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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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JUDICIAL REGISTER: Calls for all UK judges including UK Supreme Court, and Tribunals to declare links to business, wealth, professional & other interests in published registers of interests

All UK Judges & tribunals should declare interests. AS THE Scottish Parliament continues an investigation into proposals calling for members of the Judiciary of Scotland to declare their interests, a call has been made to roll out a publicly available judicial register for all judges & tribunals all across the UK.

Calls to bring all UK judges, including top judges based at the UK Supreme Court, and all tribunal members into line with judicial transparency proposals currently being considered in Scotland – would require those who sit in judgement to declare all interests, professional & personal links, wealth, property and other interests, in a register of interests, similar to disclosures made by politicians and others in public life.

The move comes after a recent development where Scotland’s top judge conceded to calls for full transparency on judicial recusals, reported last week 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

Attempts 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

And, two 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 reports on recent developments here:

Fresh call for all UK judges to register interests

Campaigner says UKSupreme Court should follow Scotland example on Judicial Recusals

Martin Hannan Journalist 2 August 2017 The National

THE UK Supreme Court and the courts in England and Wales and all tribunals across Britain do not have a system that shows where judges and tribunal members have been forced to step aside from cases due to actual or possible conflicts of interest.

As The National revealed on Monday, Scotland is shortly going to have an expanded register of judicial recusals that records when judges and sheriffs withdraw from cases, but no such register exists for the judiciary south of the Border or for any public tribunal.

Now the legal campaigner who has fought for Scottish judges to declare their interests for more than five years is calling on UK Supreme Court justices, the English and Welsh judiciary and the various tribunals to do the same and keep a register of recusals.

Peter Cherbi’s current petition before the Scottish Parliament is asking that the judiciary in this country declare their financial interests, as US Supreme Court Justices must do.

Cherbi accepts, however, that the Judicial Office in Scotland has already acted to bring in a more details register of recusals. Now he wants the UK Supreme Court to do the same.

Cherbi said: “We have now moved forward in Scotland in terms of judicial transparency with the publication of judicial recusals. If Scotland can do it, so can England and Wales, and the courts in Northern Ireland. The English justice system touts itself worldwide as the law of choice for litigants. If this is truly the case, then it is for the UK judiciary to be as transparent as Scotland and publish their own recusal register, and a register of interests as we are working on here.

“With the recent announcement of Lady Hale being appointed as President of the UK Supreme Court, I will be writing to her, requesting she consider creating a register of recusals for UKSC, as so far, the UK Supreme Court has also been silent on matters of recusals, which the public, court users, and legal representatives have a right to know.

“I shall also be contacting the European Court of Justice and the European Union to ask that courts throughout the EU be encouraged to publish recusal data and more detail on their judges. All EU citizens should have the same entitlements to judicial transparency we are now creating in Scotland.”

Cherbi thinks the Supreme Court and English and Welsh courts can lean learn from the experience here, where a register of recusals has been kept since 2014 and which is to be expanded.

He said: “Our approach in Scotland to improving courtroom and judicial transparency, fuelled by the hard work of cross party MSPs, the Scottish Parliament, fantastic support from Judicial Complaints Reviewers Moi Ali and Gillian Thompson, and backing by the media is a good reminder that team work and cross party support can bring significant change for the good.”

He also wants entities such as employment tribunals to be more open: “My ongoing investigations into tribunals suggests declarations of interests are more often than not concealed, and recusals are few and far between, if ever occurring, and there is little if anything those before tribunals can do about it.

“The public, who are being judged, are entitled to know who their judges are. It is as simple as that.

“Those who judge cannot be judge in their own cause, nor write and approve their own rules, without expectation of full transparency and accountability. Independence of the judiciary is guaranteed, and no one would ever question it. However, those who judge must live by the same laws and expectations of transparency they enforce upon the rest of us.

A spokesman for the UK Supreme Courts said: “Justices are bound by their judicial oath and a code of conduct to declare any relevant interest in a case to the parties, before they consider the matter. There are no current plans to publish a register of recusals.”

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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OPENNESS? LORD, NO: The day Scotland’s former top judge lashed out at America’s justice system, accusing US judges of financial ties to corporations & vested interests

US justices base their careers on corporate funds – Lord Gill. DURING a meeting at the Scottish Parliament almost one year ago, Scotland’s former Lord President & Lord Justice General launched a scathing attack on the judiciary of the United States of America, accusing top US judges of harbouring financial ties to corporations & vested interests – in order to ensure their election to judicial office.

The damning accusations against top US Justices – aired in an open session of the Scottish Parliament by Scotland’s longest serving judge – Lord Brian Gill (74) – were not in response to an international incident or some complicated round of diplomacy and trade negotiations.

Rather, Brian Gill’s pulverising attack on the integrity of the judiciary of the United States – looked upon by many as the world’s most powerful democracy – were in response to a proposal for Scottish judges to register their interests – in the very same way judges in the United States and other international jurisdictions are required to register their interests.

Answering questions from MSP Angus MacDonald, Lord Gill quipped: “I do not know that we would want to have a judiciary here that is like the one in the United States. It depends on your personal point of view. I do not give you my view, but I am sure that you can guess what it is.”

Responding to some measure of astonishment, Gill charged in and blew apart the integrity of his judicial colleagues in the US, stating: “I would be very sorry to see a judiciary in which candidates ran for election and in which candidates’ election campaigns were based on fundraising from companies and corporations that might be litigants in their courts.”

Judicial Transparency, US style, or for that – judicial transparency from any other jurisdiction, was not welcome in Scotland – according to Lord Gill.

And Gill was the expert. For as one of the shortest term serving Lord Presidents’ of modern times – he spent much of his three year term battling against proposals to require Scotland’s elite, secretive judiciary to declare their significant wealth and connections to the professions & big business as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

However, worse was to come from the notoriously anti-transparency judge, who once threatened to deny journalists access to court documents.

Lord Gill – who has since relocated to a posh seat on the UK Supreme Court based in London – was not content with lambasting US justices he accused of cuddling up to corporations for campaign cash.

In response to further questions from the Petitions Committee, Lord Gill opened up another sneering line of attack on US judges, castigating the highly valued nomination hearings of US Supreme Court justices which form a key part of the judicial process in America and are widely available to watch online, with examples such as the nomination process for famed Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Lashing out again at the almost alien concept of judicial transparency coming to Scotland, Lord Gill recoiled: “I would also be very sorry if the day ever came where, before appointment, judges had to come before a committee of this honourable legislature for confirmation and for examination of their political, ethical and social views.”

However, only weeks before Gill made his outburst against the judicial selection process in the United States, the behind closed doors approach to selecting Scottish judges – who dodge questions on their own ties to vested interests inside and outside the legal profession, was revealed in a media investigation here: TO PLAY THE PRESIDENT: Transparency, diversity & judicial reform on the cards as hunt begins for Scotland’s next top judge & Lord President of the Court of Session.

And, investigations by DOI revealed Scotland’s judiciary are themselves, no stranger to financial ties to vested interests and big banks, reported in further detail here: JUDICIAL RICH LIST: Register reveals top judges investments in dodgy justice system providers, companies linked to international bribes scandals and here: COURT BANKING, M’LORD: ‘Unworkable’ register of judicial interests reveals top judges’ financial links to world of big money, insurance giants, vested interests.

No one would ever claim the US justice system, or any justice system was perfect.

It is true, US justices do have links to corporations, and regular coverage appears in the media.

However at least in the United States and other international jurisdictions where registers of interests are required of the judiciary, court users, elected politicians, the media and public have the opportunity by right of law and expectation of transparency – to inspect their judiciary on a much more detailed level than in Scotland.

And, this is what makes the difference. Transparency. An altogether simple case to present. Nothing more complicated than openness itself.

Beware then, those who answer questions on transparency with hand gestures, demands on how to frame the questions being put to them, or using an underlying tone of aggression.

Video footage of Lord Gill’s meticulous, if short derision of judicial colleagues in the United States made clear the former Lord President’s opinion of judges who are required by law and due process to follow a path more transparent than his, and his colleagues within the Judiciary of Scotland.

Lord Brian Gill slams US judges – Top Scots judge claims US judiciary elected by vested interests

Official Record: Petitions Committee 10 November 2015

Angus MacDonald: Thank you. It was important to get that fundamental view on the record.

What is your view of the fact that the United States of America has successfully introduced a register of judicial interests? Has the system in the States increased public confidence in the judiciary?

Lord Gill: I do not know that we would want to have a judiciary here that is like the one in the United States. It depends on your personal point of view. I do not give you my view, but I am sure that you can guess what it is.

Angus MacDonald: I will not pick up on that particular point.

Has there been any evidence on the impact that the US system has had on the independence of judges or the way in which the media treats judges in the USA?

Lord Gill: I would be very sorry to see a judiciary in which candidates ran for election and in which candidates’ election campaigns were based on fundraising from companies and corporations that might be litigants in their courts. I would also be very sorry if the day ever came where, before appointment, judges had to come before a committee of this honourable legislature for confirmation and for examination of their political, ethical and social views.

The full evidence session held at the Scottish Parliament with Lord Gill on 7 November 2015 can be viewed here: Evidence of Lord Gill before the Scottish Parliament 10 November 2015 with a full report and transcript of the meeting here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests.

In between refusing to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament, Lord Brian Gill spent his time on international travel, and giving a lecture on judicial ethics while on a taxpayer funded state visit to Qatar – a country not known as a haven of transparency or human rights.

Lord Gill’s Qatar expedition funded by public cash is reported in further detail here: LORD JET SET: Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill takes 5 day STATE VISIT to Qatar as investigation reveals judiciary’s international travel junkets spree.

A year on from the confrontation between Lord Gill and the Scottish Parliament – only after two refusals to give evidence – MSPs await to hear from Scotland’s current top judge Lord Carloway – who, like his predecessor, given an equally hostile opinion on the very notion of judicial transparency and requirements of judges to declare their interests.

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

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

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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SUPREME, LORD: Scotland’s ex top judge Brian Gill who opposed Holyrood on judicial transparency & judges’ interests register – joins subs bench of UK Supreme Court

Lording it – Brian Gill moves to London. SCOTLAND’S former top judge – Lord Brian Gill who surprised the Scots legal world with the announcement of his sudden retirement in May 2015 – has been appointed to the supplementary panel of judges of the UK Supreme Court.

The UK Supreme Court today confirmed the appointment of Lord Gill to the panel of supplementary judges who sit on the London based UK Supreme Court.

A UKSC spokesperson said: “The supplementary panel on which Lord Gill is now a member has only been called upon once or twice in the last legal year. “

He added: “It is quite rare for the UKSC to invite Acting Justices to sit.”

Earlier this year, Brian Gill was invited to join the supplementary panel of judges – which can be called upon by the President of the Supreme Court to sit on specific cases where necessary.

The legislative framework for ‘Acting Justices’ on the UK Supreme Court states a person who holds the office of a senior territorial judge can be invited to act as a judge of the court at the request of the President of the Supreme Court. The legislative framework & conditions for such appointments is here: Acting judges & supplementary panel of UK Supreme Court

Now a UKSC supplementary judge – Brian Gill (73) – who became Scotland’s longest serving judge – served a short three year term as Lord President.

Gill unexpectedly stood down from the role as head of Scotland’s judiciary after waging  a bitter two year battle with the Scottish Parliament over plans to create a register of interests for judges – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary

The judicial transparency petition which enjoys cross party support – has been the subject of a two year investigation by Holyrood and proposes the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) – Moi Ali gave the judicial transparency proposal her full backing.

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

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

Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill did not take kindly to the transparency proposal – or the public debate around openness and accountability of the judiciary.

Gill branded the media & court users as “aggressive” and demanded judges be allowed to keep their wealth and connections to big business – a secret.

Lord Gill then refused two invitations to appear before MSPs to face questions on his hostility towards judicial transparency.

The top judge – who took increasingly aggressive positions in his hard line letters to Holyrood – also hinted he may have to reconsider how judges interact with the Scottish Parliament and claimed loopholes in the Scotland Act prevented elected politicians from calling judges to account over their hidden interests.

Previous Lord President & Lord Justice General Lord Hamilton – who was highly respected while in the role as Scotland’s top judge – joined the UKSC supplementary panel after his retirement as Lord President in 2012. Lord Hamilton has not yet sat on the panel.

In stark comparison to Lord Gill’s anti-judicial transparency policy, Lord President Lord Hamilton moved to increase transparency around judicial expenses & travel during 2010 after law journalists from Diary of Injustice – the previous version of this law blog – submitted freedom of information requests asking for judicial expenses (routinely published in England & Wales) to be made available in Scotland.

The FOI request was made to the Scottish Courts Service under the then Lord President Lord Hamilton – after the Scottish Government denied any figures existed for judicial expenses.

Some weeks after the DOI report on judicial expenses, featured in August 2010 – expenses claims of high earning Scots judges rake in at least £78K in ‘travel’ claims, Lord Hamilton amended Scottish Courts policy to publish judicial expenses figures on a quarterly basis.

The welcome move by Lord Hamilton was featured in a further article here: Part-time Sheriffs beat full-time colleagues & senior judges in expenses claims as Scots judiciary finally publish judicial expenses online.

TOP JUDGE WHO SAID NO TO TRANSPARENCY & SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT:

Scotland’s top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill fiercely opposes calls for any form of transparency & public accountability of the judiciary and Scotland’s Courts.

Over the course of nearly two years, Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill waged an aggressive campaign against a Scottish Parliament investigation into calls for a register of judicial interests. The register proposal would reveal the judiciarys’ vast personal, undeclared wealth, extensive family and business connections throughout the legal profession, links to big business, offshore trusts & investments, ownership of numerous and high value properties through a variety of ‘creative’ arrangements, directorships, shareholdings, and even unpublished criminal records of members of the judiciary.

Lord Gill refused at least two invitations to appear before the Scottish Parliament to give evidence and face questions on his opposition to the proposal to create a register of judicial interests. The top judge has also used the Scotland Act as a loophole to avoid further scrutiny on the matter.

Lord Gill’s challenge to MSPs declared judicial opposition to transparency. In Lord Gill’s opening letter to MSPs on the call for a register of judicial interests, the judge claimed “In practical terms it would be impossible for all judicial office holders to identify all the interests that could conceivably arise in any future case. The terms of the Judicial Oath and the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics ensure that such a difficulty does not arise and that the onus is on the judicial office holder to declare any interest at the outset.”

In what was a hint of the sheer hostility felt by the judiciary against a call to bring transparency to judges interests, Lord Gill went onto accuse the media, press, litigants, court users and just about everyone else with an interest in transparency of being potentially hostile and aggressive, simply because someone may wish to raise questions of judges interests similar to the same kinds of questions which are raised of interests in other public officials and those in public life, politics & government.

And, if MSPs were unsure of the depth of Lord Gill’s attitude towards transparency, the top judge went on to refuse to appear before the Scottish Parliament, and used a loophole in the Scotland Act to justify his sweeping declaration he did not require to answer questions from Scotland’s democratically elected politicians.

Lord Gill’s use of Scotland Act against MSPs was reported in the media. Writing in a letter to msps, Lord Gill implied cooperation with Parliament would be withdrawn over calls to make judges more transparent in register : “Section 23(7) of the Scotland Act provides inter alia that the Parliament may not require a judge to attend its proceedings for the purposes of giving evidence. This is not a loophole. It is a necessary part of the constitutional settlement by which the Parliament is established. Its purpose is to protect the independence of the judiciary, a vital constitutional principle that is declared in section 1 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008”

The judge continued: “When a committee invites a judge to give evidence before it, I have to decide whether the subject matter might infringe the principle of judicial independence; and whether the evidence required could be satisfactorily given in writing.”

As  Scotland’s top judge continued to oppose the creation of a register of interests, MSPs held a debate in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber on Thursday 7 October 2014, which saw cross party support for the proposal. MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 – in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458, urging the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The parliamentary debate was reported along with  video footage & the official record, here: Debating the Judges & here : Top judge & Scottish Government told to rethink refusal on declarations of judges as Holyrood MSPs support calls to create a register of judicial interests

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Justice Diary 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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