Saturday, August 01, 2015

ACT OF FRAUD: Files reveal how law chiefs battled to recover £1.8m legal aid cash from estate of suicide lawyer as new questions emerge over ability of Crown Office to pursue legal aid cheat lawyers

£150m annual legal aid bill ‘a fraud target’ DOCUMENTS revealing how an agreement was eventually secured by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) & Civil Recovery Unit of the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to recover £1.8million in fraudulently claimed legal aid have been released by Legal Aid chiefs.

The case of Scotland’s largest legal aid fraud – masterminded by solicitor James Muir who committed suicide in 2005 while under investigation for making multiple & fraudulent claims for publicly funded legal aid – echoes forward to 2015 as the annual legal aid bill of £150 million becomes an ever increasing target for scammers & fraudsters both inside & outside the legal profession.

A minute of agreement archived at the Registers of Scotland and released by SLAB in response to a Freedom of Information request tells the tale of how the stolen public funds were eventually paid back by Muir’s former law firm and his window - Susan Muir – who was a serving Police Officer at the time.

The agreement was signed in September 2007 – two years after Mr Muir committed suicide.

The document describes how Muir’s former law firm - Messrs Sneddon Morrison Solicitors (formerly Sneddons SSC) would repay £259,941,70 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board, and £87,000 to the Civil Recovery Unit of the Crown Office.

Susan Muir, the widow of James Muir, agreed to repay £519,061.84 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board and then a further £884,000 to the Civil Recovery Unit from the sale of a property in Bothwell.

One of the witnesses to the agreement is William Macreath – head of Glasgow based law firm Levy & Mcrae. At the time, and currently, the same law firm the Legal Defence Union and also the Scottish Police Federation.

Currently, Levy & Mcrae are battling a multi million pound writ lodged against them in connection with allegations over their role in the collapse of Heather Capital,a £400million hedge fund.

However, while the two year effort to recover the fraudulently claimed legal aid and it’s ‘eventual’ repayment was championed by SLAB and the Crown Office at the time, there are questions now as to why the Lord Advocate has not used similar methods to recover millions more in public cash from other lawyers who have also been accused of making dodgy legal aid claims.

Since 2007, numerous solicitors accused of making false or fraudulent legal aid claims have featured in media headlines.

In April 2011 a Sunday Mail newspaper investigation revealed Kilmarnock solicitor Niels S Lockhart had claimed at least £600,000 of taxpayers' money in just two years.

A Report to the Law Society of Scotland Section 31, Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986: Niels S Lockhart released by the Scottish Legal Aid Board to the media - accused Lockhart of deliberately ramping up his claims.

After Lockhart ignored a warning from SLAB to curb his claims, the Scottish Legal Aid Board investigated before a probe team concluded that his applications were a systematic attempt to create extra fees. But despite deciding that he routinely made "unnecessary and excessive" claims, SLAB did not call in police. They referred Lockhart to the Law Society of Scotland who also decided no fraud had taken place.

A further investigation by Sunday Mail newspaper in 2011 established that fourteen solicitors accused of making fraudulent legal aid claims escaped prosecution by the Crown Office.

However, unlike in the James Muir case, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Crown Office appear to have made no attempts whatsoever to recover public funds in the additional cases -  which could potentially total millions of pounds.

The documents, provided by the Scottish Legal Aid Board in response to an FOI request along with a statement of SLAB’s investigation of James Muir and subsequent events including the eventual recovery of the fraudulently claimed legal aid funds are published, with signatures & addresses redacted, below:

Statement from the Scottish Legal Aid Board:

The firm of James H G Muir SSC was subject to investigation by the Board's Compliance and Solicitor Investigation unit from November 2004. The firm was identified through the Board's on-going programme of monitoring and investigating of legal aid expenditure.

Issues were identified from an analysis of expenditure, and investigation work on the profile of applications received and accounts submitted for payment in respect of Children's cases by the firm. Theses issues included the persistently high cost of cases, the nature of the subject matter, the content of material submitted with accounts, as well as inconsistencies between the personal details of children on applications submitted and the same information included with the accounts. These aspects, together with discrepancies in information submitted by Mr Muir subsequently cross-checked with third parties such as the Scottish Court Service and Scottish Children Reporter Agency, caused sufficient concern for the Board to contact the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ("COPFS") in February 2005. COPFS in turn instructed Strathclyde Police to investigate the matter.

Mr Muir died on 20 April 2005. The criminal section of the Crown Office could not carry out in further investigative work as, with the death of Mr Muir, there could be no prosecution of any party. Mr Muir's death also presented a number of matters that required to be resolved. These included the ingathering of the Estate, the involvement of the Civil Recovery unit and the work of forensic accountants in establishing any 'dirty money' streams to assets.

The CRU worked to preserve and identify assets, while the Board sought to establish the extent of any fraudulent activities and charges made by Mr Muir. This work not only involved investigating Mr Muir's firm, which was established in 2001, but also required us to consider his activities when he was a Partner with his previous firm, Sneddon Morrison.

Once the extent of the fraud, the most serious ever uncovered by the Board, was established at £1,8m, it was then a matter to secure the recovery of the sums from both the estate of the late Mr Muir and in addition the firm of Sneddon Morrison. It was established that the partners and staff of Sneddon Morrison were not involved in the fraudulent scheme carried out by Mr Muir when a partner, but the firm did benefit from the fraudulent payments and consequently were required to repay these sums, which they did.

A considerable amount of analysis, enquiry and investigation was dedicated to this case. Work had to be done to demonstrate to all relevant parties that Mr Muir had indeed perpetuated a fraudulent scheme on the Board over several years, and in respect of the Proceeds of Crime all the defrauded sums had to be repaid. This was achieved without having to resort to costly and lengthy court proceedings, although this was a course of action the Board and the Civil Recovery Unit would have taken, and had been ready to take, had it proved necessary.

A Minute of Agreement was signed and lodged in September 2007 and thereafter the defrauded sums were repaid which includes the £812,827 paid to the Board as detailed above.

As you will appreciate the period from the initial enquiry in 2004 to the final recovery of fraudulently claimed funds in 2007 involved considerable time and a number of Board staff dedicated to investigate this matter adequately. Initially the focus was on Mr Muir's own firm but as the enquiry widened other cases in respect of Accounts paid to Sneddon Morrison were also considered. Much of 2005 was devoted to the retrieval of information and during this time the Board liaised closely with the Civil Recovery Unit to ensure all assets were identified and all sums that could be classified as fraudulently claimed were repaid.

It is of course a matter of regret that Mr Muir died during the investigation but consequently the nature of the enquiry changed from one in respect of fraud to recovery.

It took some months for the Board to establish the extent of the fraud as it did for the Executor of the late Mr Muir's estate to in-gather sums and to realise assets: this meant that work on this case continued throughout 2006. The Board and the Civil Recovery Unit agreed figures for repayment from both the Estate and the Partners of Sneddon Morrison, and this process of negotiation—which took some months and active involvement of the Board's senior management—was successfully concluded in 2007 when the fraudulent sums were finally repaid.

The fraud was initially identified as a result of the Board's implementing a new process for internal review of Legal Aid expenditure: that process highlighted the activities of Mr Muir. The Board has a proactive counter fraud culture. This includes the on-site audit of all firms and solicitor registered for Criminal Legal Assistance, an Accounts Verification Unit with access to the Scottish Court Service system to enable third party verification, a process that can also adopted in respect of the Scottish Prison Service and Police Offices. In addition there is an imbedded Analysis and Management Information unit within the Board that actively monitors trends in Legal Aid expenditure by firm and individual solicitors highlighting any changes or anomalies that require further clarification or enquiry.

The Agreement: MINUTE OF AGREEMENT between 

(1) THE SCOTTISH LEGAL AID BOARD, 44 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh, EH3 7SW and

(2) THE CIVIL RECOVERY UNIT, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, 25 Chambers Street, Edinburgh and

(3) MESSRS SNEDDON MORRISON, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, a firm of solicitors having a place of business at Clydesdale Bank Chambers, 16 East Main Street, Whitburn, EH47 ORY and

(4) MRS SUSAN MUIR, and

(5) MRS SUSAN MUIR qua Executrix of the iate James Hamilton Gibb Muir SSC

Whereas the parties wish to resolve their dispute regarding the repayment of sums paid from the Scottish Legal Aid Fund to Messrs Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, and James Muir SSC, deceased, they have agreed as follows:

(1) Messrs Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, will pay the sum of £259,941,70 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board with immediate effect.

(2) Messrs Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, will make payment of the sum of £87,000 to the Civil Recovery Unit, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, with immediate effect.

(3) Messrs Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, withdraw, waive and renounce any claim or right of relief which may lie against Mrs Susan Muir or the estate of the late James Muir, and further waive all claims for payment of any other sums which may be due to the firm of Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, from Mrs Susan Muir or the late James Muir or his estate by way of partnership accounting or any other reason.

(4) Mrs Susan Muir qua Executrix will make payment of the sum of £519,061.84 to the Scottish Legal Aid Board as soon as reasonably practicable, and no later than 2 months from the date of signing this agreement. . /

(5) Susan Muir-will arrange for the dwellinghouse to be marketed for sale within 1 month of the date of this agreement, in the event that such steps have not already been initiated by her prior to signature of this agreement.

(6) Susan Muir will make payment of the sum of £884,000 to the Civil Recovery Unit, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, from the free proceeds of the sale of that dwellinghouse and from monies within her late husband's estate being the balance after payment of those sums identified as payable to the Scottish Legal Aid Board and from monies within such accounts and/or other investments as are directly related to savings or investments from the late Mr Muir's earnings from the Scottish Legal Aid Fund. Where any portion of that sum is derived from.the free proceeds of sale of the dwellinghouse, payment of that portion will be made within 4 months of the date of signing this agreement. Where any portion of that sum is derived from any other sources, payment will be made within 2 months of the date of signing this agreement.

(7) Susan Muir, as an individual and qua executrix withdraws, waives and renounces any claim or right of relief which may lie against the firm of Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, and the whole partners thereof.

(8) All payments made under this agreement are net of VAT, and any refund of VAT made to either Messrs Sneddon Morrison, Solicitors, formerly Sneddons SSC, or Susan Muir, qua executrix or otherwise, in respect of the payments which are the subject of this agreement, shall be paid to the Scottish Legal Aid Board. Any refund of Income Tax made to Susan Muir, qua executrix or otherwise, in respect of the payments which are the subject of this agreement, shall be paid to the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

­(9) The Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Civil Recovery Unit, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, discharge the parties to this agreement of the respective claims against said parties upon payment in full of all sums due to them in terms of clauses 1, 2, 4 and 6 by those parties under this agreement.

(10) The above agreement is without prejudice to the right of the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Civil Recovery Unit, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, to initiate appropriate proceedings in the event that any party fails to make payment as agreed upon.

(11) The Scottish Legal Aid Board by Tom Crighton Murray, Director of Legal Services and Applications, at Edinburgh on the Seventh day of September Two Thousand and Seven; and they are signed on behalf of the said Civil Recovery Unit, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, by Lorna Hams, Head of the Civil Recovery Unit, at Edinburgh on the Seventh day of September Two Thousand and Seven in the presence of Claire Meikle, witness, of Victoria Quay, Edinburgh; and they are signed on behalf of the said Messrs Sneddon Morrison, SSC, by Roy Donald Lumsden, Eric Robert Lumsden, David Andrew Johnstone and James Morrison, four of their partners, and the said James Morrison has adhibited the firm name of Sneddon Morrison & Co, all at Whitburn, West Lothian on the Fourth day of September Two Thousand and Seven in the presence of Graeme Alexander Laird, witness, of West Main Street, Whitburn; and they are signed by the said Susan Muir, as an individual, at Glasgow on the Sixth day of September Two Thousand and Seven in the presence of William Couperthwaite Macreath, witness, of 266 St Vincent Street, Glasgow, G2 5RL; and they are signed by the said Susan Muir, qua Executrix of the late James Hamilton Gibb Muir SSC, at Glasgow on the Sixth day of September Two Thousand and Seven in the presence of William Couperthwaite Macreath, witness, of 266 St Vincent Street, Glasgow, G2 5RL.

Further reports & investigations on Legal Aid Fraud can be read here: Legal Aid Fraud - Prosecutors & Legal Aid Chiefs operate inconsistent policy on pursuing legal aid cheats

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SCOTS LAW PLC: Reality Check - Public cash bankrolls profits of ‘top name’ Scots law firms as Scottish Government award £44m contracts to nine legal service providers

Public cash – the ‘food bank’ for Scots law firms IN ADDITION to £1 billion provided in legal aid public cash handed over to lawyers since the financial crash of 2008, and hundreds of millions more taken by law firms from Scots local authorities & public bodies, the Scottish Government this week awarded an extra £44 million in public funds to nine private law firms to provide a range of services from litigation to debt recovery.

The four year Framework Agreement for the Provision of Legal Services contract, now a regular event and previously covered here in 2011: ScotGov legal services contracts link to law firm hospitality also reveals the soaring cost of the contract to taxpayers, now standing at £44 million in 2015, an increase of £24 million from 2011 when the contract was a mere £20 million.

And, as reported in 2011, again, law firms who feature in the latest list of winning bidders coincidentally also appear in lists of hospitality given to key civil servants who head the Scottish Government’s legal departments.

Among the firms to win large hand outs from taxpayers are Brodies LLP, who received free airtime earlier this week for ramping up their profits to £57.9 million.

However, publicity relating to the high profits notably failed to mention the very same law firm – Brodies – like so many others in the list of ScotGov legal provider contract winners – serve numerous Scottish local authorities and a host of Scottish public bodies - collectively earning millions more from the public purse for doing so.

The latest round of extra work for hard up ‘top notch’ Scots law firms on the taxpayer ticket comes on top of figures released by the Scottish Government in response to a Freedom of Information request which reveal a further £9 million (£9,043,617) was spent in the past year by the Scottish Government on 137 lawyers & staff employed at the Scottish Government Legal Directorate, Legal Secretariat to the Lord Advocate  and Parliamentary Counsel Office.

The tender process for latest round of provision of legal services to the Scottish Government - launched a year ago, was run by the Scottish Procurement and Commercial Directorate with the finalised framework available to over one hundred public bodies in Scotland, including NHS organisations, fire and rescue services, the Scottish police authority and the equality and human rights commission.

The former panel was renewed in 2011 and included eleven firms, namely Anderson Strathern; Biggart Baillie; Brodies; DLA Piper; Dundas & Wilson (now CMS); Harper Macleod; Ledingham Chalmers; Maclay Murray & Spens; MacRoberts; Morton Fraser and Pinsent Masons.

The current framework comprises:

Lot 1 – Value £3.6 million: Contracts, Commercial and Corporate: Anderson Strathern, Harper Macleod, MacRoberts, Morton Fraser and Thorntons

Lot 2 – Value £10 million: Debt Recovery: Anderson Strathern, Brodies, Harper MacLeod, Morton Fraser and Thorntons

Lot 3 – Value £10.8 million: Litigation, Reparation, Employment and Inquiries: Anderson Strathern, Brodies, Harper MacLeod, Morton Fraser and Weightmans

Lot 4 – value £8.8 Million: Major Projects: Anderson Strathern, Brodies, DWF, Harper MacLeod and MacRoberts

Lot 5 – Value £6.8 million: Property and Related Matters: Anderson Strathern, DLA Piper, Harper MacLeod, Morton Fraser and Thorntons

Lot 6 – Value £4 million: One Stop Shop: Anderson Strathern, Brodies, Harper MacLeod, Morton Fraser and Thorntons

Thursday, July 23, 2015

SPEAK UP IN PRIVATE, M'LUD: Terse exchanges between Scotland's top cop & judiciary on Police corruption claims saw Chief Constable slapped down amid accusations of interfering with the role of the judiciary

Top cop cannot interfere with judiciary – Sheriff AN EXCHANGE of letters between the Chief Constable of Police Scotland and a Sheriff Principal relating to comments made by a Sheriff of ‘endemic’ Police corruption during a criminal trial of a Police Officer - reveal Scotland’s top cop said the Sheriff hearing the case should have raised his concerns in private instead of airing such matters in open court.

The case, reported earlier last month by the media HERE saw the Chief Constable accused of trying to interfere with the role of Sheriffs after the top cop expressed his anger at a sheriff who suggested a cover-up culture might exist within his force.

In a letter to Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart – Sheriff Dickson’s boss, Sir Stephen House wrote: “I was extremely disappointed that, in the context of this case, Sheriff Dickson was quoted publicly inferring that there is a perceived widespread culture of corruption and cover-ups, to protect fellow officers, within Police Scotland. I vehemently reject any assertion that this case is somehow the tip of an iceberg which needs to be "stamped out" to prevent a "corrupt force" Public confidence and satisfaction in Police Scotland remains high, and unsubstantiated comments from an influential member of the judiciary are extremely damaging .”

The Chief Constable then went on to suggest it would have been better for Sheriff Dickson to raise his concerns in secret, rather than in court.

Sir Stephen House told Sheriff Principal Lockhart: “If Sheriff Dickson had concerns based on specific cases and evidence, I would have expected him to raise these with, either directly or via yourself, in confidence, rather than read about these via sensationalised media reporting.”

Clearly, aggrieved at the situation, the Chief Constable then sent a flurry of press cuttings to Sheriff Principal Lockhart, along with an offer to meet to discuss the situation.

Responding to the criticisms, Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart told the Chief Constable members of the judiciary are entitled to make comment on cases before them, and the offer to meet was refused.

Full text of letters between top cop & sheriff released by Judicial Office. Sheriff Principal Lockhart told Chief Constable House: “Assuming that the press reports are accurate, in my view Sheriff Dickson was entitled to draw from the facts before him that this cover-up may not have been a one-off incident. The off-duty detective who saw McKiliion, apparently under the influence, driving away from a supermarket, deliberately chose not to state his name or job when she called the incident in, as she thought it would not be dealt with appropriately. She was clearly right to do so, in this case. The lead investigating officer recognised McKiliion, chose not to breathalyse him, and radioed his control room to say there was no-one at the house. He then said to his younger colleague "You don't want to grass on another cop or you will have no future in the police." His colleague felt intimidated.”

“Taken together, this is ample evidence to support the Sheriffs remarks. He expressed concern that this might not be a one-off instance. He said "there may be (emphasis mine) a perceived culture that police officers are willing to prevent the arrest and prosecution of a colleague." He said that if such a culture exists, it required to be stamped out. In my view his remarks were neither 'sweeping' nor 'unsubstantiated'. They were carefully phrased expressions of concern, justified by the evidence in the case before him.”

“Moreover, Sheriff Dickson was commenting in his capacity as a judge on evidence led before him, in a case likely to raise considerable public concern. This he was entitled to right, and a duty, to state them, in order that public confidence in the judicial system is not further damaged. To suggest otherwise fails to recognise the role of the judiciary. The integrity of the police force is not merely a matter of concern to senior police officers but to us all.”

“For these reasons, as Sheriff Principal I do not propose to take any action in this case. However, I think it is important that the Lord President is aware of this exchange of correspondence and I am accordingly forwarding a copy to him.”

Whether the Lord President at the time – Lord Brian Gill – took any further action on the matter, is unknown.

However, during his time as Lord President, Lord Gill was prone to issue guidance and edicts if matters concerning the judiciary boiled over into the media - therefore it would be surprising if Scotland’s top judge at the time gave no input on this affair.

Ironically, the Police Officer who was the subject of the heated exchange had his conviction quashed last week on appeal.

David Carmichael was originally sentenced to seven months in prison for wilful neglect of duty after a court heard claims he deliberately lied to protect a fellow officer from being investigated for allegations of drink driving.

Former Strathclyde police constable Carmichael had been freed on interim liberation pending an appeal against his conviction and the jail sentence imposed on him.

Sheriff Dickson prepared a report for judges at the Justiciary Appeal Court in Edinburgh posing the question whether on the facts found in the case was he entitled to convict.

Lord Drummond Young, sitting with Lady Clark of Calton and Sheriff Principal Ian Abercrombie QC, ruled that the answer was in the negative.

The senior judge said they would give reasons in writing for the decision later.

Carmichael's counsel, Gordon Jackson QC, said: "This appellant was convicted of a common law offence of neglect of his duty as a police officer."

Mr Jackson said the alleged failure fell into three parts - failure to make full and proper inquiry, failure to follow a procedure requiring a person to reveal who was driver of a car and a false report.

The senior counsel said: "That would be a matter of police discipline but would not be neglect of his duty."

While the events are now well documented, Justice Diary has published the correspondence between the Chief Constable & the Judiciary in full which was released by the Judicial Office in response to Freedom of Information Requests – given the content of the communications is in keeping with the public’s right to know, and the current debate on role of the judiciary along with judicial transparency & accountability.

Monday, July 20, 2015

HUNT FOR LORD OCTOBER: Scotland’s next top judge will be selected by legal establishment as closed shop process begins to appoint new Lord President of the Court of Session

Legal establishment & judiciary to select Scotland’s new top judge. THE PROCESS leading to the eventual appointment of Scotland’s next top judge began today, almost two months after the sudden retirement of Scotland's longest serving judge - Lord Brian Gill - who served his last three years on the bench as Lord President & Lord Justice General from 8 June 2012 to 31 May 2015.

Earlier today, the Scottish Government & Judicial Office jointly announced First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has established a selection panel comprised of in-house establishment figures including senior members of the judiciary, to make recommendations to the First Minister by Friday 30 October for a new Lord President, the most senior judicial office in Scotland.

However, unlike the selection of senior judicial figures to the top courts of modern democracies such as the United States - where elected representatives have the chance to publicly quiz candidates applying to fill senior judicial positions, the interviews for, and eventual selection of a new top judge for Scotland will be concluded in the now familiar, secretive behind closed doors process controlled by vested legal interests, and fellow members of the judiciary.

In short –  the public will only find out when one wig tells another wig who is going to be their next boss, and the Lord of all our courts.

The selection panel – who will most certainly not be holding their hearings in any public forum such as the Scottish Parliament - is made up of: Sir Muir Russell – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, Mrs Deirdre Fulton – Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, The Rt Hon Lord Reed – Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, The Rt Hon Lady Dorrian – Senator, Inner House of the Court of Session

The position of Lord President – with a salary of £220,655 a year, enormous perks including access to international travel and unrivalled power – even to challenge the Scottish Parliament - is responsible for leadership of the entire Scottish judiciary, in addition to chairing the Board of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. The office holder is the most senior judge in Scotland, with authority over any court established under Scots law, apart from the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Brian Gill (73) who also served as Lord Justice Clerk from 2001 until 2012 when he was appointed Lord President of the Court of Session – left the position vacant earlier this year after a stormy three year term - marked by the Scottish Government’s watering down of the Scottish Civil Courts Review proposals to reform Scotland’s “Victorian” civil courts, and a bitter two year confrontation with the Scottish Parliament over proposals to require members of the judiciary to declare their vast and varied interests.

The proposals to create a register of judicial interests 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.

Among those who are now expected to put their names forward for the position of Lord President are several names of current Lady Senators of the Court of Session – leading to recent speculation by legal insiders that Scotland could gain it's first ever female top judge - in effect, a Lady President of the Court of Session.

Role of the Lord President:

The Lord President is the senior judge in Scotland and the head of the Scottish judiciary. In addition to its judicial duties, the office carries with it responsibilities for the administration of justice in Scotland. These responsibilities include the general supervision of the business of the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary, the initiation and preparation of all subordinate legislation made by those Courts, and an important role in the development of policy concerning the courts and the judiciary in Scotland. In addition, the Lord President has various statutory functions, for example, in relation to the membership and rules of procedure of various tribunals, the regulation of the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland and, along with the Lord Justice Clerk, the removal from office of sheriffs.

The Lord President also acts as chairing member of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) which provides administrative support to the Scottish Courts and judiciary, and to the Scottish Tribunals and members. It is for the Lord President, along with the other SCTS members, to provide visible leadership and strategic direction to drive the necessary reform and continuous improvement which will enable the SCTS to develop.

Application pack for position of Lord President. The timetable from job interview to final recommendation is:

Office advertised  Monday 20 July 2015, Closing date for applications  Monday 3 August 2015 (midnight), Deadline for referees   Monday 24 August 2015 (midnight), Sift  Wednesday 2 September 2015, Invitation to interview letters issued Monday 7 September 2015, Interviews  Monday 5 October 2015, Recommendations to First Minister  Friday 30 October 2015

The function of the selection panel is to make recommendations to the First Minister of those whom they have assessed as suitable for appointment as Lord President. That assessment must be solely on merit.

On completion of the interviews the panel will therefore submit a written report to the First Minister containing its recommendations.

The First Minister will then carry out the statutory consultation with the Lord Justice Clerk.

Following this consultation, and with regard to the selection panel’s recommendations, the First Minister will in turn make her nomination to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will then make the recommendation to Her Majesty the Queen.

Only once Her Majesty has agreed the recommendation will candidates be informed of the outcome of the selection stages.

The following Personal Qualities and Criteria for Appointment are contained in the application pack:

Legal and Judicial - A candidate shall:
* Be an outstanding lawyer in the main areas of the law that come to be determined in the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary.
* Possess a thorough understanding of the theory and principles on which the law is based, its practical application and an ability to analyse and explore legal problems creatively and imaginatively.
* Be able clearly and succinctly to set out complex legal issues both orally and in writing and to explain the reasoned basis for any decision.
* Be aware of the areas in which the law is developing with a demonstrable desire to master new and unfamiliar areas of the law.

Leadership and Management - A candidate shall be able to:
* Provide visible and visionary leadership for both the Scottish Judiciary and the SCTS.
* Inspire confidence, command respect and gain commitment from others.
* Provide leadership and strategic direction to ensure that decisions are taken and implemented to deliver an effective and efficient court service across Scotland.
* Lead reform within financial constraints and at a time of significant change.
* Lead change in encouraging a more diverse judiciary.

Personal Qualities - A candidate should be able to demonstrate:
* Integrity, independence of mind, moral courage and the ability to command respect.
* Social awareness and understanding of the contemporary world.
* Sound temperament, consideration and courtesy.
* Resilience.
* Excellent communication skills which support the representational role on behalf of the judiciary and SCTS.
* Fairness, impartiality and a responsible attitude.
* An ability to set and promote both the highest standards of behaviour in court and wider judicial conduct.

Eligibility for appointment as Lord President is open to:

* Serving Court of Session judges
* Sheriffs principal and sheriffs who have held continuous office for at least five years immediately preceding appointment
* Solicitors who have had rights of audience in both the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the appointment
* Advocates of at least five years standing
* Writers to the Signet of ten years standing who have passed an examination in civil law set by the Faculty of Advocates, two years before appointment

FAMILIAR FACES: Profiles of the selection Panel members:

Sir Muir Russell was appointed as lay Chairing Member of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland in October 2008 and has been reappointed twice, until September 2016. Sir Muir was educated at the High School of Glasgow and Glasgow University, where he took a first class honours degree in Natural Philosophy. He was Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Office and then the Scottish Executive from 1998 to 2003 and Principal of the University of Glasgow from 2003 to 2009.

Mrs Deirdre Fulton was appointed a lay member of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland in February 2015. She is a graduate of University of Strathclyde and has a Masters in Business Administration. She runs her own consultancy business with a focus on providing meaningful insight and analysis, mainly to clients in the aviation sector. Typical assignments include strategic planning, due diligence, market research, marketing and communications. Prior to setting up her own company in 2008, she worked at a senior level in the Scottish aviation industry and gained extensive experience of corporate strategy and operations as well as people and resource management. She is Vice Chair and Trustee of her local Samaritans branch with specific responsibility for recruitment and selection.

Lord Reed was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2012 and is one of the two Scottish Justices of The Supreme Court. Lord Reed is a graduate of the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford. He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1983, where he undertook a wide range of civil and criminal work. He served as a senior judge in Scotland for 13 years, being appointed to the Outer House of the Court of Session in 1998 and to the Inner House in January 2008. During 1999 he sat as an ad hoc judge of the European Court of Human Rights.

Lady Dorrian was appointed as a Senator of the College of Justice in 2005, having served as a Temporary Judge since 2002. She was appointed to the Inner House in November 2012. Lady Dorrian is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen (LLB). She was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1981 and was Standing Junior Counsel to the Health and Safety Executive and Commission between 1987 and 1994. She served as Advocate Depute between 1988 and 1991 and as Standing Junior to the Department of Energy between 1991 and 1994. Lady Dorrian was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1994 and between 1997 and 2001 she was a member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Lady Dorrian was appointed as a judicial member of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland in July 2011.
Contact information

Thursday, July 02, 2015

FAILED TO JAIL: Law Society’s self regulation ‘failed public’ as ex solicitor who posed as colleague to lure clients has jail sentenced quashed by Court of Session

Banned lawyer John O’Donnell escapes jail A BANNED SOLICITOR who was given a three month custodial sentence earlier this year for posing as a colleague to lure clients has had his jail sentence quashed during an appeal hearing at the Court of Session earlier this week.

John Gerard O’Donnell (64) was found guilty of breach of interdict and sentenced in February by Lord Stewart after the court heard details of O’Donnell’s eleven year trail of ruined clients and consistent failures by the Law Society of Scotland to protect the public & clients from rogue solicitors.

But earlier this week - Appeal judges admonished O'Donnell after hearing of mental health problems and lack of proof over criminal motive.

Lady Dorrian, who sat with judges Lord Drummond Young and Lady Clark, ruled that Lord Stewart acted incorrectly when he ordered O'Donnell to be sent to jail.

Lady Dorrian added: "We are satisfied that the Lord Ordinary erred in his approach to sentencing. We think a period of imprisonment is excessive.We propose recalling the sentence imposed and impose an admonition."

Lady Dorrian’s assertion that sentencing O’Donnell to there months in jail was “excessive” comes after Lord Stewart claimed in his February 2015 sentencing statement that "In order to punish Mr O'Donnell and to deter others, the court must impose a custodial sentence.”

Yesterday, the Law Society of Scotland claimed it had done all it could to protect consumers from O’Donnell and others like him who prey on members of the public and fleece taxpayer funded legal aid.

Lorna Jack, Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland said: “By holding himself out as a solicitor permitted to practice, John O’Donnell engaged in a course of conduct that breached a court order and flouted the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal and provisions of the statute that regulate the legal profession’

“The Law Society did all it could and should have done in relation to protecting the public and reputation of the profession by taking breach of interdict action against John O’Donnell.  Mr O’Donnell had breached an order of the court and it is therefore for the court to determine what sanction is appropriate.”

Jack continued: “It is essential to protect members of the public seeking legal advice and ensure they can continue to put their trust in solicitors. We will always take action against individuals if we have good reason to believe they are misleading people by holding themselves out as a solicitor when they are not entitled to do so.”

Legal insiders countered there was no real protection of the public interest, and the Law Society’s system of self regulation – where lawyers investigate their own – had once again failed.

Among many examples of O’Donnell’s activities, it was revealed in court he took the identity of a solicitor colleague - Colin Davidson - in order to dodge a five year ban imposed by the Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in 2009 after they found O’Donnell guilty of professional misconduct for a third time.

Despite the ban - O'Donnell started working for a firm on Glasgow's south side - operated by solicitor Colin Davidson.

O'Donnell impersonated Mr Davidson, using his name to sign legal documents and posed as Davidson to clients. O’Donnell also gave instructions to an advocate – giving the impression that he was allowed to work as a solicitor.

John O’Donnell’s identity was only revealed after a client visited Diary of Injustice and read of media investigations into the solicitor’s murky past.

One of O’Donnell’s victims – widow Elizabeth Campbell (71) discovered O’Donnell was not Colin Davidson after she visited the Diary of Injustice law blog and saw his picture along with media investigations into O’Donnell’s decade long trail of client scams.

An investigation by the media also established Mrs Campbell was referred to John O’Donnell by Gilbert S Anderson – employed at Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau in a position funded by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

Letters obtained by the Sunday Mail newspaper & Diary of Injustice - revealed Anderson sent O’Donnell a handwritten note saying “possibly in my mind a cash for Colin £3000” indicating he hoped O’Donnell would be able to scam fees from the elderly widow.

Diary of Injustice reported on the case involving John O’Donnell & Gilbert Anderson, here : Crooked lawyer impersonates DEAD COLLEAGUE to lure clients in fraud scam.

Gilbert Anderson was the subject of further investigations, reported here: BREACH OF TRUST : Citizens Advice investigates taxpayer funded Hamilton CAB lawyer

John O’Donnell featured in numerous media reports spanning over a decade relating to multiple negligence claims, and continuing investigations into his conduct for over a decade which the Law Society of Scotland was unable, or unwilling to prevent.

LAWYERS BEHAVING BADLY:

An investigation by BBC’s Lawyers Behaving Badly featured the case of John O’Donnell.

The programme - aired in January 2014 to much consternation of the Law Society, certain parts of the legal profession and elderly aggrieved legal hacks – revealed staggering differences in how dishonesty is tolerated in the Scottish legal profession in comparison to cases in England & Wales – where dishonesty is automatically a striking off offence.

Alistair Cockburn, Chair, Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal. Featured in the investigation was the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) Chairman’s attitude towards solicitors accused of dishonesty in their representation of clients legal affairs. During the programme, it became clear that dishonesty among lawyers in Scotland is treated less severely, compared to how English regulators treat dishonesty.

Sam Poling asks: The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal hears all serious conduct cases against solicitors. Last year they struck off nine of them. But is this robust enough?

Alistair Cockburn Chairman, Scottish solicitors discipline tribunal replies: It is robust in the sense that it doesn’t just give convictions on the basis that somebody’s brought before us charged by the Law Society.  We are mindful, particularly when reminded of the lay members, of a duty to the public.

One is always concerned when there is deception but you can have a situation where solicitors simply lose their place. They make false representations in order to improve their client’s position, not necessarily their own. And you would take that into account in deciding what the penalty was but there’s no suggestion that such conduct wasn’t deemed to be professional as conduct. 

Sam Poling: So there are levels of dishonesty which sit comfortably with you, satisfactorily with you?

Alistair Cockburn: No it’s not a question of saying sitting comfortably with me.  I’ve told you…

Sam Poling: OK that you would accept?

Alistair Cockburn: No I’d be concerned on any occasion that a solicitor was guilty of any form of dishonesty.  One has to assess the extent to which anyone suffered in consequence of that dishonesty.  You have to take into consideration the likelihood of re-offending and then take a decision.  But you make it sound as if it’s commonplace.  It isn’t.  Normally dishonesty will result in striking-off.

English QC’s agree ‘dishonesty’ is a striking off offence. The SSDT Chairman’s comments on dishonesty compared starkly with the comments of the English QC’s who said dishonesty was undoubtedly a striking off offence.

Andrew Hopper QC: “I cant get my head round borrowing in this context. Somebody explain to me how you can borrow something without anyone knowing about it. That’s just taking.”

Andrew Boon Professor of Law, City University, London: “They actually say in the judgement they would have struck him off but the client hadn't complained.”

Andrew Hopper QC “We’re dealing with a case of dishonesty and that affects the reputation of the profession. I would have expected this to result in striking off.”

Andrew Boon, Professor of Law: “The critical thing is the risk factor. If somebody has been dishonest once the likelihood is that they are going to be dishonest again unless they’re stopped.”

As Sam Poling went on to report: “but he [O’Donnell] wasn't stopped. The tribunal simply restricted his license so that he had to work under the supervision of another solicitor.”

Previous reports on John G O’Donnell can be read here John G O'Donnell - how one solicitor held up the Law Society

Monday, June 22, 2015

NEW BROOM TO TELL: Judicial transparency in the dock as Holyrood MSPs set to quiz Judicial Complaints Reviewer on support for a register of interests for judges

New Judicial Complaints Reviewer to face Holyrood. SCOTLAND’S new Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) will appear before the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee tomorrow, Tuesday 23 June, to give evidence on her support for a register of judicial interests.

Gillian Thompson OBE – former head of the Accountant in Bankruptcy (AIB) who has held the post of JCR since summer 2014 – replacing Moi Ali - Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer who stood down last year due to a lack of regulatory power - is expected to continue support for a proposal calling for judges to be required to declare their vast wealth and secretive links to business, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

The judicial transparency proposal calls for 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.

The petition has cross party support from MSPs who backed a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests at Holyrood on 7 October 2014 - reported along with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges.

Writing in a letter to the Public Petitions Committee  in January, Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson backed calls to make judges more accountable on their secretive interests.

Gillian Thompson told MSPs: “As a general principle I am in favour of those in public life, whether paid or unpaid, being required to maintain a register of interests including hospitality given or received.”

“We live in an age in which transparency about interests and activities of those in the public eye is regarded as good practice. There is a perception that anything less is the result of attempts to hide things. In the case of Judges, it is clear that court users and the public more widely seek reassurances of fairness and impartiality. I think it is difficult for those outside the Judiciary to understand the notion that the Oath taken by Judges on appointment should be regarded as sufficient evidence of their commitment to uphold the principles of public life.”

“Of course a register as called for by this petition would require to be kept up to date and the burden of cost and responsibility would have to be borne by, most likely, the public purse. It seems to me however that the costs attached would be offset to a degree by an increase in confidence and, conceivably, a drop in complaints.”

JCR Gillian Thompson’s backing for Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary comes after Moi Ali - Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer – quit her role as JCR after describing the job as “window dressing” during an evidence session with MSPs in September 2013, reported along with video coverage here: As Scotland’s top judge battles on against transparency, Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life

JCR Moi Ali gives evidence to Scottish Parliament on a proposed Register of Judicial Interests

The full written report on the eye opening 2013 evidence session with Moi Ali and the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee was published here : Evidence from Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali to Public Petitions Committee on Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali backed register of judicial interests: A further letter of support from Moi Ali while she held the post of Judicial Complaints Reviewer told MSPs of the “incredibly powerful” nature of the judiciary and why a register of judicial interests would help judicial transparency and public confidence in the justice system.

Moi Ali said: “I write not from the viewpoint of the judiciary, who have a vested interest in this issue. I write from the perspective of the Scottish public. I write not on behalf of those who hand down justice, but those who are on the receiving end. It is important that their voice is heard. They have a right to know that justice is being done, an essential component of which is that it is seen to be done. A register of interests is a tangible way of showing that justice is being done.”

“I think it likely that the number of complaints against the judiciary would fall were there to be a published register of interest for judicial office holders. I have received complaints about perceived conflicts of interest that have come to light after court proceedings. A register of interests would allow issues to be dealt with at the time, thus averting the need for a complaint. That would be good for the judiciary and for the public.”

“The position of the judiciary is incredibly powerful. They have the power to take away people’s assets, to separate families, to lock people away for years. Some of these people will not have committed a crime. They may be women who want protection from abusing partners, fathers who want access to their children, or people whose home is at stake due to various legal or family wrangles. People going through the court system face stress and anxiety, perhaps financial pressures, and fear about the future. Their perspective is important and must be a consideration in this matter.”

“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. Again, a register of interests is a way of demonstrating that a judicial office holder is impartial and has no vested interest in a case –financially, through family connections, club/society membership or in any other way. Conversely, the refusal to institute a register of interests creates suspicion that in turn undermines judicial credibility. So once more, a register of interests is good for the judiciary and good for the public.”

Gillian Thompson’s appearance before MSPs at Holyrood follows a secret meeting between Scottish Ministers and Lord President Lord Gill - who demanded proposals on requiring judges to declare their interests - be halted.

The secret meeting between Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse and Scotland's now retired top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill (73) and his aides was held in February - to discuss joint efforts between the Scottish Government and senior judicial figures to combat a long running Scottish Parliament investigation into proposals to increase transparency of the judiciary - Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

The existence of the secret get together between Scottish Government Ministers and judges desperate to conceal their vast and varied interests from the public - only came to light in a letter of intervention from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee at the end of March.

NEW JCR SCRUTINISED REGISTERS OF INTEREST FOR COURT STAFF:

Diary of Injustice previously reported on concerns regarding hospitality involving Scottish Court Service employees where the former AIB Chief was asked by the Scottish Court Service to investigate reports of irregularities in hospitality given to court staff. The request for the investigation came after the SCS received Freedom of Information requests regarding hospitality in the courts, prompting concerns some staff may have accepted gifts or hospitality but failed to register.

Report said SCS Registers were insufficient, and Court staff involved in private gain failed to declare. Gillian Thompson’s Report on Hospitality & Gifts in the SCS stated:  “The information currently captured on the registers is insufficient to provide assurance that staff are using their common sense and considering issues such as conflict of interest.

Ms Thompson went on to recommend the “SCS should revise the Policy on Acceptance of Gifts, Rewards and Hospitality to ensure that it is fit for purpose for all staff, taking account of the various roles performed within SCS. It may also be time to revisit the levels of value for gifts and hospitality.”

The former AIB’s report also revealed court staff were using their positions to earn money privately from their links with lawyers and law firms operating in courts, stating “Several staff raised the issue of sheriff clerks who carry out extrajudicial taxations and private assessments and who personally benefit financially from these activities.”

Ms Thompson’s report roundly condemned this practice, stating: “Not only is it inappropriate in terms of the civil service code requirements for staff who are public servants to be able to receive private gain from their employment it is also highly divisive when other staff see such benefits being derived from simply being in the right post of Auditor of Court within the Sheriff Courts.”

Ms Thompson recommended in her report the “SCS should bring the practice of sheriff clerks profiting privately from their employment by SCS to an end as quickly as possible”.

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, June 18, 2015

YOUR BANK, M’LORD? The £40m trail of secretive judicial interests, billionaires, aristocrats & offshore trusts in Hampden & Co, Scotland’s latest bank

Judges, mega rich & offshore money mix in new Scots bank. A RICH LIST of investors in Hampden & Co - Scotland’s first new bank in 30 years – reveals members of the judiciary including a suspended judge - among the ranks of billionaires, aristocrats and anonymous offshore trusts who have pumped in £40 million into the financial institution - located in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh.

Among the ranks of investors in the new bank are figures from the judiciary such as the now suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson – who was suspended from his current judicial duties by Lord President Lord Gill in February of this year - in relation to legal writs linked to the £400m collapse of hedge fund Heather Capital.

Other judicial figures include Court of Session judges and former EU judge, Scottish lawyer & academic Sir David Edward KCMG QC FRSE.

Today, the Judicial Office for Scotland refused to comment on, or confirm the identities of any judges who hold shares in the new bank.

Hampden & Co annual return reveals wealthy shareholder list. In accounts filed by Hampden & Co, Edinburgh, a Michael Scott Jones - is the registered as owner of 200,000 shares.

The Judicial Office refused to confirm or deny if this is the same Michael Scott Jones who is Court of Session judge Lord Jones.

The accounts for the bank also reveal Peter Black Watson is the holder of 400,000 shares.

While the Judicial Office refused to confirm if this is the same Peter Black Watson who was suspended by Lord President Lord Gill earlier this year “to maintain public confidence in the judiciary”, Watson’s identity as one of the shareholders of Hampden & Co has been confirmed in a report in The Scottish Sun newspaper earlier this week.

Speaking to the media today, the Judicial Office refused to be drawn on the issue of judges investments and the need for a register of judicial interests to enable the public to scrutinise judges interests and links to big business, banks and other vested interests.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office for Scotland would only say : “Personal investment decisions are a matter for individual judicial office holders.

“Judicial office holders are bound by the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and in the event of a case presenting a potential conflict of interests, by reason of an investment or otherwise, will recuse themselves. These recusal decisions are a matter of public record”.

However, it is a matter of public record not one Scottish judge has declared a financial interest in a case which has resulted in a published recusal, and one senior Sheriff – Sheriff Principal Alistair Dunlop - who held shares in Tesco – did not recuse himself in the case involving the supermarket giant.

No public record of any refusals or failures of judges to recuse themselves have appeared in the list of recusals published by the judiciary.

Neither have any financial details of members of the judiciary appeared in the list of recusals.

A petition currently under consideration by the Scottish Parliament - Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary - calls for 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.

The petition has cross party support from msps who backed a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests at Holyrood on 7 October 2014 - reported along with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges.

In an investigation earlier this week by the Scottish Sun newspaper, it was revealed there are fears among some of Hampden & Co’s shareholders of a second independence referendum, tax rises and how the business climate in Scotland will fare under policies of the SNP Scottish Government.

The bank’s investor list reveals predominantly rich, unionist shareholders such as tycoon Alastair Salvesen, self-storage tycoon Alister Jack, Greenock-born financier Malcolm Offord, Dobbie's garden centre chief James Barnes, Edinburgh art dealer Alexander Meddowes and Stirling-based construction tycoons Duncan Fletcher & Duncan Ogilvie, both worth over £50million. Aristocratic customers includes the Queen's cousin David Bowes-Lyons and the Earl of Rosebery's daughter Lady Caroline Primrose.

Euripides Investments Ltd, the new bank's second largest shareholder, is based in Jersey — meaning its ownership is secret and that owners are likely to pay less tax on profits than individual UK shareholders.

Another major shareholder is Guernsey-based Kusapi Ltd.

Hampden & Co are refusing to reveal the identity of a major Chinese investor - Cai Dang Fang – listed in Companies House records as Hampden's fourth largest shareholder. But it's not known whether that is a person or a company — and the bank won't say if they are based in the UK or overseas.

The private bank's headquarters in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, are just a few doors away from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's Bute House residence.

However, many of Hampden's super-rich backers are staunch unionists who fear their savings may be hit by a rampant SNP push for full fiscal autonomy and another independence referendum.

Speaking to The Sun – Founder & Chairman Ray Entwistle (70) insisted "we have absolutely no intention of racing into any kind of decision".

But referring to the SNP's election success he warned: "I suspect a host of businesses that were anxious over the referendum last year remain partially anxious about what happened last month.

"This bank is registered in Scotland, the head office is in Edinburgh and we have a large number of friends we want to do business both in Scotland and in London.

"We are going to wait and see what happens over the next few months. "And I suspect that a lot of other businesses are waiting to see what transpires politically."

Commenting on the bank, Deputy First Minister & Finance Secretary John Swinney said: "We have a world-leading financial services sector and a talented workforce, making Scotland a great place for new businesses to locate. The Scottish Government has been clear about its approach to taxation. This will be based on ability to pay, certainty, convenience and efficiency of collection."

THE SUSPENDED SHERIFF

Lord Gill (73) suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson (61) after demanding sight of a multi million pound writ against Glasgow law firm Levy & Mcrae - Watson’s former law firm -  which is one of several companies being sued by Heather Capital’s liquidator, Ernst & Young, after the fund's collapse in 2010. Watson was a director of a company called Mathon Ltd, and another - Aarkad PLC - key parts of the Heather empire.

The collapsed hedge fund Heather Capital – run by lawyer Gregory King is now the subject of a Police Scotland investigation and reports to the Crown Office. Gregory King – a lawyer - is named along with three others – lawyer Andrew Sobolewski, accountant Andrew Millar and property expert Scott Carmichael in a police report.

An earlier statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland on Watson’s suspension reported: Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

“On Friday 13 February the Judicial Office was made aware of the existence of a summons containing certain allegations against a number of individuals including part-time sheriff Peter Watson. The Lord President’s Private Office immediately contacted Mr Watson and he offered not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings.

Mr Watson e-mailed a copy of the summons to the Lord President’s Private Office on Saturday 14 February. On Monday 16 February the Lord President considered the matter.  Having been shown the summons, the Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.

Mr Watson was therefore duly suspended from office on Monday 16 February 2015.”

BANK OPENS AMID GLARE OF PUBLICITY:

Today, 18 June 2015 – Hampden & Co., the first private bank to come through the new process to obtain a banking licence, has opened its doors to clients after securing final regulatory approval at the beginning of June. It is the first private bank to be set up in the UK for 30 years and will address the significant demand in the UK for a new, high quality banking service.

Founded in 2010 by Ray Entwistle, the former Chairman of Adam & Company, the bank has recruited an impressive team of over 50 qualified professional bankers and support staff, headed up by Chief Executive Graeme Hartop, formerly CEO of Scottish Widows Bank.

The bank will deliver a traditional private banking service built on long-term client relationships and personal service from offices initially in Edinburgh and London. Capital of nearly £50 million has been raised for the launch, which demonstrates the confidence investors have in the business opportunity.

Ray Entwistle commented: "There is strong demand for a new private bank which delivers the right quality of service with long-term continuity of personnel and speed of decision making. Over 250 shareholders have come to the same conclusion and they have been prepared to back our experienced team with the capital required to launch our new bank."

Graeme Hartop added: "The timing for launch is ideal as we continue to experience an improved economic environment, strong client demand and a favourable competitive landscape as a large number of the existing banks continue to deal with significant legacy issues. We will deliver a traditional client-led private banking service, fully focussed on client needs and not product sales targets, which will lead to strong client-to-banker relationships. We are delighted to be welcoming clients on board."