the UKSC has decided against any such transparency – leaving Scottish court users at a considerable disadvantage.

The National reported on the battle to obtain recusal information from the UK Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice in two articles, published below:

Victory for Scottish information campaigner in battle with Supreme Court

Martin Hannan Journalist 30th August

THE UK Supreme Court will be ordered by the Information Commissioner to reply to question from a Scottish legal rights campaigner, after it refused to say whether it had a register of recusals by court justices.

Recusal is the term used when a judge has to step aside from a case because of a possible conflict of interest. It is thought that various Supreme Court justices have recused themselves from numerous cases, but no such information is made public.

The National can reveal the Information Commissioner has decided to act after the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice for England and Wales failed to reply to blogger and campaigner Peter Cherbi’s request for information.

A register of recusals has been in existence for several years in Scotland – it can be viewed online – and Cherbi wants to see the system extended to all the judiciary in the UK.

The Information Commissioner told Cherbi, above: “As the Supreme Court has failed to respond to your information request within the statutory time limit set out in section 10 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act, the Commissioner can now start the process of ordering a decision notice on this case.

“A decision notice is a legally binding document that will require the public authority to provide a response.”

Sources at the Supreme Court have indicated that the decision notice has not been received by the court, but that it will be acted upon.

Cherbi’s long-term aim is to see the creation of a register of judicial interests similar to that which MPs, MSPs and police officers must complete. His petition calling for that register has been debated by MSPs for nearly six years, and a decision is due next year. He feels the delay is an attempt to stop the register of interests. The National can reveal that lawyers in London support Cherbi’s case, but think judges will oppose it.

One legal source said: “They fear recusals up here in Scotland are inevitably leading to a register of judicial interests and it will lead to the same thing happening in England and Wales.”

The Supreme Court has already decided against a register of interests, stating: “The justices have decided it would not be appropriate, or indeed feasible, for them to have a comprehensive register of interests, as it would be impossible for them to identify all the interests, which might conceivably arise, in any future case that came before them.

“To draw up a register of interests, which people believed to be complete, could potentially be misleading. Instead the justices of the Supreme Court have agreed a formal code of conduct by which they will all be bound, and which is now publicly available on the court’s website.

“In addition, all the justices have taken the judicial oath … which obliges them to ‘do right to all manner of people after the law and usages of this realm without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

“And, as is already the practice with other members of the judiciary, they will continue to declare any interest which arises in the context of a particular case and, if necessary, recuse themselves, whether it is a substantive hearing, or an application for permission to appeal.”

Cherbi said: “Refusing access to information is not accidental. We are looking here at a coordinated attempt to thwart the introduction of Scottish judicial transparency to the rest of the UK.”

The Ministry of Justice referred The National to the Supreme Court where a spokesman confirmed that they were awaiting the Commissioner’s formal decision.

Supreme Court finally responds to Scottish FoI request about recusals … and rejects it

Martin Hannan Journalist 06 September 2017

THE UK Supreme Court has refused to issue information on how many of its justices have stood aside from cases because of a conflict of interest.

The National revealed last week that the Information Commissioner in England had ordered the Supreme Court to deal with Scottish law campaigner Peter Cherbi’s freedom of information request after it failed to reply to him in time.

Now the Supreme Court has written to Cherbi apologising for failing to deal with his request timeously but saying it will not give him the information as it would cost too much to provide it.

“That’s just ludicrous,” Cherbi said yesterday, “and it just makes people all the more suspicious that the Supreme Court is covering up something that the public should have the right to know.”

In another development, Cherbi is to ask the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to invite the new President of the Supreme Court to give evidence as to why she and her fellow justices oppose a register of interests for the judiciary similar to that for MPs and police officers.

The committee has been discussing Cherbi’s call for a register of judicial interests in Scotland for almost five years.

Cherbi said: “I would like Lady Hale to come to Holyrood and explain why the UK Supreme Court’s members are so set against a register of interests.

“We have already seen Scotland’s top judges opposing it, and it would be good to know why the UK Supreme Court opposes it – after all, the Supreme Court sits in judgement on Scottish cases all the time, so why should the public not be able to see what interests, financial and otherwise, that judges have?

“As the President of the UK Supreme Court, Baroness Hale will be able to give a substantive account of why Supreme Court justices no longer consider they require to adhere to the expectation of completing a register of interests as they did pre-UK Supreme Court days as Law Lords in the House of Lords.

“After all, we ask our MPs and MSPs and police officers to register their interests so that everything is seen to be above board, so why not the judges in the highest court in the land?”

Cherbi also wants Lady Hale to tell the committee why the Supreme Court does not keep a register of recusals (when judges step aside from a case) as happens in the Scottish courts.

In its delayed response to Cherbi, the Supreme Court said: “To provide you with the information on the scale that you have requested would require a search of individual paper case records. We do not maintain a central record of any such requests as there is no business need to do so. Section 12 of the Freedom Of Information Act makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600.

“This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in determining whether the department holds the information, locating, retrieving and extracting the information.

“As your request is widely framed, I estimate that it will take us more than 3.5 working days to determine appropriate material within the scope of your request, and locate, retrieve and extract that information.”

A legal expert told The National: “The information on recusals certainly exists, so all that needs to be done is to send an email to the justices and their assistants and the information could be gathered in a day.”

Cherbi said: “We have a register of recusals in Scotland. It’s time they had one for the Supreme Court and all English and Welsh courts.”

Previous reports on moves to publish judicial recusals in Scotland and a media investigation which prompted further reforms of the Scottish Register of Judicial Recusals can be found here: Judicial Recusals in Scotland – Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest

Recent reforms to the way in which judicial recusals are recorded and entered in Scotland’s register of judicial recusals were reported here: RECUSALS JUST GOT REAL: Judicial Office concedes to reforms for Judicial Recusals Register, full case details where judges stand down from court hearings to be entered after media & FOI probe success

 

 

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DECLARE THE CROWN: Secrecy block on Crown Office Register of Interests – after fears info will reveal crooked staff, dodgy business dealings, prosecutors links to judiciary, criminals, drugs dealers and dodgy law firms

COPFS secret register contains links to judges, crime & business. AN INVESTIGATION has revealed Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) are blocking the publication of a staff register of interests – over fears it will reveal close relationships between prosecutors & judges, suspended solicitors, staff with criminal convictions including drugs crimes, and links to organised crime and sectarian behaviour.

The secret COPFS register of interests only received public acknowledgement of its existence – after the Scottish Information Commissioner became involved over refusals by Scotland’s top law officers to publish the information similarly disclosed in other registers of interest held by public bodies – including Police.

The issue came to light when journalists examined discussions between the Crown Office and the Scottish Parliament over a call for the Lord Advocate to submit evidence on Crown Office employees register of interests.

However, the Crown Office bluntly refused to provide any evidence or testimony to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – who have been investigating proposals to require Scottish judges to declare their interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

Senior figures at COPFS put a secrecy block on publication of their own register of interest after journalists uncovered a host of conflicts of interest by COPFS staff, including links to disgraced solicitors and suspended judges, unrecorded meetings with Ministers and members of the judiciary, business connections and interests of COPFS staff and dumbed down criminal convictions of prosecutors still working for the Crown Office.

And the Crown Office block on publication remains in force today – after over two years of refusal to disclose the information in response to Freedom of Information requests.

When journalists approached the Scottish Information Commissioner for assistance, the SIC made enquiries of the Crown Office to be told “As you have noted, our original response indicated that in our view no application could be made to the Commissioner. COPFS considered that section 48(c) of FOISA applied as the information requested is held by the Lord Advocate as head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland. You have now asked us for our views on why we consider that to be the case.”

“I can confirm that COPFS holds a Register of Interests which extends to all members of staff. The Register is held on behalf of the Lord Advocate in order to guard against conflict of interest in prosecutorial decision making. The register of interests is designed to ensure that impartiality can be demonstrated in relation to any individual making prosecutorial decisions or involvement in the preparation or presentation of any case. Given the register is held on this basis, we consider that the information is held by the Lord Advocate in his capacity as the Head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland.”

 Scottish information Commissioner files released on discussions with COPFS Register of Interests.

However, the enquiries and media interest prompted the Crown Office to acknowledge publicly for the first time the register of interests existed.

The Crown Office statement to the SIC in a letter dated further revealed: “Coincidentally, this issue has recently been considered by the COPFS Executive Board and a decision has been taken that the register should not published. To provide information about the personal interests of prosecution staff could compromise the security of individual staff members, undermine their ability to do their job and create conflict with our obligations under the Data Protection Act.”

“We intend, however, to provide a public statement of explanation about why we do not publish details of the Register of Interests on our website within the next 6 weeks and I will ensure that you are provided with a link to this when it is published.”

However, tt can now be revealed COPFS feared the register would also reveal close links between Advocate Deputes who prosecute criminals in court – and their spouses and partners who work in the Scottish Courts and some who serve on the judicial benches.

Discussions took place with regard to media enquiries , and fears were raised if the public and persons in court found out of  personal and family links between prosecutors and the judiciary, there could be questions over impartiality.

One such example of a Prosecutor with family in the judiciary is that of Advocate Depute Murdoch MacTaggart – who prosecuted the longest fraud trial in UK history in the case of Edwin & Lorraine McLaren – in connection with their sell your house & rent it back property scheme. MacTaggart was married to a Sheriff – Mhairi McTaggart.

There are a number of other personal relationships between prosecutors, crown office staff, the legal profession and judiciary – some of whom have appeared in and on both sides of the court together during  criminal trials – without any questions being raised on impartiality.

It is very clear COPFS felt the disclosure of personal and family relationships between prosecutors and judges may cause problems in a number of previous and ongoing trials.

However, the personal relationships between COPFS and others may be of lesser importance than prosecutors & COPFS staff business interests, which are significant and wide ranging, in a similar nature to what has recently been disclosed by Police Scotland, more on which is available here: POLICE REGISTER: ‘First responder’ Police Officers transparency in cops business interests register

However, in the case of COPFS employees & prosecutors business interests, there exists significant;y more potential for conflict of interest in court.

And, it can also be disclosed a number of COPFS employees relatives and direct family appear to be working in highly paid positions in other public bodies, the Scottish Government and organisations within the justice system  including the courts – some of whom secured jobs without interview.

Enquiries in relation to the work histories of several Crown Office employees also reveals some Prosecutors and Advocate Deputes may also be exposed to questions over their links to law firms alleged to have committed significant fraud  with legal aid cash and embezzlement of client funds.

In a further investigation linked to the long running McLaren fraud trial, COPFS refused to respond to queries in relation to the status of any proceedings against a suspended lawyer – Karen MacTaggart – who was suspended as a solicitor from April 2014, according to a notice issued in the Gazette.

Karen MacTaggart is the sister of a Crown Office Advocate Depute – Murdoch MacTaggart.

The Crown Office was approached for an explanation on this but refused to respond.

The investigation has also revealed further concerns at the Crown Office – over fears publication of their Register of Interests would expose details of serving employees criminal convictions on everything from common assault, to perverting the course of justice, and dealing of Class A drugs including Cocaine – to COPFS colleagues and members of the public.

A further block on publication of the COPFS register of interests came about after members of IT staff at the Crown Office became embroiled in a scandal involving anti-catholic sectarian behaviour

One COPFS employee was sacked and another quit after an investigation was launched into alleged sectarian comments made on an internal messaging system.

Shocked staff blew the whistle on their colleagues after spotting the anti-catholic remarks & comments on their computer screens, and following an internal probe, the men were found to have breached strict rules on bullying, harassment and discrimination.

As a result, one worker has been sacked and another has resigned, and a third, who had a senior managerial role, was given a final written warning.

The male members of staff who made the comments worked in the IT department of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in Ballater Street, Glasgow, close to the city’s sheriff court. It is also understood that a second IT manager was moved to another department after the probe was completed.

An investigation was first launched after two Catholic staff members complained that sectarian hate comments had been posted by the three men but the resulting inquiry failed to find evidence to substantiate the claims – even though other members of COPFS saw the actual comments.

None of the COPFS staff involved in the sectarian probe have been named by prosecutors, however the names have now been passed to journalists who are looking further at the case.

Another reason for the Crown Office to refuse publication of it’s own register of interests hit the headlines in March 2016, when the Sunday Mail newspaper reported that the then Lord Advocate’s brother was at the centre of a probe into financial dealings – reported here: Revealed: Lord Advocate’s brother Iain Mulholland at centre of dirty money probe after arranging £550k mortgage for rogue lapdance tycoon

Iain Mulholland, the younger brother of Scotland’s top prosecutor who announced he was standing down last week, helped prepare paperwork that secured businessman Steven MacDonald a huge loan now being probed by the Crown Office.

Prosecutors hunting assets linked to organised crime claim MacDonald conned bank bosses into lending him enough cash to buy his Diamond Dolls strip club.

They claim the businessman lied on a mortgage application to get a £552,000 cash injection from the Bank of Scotland to purchase the property in Glasgow city centre.

Mortgage broker Iain Mulholland arranged MacDonald’s loan application through his First to Mortgage firm.

The 48-year-old fixed the loan that is now the focus of a major investigation by the Civil Recovery Unit (CRU) – investigators at the Crown Office, led by his brother, who seize dirty money, property and other assets linked to organised crime.

In another case referred to within COPFS circles amid media queries on the secret register of interests – concerns were raised after a senior female member of staff was discovered to be involved in a relationship with an underworld figure accused of supplying guns and drugs.

There were fears information was being provided to the crook – which may have impacted on a now collapsed prosecution against several gangsters.

And in another development, information has come to light regarding the status of a Grade 6 Manager at the Crown Office, and the employment of his relative who was later charged with drug dealing.

The COPFS Manager’s step-son – who worked part time in the NHS – and has a direct relative working in the same organisation –  was handed a lucrative Crown Office job with access to sensitive information – without even an interview.

The individual – identified as Mr Peter Murphy –  worked at the Crown Office for around two years and was then arrested, apparently, on a Petition Warrant relating to the supply of Class A drugs.

Murphy’s employment at COPFS included access to sensitive information and systems which contained files relating to drug dealers within the city.

Sources said “It was presumed that given the quantity of drugs involved the case would be prosecuted at the High Court” – however no trace of any trial has been discovered and, allegedly, the Crown Office drug dealer received a community disposal at Sheriff Court level.

COPFS staff suspect the watered down and preferential treatment of the COPFS drug dealer was a result of information provided to the police or the Fiscal reducing the charges.

After the incident, Peter Murphy was allowed to resign from the Crown Office, rather than be sacked.

However, investigations around the case first revealed in the Scottish Sun during 2016 in reports of drug dealing at the Crown Office case – has since established Mr Murphy’s identity as the COPFS employee charged with drug offences.

The Crown Office has refused to answer further questions on this case, however, records show Mr Murphy’s step father – John Tannahill – a Grade 6 Manager – has worked at the Crown Office since October 2002.

John Tannahill currently occupies the positions of Head of COPFS Police Reform Team and Process Review Team and Major Incident Co-ordinator, Chair, Judicial Panel Scottish Football Association – according to Mr Tannahill’s Linkedin page.

Further internal discussions on the publication of the register reveal senior legal figures concerns that their own staff may be identified as members of organisations condemned for associations with the far right and racism if the Crown Office register becomes public.

There are now calls to make the Crown Office Register of Interests a polished document, to enable court users and legal representatives have access to the information in relation to Prosecutors interests.

However, the Crown Office has refused to issue any further comment on the content of their register of interests other than a brief online reference to it’s existence, which was only published after discussions with the Scottish Information Commissioner.

Crown Office Register of Interests

The Civil Service Code, which applies to all civil servants, requires that they should not put themselves in a position where duty and private interests conflict, nor make use of their official position to further those interests.
As a public servant, an employee has a particular duty to ensure that their public position is not, and raises no reasonable suspicion of being, abused in their own personal interest.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service holds a formal Register of Interests which extends to all members of staff.

The Interests are defined as:

Business interests (including directorships) not only of the employee but also  close family members

Shareholdings or other securities/financial interest which the employee or members of their close family hold

Any political interest or interest/membership in an organisation, club or society where there is the potential for a conflict of interest to arise as a result of official position

It is held on behalf of the Lord Advocate in order to guard against conflict of interest in prosecutorial decision making.

It is designed to ensure that impartiality can be demonstrated in relation to any individual making prosecutorial decisions or involvement in the preparation or presentation of any case.

The Register is not published.

To provide information about the personal interests of prosecution staff could compromise the security of individual staff members, undermine their ability to do their job and create conflict with our obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998.

It is worth noting while the Lord Advocate is determined to withhold the information contained in the COPFS register of interests from public scrutiny, the Crown Office itself believe members of their own staff are not honest in their own declarations and entries in the register.

And, in a number of trials, prosecutors and COPFS staff have been switched around at the last minute after failing to declare interests which could have potentially harmed criminal trials.

While the Crown Office would only issue the above statement online in relation to it’s secret Register of Interests – the evidence now in the public domain in relation to serious conflicts of interest held by prosecutors, personal links to the judiciary, businesses who themselves have contracts within the justice system, and other more serious issues including jobs handed out to family members – make the case for publication much stronger.

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland’s Crown Office – in Crown detail

 

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SILENCERS IN COURT: ‘Guns & Ammo’ rife in Scotland’s legal elite – Police Scotland disclose firearms ownership of judges, sheriffs, lawyers, advocates, QCs & Crown Office prosecutors

Scots legal elite firearms ownership revealed. AN INVESTIGATION into firearms ownership among Scotland’s legal fraternity – has revealed widespread firearms and weapons throughout the ranks of solicitors, advocates, prosecutors and the judiciary who run Scotland’s legal system and the courts.

And, it can be revealed – 295 lawyers, advocates, judges, QCs & prosecutors collectively own more guns in their private collections than even Police Officers – as information now released by Police Scotland reveals 1,079 firearms, shotguns & air weapons in the hands of the legal fraternity – compared to 1,043 firearms and shotguns owned by 327 Police Officers.

The investigation was triggered by a recent case involving firearms offences committed by the Solicitor General For Scotland – Lord Keen of Elie (Richard Keen QC) who was convicted and find £1,000 for breaches of the Firearms Act 1968 after he pleaded guilty by letter to the charge at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on 1 March 2017.

Keen, who once headed a failed legal challenge against the Scottish Government over legislation to speed up pay-outs to asbestos sufferers –  was charged after police investigating a break-in at his Edinburgh home found that a 12-bore shotgun had been ‘left outside a secure cabinet’ while Lord Keen and his wife ‘were away on holiday’.

Lord Keen’s conviction for firearms offences, and the widespread ownership of firearms – including handguns – by members of Scotland’s legal fraternity – has drawn interest in the use of guns by Scotland’s wealthy legal establishment – who are known to favour the hunting & shooting set lifestyle with participation at shooting events at home and abroad.

And these are no ordinary weapons owned by Scotland’s legal elite.

Shotguns popular with Scotland’s legal eagles – range from the relatively inexpensive to more costly ‘over & under’ & ‘side by side’ barrelled Browning, Beretta, matched pairs of expensive Purdeys and other expensive brands such as Holland & Holland, Army & Navy, and in the case of the Solicitor General for Scotland – a Stephen Grant 12 bore shotgun – which can sell for over £6,000.

Data seen by journalists also reveal ornate ‘Damascus’ etched barrelled weapons, expensive side-lock action shotguns, semi automatic weapons, and presentation piece quality shotguns, well out of reach of most shooting enthusiasts.

In relation to firearms, the legal establishment is similarly tooled up in numbers and quality of guns – ranging from handguns – and smaller .22 and .243 calibre rifles to high calibre firearms purposely designed for deer stalking.

Among the more lethal stocks of weapons owned by the legal fraternity are – according to firearms insiders – double ‘express’ (two barrelled) rifles – primarily designed for ‘taking down’ much larger beasts such as lions, rhino and even elephants.

And, the ownership of silencers for firearms among Scotland’s legal elite – is much more widespread than originally thought.

However, it can be revealed members of the legal fraternity own only 57 silencers for their ‘registered’ firearms – compared with a staggering 216 silencers owned by Police Officers –  disclosed in part one of the firearms investigation revealing Police gun ownership.

Information obtained during the investigation has now been clarified by Police Scotland, who disclosed some details in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Police Scotland has revealed 8 Sheriffs and 8 Judges hold a selection of firearms, air weapons and shotguns.

Of the 8 certificates held by Sheriffs, 1 is for firearms, 5 are for shotguns and 2 are for air weapons are held by currently serving Sheriffs, totalling 2 firearms and 10 shotguns.

A further 8 senior ranking judges own a similar mixture of firearms, air weapons and shotguns.

In relation to the eight certificate held by judges, 1 is for firearms, 3 are for shotguns, and 3 are for air weapons, totalling 2 firearms and 5 shotguns.

Curiously – while Police Scotland readily disclosed information in relation to members of the judiciary owning firearms – the Judiciary of Scotland said in response to an FOI request that no member of the judiciary has declared any ownership of firearms or shotguns to either the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) or the Judicial Office.

The Judicial Office also refused to answer questions on judges’ membership of any hunting or shooting clubs or associations, participation in hunting trips including deerstalking and other firearms related activities within the UK or overseas.

While the judiciary remained tight-lipped on their stack of firearms & shotguns, Police Scotland has also released details on the firearms ownership of Scotland’s legal profession, where paralegals, solicitors, barristers, advocates, QCs and even prosecutors own over a thousand firearms, shotguns and air weapons.

The SHOGUN firearms database used by Police Scotland revealed the following:

4 paralegal certificate holders – hold 3 shotgun certificates and 2 air weapons certificates, holding a total of 5 shotguns.

6 barrister certificate holders – hold 2 firearms certificates, 4 shotgun certificates and 2 Air weapons certificates – holding between them 9 firearms with a further 3 silencers (sound moderators) and a total of 23 shotguns.

8 QC certificate holders – hold 2 firearms certificates, 8 shotgun certificates and two air weapons certificates – holding 6 firearms along with 2 silencers, and a total of 31 shotguns.

18 Advocate certificate holders – hold 4 firearms certificates, 18 shotgun certificates and 7 air weapons certificates – holding 9 firearms along with 3 silencers, and a total of 26 shotguns.

40 lawyer certificate holders – hold 12 firearms certificates, 25 shotgun certificates and 18 air weapons certificates – holding 55 firearms with 18 silencers and a total of 96 shotguns.

199 solicitor certificate holders – hold 51 firearms certificates, 146 shotgun certificates and 60 air weapons certificates – holding 100 firearms with 31 silencers, and a total of 393 shotguns.

Two court officer certificate holders – hold one firearms certificate and one shotgun certificate. Only one single firearm held is listed in this category.

Police Scotland also disclosed two Crown Office prosecutors of Procurator Fiscal rank hold 2 shotgun certificates, holding three shotguns in total.

It was not possible for Police Scotland to disclose further details of COPFS employees firearms, shotgun or air weapons usage, however it is known COPFS employees ownership of, and involvement with firearms shotguns and other weapons does exist = and to a more significant level than quoted in the Police Scotland FOI response.

Police Scotland also disclosed firearms ownership among Scotland’s political classes at Holyrood.

3 MSP certificate holders – hold 3 firearms certificates, 2 shotgun certificates and 1 air weapon certificates – holding 9 firearms with 3 silencers, and – Police Scotland claim – a total of 24 shotguns according to the FOI disclosure.

One Scottish Government Minister holds 1 shotgun certificate – and is in possession of 3 shotguns.

A further 3 “Members of Parliament” certificate holders – hold 2 shotgun certificates and 1 air weapon certificate, holding a total of 5 shotguns.

And one “Parliamentarian” holds a single shotgun certificate, and is in possession of 8 shotguns.

Police Scotland said it could not provide details of Scottish Government employees due to deficiencies in the SHOGUN database which allows some firearms owners to dodge having their ownership of weapons included in national statistics.

Police Scotland said “SHOGUN does not hold the individual employer details related to an individual certificate holder. The application form 201 requires a work address and contact but work address details are not searchable on the SHOGUN system. Searching occupations which include the word ‘government’ includes local government employees, government inspectors, government officers and investigators. The parameters of the search therefore cannot provide the details required.”

While the figures released by Police Scotland pertain only to numbers of weapons – rather than types and their potency by way of calibre – enquiries by journalists have since established Scotland’s legal elite enjoy generous permissions to hold, and purchase – significant quantities of ammunition for firearms and shotguns – with figures of thousands of rounds kept by certain members of the legal fraternity being commonplace.

Commenting on the information released by Police Scotland, a firearms specialist who did not wish to be named said that while some of the certificate holders may be members of gun clubs and ‘shoot at paper targets’ , it was his understanding most of the weapons held by persons he knew to be members of the legal fraternity – are used for hunting purposes.

There are also claims the figures of firearms and gun ownership among Scotland’s legal establishment may be much higher than stated in the Police Scotland Freedom of Information disclosure – as various weapons such as antique powder propellant type pistols, muskets and rifles are among items thought to be owned by lawyers and others in the legal fraternity – and are often not registered despite some requirements to do so.

The sometimes murky origins of the firearms & shotguns owned by the legal fraternity in Scotland are also drawing curiosity – after a legal source gave an account to journalists in relation to how two expensive shotguns including their leather cases and a set of valuable fishing rods & equipment ended up in the hands of a solicitor after he allegedly took the items from the estate of a deceased client to be valued.

The items were never handed back to the family of the deceased nor were they included in any account of assets of the deceased’s estate.

The Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates and Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) could not be reached for a statement on their members ownership and usage of firearms and shotguns.

‘KEEN SHOT’ TOP LAW OFFICER CAUGHT WITH HIS GUNS OUT:

IN March 2017, Lord Keen of Elie – the UK government’s most senior adviser on Scots law – was fined £1,000 after admitting a firearms offence at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

Advocate General for Scotland Richard Keen QC pleaded guilty – by letter – to breaching section two of the Firearms Act 1968 by ‘failing to secure a shotgun’.

Police investigating a ‘break-in’ at one of Mr Keen’s properties – a house in Edinburgh – found that the weapon had been left outside a secure cabinet.

Lord Keen, a former chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party, was made a life peer in 2015. He did not appear when the case called at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in March 2017, choosing to plead guilty by letter – thus avoiding a court appearance.

The presiding judge – Sheriff Frank Crowe said: “I do take into account Mr Keen’s previous good record and the fact that he admitted his guilt at the outset.

“Nevertheless to hold a firearms certificate is a privilege and there are very strict conditions which have to be adhered to to prevent such weapons falling into the wrong hands.

“There was a potential risk with the shotgun not in the secure cabinet as laid down by the regulations.”

The court heard the offence came to light when Police Officers were called to a break-in at one of Lord Keen’s properties – an address on Ann Street in Edinburgh – on Hogmanay last year. The court was told Lord Keen and his wife were away on holiday.

Officers searching the property ‘found’ a 12 bore Stephen Grant shotgun in a basement out of its secure cabinet.

Solicitor advocate Simon Catto, representing Lord Keen – told Edinburgh Sheriff Court his client had been out shooting on 27 December.

Mr Catto added on returning home his client had taken the gun to the basement intending to clean it, but had then “forgotten about it through his own carelessness” before leaving on holiday the following day.

Mr Catto said Lord Keen had contacted Police himself on Hogmanay after receiving a mobile phone alert that his alarm system had been triggered.

While the upper floors of the property had been ransacked, the burglars had not entered the basement area, he said.

Mr Catto said: “He’s a keen shot, he shoots approximately 10 times per year.

“He has been a shotgun enthusiast for around 25 years and has held a firearms certificate. He is therefore fully aware of what’s expected and required of him in terms of the certificate.

“He accepts on this occasion he fell below that.”

An investigation of gun ownership in the ranks of Police Officers can be found here: GUNS OF THE LAW: Police Scotland files release details of officers private gun ownership – shotguns, rifles & silencers, Cops also declare recovery of 30 handguns

 

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GONE EXEC’IN: Scottish Police Authority Chief Executive takes early retirement with pay-off, following resignation of ‘Kremlin’ Chair Andrew Flanagan – discredited board & Vice Chair who backed secretive top duo remain in posts

Chief Exec. John Foley retires from discredited Police quango. THE Chief Executive of the embattled Scottish Police Authority (SPA) is to take ‘early retirement’ – with an as-yet undisclosed pay off for leaving the crisis hit Police governance quango which oversees the running of Police Scotland.

John Foley – who faced heavy criticism along with SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan for running the SPA like the “Kremlin” in sessions before the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee in April of this year will depart in October after the SPA’s year end accounts are signed off.

Ironically – Foley – whose retirement was announced earlier today by the SPA – will leave the discredited Police watchdog quango months before the eventual departure of Chief Executive Andrew Flanagan, who announced his resignation earlier in June.

However, Andrew Flanagan is to remain in the £70,000 a year post – while the Scottish Government look for a successor.

A recruitment round for the role of SPA Chair was only announced earlier this week, with a closing date for applications of Thursday 21 September 2017.

Commenting on Foley’s decision to take early retirement, and a payoff, Chair Andrew Flanagan said: “This new reporting arrangement is a further tangible step in strengthening oversight of forensic services, and will support work to develop a long-term strategy for forensics to complement the 2026 strategy for Police Scotland.”

“I want to pay tribute to the professionalism which he has shown throughout our consideration of this, and indeed for the valued service he has given to SPA and policing over what has been a period of unprecedented change.”

Commenting on his own departure, CEO John Foley said: “The SPA has continued to evolve and improve since its inception in 2013 and strengthening the governance of Forensic Services is the next stage of that journey and one I fully support. Clearly the revised arrangements have significant implications for the CEO role I currently hold and following detailed discussions with the Board since the start of the year I have chosen to seek early retirement.

“It has been an honour and privilege to have served as the first permanent CEO of the SPA for the past four years. I am confident that the Authority and policing will continue to improve in the coming years and I want to thank all of the staff and officers who I have had the pleasure of working with over the past four years.”

The SPA board said Foley would be paid in lieu of his contractual notice period as part of his overall settlement – but gave no figure on what the substantial payoff is likely to be.

The SPA stated: “While it is not possible at this stage to calculate a definitive figure on the overall financial settlement until Mr Foley’s formal leaving date is confirmed, SPA has agreed with Mr Foley that the costs of his financial package will be made publicly available as soon as practical after that leaving date.”

The SPA said it will now conduct a process seeking a 12-month secondee to act as chief officer for the SPA. A 12-month tenure will allow the review underway of the SPA’s wider executive requirements to be completed, the HMICS thematic inspection of the SPA to report next spring, and for a new SPA Chair to be appointed.

John Foley joined SPA in August 2013 as interim Chief Executive with management responsibilities for both the SPA’s governance and statutory forensic services responsibilities, and was formally appointed permanent CEO later that year.

Mr Foley’s early retirement comes under the terms of the approved SPA Voluntary Redundancy and Early Retirement scheme applicable to all eligible staff affected by a material change to their role, and commensurate with his age (over 55) and length of service (4 years).

Although the CEO role becomes redundant from 1 September 2017, the existing Board members – who were castigated by MSPs for a collective amnesia in their attempts to answer questions before Parliamentary Committees – has decided to keep John Foley on as Chief Executive until the SPA’s 2016-2017 annual accounts are signed off in late October 2017.

The board – which comprises members who have already taken large payoffs from other public bodies under terms of being “too ill to work” – stated they had consulted Audit Scotland – the equally discredited accounts body which counts among it’s duties a responsibility to audit public finances in Scotland and ensure value for money.

However, it has come to light the same Audit Scotland recently swept a £2.4 million loss at Scottish Borders Council under the carpet – the very same local authority which paid off SPA board member David Hume a total of £318,434 in 2012 after claims of bullying at the South of Scotland local authority.

In 2012 it was reported David Hume took a £318,434 secret “too ill to work again” secret legal deal from the corruption ridden south of Scotland local authority.

Hume then joined the SPA while also working for the Scottish Government in a position on Children’s Hearings Scotland. Hume’s salary for the CHS work was funnelled through his consultancy company – Enlighten: David Hume Consulting Ltd.

Hume’s term as SBC Chief Executive span dark years at the local authority, financial scandals with the loss of £4million from the education budget, consistent allegations of a culture of backhanders at the council, and a lack of duty of care.

Scottish Borders Council had been caught up in the Miss X Rape scandal, resulting in a Scottish Parliament inquiry which heard the Council had covered up a years long case where a severely disabled woman who lived close to the Council’s St Boswell’s HQ was repeatedly raped and abused. It transpired Scottish Borders Council held a written admission of rape from the man a full two years before the case came to light. A man was later jailed for 10 years for the crimes.

Scottish Borders Council decided not to discipline any social worker, despite the fact that Miss X, a woman with learning disabilities, had been subjected to an appalling catalogue of violent physical and sexual abuse.

The remaining text of the statement issued today from the SPA focussed on changes in reporting, reminiscent of “window dressing”.

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) is to take further steps to strengthen the leadership, visibility and governance of Forensic Services.

From 1 September 2017, the Director of Forensic Services will report directly into the Board of the SPA rather than through the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Authority.

One consequence of this change in reporting is a significant reduction in the line management and direct budget accountabilities of the existing SPA CEO role, and which make the role in its present form redundant.

The SPA Board has been considering the implications of forensic reporting with the CEO since the turn of the year, and as a result John Foley has opted to take early retirement under the existing SPA scheme.

As accountable officer, and to ensure business continuity, the Board has requested that Mr Foley stay on until the completion of the 2016-17 SPA accounts, which are hoped to be signed off by the end of October.

To provide the Board with contingency against any change to that expected timeframe, the Board has also agreed a payment to Mr Foley in lieu of his contractual notice, in addition to his eligibility for an early retirement payment.

The Director of Forensic Services, Tom Nelson, will from 1 September 2017 report directly to the SPA Board. He will personally report into the Deputy Chair of the SPA, Nicola Marchant.

The Chair’s review of governance in policing, published in March 2016, highlighted the need for reorganisation of the SPA’s delivery functions, which are primarily in forensics services. Further professional advice was sought from HMICS on forensics later in 2016 which has informed the approach and steps taken to date.

The SPA approved in June 2017 a proposal to create a dedicated Forensic Services Committee to scrutinise forensics delivery. The HMICS Thematic Inspection of Forensic Services, published in late June 2017, also made a number of recommendations around leadership, visibility, and governance.

The Scottish Government announced in June that a review of how the executive of the SPA can best support the Board would be led by SPA Deputy Chair Nicola Marchant, and independent local authority Chief Executive Malcolm Burr. It is expected to report its conclusions and recommendations in Autumn this year. In addition, HMICS are expected to publish its Phase 2 thematic inspection report of the SPA in spring 2018.

The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland report into the authority, authored by inspector Derek Penman, found “positive signs of improvement” in SPA board operations over the last 18 months, with improved relationships between the SPA and Police Scotland and the development of the Policing 2026 strategy described as a “major milestone”.

But the HMICS report was highly critical of the approach which had led the SPA to meet in private.

Mr Penman said the “recent parliamentary scrutiny and media concerns over openness and transparency have weakened public confidence in the SPA and detracted from its ability to perform its statutory function”.

He described the decision to hold meetings behind closed doors as “precipitous”, and said it “should not have been implemented” until signed off by the board in full.

Mr Penman welcomed the decision of the board to revert to holding meetings in public and publishing committee papers in advance, but wrote: “I am aware that some board members continue to maintain that their decisions to implement private meetings and publish papers on the day of the board were essentially correct.

“There is a fundamental need to listen to the views of stakeholders to maintain public confidence, and on this occasion the SPA has failed to do so until pressed by parliamentary committees.The SPA must recognise the legitimate interests of parliament, local authorities, staff associations, the press and the wider public in the scrutiny of policing in Scotland.”

TRANSPARENCY FIRST: Former Board member Moi Ali spoke out on transparency concerns at Police Watchdog:

A glimpse into the world of the Scottish Police Authority’s board meetings features an excerpt from the SPA’s meeting of 15 December 2016, in which Board Member Moi Ali raised serious concerns about recommendations in relation to the publication on the day of board meetings and the holding of committees in private.

More on the discussion around the Governance Framework and input from Moi Ali who raised her concerns at the meeting can be viewed here:

Scottish Police Authority 15 December 2016 meeting Governance framework discussion

Ms Ali said she understood there were good reasons for those recommendations she had serious concerns about the lack of transparency around the two proposals, and that there were real drawbacks in relation to holding committee meetings in private.

Moi Ali said her concerns were two fold – the perception issue in relation to private meetings where it may be perceived that decisions may be taken behind closed doors, and that defacto decision may well be taken behind closed doors and that the process of decision making will be hidden and there is a danger in due course this will morph into a different kind of body in which effectively real decisions are taken albeit not in name but then come back to the SPA Board for rubber stamping rather than transparent debate.

UNFIT AUTHORITY: – Crisis continues at Scottish Police Authority after Board members criticise MSPs scrutiny of Cop Quango:

SPA Chair Andrew Flanagan’s decision to stay in the lead role at the now discredited Scottish Police Authority comes after one of it’s Board members – Graham Houston – launched a blistering attack on open hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s PAPLS Committee’ – after it’s members quizzed the Chair & CEO of the SPA, along with Scottish Government Civil Servants at an earlier meeting of 20 April 2017.

Scottish Police Authority Board Member Graham Houston hits out at PAPLS scrutiny of Police Watchdog

Criticising MSPs scrutiny of the Scottish Police Authority, Board member Graham Houston said: “I also think as an example of good governance I think the treatment of my fellow board members by an audit and scrutiny committee was frankly appalling and I think if that is an example of what is expected of good scrutiny it leaves a lot to be desired. And I suggest that the members of that committee look to themselves about setting an example and also look to the guidance on board about how they conduct themselves in doing that.”

Mr Houston then attacked the media, accusing the press of abusing the ‘openness’ of the SPA and concludes by stating “I think that what will transpire is that probably we are one of the most open public authorities in Scotland.”

The SPA’s statement on the outcome of the meeting claimed it had strengthened the transparency and accessibility of its governance arrangements by making a number of revisions to Board and committee meetings and publication of papers.

The changes decided at the meeting, which will come in to effect from 1 June 2017 include:

SPA committee meetings held in public, with items taken in private only when necessary and with a clear articulation of the reason.

The publication of agendas for all public Board and committee meetings will be available on the SPA website 7 days in advance of meetings.

The publication of papers for all public Board and committee meetings will be published on the SPA website (under embargo) 3-working days in advance.

The publication of agendas for closed Board and committee meetings will be published on the SPA website (redacted if necessary) and a summary of the business conducted will be reported to the next public Board meeting.

The public will also have the opportunity to pose questions about policing matters to the SPA Board in advance of meetings.

In addition, the SPA Board established a new Deputy Chair role. Nicola Marchant has been unanimously appointed to that position with immediate effect.

Houston’s criticism of the refers to the following hearing, in which evidence revealed to MSPs portrayed the Scottish Police Authority as a haven of secrecy, run in the style of  a “kremlin” operation – according to former Cabinet Secretary & PAPLS member Alex Neil MSP (SNP):

Scottish Police Authority – Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 20th April 2017

A full report on the PAPLS meeting of 20 April can be found here:POLICING SECRETS: Former Scottish Police Authority board member Moi Ali invited to give evidence at Holyrood, after MSPs accuse SPA bosses of running Police watchdog like Kremlin ‘secret society’

A further appearance of current and former board members of the Scottish Police Authority before Holyrood’s PAPLS Committee on the 11th May – established evidence in relation to a sequence of alarming events at the SPA – giving MSPs significant cause for concern of how the SPA Chair was in effect, personally running the Police watchdog as a “secret society”.

Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee – Scottish Parliament: 11th May 2017

A full report on the PAPLS hearing of 11 May can be found here: UNFIT AUTHORITY: Chair of Scottish Police Authority “is not fit to continue on any public board” – says former SPA board member in evidence to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee scrutiny of Police watchdog

The hearing also established not one board member of the now discredited Police Watchdog backed former board member Moi Ali – who was forced to resign from the SPA after she bravely raised issues of transparency and accountability during a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority in December 2016.

Then, at a hearing of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice sub-committee on Policing, Andrew Flanagan was asked by MSPs several times to consider his position as SPA Chair – yet Flanagan refused each call to stand down and allow the Scottish Police Authority to move on from the current crisis.

Justice Sub-Committee on Policing – Scottish Parliament: 18th May 2017

A more detailed report on the 18th May 2017 hearing of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing can be found here: AUTHORITY LOST: Chair of Scottish Police Authority refuses to resign after facing challenge from Justice Committee MSPs to consider his position on discredited Police watchdog

SLOW SECRETARY: Justice Secretary Michael Matheson was criticised for lack of action in Police watchdog governance crisis

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson ducked out of taking immediate action on tackling the leadership & governance crisis at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) – despite calls from across the political spectrum to act on restoring faith at the discredited regulator of Police Scotland.

During ‘Topical Questions’ at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 30 May 2017, MSPs from all parties called for a resolution to the crisis at the Police Regulator, and Andrew Flanagan’s refusal to step aside.

In response, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said he was “conscious of the issues” and promised to consider the reports sent to him by the committees.

In Holyrood’s main chamber, Mary Fee MSP (Scottish Labour) told Michael Matheson that Andrew Flanagan had “lost the confidence of MSPs from all parties, including back benchers from the governing party.

“It is clear that his position is untenable. It seems that Mr Flanagan and the Justice Secretary are the last two people to see that.”

She called for a “drastic overhaul of how the SPA is run”.

Shying away from immediate action on the crisis at the Scottish Police Authority, Matheson replied: “I am sure that the member will recognise that it is important that ministers give thorough consideration to these issues in coming to a determination,”

The Justice Secretary added: “On the wider issue of the governance and structure of the SPA, there is no doubt that there are aspects of the way in which the SPA has operated over the past few years that have not worked as well as they should have and that there are areas in which I believe further improvements could be made.

“I have been clear about the need for the SPA to operate in an open and transparent manner as it undertakes its processes and considers matters, and I have repeatedly made that clear.”

Questions to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson on Scottish Police Authority & Andrew Flanagan 30 May 2017

A full report on MSPs questions to Justice Secretary Michael Matheson can be viewed here:Justice Secretary dodges call to fire Chair of discredited Scottish Police Authority – as cross party MSPs say Andrew Flanagan’s position is untenable, and crisis will impact on diversity, recruitment & transparency at public bodies

Previous articles on the Scottish Police Authority can be found here: Scottish Police Authority – Poor governance, private meetings & lack of accountability at Police regulator

 

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