Justice Committee continues probe on Judges’ interests. A SEVEN YEAR probe by two committees of the Scottish Parliament - on cross party supported proposal to create a Register of Judges’ Interests – has called for views on how other jurisdictions tackle both judicial recusals and methods of declarations of judicial interests.
During discussions between members of Holyrood’s Justice Committee on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary, MSPs expressed the view that openness and transaprency – which the register of judges’ interests petition seeks to create – does not contradict the independence of the judiciary.
Daniel Johnson MSP stated: “As was the case when we considered the petition previously, I think that there are reasons to examine it. In everything that I say, I bear in mind our duty to uphold the independence of the judiciary, but I do not believe that openness and transparency contradict that.”
Another Justice Committee MSP also expressed views on the completeness of the current Register of Recusals – a register of conflicts of interest which was created by ex Lord President Brian Gill during April 2014 - in response to the petition.
John Finnie MSP said: “I fully endorse Daniel Johnson’s view, and particularly the comment about independence. However, there is an obvious tension here. There is a public expectation—it is not unreasonable, in my view—that there should be no conflicts of interest. Our papers refer to the recusal register, but that does not seem comprehensive enough to me.”
While no reference was made to new evidence submitted to the Justice Committee, documenting work by serving Scottish judges in the Gulf States, a full submission by the petitioner to the Committee can be read in the previous report on Justice Committee work on the petition, here: MSPs urged to take forward SEVEN year petition to create a Register of Judges’ Interests as Holyrood Justice Committee handed evidence of Scottish Judges serving in Gulf states regimes known to abuse Human Rights
The lengthy Scottish Parliament probe on judicial interests has generated over sixty two submissions of evidence, at least twenty one Committee hearings, a private meeting and fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate and has since been taken over by Holyrood’s Justice Committee after a recommendation to take the issue forward from the Public Petitions Committee in March 2018.
The proposal, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.
The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, backing in the media, and crucial support from two of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewers – including Moi Ali
Moi Ali – who served as Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) - appeared before the Public Petitions Committee in a hard hitting evidence session during September 2013,and gave full sypport to the proposals calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.
Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)
The Convener (Margaret Mitchell Central Scotland Scottish Conservatives) : Agenda item 4 is consideration of two petitions. I refer members to paper 4, which is a note by the clerk, and paper 5, which is a private paper. Paragraph 5 of paper 4 provides the options that are available to the committee when it considers petitions.
The first petition that the committee will consider is PE1458, by Peter Cherbi, on a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament
“to urge the Scottish Government to create a Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill (as is currently being considered in New Zealand’s Parliament) or amend present legislation to require all members of the Judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests & hospitality received to a publicly available Register of Interests.”
This is the committee’s third consideration of the petition. I refer members to annex A of paper 4, which details the response that was received from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. The committee is asked to consider what, if any, further action it wishes to undertake in relation to the petition. The options available include: keeping the petition open; keeping it open and taking additional action, such as writing to the cabinet secretary and/or others; or closing the petition. I seek members’ views.
Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab): As was the case when we considered the petition previously, I think that there are reasons to examine it. In everything that I say, I bear in mind our duty to uphold the independence of the judiciary, but I do not believe that openness and transparency contradict that. The Public Petitions Committee took evidence on the issue, but that was some time ago—I believe that it was in 2013—so I wonder whether the committee might want to pull together information regarding how other countries approach the issue. Given that we have a new Cabinet Secretary for Justice, we could perhaps also request his views on the matter.
John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green): I fully endorse Daniel Johnson’s view, and particularly the comment about independence. However, there is an obvious tension here. There is a public expectation—it is not unreasonable, in my view—that there should be no conflicts of interest. Our papers refer to the recusal register, but that does not seem comprehensive enough to me. I agree with the proposal that we should find out about the approach in other countries, particularly New Zealand, as that would be helpful.
Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP): I totally agree with Daniel Johnson and John Finnie. More information would be helpful. It is an important issue, and transparency has to be key.
Daniel Johnson: For information, I point out that the bill on the issue that was before the New Zealand Parliament was either withdrawn or defeated, but I understand that a register exists in other jurisdictions. I think that Norway has been mentioned.
The Convener (Margaret Mitchell): Clearly, there are huge issues at stake, and a fine balance has to be struck. I would like to know a little more about how the recusal code or policy works. When a conflict of interest is declared, how much detail is recorded and is it in the public domain? It would be good to look at that.
I get the impression from members that they would like to at least explore legislation in other countries. Norway has been mentioned. New Zealand did not proceed with the proposals, but it would perhaps be good to look at what was said there. As Daniel Johnson rightly points out, we have a new cabinet secretary, so it would be good to seek his views.
Are members content to progress by doing those three things?
Members indicated agreement.
The Justice Committee hearing on Petition PE1458 was also reported in the National newspaper here:
By Martin Hannan Journalist 07 Feb 2019
The committee will also seek the views of Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf
FOR nearly one third of the entire lifetime of the Scottish Parliament, MSPs have been discussing the petition put forward by law journalist and campaigner Peter Cherbi calling for a register of judges’ interests.
Now in its seventh year of consideration, the petition calls on the Scottish Parliament “to urge the Scottish Government to create a Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill ... or amend present legislation to require all members of the Judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests and hospitality received to a publicly available Register of Interests.”
In the latest development, Holyrood’s Justice Committee has decided to call for more evidence after the Petitions Committee referred the case to them. John Finnie, Highland MSP for the Greens, said: “There is a public expectation – it is not unreasonable, in my view – that there should be no conflicts of interest.”
The committee will also seek the views of Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf.
As a result of the petition, the Scottish judiciary now keep a register of recusals, when a judge or sheriff steps aside from a case.
Cherbi commented: “It does somehow feel like the six years of work from the Public Petitions Committee (PPC) should be put to better use, and work should now begin on creating the register rather than repeating the evidence exercise.
“Seven years is a long time for a petition on transparency, especially one calling for a register of judicial interests to the equivalent or higher standard of the same register which MSPs are required to adhere to.
“I feel we must now move on and take the good work of MSPs on the PPC to bring this register into existence,” he added.
Previously, on the Register of Judicial Interests Petition -
A video report of the Public Petitions Committee backing for the petition can be viewed online here: Petition PE 1458 Register of Judicial Interests Public Petitions Committee 22 March 2018
A full report containing video footage of every hearing, speech, and evidence sessions at the Scottish Parliament on Petition PE1458 can be found here: Scottish Parliament debates, speeches & evidence sessions on widely supported judicial transparency petition calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland's judiciary.
MSP at Holyrood have previously heard over sixty two submissions of evidence, during twenty one Committee hearings, and a private meeting between two MSPs and a top judge, and two private meetings since early December 2017 to decide a way forward on their six year investigation.
Cross party support for the Petition at the Scottish Parliament saw fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate spanning from 2012 to 2018.
A full debate on the proposal to require judges to declare their interests was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 - ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was overwhelmingly supported by MSPs from all political parties.
Scotland’s second Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also supported the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.
Video footage and a full report on Lord Brian Gill giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament in November 2015 can be found here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests - Petitions Committee Chief brands Lord Gill’s evidence as “passive aggression”
Video footage and a full report on Lord Carloway (Colin Sutherland) giving widely criticised evidence to the Scottish Parliament in July 2017 can be found here: REGISTER TO JUDGE: Lord Carloway criticised after he blasts Parliament probe on judicial transparency - Top judge says register of judges’ interests should only be created if judiciary discover scandal or corruption within their own ranks
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.