Orient Express : Lord Gill ‘re-invited’ to attend Holyrood after judicial snub to msps. SCOTLAND’S top judge, Lord President Lord Brian Gill who earlier this month snubbed an official invite to attend the Scottish Parliament, has been asked once again by a Parliamentary Committee to appear before msps to face questions on why he is refusing to implement a register of interests for Scotland's judiciary.
The latest invitation from members of Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee comes after Lord Gill, who regularly travels to destinations as far afield as China,Taiwan and this week, South Africa, refused to attend Scotland’s elected Parliament, located a few hundred metres down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile from Lord Gill’s office at the Court of Session.
Legal observers to the escalating stand off between the Parliament & Scotland’s top judge say the Lord President appears anxious to avoid facing questions from msps over his objections to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary, filed by law journalist Peter Cherbi.
Last Tuesday, 16 April, the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee met to discuss the Lord President’s refusal to attend an evidence session. Committee members including Chic Brodie MSP, Jackson Carlaw MSP and the Committee’s Convener David Stewart MSP, made it clear that Lord Gill should be re-invited to attend an evidence session at the Scottish Parliament to face questions on the strength of his objections to creating a register of interests for his judicial colleagues.
The Committee also agreed to seek views from the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali. who has also encountered resistance from the Lord President with regard to transparency of complaints made against members of Scotland’s judiciary, recently reported in the Sunday Mail newspaper and on Diary of Injustice, HERE.
Petition 1458 Register of Interests for Scotland's Judiciary Scottish Parliament 16 April 2013 (click image below to watch video footage of Petitions Committee debate)
The Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee has since issued a statement on Friday 19 April, announcing that Lord Gill has been asked to reconsider his decision not to appear in front of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in a letter issued by Convener David Stewart MSP on behalf of the Committee. The invitation asks Lord Gill to reconsider his decision not to attend the committee to discuss petition PE1458, which calls for legislation to be put in place to require all members of the judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests and hospitality received to a publicly available register of interests.
Committee Convener David Stewart MSP said: “As a Scottish Parliament committee, our job is to fully examine the petitions before us and explore the issues involved.Only by doing this can we ensure that we exhausted every possible avenue in taking a petition forward. To do this without hearing from the Lord President in person would be difficult. That is why we are disappointed that Lord Gill has felt unable to attend a committee meeting to discuss these issues fully. We have written to Lord Gill asking him to reconsider his decision in the hope that our committee can have a full and frank discussion of the issues.”
MSPs letter to Lord Gill requesting he attend Scottish Parliament. The text of the letter sent by Convener of the Petitions Committee, David Stewart MSP to Lord Gill states : “Notwithstanding your response, the Committee still feels it would assist its consideration of this petition and aide its understanding of the issues raised were you able to make yourself available. The Committee can see benefit in being able to explore with you orally the written evidence provided. By way of example, we note that to your knowledge no situation has arisen, within your tenure as Lord President, where a judge has failed to recuse him or herself. Would a central record be kept of any such instances and if so, are you able to provide any information on the numbers involved? I and the other members of the Committee would be most grateful if you were able to reconsider the invitation from the Committee to attend in person.”
Diary of Injustice reported on the Petitions Committee’s meeting of 5th March 2013 which issued the initial invite to Lord Gill to attend Holyrood, here : SILENCE IN COURT : Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill summoned to Parliament over ‘vested interests’ attempt to block Register of Judicial Interests petition and video footage of that earlier meeting is also available online here : Petition PE1458 Register of Judges Interests 5 March 2013 Scottish Parliament.
The Sunday Mail newspaper has also reported on the latest developments and MSPs comments regarding Lord Gill’s earlier refusal to attend the Scottish Parliament, here :
TOP JUDGE’S STONEWALL OF CHINA
MSPs urge legal chief to reconsider parly snub
By Russell Findlay 21 April 2013 Sunday Mail
Scotland's top judge is refusing to go to Holyrood to face MSPs despite once travelling 6000 miles to meet a politician. Lord Gill snubbed the parliament's petitions committee who want to quiz him about his opposition to a judicial register of interests.
But the £214,000-a-year Lord President previously went on a jaunt to Taiwan where he talked to president Ma Ying-jeou about Scotland's legal system.
And last week he jetted off to a law conference in South Africa as the committee urged him to reconsider his attendance at Holyrood.
Committee member and SNP MSP Chic Brodie said: "It would appear his international travel commitments are more important than speaking to us. "It's ridiculous to say he won't come in person. It's an insult to the parliament. He really should come along. "It comes back to the old adage, when you're in a hole, stop digging.
"Any cabinet secretary asked to appear has done so and they are subjected to very robust questioning on the basis that they want to have openness and transparency. "The judiciary should open the window and let in fresh air but he wants to shut the window. "Welcome to the 21st century. We want a new Scotland to be open and transparent."
Legal reform campaigner Peter Cherbi's petition calls for judges to declare their interests as others in public life must do.
Registers usually include details of hospitality, gifts, property plus personal or financial links to outside bodies. Lord Gill expressed opposition to a register in writing but, as we revealed last week, has refused MSPs' requests to answer questions about the subject.
Under the Scotland Act, judges are not compelled to attend.
On Tuesday, the committee agreed to write back to Lord Gill and ask him to change his mind. Legal and political observers are watching the escalating stand-off between Holyrood and the judiciary.
Committee chairman Labour MSP David Stewart will also ask the Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Moi Ali, to attend. Ali said: "I'm committed to openness and transparency in public life and fully supportive of a register of interests for the judiciary. "It's a standard part of being in the public eye and I can see no reason why some people should be exempt.”
Cherbi, from Edinburgh, said: "It seems a little arrogant that Scotland's most senior judge should shun his own country's parliament 700m from his office yet is willing to meet politicians halfway round the world."
During last week's committee meeting, Brodie said: "We're all equal before the law, even those who dispense it.
"I think we should send a courteous letter but make it very robust in that we now question that, yes, he's written to us but that doesn't necessarily answer all the questions we have. What is there to hide?"
The Judicial Office for Scotland said: "The Lord President's private office has received a letter from the public petitions committee. He will consider the terms and respond."