Saturday, August 31, 2013

AIR WIG ONE : Forget “Victorian” courts, vested interests & access to justice, instead, travel around the world in style like a Scottish Judge

Jet set judges prefer life in the air to sitting in Scots courts. IF those of you stuck in Scotland’s “Victorian” courts for years have ever wondered what judges do in their spare time when they are not sitting on the bench or raising an eyebrow at the mutterings of counsel, one of the answers lies above the clouds, in the numbers of air miles Scottish judges clock up each year on a variety of jollies trips allegedly taken to represent the interests of Scotland’s justice system around the world.

As revealed in the Sunday Mail newspaper earlier in June, an investigation into the journeys of Scotland’s judiciary around the world revealed our overworked, over paid, stressed out and anti-transparency judges have been taking international trips to law conferences,  and curiously titled “diplomatic missions” while the Scottish justice system lies in ruins.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the Scottish Court Service confirmed that £83,644 had been spent on overseas trips alone by Scottish judges between 2010 and 2013. While judges usually travel alone, or take a colleague, on at least two occasions last year, judges took their wives along on the taxpayer funded trips.

Scottish Judicial Airways : Overseas trips 2010-2013 taken by Scottish judges (Click image to view details). And how the media reported it : JET-SETTING LAWMEN NOTCH UP £83K BILL

Scotland's judges have racked up thousands of air miles on overseas trips, including jaunts to the US, India, Morocco and Malaysia.

Taxpayers have paid £83,644 to send judges and sheriffs around the world in the past three years. In 2010/11, the total was £14,430 which rose to £35,107 in 2011/12 followed by £34,167 last year.

The most expensive trip last year was to Kampala in Uganda. It cost £7300 for Sheriff Michael Fletcher and Lord President Lord Gill to attend a judges' conference there. Lord Gill’s other trips since 2010 have included Dublin, Cape Town in South Africa, Slovenian capital Ljubljana and a £1050 trip to a conference in Canada.

One of the most widely travelled was Sheriff Andrew Normand who has been on 11 overseas trips in the last three years. The judges usually travel alone or with a colleague but on two occasions last year they were joined by their wives.

The figures were obtained by legal blogger Peter Cherbi. He said: "Instead of flying around the world, perhaps Scotland's judges should focus on the problems within our own legal system."

The Judicial Office for Scotland said: "Attendance at overseas events must be approved in advance and comply with agreed guidance."

Further reports on the travels of Scottish judges in the media have also revealed the Lord President himself, Lord Gill, enjoys regular excursions to the far east including China and Taiwan.

It was also revealed by the Sunday Mail newspaper that Lord Gill, who had been summoned to the Scottish Parliament to explain his hostility to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary, jetted off to a law conference in South Africa instead of attending the Scottish Parliament to answer questions from MSPs on the proposal to require Scottish judges to disclose their so-far secret and murky hidden interests in a published register of judicial interests.

While our judges appear to prefer the jet set lifestyle to sitting for endless days on the bench, here in reality Scotland where access to justice is little more than an expensive joke for most, our expensive, almost lavishly funded courts are not working for the country, and have become aloof from the public’s need of justice in the 21st Century.

Perhaps a few less air miles and a few more more ‘court miles’ coupled with a face to face meeting with transparency, may go some way to remedying the problems, delays, failures and lack of transparency & accountability of the Scottish justice system Lord Gill himself branded as “Victorian” and “unfit for purpose” in 2009, because here in the not so futuristic 2013, and a few million air miles later, the Scottish justice system remains just as “Victorian” and just as “unfit for purpose”, as it was five years ago, Mr Lord President.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP : Investigation reveals Scotland’s ‘independent’ legal regulator is mired in family, business & personal links to legal profession & Law Society

SLCCYour cousin or mine? Investigators at legal regulator forced to reveal links to lawyers. COMPLAINTS about dishonest or unscrupulous solicitors made to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) stand little chance of a fair hearing, according to clients & consumer specialists who have unearthed a web of personal, business & other links between members of staff at the SLCC and solicitors and law firms under investigation by the so-called ‘independent’ regulator of Scotland’s legal profession.

There are also accusations from clients, and even murmurs from some in the legal profession itself that certain solicitors under investigation by the SLCC, which took over complaints handling from the Law Society of Scotland in October 2008, have allegedly received inside help from within the legal regulator to escape expected punishment for poor and negligent legal service provided to clients & consumers.

SLCC Staff register of interests declarations up to July 2013SLCC staff declarations of interest for 2011-2012 show true extent of problems for fair hearing at legal regulator. Amid the media investigation into links between the legal profession and it’s own regulator, a response to a Freedom of Information request made by Diary of Injustice journalists to the SLCC conformed that ‘special relationships’ between SLCC employees, the legal profession and the vested interests of the Law Society of Scotland are affecting complaints investigations.

A client who has previously had difficulties with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission commented on the revelations, saying : “While the response shows members of staff have declared at least some conflict of interest in the past year with regards to complaints, it is difficult to imagine that any complaint made by a member of the public to what is supposedly an independent regulator of complaints about the legal profession can get anything approaching a fair hearing when everyone at the regulator is connected  to lawyers or the Law Society itself.”

The SLCC also confirmed in it’s response to the FOI request the actual numbers of staff who have links to the legal profession and the body which represents Scottish solicitors best interests, the Law Society of Scotland.

The SLCC disclosed :

15 members of staff qualified as solicitors.
No members of staff hold current positions with the Law Society of Scotland or any law firm.
5 members of staff held a previous position at the Law Society of Scotland
8 members of staff held a previous position at a law firm.
5 members of staff have held previous positions at a law firm and Law Society of Scotland.

The SLCC’s Freedom of Information response sought to comment on how staff interests relating to complaints investigations are currently handled, stating : “I think it would be helpful to make clear that where staff have previously worked at a firm prior to joining the SLCC and or know personally a practitioner and or been a client etc, they will not be involved in any complaint investigation or related. In such cases the complaint shall be passed to an SLCC investigator with no current or previous history/dealings.”

The SLCC refused to release the identities of any of those who have such connections, declaring it would not be in the public interest to do so.

The SLCC said : “The data we are withholding is the personal data of members of staff of the SLCC and legal practitioners, and I am of the opinion that to release the information into the public domain would be unfair in these circumstances, as disclosure may cause them damage and distress, and disclosure would not be within their reasonable expectations. As non-senior or public officials, they would not expect that disclosure into the public domain.”

However, allegations have now been made that the numbers of undeclared meetings involving SLCC employees, solicitors, the Law Society of Scotland, and lawyers who represent solicitors who are the subject of complaints investigations far outweigh declarations made or even details known to the SLCC’s own board members, some of whom have suspected for some time that inappropriate contact between SLCC insiders and the legal profession has taken place.

Speaking to Diary of Injustice earlier this week, a legal source known to have close links to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission described the legal regulator’s internal complaints culture as “Cover my back quickly”.

Commenting on the material provided to Diary of Injustice and SLCC’s response, the source described regular situations where solicitors being investigated were thought to have used influence to obtain internal details of clients complaints and statements not already handed over by the regulator after it became clear that lawyers and law firms under investigation appeared to have access to content held by the SLCC and were using it to pressure clients to close their complaint.

In some cases, it has also been alleged solicitors and their representatives were using the SLCC’s own material to pressure the ‘independent’ regulator into closing investigations prematurely or refusing to investigate complaints point blank.

In one case cited to DOI which cannot be published for legal reasons, it is alleged a solicitor who was the subject of a serious complaint involving a significant amount of client funds, secretly met with a member of the SLCC’s staff who is alleged to have provided information and an opinion of how far the complainant was willing to go with regard to their complaint, along with information on the complainant’s then legal representatives.

It transpired a week after the apparently undeclared meeting between the solicitor and the SLCC insider, the complainant’s recently acquired solicitor suddenly withdrew from acting for them without any explanation, leaving the complainant’s family in a position where they have not been able to secure new legal representation since.

With such close relationships in play, it is clear that staffing a legal regulator with legal insiders, family & friends has created a so-called ‘independent’ legal regulator with about as much credibility as the Financial Service Authority at the height of the UK’s Banking collapse.

If you feel you have a complaint about a Scottish solicitor where close relationships within the legal profession are or have prejudiced your right to a fair hearing, email us the details via

Friday, August 16, 2013

WIGS IN A TWIST : Quashed convictions row as court staff forced to apologise to judges over claims of ‘wrong data’ released to media

Judges ScotlandBungled FOI release questions quashed convictions figures for Scottish judges. A ROW has broken out between the Judiciary of Scotland and the Scottish Court Service (SCS) over the release of information in response to a Freedom of Information request which sought data on appeals against conviction and sentence at High Court and Sheriff Court level.

The data, which revealed numbers of quashed convictions against senior judges and a former Lord Advocate who also sat as a judge, has already forced apologies from the Chief Executive of the SCS to members of the judiciary and a partial retraction of the information provided via FOI legislation. However the SCS has since been ordered to review what information it did release, and publish a ‘correct’ version as soon as possible.

The now much debated information provided by staff from the SCS claimed that in the past five years, former Lord Advocate & Court of Session Senator Lord Hardie, now retired and sitting as a peer in the House of Lords, allegedly had eight convictions and 20 sentences successfully appealed.

More worryingly, the current number two in the Scottish Justice system, the Lord Justice Clerk Lord Carloway who supports the removal of a long held safeguard of corroboration from the Scottish criminal justice system, was revealed in the now allegedly defective information provided by the SCS as having seven convictions overturned against his judgements since 2008 and eight sentences successfully challenged.

Another well known judge, Lord Brailsford, recently in the news relating to twitter threats made by a family member, was revealed in the SCS statistics to have had four convictions quashed and 15 sentences challenged in the last five years.

Overall, the figures provided by the SCS showed that between 2008 and 2012, there were 301 successful appeals in High Court cases, including 86 overturned convictions.

The figures for legal challenges in Scotland’s Sheriff Courts revealed there were 1,619 appeals granted with 130 convictions quashed, with Sheriff Lindsay Foulis, who sits at Perth Sheriff Court, having two convictions and 39 sentences successfully challenged while in another example, the now retired Sheriff John Herald, who presided at Rothesay Sheriff Court had four convictions overturned and 20 sentences appealed successfully.

However, already up to their necks in controversy over secret financial dealings and undeclared interests in court case after court case, members of Scotland’s judiciary apparently blew several fuses over headlines in the media relating to the numbers of quashed convictions, demanding apologies & retractions over the information released by the Scottish Court Service.

The apology was swift, but for the most part it’s detail appears to rely on the fact that some of the information provided by the SCS exceeded the “five year” term of the FOI request itself … which does not exactly lead to a convincing retraction of claims already published widely in the media.

And in a somewhat humiliating move, the Chief Executive of the SCS was forced to personally write in one newspaper earlier this week in an effort to have his two week old apologetic statement published (reprinted below) … perhaps the delay was caused by everyone wondering what the judges are really up to for their £200K plus a year, expenses and a blank slate for interests on the side ...

The Judiciary of Scotland were asked for comment, although none has been provided at time of publication.

There is a solution of course – publish the statistical records of judges, their judgements, legal challenges and successful appeals on a live basis and the Scots public will be able to see for themselves exactly how our wealthy, well paid, & secretive judges are actually performing in our clogged up “Victorian” Scottish courts system.

The apology : Information on Appeals - Statement by Chief Executive, Eric McQueen

On 18 June Scottish Court Service (SCS), in response to a request for information made in terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act provided data on appeals against conviction and sentence at High Court and Sheriff Court level. The data provided was by appeal type and by judge in respect of cases ‘overturned on appeal in each of the last five years’.

Since the data was originally released a number of serious discrepancies have been identified. Additionally, the SCS did not provide important contextual information as to the date of the original court decision in many cases the court decision which was subject to appeal was made more than five years ago.

SCS apologises to those affected. Specifically, SCS apologises to those members of the judiciary whose position has been misrepresented as a result of the data provided. The data attributed to the Lord Justice Clerk includes cases originally decided more than five years ago and includes cases in error.  In the course of his judicial career, which commenced in 2000, Lord Carloway has had three cases in which the conviction was overturned and all of these predate 2008.

Likewise the data attributed to Lord Hardie contains errors in that the data indicated that he had eight conviction appeals listed as being sustained when the correct figure is five.

It is also considered likely that the data in relation to Lord Brailsford and Lord Woolman may contain similar inaccuracies and this is currently being checked.

The position in relation to sheriffs is being considered separately.

SCS is now reviewing all the data and will publish a correct version as soon as possible.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Failure to Recuse : Evidence handed to MSPs in judicial register of interests proposal reveals judges who blocked injustice appeal failed to declare interests in court

Judges with links to original trial failed to declare their interests. THE complicated mixture of Judicial oaths & rules which govern the current requirements of Scotland’s judges to declare any interests in court has this week been proved to be a catastrophic failure by evidence which depicts cosy clubs, prosecutors turned judges, & undisclosed family relationships between members of the judiciary in Scotland’s top courts.

Legal insiders say the evidence provided to MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee may well be the tip of the iceberg with regard to judges failing to properly declare their interests when faced with cases in which their personal and professional interests collide.

Glasgow man William Beck, who many inside & outside the justice system are satisfied was wrongfully convicted for an armed robbery over thirty one years ago, made the submission to the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee concerning the failure of judges to recuse themselves in his appeal against his conviction.

The evidence provided by Mr William Beck in response to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary reveals how one judge, Lord Johnston, failed to declare any interest or recuse himself from an appeal by Mr Beck against a wrongful conviction & sentence handed down by Lord Dunpark who was Lord Johnston’s father.

Mr Beck’s submission to MSPs also reveals that years later, Lord Osborne, who sat with two other judges and rejected another appeal by Mr Beck against his wrongful conviction, failed to disclose that he was the prosecutor in the original trial of Mr Beck.

When Lord Osborne was recently asked by journalists why he did not recuse himself or reveal his role in the original case against Mr Beck, Lord Osborne, now retired, claimed he had “no recollection”. The retired judge went on to admit he should have recused himself.

Mr Beck has been fighting to clear his name ever since his wrongful conviction, and the terns of his submission and evidence provided appear to make it clear to all that even the most senior judges, prosecutors and others in the legal system have been long aware of conflicting interests of members of the judiciary which have not been properly declared.

The evidence provided by Mr Beck, which identifies multiple failures by judges & prosecutors who became judges to declare their interests in court, is in stark contrast to arguments presented by the current Lord President Lord Brian Gill who has previously claimed the current judicial recusal system works well in brief, albeit antagonistic letters to MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee in response to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary

William Beck’s submission to the Scottish Parliament reads as follows :

I would like the following to be presented to the Public petitions Committee hearing the petition PE1458 : At an appeal hearing in 2006: appeal hearing in 2006 Two judges ought to have recused themselves or at the very least declared an interest in my case.

Lord Johnston was the son of my trial judge which he did not declare. Lord Osborne had acted as an Advocate Depute in my appeal on 7th October 1982 and did not declare this.

Both ought to have known from the court papers, namely the Charge to the jury and Interlocutor of 7th October 1982 which would have been before the court. The charge discloses the name of the trial judge and in this instance was Lord Dunpark the Father of Lord Johnston.

I only found out that Lord Dunpark was the Father of Lord Johnston when I read the obituary for Lord Johnston when he died. Had I known of any of these connections I would have asked them both to recuse themselves. The interlocutor is attached above and I can produce the charge to jury should it be required.

Lord Osborne is quoted as saying had he known about this link he would have recused himself. I cannot accept this position as it clearly states in the 2006 appeal linked above my appeal was rejected on 7th October 1982.

The only way Lord Osborne or any of the other two judges that heard this appeal would have known this is indeed by viewing the interlocutor with Lord Osborne’s name attached. (See Interlocutor of 7th October 1982)

Lord Johnston made a comment (Which will be recorded) that Lord Dunpark certainly had a way with his quirky comments knowing full well he was referring to his Father.

It is my belief that the reactions from the court after this comment that everyone(Apart from me) in that court that day knew of these connections including the Advocate Depute.

Like I have said had I known of these connections I would have asked these judges to recuse themselves but the judges also had a duty enshrined within the Bangalore Principles to recuse themselves which they also ought to have done.

The fact they did not recuse themselves leaves me feeling I can never get a fair hearing in Scotland.

To add insult to injury I tried to raise this matter at a Nobile Officium Appeal for the court presided over by the Lord President to ignore it completely.

How can they ignore it completely I hear everyone ask. Simply because they can.

My defence team produced the interlocutor from 1982 showing Lord Osborne had prosecuted me yet this is not reflected in the opinion which states I did not raise any issue apart from being refused Legal Aid in 1982. This should be recorded and I would urge the committee to ask the High Court to answer this allegation and provide the tape recording and transcript of the Nobile Officium Appeal.

So not only do I have two judges sitting on my appeal who ought to have recused themselves but when I tried to raise this issue it was ignored by our courts at its highest level.

My MSP Bill Kidd raised this issue with the Lord President (And many others within the Judiciary) asking him the meaning of the Latin Phrase “Nemo Iudex In Causa Sua as well as raising it with Kenny MacAskill to no avail, and now after a Sunday Mail expose Lord Osborne is saying he would have recused himself if he had known.

I tried raising this as a devolution issue (At Nobile Officium) referring to Hoekstra and Pinochet only for the court to tell the Crown not to appear in a deliberate attempt to stop me raising a devolution issue.

This is clearly pointed out by the court of appeal at Nobile Officium paragraph 1 where the court say this: The Lord Advocate is not, so far, a party to these proceedings and has not been invited to address the court on the issue of competency or on any other issue. This makes the position of the court clear: They did Not Invite The Crown To Appear.

I would suggest this was a deliberate attempt to deny me not only the act of raising a devolution issue but also a fair hearing enshrined within article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

I should point out that every case in Scotland are indeed indicted at the instance of Her Majesty’s Advocate and this is a duty that applies throughout the history of any case including appeals. Never in the history of Scots Law have Crown Failed to appear at an appeal. This proves that not only did two judges sit on my appeal when they ought not to have done so but there have been a concerted attempt from the Judiciary to cover this up since.

In their attempts to stop me raising a devolution issue they have created a bigger one. This also shows how cosy the relationship is Between our Courts and Crown Office.

I would welcome the opportunity to give evidence to the committee at any evidence gathering session, unlike Lord Gill.

The Sunday Mail newspaper has also reported on Mr Beck’s case :


They shouldn’t have been anywhere near my appeal


By Russell Findlay  Sunday Mail 09/06/2013

A robber fighting a 31year battle to clear his name yesterday claimed two judges who blocked a crucial appeal had links to his original trial.

Willie Beck, 52, discovered that Lord Osborne presided over his appeal hearing despite helping prosecute him in 1982.

And Lord Johnston sat on the 2006 hearing even though his father Lord Dunpark was the original trial judge who had jailed Beck for six years.

The dad-of-two, of Dennistoun, Glasgow, said: “At the hearing in 2006, I had no idea that two of the three judges had strong personal connections to my original trial.

“National Archives records revealed Lord Osborne, then called Kenneth Osborne, was the advocate depute who prosecuted me in 1982.

“There are supposedly rules in place to ensure judges don’t get involved in cases where they have kind of conflict. It’s clear to me that he should have declared his connection and stepped aside.”

Beck was sentenced to six years in 1982 for a robbery in Livingston, West Lothian.

In 2006, the three judges  including the late Lord Dawson  rejected Beck’s appeal against an earlier decision not to allow a time extension.

Lord Johnston died in 2008 but Lord Osborne, now retired, said: “You’ll appreciate that an advocate depute prosecutes a great many cases and I have no recollection of this one.

“If it had been drawn to my attention that I had an involvement as a prosecutor I would have recused myself but I had no recollection of it.”

Two months ago, Beck lost an appeal against his conviction at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh. He now hopes to appeal to the Supreme Court in London.