Saturday, October 25, 2014

No register for Qatar touring, tax dodging, banker friendly fraudster Scots judges - Roseanna Cunningham MSP closing speech in Holyrood register of judicial interests debate

Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 - in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.

This article focuses on the closing speech given by Roseanna Cunningham MSP (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP). Roseanna Cunningham is the Scottish Government’s Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs.

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

Roseanna Cunningham: The debate has given us the opportunity to discuss issues around transparency and conflicts of interest and whether a register of judicial interests would address those matters. However, I sense that much of the debate has been about the process. Members will forgive me if I do not get too drawn into that aspect of the discussion—it is not really for me to intervene in committee procedures or the calling of witnesses. I am sure that if concerns are expressed about that they might be taken up in another place.

The debate also ranged rather more widely than the motion might have otherwise suggested. That is understandable. We have heard differing views expressed about the need for a register of judicial interests. As I said, some contributions went very widely, indeed. An exchange of views is always welcome.

We all recognise the importance of the need to ensure judicial independence, accountability and transparency. However, as I said in my opening remarks, key safeguards are already in place to ensure the judiciary’s independence and accountability. To repeat, those important safeguards are the judicial oath; the “Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics for the Scottish Judiciary”, which was issued by the Judicial Office for Scotland in 2010; and the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.The debate has given us the opportunity to put on the record that those safeguards exist.

We have seen from the debate that, if the Lord President was to introduce a register, a wide breadth of interests may need to be declared. As raised by a number of members, including Stewart Stevenson and Graeme Pearson, material relationships may in many cases be more relevant than pecuniary interests.

I think that I am right in saying that it was David Stewart who described a situation whereby a judge had to recuse himself because he had been at the same social event as one of the key lawyers in the case. I do not want to misrepresent what he said, but that is my recollection; what he said was along those lines. Frankly, if we took that approach too far, either we would have to cloister judges permanently or no cases would ever be heard, because the way in which our social relationships work in Scotland makes it almost possible to avoid that happening on a number of occasions.

David Stewart:

I understand the minister’s point, but will she say something about the point that I have made a couple of times that we are not discussing a new issue? Before the Supreme Court, law lords registered their interests day and daily for generations. The assumption is that all this is new; the issue is not at all new.

Roseanna Cunningham:

Perhaps the member will allow me to get into my speech, because I want to return to that point.

We have also heard that the Lord President is taking action to increase transparency. The register of judicial recusals recently set up by the Scottish Court Service is an excellent example of that. Over time, that will give us a better understanding of how that process works.

I am sure that the Lord President will read the Official Report of the debate and members’ speeches with interest. I will not be drawn into a discussion of his decision about attending the committee. However, as referred to by Joan McAlpine and others—I am not quite sure if I remember who—he has warned that the introduction of a register of judicial interests could have unintended consequences. He said:

“Consideration requires to be given to judges’ privacy and freedom from harassment by ... media or ... individuals, including dissatisfied litigants.”

A point that no member has raised is that, if publicly criticised or attacked, a judicial office-holder cannot publicly defend him or herself, unlike a politician. We have the opportunity to respond to criticism; a judge would not. They do not have the same right of reply as we have.

I must ask what would be included on a register. If we are agreed that it is far less likely to be financial interests that create problems, the register would somehow have to encompass social, familiar and other relationships. A register that included those relationships would be difficult to compile. Family trees, friendships and all sorts of organisations and affiliations would have to be included. Neil Findlay seemed to suggest that even religious affiliation should be included. How on earth would one know in advance what might cause a problem in a case that was as yet unseen?

It is interesting that all members who have spoken have avoided making reference to a register in anything other than very general terms, although it is clear that it is assumed that any declaration would go beyond financial interests. I have set out some of the issues that would arise if such a register were given closer consideration.

I return to David Stewart’s point about the situation in the House of Lords prior to the creation of the United Kingdom Supreme Court. As I understand it, declarations were confined to financial interests and there was not the kind of register that members have discussed this afternoon. Furthermore, when the Supreme Court was set up in 2009, it was decided that the financial register would not be continued. Instead, a code of judicial conduct was drawn up. The register to which David Stewart referred was not analogous to the register that members have been discussing. We should understand that.

We should also take heed of the outcome of the report of the Council of Europe group of states against corruption—GRECO. I reiterate that that is an important objective assessment of where we are in relation to the judiciary in Scotland and the United Kingdom.

I am aware that other people take a different view on the need for a register. The former Judicial Complaints Reviewer thought that a register would increase transparency and public trust.

As I said, it would be for the Lord President to establish a register of interests, in his capacity as head of the Scottish judiciary. However, the Government does not consider that there is currently evidence that the existing safeguards are not effective. We do not consider that a register is necessary. Indeed, some of the issues that members have raised point us to how difficult it might be to compile the kind of register that people think might be appropriate.

A number of members referred to the register of interests of MSPs. However, the situation is different, because we are directly accountable to the electorate. That is why the register exists—and we are not required to declare religious affiliation, our circles of friends and relatives, and all the social relationships that can give rise to some of the suspicions in respect of judges.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I regret that I must ask you to close.

Roseanna Cunningham:

The debate has presented an opportunity to consider all the issues. I assure members that we will continue to keep the issues under review. However, our current position is that a register is not necessary.

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

It seems absolutely right that there is transparency - Elaine Murray MSP closing speech on register of judicial interests debate at Holyrood

Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 - in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.

This article focuses on the closing speech given by Elaine Murray MSP (Dumfriesshire) (Scottish Labour). Elaine Murray is deputy Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, and is also a member of a number of Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament.

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

Elaine Murray (Dumfriesshire) (Lab): I assure members that this will be the last time that they have to hear from me this week, which I am sure is a relief to everybody.

The Public Petitions Committee is to be congratulated on its tenacity in pursuing the petition, because obstacles were put in its way and the committee continued to pursue the petition over a substantial period of time.

I was completely unaware until the debate was scheduled that members of the judiciary are not required to publish a register of their interests. If I had been aware of that earlier, I might have added it to my list of unsuccessful amendments to the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill. I am sure, had I done so, that the minister would have informed me—as Angus MacDonald said—that it was a matter for the Lord President and not for the bill.

Dave Stewart, Roseanna Cunningham and others have reminded us that there are three safeguards—the judicial oath, the statement of principles of judicial ethics and the complaints procedure—and that members of the judiciary can recuse themselves from a case. “Recuse” is another word that I have added to my vocabulary since joining the Justice Committee. I do not know whether I will have any reason to use it other than about the judiciary, but they are able to recuse themselves and that information is being published as of April. As others have said, as that publication of reasons for recusal is added to, we may get more of an idea about why judges recuse themselves.

David Torrance and others drew a parallel with members of this Parliament. As Jackson Carlaw said, we are required to take an oath or affirmation, we have a code of conduct and complaints about us can be investigated by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. I do not think that any of us believe that those three safeguards would be sufficient to ensure public confidence, and that is what is important. We are required to update our register of interests and to declare gifts and whether we employ close relatives. We are also required to register any new interests within 28 days of those interests arising. As Joan McAlpine said, it might be a bit of a hassle, but we all recognise why it is important that we are required to do so.

The minister suggests that we are required to do so because we are accountable to the public but, as Neil Findlay said, the issue is about the scrutiny of decision-making institutions whose decisions can seriously affect members of the public. When we consider it in that context, a register of interests for the judiciary becomes more important.

Local councils are also required to maintain an updated register of interests of councillors. I do not know how all councils operate that but when a councillor in Dumfries and Galloway has a registered interest in part of the business of a meeting, they cannot even attend that part of the meeting, still less take part in discussions. They are not even allowed to sit there glaring at their fellow councillors; they have to leave the room.

I do not think that any elected member resents those requirements on us. It seems absolutely right that there is transparency—an issue that Anne McTaggart raised. It is very important that any personal or financial interests that might possibly affect our decisions are published and that they can be easily accessed by the public so that they can check on them. The register of members’ interests is online so it is easy for the public to check whether we have any particular interests.

As was drawn out in the committee discussions, it is not just politicians who are required to register their interests; members of boards of public agencies such as the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Ambulance Service are also required to register their interests. In fact, three judges sit on the board of the Scottish Court Service and their interests have to be registered, so, in a sense, that begs the question, why not others? As Dave Stewart pointed out, members of the House of Lords have to register their interests and therefore, prior to the installation of the Supreme Court, the law lords were expected to publish their interests, so why must the situation differ for judges?

I realise that there may be security issues around litigants who are unhappy about judgments. However, a register could surely be drawn up in such a way as to protect certain information. To a certain extent, we are protected. We may have constituents who do not much like us or who are upset about what we have done or not done in pursuance of their cases, but there are safeguards in our register and they cannot necessarily find out where we stay and that sort of thing. Surely we would be able to do the same sort of thing for judges.

It is the case, of course, that the judiciary of Scotland are a small band of people and many of them originate from the same strata of society. People are suspicious of the old school tie, who people’s friends and family are and financial relationships. Also, as other members have said, membership of certain organisations can be suspected of being influential. The more that such information is in the public domain, the more people can be assured that such matters do not affect how judgments are made.

In the words of Moi Ali, who stood down as the judicial complaints reviewer this summer after three years’ service:

“Given the position of power held by the judiciary, it is essential not only that they have absolute integrity–but crucially, that they are seen to have absolute integrity.”

Therefore, the issue is not that anyone doubts the judiciary’s integrity, but that the public need to see that integrity.

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

MSPs should visit Qatar to see jet-set top judge Lord Gill - Jackson Carlaw MSP closing speech during Holyrood debate on register of judicial interests

Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 - in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.

This article focuses on the closing speech given by Jackson Carlaw MSP (West Scotland) (Scottish Conservative). Jackson Carlaw is a member of the Finance Committee, Health & Support Committee, Standards, Procedures & Public Appointments Committee and the Public Petitions Committee. Mr Carlaw is also a member of a number of Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament.

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

Jackson Carlaw: I will deal with the contributions that have been made to what has been an interesting debate. Angus MacDonald said that Lord Gill had delivered a snub to the Public Petitions Committee. I think that what he did was more of a snub to the Scottish people. The committee is the Public Petitions Committee of the Parliament. The whole point of it is to allow the petitions that are raised by members of the public to receive a proper airing, and for the arguments to be tested. In a sense, we were not able to test the arguments of the Lord President, because he would not engage.

John Wilson is absolutely right. I have here a copy of the 16-page speech that the Lord President gave in Qatar, incorporating the very issues that we addressed. Had the committee known, we could have applied to the parliamentary authorities to go to Qatar to hear the speech in person and tackle the Lord President there. If he did not come to the committee, the committee could have gone to him.

Neil Findlay:

I wonder if Lord Gill has reflected on his non-appearance and on how he feels when someone does not turn up to his court.

Jackson Carlaw:

I shall not stray there, although I am tempted.

Anne McTaggart articulated, as a number of members did, why there is a perfectly balanced argument in favour of a register. David Torrance talked, too, about how they are commonplace. He went on to touch on the subject of the register of recusals, which David Stewart also mentioned. That arose as a result of informal conversations that David Stewart and the committee’s deputy convener had with the Lord President. For that, I suppose that we must be grateful.

David Torrance said, however, that the register does not meet the petitioner’s concerns. I would say to him that the job of the Public Petitions Committee is not necessarily to uphold the petition or the petitioner’s concerns; it is to evaluate the evidence underpinning a petition and then to form a judgment. Again, we have been slightly prevented from our obligations in that respect.

Neil Findlay spoke about the perception of transparency, and he listed various things. Therein lies some of my concern. Were it the case that judges had to register their religion, and if that was thought by people who were appearing before a judge to be a reason to suggest that there might not be impartiality in the proceedings, we would paralyse the court system with endless reasons to object to the appointment of any particular judge.

I hope that she will not find it inexcusable of me, but I found that I agreed almost entirely with the points that Joan McAlpine made in her speech. She talked about the letter that Lord Gill presented, which discussed the practicalities and consequential issues. The consequential issues that he identified were the perfectly legitimate counterargument to the natural assumption that, in the modern age, there should be a register. I again say that, had Lord Gill subjected his reasons to the open test of committee discussion, which would have been perfectly friendly and informed, they would, most likely, have persuaded the committee that, on balance, they represented the correct position.

John Wilson referred to my doing an impression of one of my colleagues. He might suggest that I did that, but I could not possibly recognise it as such.

Stewart Stevenson spoke about the modern argument in all this but then, to my astonishment, I heard this Roman—whoever it was from all those years ago—being quoted for a second day in a row in the Parliament. It was exactly the same quotation. That somewhat brought back the fact that nothing is modern and everything is timeless when we are dealing with such judgments and issues.

I am not, on balance, persuaded that a register is necessary. I refer back to the safeguards that exist. Mind you, I would point out that we, too, swear an oath, but we nonetheless still subscribe to a register. There is a balance, but that balance, that argument and that judgment are much more likely reliably to stand the test of public scrutiny if they are subject to proper public debate, and I feel that we are having this debate today because we have not been able to provide that.

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

Not everything can be in the public domain ...(Parliament dodging, Qatar junket flying judges included?) - Stewart Stevenson MSP on Holyrood register of judicial interests debate

Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 - in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.

This article focuses on the speech given by Stewart Stevenson MSP (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP). Stewart Stevenson is a member of the Delegated Powers & Law Reform Committee, the Local Government & Regeneration Committee and is Convener of the Standards, Procedures & Public Appointments Committee. Mr Stevenson is also a member of a Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament.

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

 

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I congratulate Peter Cherbi on his petition. Whatever position we take on its substance, it is opportune to debate the issues around it because, far from being trivial matters of process, they go to the very heart of trust in the justice system. For the record, I am speaking in the debate not, in any sense, as the convener of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee but as an individual member of the Parliament.

It was with grave misgivings that I heard Jackson Carlaw introduce his speech by saying that he really had nothing to say. I wondered whether the debate was going to turn out to be one of those real political debates that are over not when everything has been said but when everybody has said it. However, so far, every member has made an individual contribution, which is very good.

I intervened on Graeme Pearson for a particular reason. I tried to consider when my entry in the members’ register of interests has come into play. I put many things into it voluntarily, as many of us do, because I think that even though I am not required to mention them, they are things that might matter. For example, I have declared a shareholding in a major bank voluntarily, although it is below the level that requires to be registered, as that touches on lots of things.

When we talk about the interests and connections that a judge might have that would cause recusal, I suspect—but cannot prove at this stage—that finance would be the least of them. I would guess that such interests will almost certainly be relationships, membership of clubs and attendance at events.

David Stewart:

As always, the member is correct. The 14 recusals so far have been, by and large, about relationships—in other words, a sheriff knows a witness. The member is right to suggest that there have been very few financial issues involved in those 14 recusals.

Stewart Stevenson:

I am obliged for that. I did not know that, but the committee convener has put flesh on the bones of my assumption. We will see how it pans out when there are more recusals.

Of necessity, we cannot anticipate and put in a register everything of that character that will come up, or our whole lives would have to be on the register. I have been pursuing genealogical research into my family tree for more than 50 years and have 4,600 people in my family tree. How could I put them all on the register meaningfully? We must be careful, therefore, not to imagine that this is the silver bullet.

John Wilson:

Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson:

I want to cover one or two things. If possible, I will come back to Mr Wilson.

The issue in respect of judges is not new. Clause 19 of the Union with England Act 1707, which is one of the bigger clauses in the act, is about the appointment of judges, and it states:

“That no Writer to the Signet be capable to be admitted a Lord of the Session unless he undergo a private and public Trial on the Civil Law before the Faculty of Advocates and be found by them qualified for the said Office”.

Worrying about whom we appoint as judges is not new.

That takes us to the heart of the matter. The Romans had a saying: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”—who will guard the guards? If judges misbehave or do not come up to the required standard, how do we deal with that? Inevitably, there must be a judicial process exercised by whomsoever grips that one.

We have to appoint the right people, because I do not think that we can prescribe and describe all the circumstances that may touch on their ability to make decisions. That is not to say that having a register of financial interests would be without value; I just do not want colleagues to imagine that it would really do much more than scratch the surface of the issue.

We all have interests. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth set out a budget today. Will he buy a house in the future and, therefore, be affected by the decisions that he has brought to Parliament on taxing transactions on housing? The answer is, of course, yes. The real test is whether he is doing anything that does other than affect the generality of people—he must not instead do things that affect him or a particular group of which he is a member. That is the kind of test that judges must have in their mind at all times.

I close, Presiding Officer, by saying—

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Yes—you must close now.

Stewart Stevenson: I encourage Lord Gill and his successors to think about recalibrating their relationship with Parliament. However, when my colleague Joan McAlpine talked about being a journalist, I immediately reflected that journalists are entitled to, and properly do—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You really must close.

Stewart Stevenson: —keep their sources secret. Therefore, not everything can be in the public domain. Ultimately, we have to choose the right people. We have to trust them, and we have to treat them extremely harshly if that trust is not fulfilled.

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

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Qatar junket top judge Lord Gill should give transparency & ethics speech in Scotland: John Wilson MSP on Scottish Parliament register of judicial interests debate

Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 - in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.

This article focuses on the speech given by John Wilson MSP (Central Scotland) (Independent). John Wilson is a member of the Public Petitions Committee, and is the Deputy Convener of the Local Government & Regeneration Committee. Mr Wilson is also a member of a number of Cross Party Groups in the Scottish Parliament.

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

John Wilson (Central Scotland) (Ind): The petition and today’s debate highlight the important role that the Public Petitions Committee plays in this Parliament.

The issue under discussion is an easy and relatively straightforward subject, as many members have said. The resistance to having a general register of judicial interests seems, to my mind and to many others, to come from ingrained conservative forces, and I am clearly not talking about Mr Carlaw in this instance. However, his impersonation of one of his colleagues may highlight the conservative nature of the legal profession.

The Public Petitions Committee has attempted to engage in a positive manner with all those identified by the petition. The same cannot be said of all those who have had an input on the public record. The Lord President, Lord Gill, declined to accept the committee’s invitation to give evidence in respect of the petition on the ground of “constitutional principle”, with particular reference to section 23(7) of the Scotland Act 1998. Although that might be considered by some to be a reasonable response, it is undermined by the fact that Lord Gill has appeared before other committees of this Parliament.

In principle, there is good practice taking place in Scotland. Elected members such as councillors and members of this Parliament have to make undertakings in their own registers of interests, so why there is a lack of positive engagement is essentially a mystery to me, especially as the then Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Ms Moi Ali, supported the petition both in correspondence and in excellent oral evidence to the Public Petitions Committee.

We already know, because it has been reported widely, that arrangements to publish details of the shareholdings of those on the Scottish Court Service board are in place, and I welcome the information that was discussed earlier relating to recusal by sheriffs and judges in cases on which they have decided that they cannot sit in judgment.

Lord Justice Neuberger, president of the UK Supreme Court, said in a speech on 26 August 2014 to the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club:

“The rule of law also requires the honest, fair, efficient and open dispensation of justice. And therefore there is no hope for the rule of law unless we have judges who are independent, honest, fair, and competent, and who are seen to be independent, honest, fair, and competent.”

Clearly, we must ask why we cannot have a register. No doubt the associated media coverage of Lord Gill’s non-appearance at the Public Petitions Committee has led to him being given the title of Lord No-No. That is not something that I particularly welcome, although, quite frankly, it seems to have a degree of merit for an individual who spent six days in Qatar to give a speech about transparency and judicial regulation that lasted one hour, but who could not find the courtesy to accept an invitation from a mandatory committee of this Parliament.

I welcome the opportunity to raise awareness of the petition and of the petitioner’s work in relation to it, which could be dismissed by some unkind types as a boring constitutional matter. However, as others have said in today’s debate, linking it to registers of interest in other areas clearly highlights the work that the Parliament must do to ensure that everyone, no matter who the public are dealing with, is held in high regard. A register of interests for judges is an area in which we could move forward and build more confidence in the system that we have in place.

In the final paragraph of the speech that Lord Gill gave in Qatar, he said:

“One drawback of a jurisdiction steeped in tradition is its slow reaction to change and to modernise.”

Lord Gill should reread his own words and reflect on that speech, and maybe he could give the same speech in Scotland and bring the judicial system up to a standard that we would all like it to hold.

The petition clearly highlights the work of the Public Petitions Committee, and I look forward to more challenging petitions being heard by the committee and debated in the chamber.

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

‘Judiciary should move with the times to retain public confidence’ - Joan McAlpine MSP on Scottish Parliament register of judicial interests debate

Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 - in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.

This article focuses on the speech given by Joan McAlpine MSP (South Scotland) (SNP). Joan McAlpine is a member of the Economy, Energy & Tourism Committee and the Education & Culture Committee, she also sits on a number of Cross Party Groups in the Scottish Parliament.

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

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP): The subject is exactly the sort of matter that the Parliament should debate, and it is testament to the Public Petitions Committee that it has brought the issue to the chamber.

I am naturally inclined to support a register of judges’ interests. I understand the need to enshrine the independence of the judiciary and I understand Lord Gill’s decision to decline the committee’s invitation because, although that decision understandably drew criticism, one could argue that the judiciary should not be subject to political pressure. However, I tend to agree with Jackson Carlaw that, in this instance, Lord Gill should have come to the committee to argue his case and to show that the judiciary is not a law unto itself.

David Stewart:

Does the member share my view that, on one level, there is nothing new about the proposal because, prior to 2009, law lords had to declare an interest, as they were members of the House of Lords? In some senses, we are asking for a reintroduction of something that was well established in Scots law.

Joan McAlpine:

Yes, I agree—that is a fair point.

Perhaps it is because I am a former journalist that I naturally lean towards increased transparency in all areas of public life. The committee convener outlined the need for that in his opening remarks. I take great pride in the fact that there is more transparency in the Scottish Parliament, for example, than there is at Westminster.

Neil Findlay:

Will the member take an intervention?

Joan McAlpine:

No, thank you.

However, I have considered the safeguards that ministers have outlined today, in particular the judicial oath, which I am sure all our judges take very seriously indeed. I do not think that many members of the public know about the judicial oath or what it entails. I am interested in knowing more about the process that kicks in if someone is suspected of breaking the judicial oath. Has that ever happened and what are the consequences?

I read with great interest the Lord President’s letter to David Stewart MSP. I was not particularly convinced by the passage on practical considerations, in which the Lord President suggests that it would not be possible to identify all the interests. The subtext seems to be that it is a bit of a hassle. Well, yes, it is a bit of a hassle. It is probably a bit of a hassle for MSPs, too, but it has to be done. I was more swayed by the passage on unintended consequences in which the Lord President says:

“Consideration requires to be given to judges’ privacy and freedom from harassment by aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants. It is possible that the information held on such a register could be abused. These are significant concerns. If publicly criticised or attacked, the judicial office holder cannot publicly defend himself or herself, unlike a politician.”

I thought that that was a fair comment.

I do not think that the matter of a register of judges’ interests will disappear. We have seen the progress that is being made here and in New Zealand as a result of the debate being opened up, even though that is short of establishing a register. It is important that all national institutions continue to revise their procedures so that they retain public confidence. It is easy to see how public confidence can be lost if that is not done. The Westminster Parliament expenses scandal blew up precisely because of a lack of transparency in the system. I recall that there was a belief that, if MPs were completely transparent about what they claimed, that would somehow open them up to too much scrutiny, which would be a bad thing. In the end, MPs really came a cropper because of that.

Similarly, the claims of historical child abuse by powerful establishment figures at Westminster and how they may or may not have been dealt with by the authorities at the time surely demonstrate that the way that things were done 30 years ago is not the way that we should do things now. Therefore, I very much hope that the Lord President is paying attention to the debate.

We have to move with the times. It is a recurring feature of tabloid newspapers to draw attention to judges who do not move with the times. One particularly famous incident was in a court case down south when the footballer Paul Gascoigne was taking to court someone who had written an unauthorised biography. The judge clearly had no idea who Paul Gascoigne was, as his lawyer had to explain that he was a famous footballer, to which the judge replied, “Rugby or association?”

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

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

‘Is it not an outrage Lord Gill had such contempt for this Parliament that he refused to attend’ - Neil Findlay MSP on Holyrood register of judicial interests debate

Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 - in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.

The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.

This article focuses on the speech given by Neil Findlay MSP (Lothians) (Scottish Labour). Neil Findlay is a member of a number of Cross Party Groups in the Scottish Parliament.

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

 

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab): The referendum campaign that we have just had has developed in people a new and healthy interest in all things political, which has to be warmly welcomed. However, with that comes increased scrutiny of politicians, political institutions, the decision-making process and those who make decisions on behalf of the people. The public have every right to know what is going on in their name and to hold institutions and people to account for their actions.

This particular institution, which claims to be open and accessible and transparent in all that it does and to operate with the values of accountability, openness, power sharing and equal opportunities, has a long way to go until it and the society and institutions that we legislate over can claim to live up to those values. According to the mace in the well of the chamber, we are supposed to operate with wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity, and the proposal that we are discussing is part of a wide range of changes that we need to make if we are to live up to those supportable aims.

I fully support the proposal for a register of interests for members of the judiciary. After all, we have the right to know whether those who are involved in determining whether a man or woman loses their freedom have any financial, business, social, political or other relationship that could influence any decision they might make. Currently there is no compulsion to declare such an interest and we rely on what is known as the fair-minded observer test. That, to me, is wholly inadequate. Through history, we have heard allegations of religious, class, financial and political bias or of members of certain organisations being helpful to each other during trials. I can think of many industrial and other disputes that have gone to court where claims of bias and collusion have been made—and, I believe, with justification.

That situation has to end, and we should have a register with clear rules that leave no one in any doubt about who and what should be registered. Is it really a surprise to people that the legal establishment does not want such a register, and is it not an outrage that Lord Gill had such contempt for this Parliament that he refused to attend a particular meeting? Does that not make people even more suspicious of his motives?

Let me give the chamber some more examples of how our politics maintains its secrecy. When I recently asked a cabinet minister a question about who had advised him on certain key areas of policy, I was told that that information could not be revealed because information about a third party would be provided. We cannot find out, for example, whether people with links to the fracking industry advise the Government on energy or whether people with financial interests in the drugs industry advise the Government on new treatments. Those are very important issues. I am not saying those people are advising the Government but we simply do not know and cannot find out, and I believe that that is fundamentally wrong.

What about when the Government appoints people to conduct inquiries or to write reports that are paid for by the public purse? Why are those people picked? Is it because they are experts or particularly knowledgeable in their field, or are there other influencing factors? How are contracts secured and why are they won? Who influences changes in Government policy, and why? The public should, if they wish, have the right to know what is being done in their name.

What about the workings of this Parliament? Why do our committees discuss so many issues in private session when there is no reason to? For example, why can we not find out why the Health and Sport Committee refused to invite the former Auditor General for Scotland to give evidence on the budget? Who stopped him coming? Why can we not find out these things? Surely the public have a right to know.

As Anne McTaggart pointed out in her speech, 16 months ago the Government said that it was minded to legislate on my proposed lobbying transparency bill. To date, however, no legislation has come forward. Why not? I say to the Government that if that legislation is not in the legislative programme, I will bring my bill back to Parliament and then we will see this Parliament’s commitment to openness and accountability.

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

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