Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The No Minister - Scottish Parliament debate on register of Judicial interests: Opening speech of Roseanna Cunningham MSP, Minister for Legal Affairs

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 the Scottish Government’s Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs - Roseanna Cunningham MSP (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire).

Roseanna Cunningham MSP opening speech Register of Judicial Interests Petition PE1458 Scottish Parliament


The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs (Roseanna Cunningham):Today’s debate provides an opportunity to consider the issues related to a register of interests for the judiciary—a subject that has been discussed by the Public Petitions Committee over recent months, as the convener, David Stewart, outlined.

It is, of course, vital that judges be seen to be both independent and impartial. They must be free from prejudice by association or relationship with one of the parties to a litigation. They must be able to demonstrate impartiality by having no vested interest that could affect them in exercising their judicial functions, such as a pecuniary interest or familial interest.

As I understand it, the petition originally concerned a register of pecuniary interests for the judiciary. It called on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to create a register of pecuniary interests of judges bill, as was then being considered in New Zealand’s Parliament, or to amend present legislation to require all members of the judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests and hospitality received to a publicly available register of interests. That is a narrower definition of the register than the convener talked about.

The Scottish Government considers that it is not necessary to establish a register of judicial interests. Our view is that the safeguards that are currently in place are sufficient to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary in Scotland. Those important safeguards are: the judicial oath, the “Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics for the Scottish Judiciary”, which was issued by the Judicial Office for Scotland in 2010, and the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

I will look at those three safeguards in a little more detail. The judicial oath, which is taken by all judicial office-holders before they sit on the bench, requires judges to

“do right to all manner of people ... without fear or favour, affection or ill will”.

The statement of principles of judicial ethics states at principle 5 that all judicial office-holders have a general duty to act impartially. In particular, it notes:

“Plainly it is not acceptable for a judge to adjudicate upon any matter in which he, or she, or any members of his or her family has a pecuniary interest. Furthermore, he or she should carefully consider whether any litigation depending before him or her may involve the decision of a point of law which itself may affect his or her personal interest in some different context, or that of a member of his or her family”.

The Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 contains provisions to regulate and investigate the conduct of judicial office-holders. Under section 28, the Lord President has a power to make rules for the investigation of

“any matter concerning the conduct of judicial office holders”.

The Complaints about the Judiciary (Scotland) Rules came into force in 2011. There was a consultation on those rules last autumn, responses to which the Lord President has considered, and new rules and accompanying guidance will be published in due course.

Jim Eadie (Edinburgh Southern) (SNP):

In reaching the conclusion that the introduction of a register of judicial interests would not be appropriate at this time, did the Scottish Government consider and evaluate the Council of Europe group of states against corruption—GRECO—report that looked specifically at that matter? Did that help to inform the Scottish Government’s thinking?

Roseanna Cunningham:

We have looked at that report. I will refer to it shortly, if I have the time.

In addition, members will be aware that the Scottish Court Service has set up a public register of judicial recusals, which has been in operation since 1 April 2014. David Stewart mentioned it. The register sets out why a member of the judiciary has recused himself or herself from hearing a case in which there is a conflict of interests. Although that does not go as far as the petition suggested, we believe that it is a welcome addition to the safeguards that I have already covered.

The setting up of a register of judicial interests would be a matter for the Lord President, as head of the judiciary in Scotland. The Lord President takes the view that a register of pecuniary interests for the judiciary is not needed. Furthermore, a judge has a greater duty of disclosure than a register of financial interests could address.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab):

Will the minister take an intervention?

Roseanna Cunningham:

I want to make some progress.

The statement of judicial ethics that I referred to says that a judge’s disclosure duties extend to material relationships. In his written evidence to the Public Petitions Committee, the Lord President referred to the findings of the Council of Europe group of states against corruption. The 2013 GRECO report, which followed the fourth evaluation round report on the United Kingdom, found that

“nothing emerged during the current evaluation which could indicate that there is any element of corruption in relation to judges, nor is there evidence of judicial decisions being influenced in an inappropriate manner.”

GRECO therefore did not recommend the introduction of a register of judicial interests, which suggests that the current safeguards are sufficient and that there is no obvious problem that such a register would solve.

The position is, of course, different for MSPs and for members of other Parliaments. We are directly accountable to our constituents and are required to register our interests. GRECO also considered issues regarding the prevention of corruption in relation to members of Parliaments across the UK and recommended:

“it is essential that the public continues to be made aware of the steps taken and the tools developed to reinforce the ethos of parliamentary integrity, to increase transparency and to institute real accountability.”

David Stewart:

Will the minister take an intervention?

Roseanna Cunningham:

If David Stewart will permit me to, I want to move on; I want to get through my speech.

I am aware that the petition in question was related to the Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill in the New Zealand Parliament, which was considered earlier this year by its Justice and Electoral Committee. As David Stewart indicated in his opening remarks, the bill did not proceed. As I understand it, the committee recommended that the bill should not be passed and, following that report, the sponsoring member intended to withdraw it.

It is also the case that there is no equivalent register in other parts of the UK. As I have said, we do not think it necessary to establish such a register. The case has not been made that the existing safeguards are not effective. I can only assume that members agree with that, because we completed stage 3 of the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill on Tuesday. That bill could have been used as a vehicle for legislating for the introduction of a register of judicial interests. I am surprised that an amendment to that effect was not, if members are exercised by the issue, lodged during consideration of the bill.

However, today is an opportunity for wider consideration of the issue, and I look forward to hearing what others have to say. I will perhaps return to some of the issues that are raised in my closing remarks.

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


Anonymous said...

Oh look it's Lord Gill speaking for Lord Gill!

Anonymous said...

NO NO we cannot have this register you must allow the judges to line their pockets and have their tax dodges and cheat the system (and steal benefits money at the same time!) oh dont worry their oaths are fine and do the job very well - says Lord Gill.. please allow me to continue Lord Gill's handwritten notes are a little bit difficult to follow I must return to the main theme of allowing judges to run banks and stuff themselves with shares and backhanders from company directors oh sorry I mean run the courts with an iron fist and throw everybody out the door after taking their homes away from them to pay lawyers they secretly work for and dont need to declare that either!

Anonymous said...

So much for openness.I though the Scottish Government always said they are different from Westminster?
Not really eh

Anonymous said...

No register on my watch!

Anonymous said...

No shame at all she is basically reading off the letters from Gill on the Scottish parliament's website they are all there for everyone to see and her performance is word for word Gill.Shocking!

Anonymous said...

Back slapping!

Anonymous said...

Cunningham on her own interests - she forgot!


Legal Affairs Minister vows to act after failing to declare shares
Tom Gordon
Scottish Political Editor
Sunday 27 July 2014

THE SNP's Legal Affairs Minister is facing an investigation by Scotland's ethics watchdog after failing to declare a shareholding in a left-wing publishing company she helped found.

Former advocate Roseanna Cunningham, also Minister for Community Safety, repeatedly failed to disclose the shares in her parliamentary register of interests - which can be criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £5000.

Cunningham, 63, last night insisted she had "no recollection" of the shares she has owned for 14 years, and said her office would take "immediate action" to inform Holyrood's authorities.

She also said she planned to sell the shares.

Labour said the matter now had to be fully investigated on a point of principle.

It is understood a member of the public last week lodged a complaint about Cunningham's non-declaration with the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

Since 2000, when she helped create the company, Cunningham has owned 50 of the 750 issued shares in Left Review Scotland Ltd, the firm behind the Scottish Left Review magazine (SLR).

Cunningham and a group of fellow left-wingers, including ex-Labour treasurer Bob Thomson and Clydeside trade unionist Jimmy Reid, established the firm "to promote and reflect the principles and values of democratic socialism within the Scottish nation through the publishing of a magazine and organisation of discussion groups".

At the time, Cunningham was a deputy leader of the SNP, and was nicknamed Red Rose for her staunchly republican views.

Her firm still publishes SLR six times a year.

Since 2006, MSPs have been obliged to declare any shareholding in a company above 1%, but Cunningham has never declared her 6.7% stake.

Under the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006, MSPs face exclusion from Holyrood for not declaring a "registrable financial interest" such as a shareholding.

This would require an investigation by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life, then a recommendation from Holyrood's Standards Committee, and lastly a vote by MSPs.

Section 39 of the 1998 Scotland Act also states that any MSP who "takes part in any proceedings of the Parliament without having complied with, or in contravention of" the rules on declaring a registrable financial interest "is guilty of an offence" and "liable on summary conviction to a fine" of up to £5000.

It would be deeply embarrassing for any minister to have been found to have broken the law, but particularly for a justice minister. Cunningham's ministerial responsibilities include civil law.

On paper, her shares are worth £1 each. However, the latest company accounts valued the shareholders' funds at almost £10,000 at the end of 2012, suggesting Cunningham's original £50 stake is worth £650.

Anonymous said...

She speaks against the petition and she has her own problems on failing to declare interests.Oh well what a surprise then she does not support it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Oh look it's Lord Gill speaking for Lord Gill!

21 October 2014 11:38

Yes I never thought Lord Gill could be in so many places at once!

Anonymous said...

What's that about Ms Cunningham's brown nose?

No, it is simply gravy from years slurping-up the I am alright back-slapping-Scottish-lawyers-in-house-gang?

She never did have much of a political career, it is not a shame that it is now over.

Anonymous said...

Never has someone in such an arrogant and public manner hanged themselves with their own words (or hand written words passed for them to read out..)?

The champions who spoke up for and voted for Mr Cherbi's Public Spirited Petition prove that at least there are some highly talented, highly principled, honest and transparent MSP's in the Pricey Parliament?

They held there heads high and spoke up for Democracy in the face of vested protected above the law interests?

Anonymous said...

Blah blah GRECO a creation of unionist spivs and dodgy judges on the continent and here we have a nat Minister using it as an excuse against transparency in the Scottish judiciary.

Kinda strange when you think about it?Kinda proves no matter who they are when it comes to the line protecting one's colleagues is much more important than what is good for the rest of us poor Scots who dont have shares in whatever or leerings towards dodgy law firms and a brown envelope in the till at the end of the week.