Top judge tells MSPs he has backing of judges vested interests, Justice Secretary against judicial register plan. SCOTLAND’S top judge, the Lord President Lord Brian Gill has told MSPs he has the support of judicial vested interests across the UK & EU who are too scared to declare their wealth & connections to big business, the UK’s Westminster Government, and even Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill who all back Lord Gill’s campaign against Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary which calls for the Scottish Parliament to consider legislation which would require judges to declare their full interests in a publicly available and regularly updated register of judicial interests.
And in a shocking stance declaring double standards are the order of the day in judicial life, Lord Gill also claimed in his letter to David Stewart MSP, the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee, that just because the top judge and six other members of the judiciary make declarations of some interests in terms of their position on the board of the Scottish Court Service, the same standards of transparency SHOULD NOT and need not be applied to judges acting in their judicial capacity as high earning judges sitting in the courts.
It has also emerged that it took a further 21 days from the date of Lord Gill’s claim to MSPs of Scottish Government support for the Lord President’s anti-transparency campaign against the Scottish Parliament's investigations into the thorny question of judges undeclared interests, for Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to follow up the Lord President’s earlier letter informing MSPs he backed Gill’s now widely known hostility to the judicial register plan.
Did Lord Gill add Justice Secretary to his rising portfolio of interests? Letter from Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill declaring judicial interests declarations off limits was eerily echoed by Justice Secretary who recently blundered badly on corroboration:
Lord Gill’s letter to David Stewart, Convener of the Public Petitions Committee 1 April 2014:
Thank you for your letter of 6 March 2014. I apologise to you for this late reply.
I appreciate that you should wish to follow up the question of the Scottish Court Service register of interests that I raised at our meeting.
I have carefully set out for the Committee my reasons for believing that a register of interests for members of the judiciary is unnecessary. My view is shared by the Scottish Government, the UK Government, and the Chief Justices in the other jurisdictions of the UK. It is a view that has been endorsed by external interactional scrutiny through the work of Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) in its evaluation reports in 2001 and2014.
The position of the judicial office holders on the board of the SCS is entirely different. The requirement of those judicial office holders who are members of the SCS to register their interests arises in the context of their membership of a public body. The disclosure of their interests arises from their work as board members, which may involve the placing of contracts and employment questions. It is not related to their holding judicial office. As members of the SCS they do not exercise judicial functions.
A register of interests for the judiciary would, for all the reasons I have previously given to the Committee, be fundamentally different from that of the SCS.
Twenty one days after Lord Gill’s response to MSPs declaring judges interests off limits once again, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill issued his own backing for Gill’s stance in a letter to the Convener of the Public Petitions Committee:
Thank you for your letter of 6 March 2014 regarding the above Public Petition. I apologise for the delay in responding.
You ask whether the Scottish Government will review its position on whether members of the judiciary ought to register their interests. I note the evidence the Committee has gathered on this issue and, in particular, the arguments presented by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) that a register of interests would increase transparency and public trust in the judiciary.
The JCR considers that there is merit in a register of interests for members of the judiciary. I do not think it necessary to establish such a register. I continue to be of the view that there are already sufficient safeguards in place to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary. These have been set out in previous correspondence and comprise the judicial oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and the rules made under the 2008 Act. I do not consider that the case has been made that these existing safeguards are not effective.
REGISTER ALL YOUR INTEREST M’LUD:
Scotland’s judiciary are a group of select, predominantly white, extremely wealthy influential lawyers who have an unelected and almost unchallengeable power to stall or close debate on their own secret vested interests, change any of our lives at the stroke of a pen, or strike down legislation desired by the greater community and voted through by democratically elected politicians in our own Scottish Parliament.
Clearly any group in society which has this almost limitless power, must above all, be as transparent as other branches of government and society to which it applies its rulings. However, as Scots have discovered during a full year of debate at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, if anything, the judges are even more secret than the secret service itself when it comes to the thorny question of judges pecuniary and other interests.
Their personal, undeclared wealth including extensive family and business links throughout the legal profession, offshore ‘tax efficient’ trusts, ownership of numerous and high value properties through a variety of interesting arrangements, investments, directorships and shareholdings, collectively generate millions of pounds in earnings for the judges and their families each year.
Yet, to-date, not one court user, not one member of the public, not one accused person, nor the media or even our own members of the Scottish parliament have had the chance to scrutinise and question judges about their vested financial interests, as there is no register of judicial interests or any effective method of ensuring the judiciary declare their positions, connections and interests in a publicly available document as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.
Moi Ali, Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) - who also supports the plan to make judges more accountable by declaring their interests, gave testimony to MSPs at Holyrood on the benefits of a register of judicial interests, reported along with video footage of the testimony, 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
Gill’s use of Scotland Act against MSPs was reported in the media. Writing in a letter to msps, Lord Gill even threatened Holyrood with the law which founded it: “Section 23(7) of the Scotland Act provides inter alia that the Parliament may not require a judge to attend its proceedings for the purposes of giving evidence. This is not a loophole. It is a necessary part of the constitutional settlement by which the Parliament is established. Its purpose is to protect the independence of the judiciary, a vital constitutional principle that is declared in section 1 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008”
The judge continued: “When a committee invites a judge to give evidence before it, I have to decide whether the subject matter might infringe the principle of judicial independence; and whether the evidence required could be satisfactorily given in writing.”
However, time has moved on, and since the top judge’s hysteria over the debate on judges secret interests boiled over into a series of threats & private meetings, it has emerged some declarations of interests by Scotland’s top judge and only six other members of Scotland’s vast, sprawling ranks of a multi million pound well salaried & well pensioned judiciary, feature in the 2012-2013 Annual Report of the Scottish Court Service. Pages from the SCS Annual Report show a handful of judges including Lord Gill do declare at least some of their interests:
Lord President – Rt. Hon. Lord Gill:
• Director of Scottish Redundant Churches Trust, a company limited by guarantee registered in Scotland (SC162884) • Director of the Royal School of Church Music, a company limited by guarantee registered in England (Reg’d No 250031) • Trustee of the Carmont Settlement: a trust for the support of retired priests of the Roman Catholic Church • Trustee of the Columba Trust: a trust for the benefit of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland • Trustee of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Endowment Trust: a trust for the benefit of RCS and its students • Trustee of the Royal Conservatoire Trust: a trust for the benefit of the RCS and its students • Trustee of the Royal School of Church Music: a registered charity for the promotion of church music in the Christian Churches (Reg No 312828) • Vice President of the Royal Conservatoire
Lord Justice Clerk - Rt Hon Lord Carloway: • None (Nothing to declare)
Sheriff Iona McDonald: • Deputy Lieutenant for Ayrshire and Arran • Partner in property rental firm
Sheriff A Grant McCulloch: • Chair West Fife Education Trust • Chair Relationship Scotland- Couple Counseling Fife • Committee Member Cammo Residents Association
Johan Findlay OBE: • Honorary Sheriff• Justice of the Peace
Hon Lord Bannatyne:
• Chester Street (Limited Partner) Ltd on behalf of the Board of the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh • Member of the Board of the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh • Shareholder as Trustee for the Cathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin, Palmerston Place, Edinburgh, in Chester Street (General Partner) Ltd • Member of the Clergy Disciplinary Tribunal of the Episcopal Church
Sheriff Principal Alastair Dunlop QC:
• Commissioner of Northern Lighthouses • Trustee of St John’s Kirk of Perth Trust • Member of Stirling University Conference • Chair of local Criminal Justice Boards in Tayside Central and Fife • Elder of Gorebridge Parish Church of Scotland • Member of Royal Northern & Clyde Yacht Club • Member of the New Club, Edinburgh
A further six individuals ranging from the Chief Executive of the Scottish Court Service to lawyers and others also sit on the SCS Board, apparently declaring their own interests with ease and none of the fuss which Scotland’s top judge insisted would bring the justice system to a stand still.
The declarations, required for the positions on the Scottish Court Service Board, appear to fly in the face of a series of excuses, complaints, accusations and veiled threats made by the Lord President in writing against the idea of creating a publicly available register of judicial interests, and raise questions over how Lord Gill has handed the judiciary’s battle against what is a simple call for transparency.
It also came to light some of Scotland’s judges have not declared their interests or recused themselves in court, contrary to claims made by the Lord President, and that persons wrongfully convicted have suffered even greater injustice when it was revealed that judges who once prosecuted them, had heard their appeals against wrongful convictions and kept quiet. A report on how the failure of judges to recuse themselves or declare their interests in cases which have led to miscarriages of justice features here: 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
Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the Sunday Mail & Sunday Herald newspapers, 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