MSPs have been debating transparency call for declarations of all judicial interests. MEMBERS of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee have been hearing evidence and debating the merits of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary, a public petition calling for all members of Scotland’s judiciary to be subject to a full and publicly available register of judicial interests.
The proposal envisages creating a single independently regulated publicly available source containing current information on judges backgrounds, their positions on personal wealth, so-far undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information which is routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.
Petition PE1458 has so far recorded six debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, one deferral (on account of the earlier postponed meeting with the Lord President last November), and three strongly worded letters from Lord President Lord Brian Gill who continues to protest against the call for greater transparency of judges undeclared interests.
The Lord President has twice refused to show up at the Scottish Parliament to answer questions from MSPs on how the current system of oaths and rules regarding recusals operates. In refusing to attend the Petitions Committee in public, Lord Gill has also avoided any questions to justify the strength of his opposition to the transparency proposal.
The petition has also received submissions from other interests in the legal system including the Law Society of Scotland, the Crown Office, the Scottish Court Service, the Scottish Government, the Judicial Appointments Board, the Judicial Complaints Reviewer and a Member of the New Zealand Parliament who is also involved in creating a register of interests for judicial figures in New Zealand.
The petition has also received submissions from individuals who have had their lives seriously impacted by the lack of judicial transparency including now widely reported failures of judges failing to recuse themselves and failures to declare interests.
A key evidence session on the petition took place in September 2013, attended by Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewer who appeared before the full Petitions Committee to answer questions on the remit of her office. The JCR also supports Petition 1458, as reported previously 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
During the last debate on the petition, members of the Committee heard an account of a controversial private meeting held at the Parliament itself with Lord Brian Gill which excluded all but two members of the Petitions Committee. The release of notes of the private meeting have since revealed that Stephen Humphreys, the Executive Director of the Judicial Office for Scotland also attended the “unofficial meeting”, reported here: Judicial Transparency is “not workable” claims Scotland’s top judge Brian Gill in private meeting with Holyrood msps on register of judicial interests petition
Petition PE1458, which has been opposed by the vested interests of the judiciary itself and other anti-transparency figures in the justice system, is due to be heard again at the Petitions Committee after a fourth letter from Scotland’s top judge is received by the Public Petitions Committee. However, three weeks on from the private meeting between msps, Lord Gill and the Director of the Judicial Office, no such letter from the Lord President has been made publicly available.
A recap of video footage of previous Petitions Committee hearings on Petition PE1458:
28 January 2014: The Committee agreed to defer consideration of the petition pending receipt of a letter from the Lord President. Link to Official Report 28 January 2014 (547KB pdf)
26 November 2013: The Committee agreed to defer future consideration of the petition until after the meeting between the Convener, Deputy Convener and the Lord President. Link to Official Report 26 November 2013 (515KB pdf)
17 September 2013: The Committee took evidence from Moi Ali, Judicial Complaints Reviewer. The Committee agreed to write to Dr Kennedy Graham MP, New Zealand Parliament, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Scottish Court Service and the Scottish Government. The Committee also agreed to consider the debate that took place during the passage of the Scotland Act 1998 on section 23. Link to Official Report 17 September 2013 (597KB pdf)
25 June 2013: The Committee agreed to invite the Judicial Complaints Reviewer to give evidence at a future meeting. The Committee also agreed to write to Dr Kennedy Graham MP, New Zealand Parliament. Link to Official Report 25 June 2013 (499KB pdf)
16 April 2013: The Committee agreed to write again to the Lord President and seek views from the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer. Link to Official Report 16 April 2013 (472KB pdf) Letter from the Convener to the Lord President of 18 April 2013 (56KB pdf)
5 March 2013: The Committee agreed to invite the Lord President to give evidence at a future meeting and seek further information on the proposed New Zealand legislation. Link to Official Report 5 March 2013 (361KB pdf)
8 January 2013: The Committee agreed to write to the Scottish Government, the Lord President, the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland. Link to Official Report 8 January 2013 (474KB pdf)
Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the Sunday Mail newspaper, 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