Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 - in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.
The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.
In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.
This article focuses on the opening speech given by Anne McTaggart MSP (Glasgow) (Scottish Labour). Anne McTaggart is also a member of the Public Petitions Committee.
Anne McTaggart (Glasgow) (Lab):
One of the Scottish Parliament’s fundamental values is transparency in government for the benefit of the Scottish people. The petition is an important step towards upholding the simple value of honesty.
At its core, the petition calls for the creation of a register of interests for members of the judiciary in order to ensure fairness in our courts. With a register, potential biases can be immediately identified and the potential for a conflict of interest is entirely avoided in bringing cases to court. Such a process would result in simple, fairer and more transparent courts, where the concern of possible bias is no longer a concern.
Although I fully support the petition, I believe that we cannot ignore the need for appropriate checks and balances in order to protect the personal information from being used for other, inappropriate purposes. In addition, in seeking to protect the privacy of judicial officials, the register should not be available for use by a member of the public to contact a member of the judiciary. The information that is collected for the register should be provided explicitly for identifying possible bias with the goal of promoting fairness and accountability, and not for violating the privacy of a judge.
I have always been committed to promoting transparency and accountability in government, most recently in supporting the lobbying transparency bill, for which my colleague Neil Findlay lodged a proposal for a private member’s bill in 2012. The bill, which attracted support from members on all sides of the Parliament, was a great step forward in the direction of open government.
However, more than a year after the Scottish Government said that it would introduce another bill on that subject, we are still waiting for a proposal. Just as the goal for a register of interests is not to scrutinise the judiciary but rather to promote fairness, the goal of Neil Findlay’s bill was not to make it harder for charities to promote good causes but to increase transparency with regard to who is lobbying parliamentary officials.
Having worked on Neil Findlay’s bill when it first came before the Public Petitions Committee, I am a keen advocate of its aims. It promotes the simple democratic values of fairness, transparency and accountability. In Scotland, claims continue to emerge of trials that have been unfair as a result of religious, ethnic or national bias. As long as those claims continue to exist, it is the Parliament’s job to promote fair government.
In conclusion, I declare my support for the petition and encourage support from all the other MSPs.
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 debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland's Judiciary