Top judge hails business as usual in legal year opening speech. WHILE Scotland’s top judge, Lord President & Lord Justice General Brian Gill opened the new legal year for 2014 in Edinburgh last Friday with a promise of … business as usual, the growing list of companies on judges investment portfolios now convicted of criminality, bribery & financial market rigging added one more corporate giant - this time with the addition of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) - fined £297 Million by the Changsha Intermediate People's Court in Hunan Province, China after drugs giant GSK was caught in a bribery scandal.
And, despite the fact the Serious Fraud Office is conducting a criminal investigation into GSK’s sales practices around the world and the US Department of Justice is also investigating GSK for possible breaches of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Lord Gill chose not to comment on investments held by judicial colleagues in companies linked to criminality, both at home and abroad – even though it has been revealed judges are deciding cases in courts which involve companies on their shareholdings portfolios.
Choosing instead to have a dig at the independence referendum among the other now familiar claims of speeding up justice and the creation of Arms Length Organisations within the courts system such as the Judicial institute – which helps train judges on how to dodge calls for openness & speedier justice, Lord Gill also welcomed new QC’s, guests and other vested interests whose lives revolve around extracting exorbitant legal fees from clients desperately seeking justice in Scotland’s “Victorian” courts and other jurisdictions.
And, despite a two year battle with the Scottish Parliament over proposals to create a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary, which Lord Gill opposes, the Lord President’s only reference to transparency during the opening address for the new legal year was limited to references to the Edinburgh Festival and his exhibition of the courts.
Gill told those in attendance explanations to the public on how the courts operate were sufficiently satisfied by exhibiting the £58 Million pound publicly funded spend on a Stained Glass window and new door handles for Parliament House which also comprises Scotland’s Highest Court – the Court of Session – the most inaccessible, inhospitable and adversarial venue in the land for ordinary Scots who attempt to secure justice against vested interests favoured by the judiciary.
Lord President’s speech. Opening of the Legal Year 2014: The Opening of the Legal Year coincides with the biennial celebrations of the Faculty of Advocates. On behalf of the court it is my pleasure to extend a warm welcome to the guests of the Faculty and to my own guests. We are honoured by your presence. On behalf of my colleagues I wish you all a most enjoyable weekend and hope that you will have pleasant memories of your visit to Edinburgh.
It is customary on this occasion for the Lord President to review the legal year that has passed and to set out our hopes and plans for the coming year. I realise that in these momentous days in our history, my brief remarks today may not command the rapt attention that you would otherwise have given them.
The Referendum was in essence a choice of two ways by which Scotland could express its nationhood. Now that the people have expressed their will, it is timely to point out that we are in the middle of a historic programme of national significance which will reform the structure and the procedures of our civil courts. This programme would have had the same validity whatever had been the outcome of the Referendum.
These reforms are not just about process. They are a means to an end. By creating efficient and responsive courts to bring civil justice to the citizen, we will safeguard and enhance the integrity of Scots law and ensure its survival as a vigorous system. That aim can be achieved only if the efficiency of our courts is matched by the commitment of the profession, and if the Judiciary at all levels displays the highest standards of excellence.
We are fortunate that our Judicial Institute has established an international reputation for the quality of its judicial training. I am grateful to everyone involved in the work of the Institute for all that they have done.
Throughout the last 30 years this court has suffered from the seemingly intractable problem of backlogs and excessive waiting times. I am pleased to say that by the Spring of this year there were no longer any backlogs in this building in either the civil or criminal courts. This is a milestone. I congratulate and thank the administrative judges and my willing colleagues through whose efforts it has been achieved.
We have also made great progress in the first instance business of the High Court. Through intensive and skilful case management the average number of preliminary hearings in each prosecution has in two years, been halved. The problem of churning at first instance is now under control and will soon be eliminated for all practical purposes.
In June of this year I took the Appeal Court to the great city of Glasgow for two weeks. It was a successful visit in every way and I propose to establish this as a regular practice. From October the High Court in Glasgow will be the dedicated centre for preliminary hearings. This will free up court time for other hearings and effect significant savings in legal aid. I am grateful to Lord Turnbull and the Glasgow judges for having transformed the work of the court.
I think that a modern court has a duty to explain itself to the public. If there is proper public understanding of what we do then we may reasonably hope for public support. For that purpose we had an exhibition in Parliament Hall throughout the summer which explained the work of the courts and encouraged the public to take an interest in what we are trying to achieve. The exhibition was attended by about 3000 visitors and has, I think, been generally accounted as a considerable success. This marked the completion of our £58 million redevelopment of this historic building, which was on time and under budget.
I conclude by expressing my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to my colleagues and friends on the bench and my colleagues and friends in the Scottish Court Service. I am grateful to them for their enthusiasm and their commitment. Together we have, I think, created a court that is efficient and responsive to change. By the end of this year the Courts Reform legislation will have completed its progress through the Parliament and by early next year implementation will have begun. It will be an eventful year. I wish you all every success.
It is now my pleasure to welcome those members of the Bar who have been appointed to the rank and dignity of Her Majesty's Counsel.
Mr Borland, your extensive experience in the field of commercial and construction law is informed by your impressive academic credentials. You have made a significant contribution to the work of the Scottish Law Commission. You are in every way fitted for the rank of Queen's Counsel. We look forward to your presence in the Inner House.
Mr McIlvride, you practised as a solicitor for many years. That experience led to a distinguished career as an advocate. You have already presented a case, as leader, in the Supreme Court. You will be a considerable asset at the Senior Bar.
Mr Simpson, you are a leading tax specialist in both Scotland and England. In your work as a lecturer at Aberdeen University and in your contributions to specialist tax journals, you have established your reputation. I look forward to your appearances in tax appeals when you will explain to us what it all means.
Mr Scullion, our criminal courts have benefitted from your careful and forensic presentation in the most challenging and sensitive cases. As Assistant Principal Crown Counsel, your appearances in the Appeal Court have given you ample opportunity to demonstrate your coolness under fire.
The award of silk is a mark of distinction. For all four of you it is an honour that is richly deserved. It is also a privilege; and I hope and trust that you will always be worthy of it.
The Court is adjourned.
UNETHICAL INVESTMENTS OF SCOTS JUDGES:
Judicial shareholdings snapshot of top judges shares. In a report by Diary of Injustice last month, disclosures of judges personal shareholdings revealed judges benefit financially from owning shareholdings in companies fined for providing poor services to Scottish courts, companies involved in and convicted of crimes such as ‘industrial’ espionage, international financial market manipulation, and bribes, bid rigging, and tax dodging.
Sheriff Principal RA Dunlop who heads the courts in Tayside, Central & Fife was revealed to hold shares in G4S who were fined £335,000 for court delays in Scotland, BHP Billiton – embroiled in an anti-corruption investigation by the US authorities, Rio Tinto - caught up in a spying and corruption scandal in China, and Diageo, who are supporting the drinks industry’s legal challenge against the Scottish Government’s minimum alcohol pricing policy.
The snapshot register of ‘some’ declarations made by the seven members of the Scottish Court Service Board have since been made available to members of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, who are currently considering Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.
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 earlier debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee on Petition PE1458 can be found here: A Register of Interests for Scotland's Judiciary.