Holryood probe on judicial transparency hits out at top judge MSPs who sit on the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee have resisted calls by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Scotland’s outgoing top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill to close down a long running investigation of transparency and accountability within Scotland’s mega rich, mega powerful & secretive judiciary.
In the latest hearing of a proposal to create a register of interests for judges as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary, members of Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee instead criticised the 73 year old top judge for protecting vested interests.
Commenting on Lord Gill’s opposition to judicial transparency, MSP Jackson Carlaw said: “I understand that the Lord President is due to retire in due course, and we will wish him well. He will leave knowing that he has managed to protect all the vested interests that he has so assiduously sought to represent in the conduct of this petition.”
Mr Carlaw also suggested there could be “more enlightened engagement with the Lord President’s successor”.
The proposals to create a register of judicial interests 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.
At the meeting, held last Tuesday, the Petitions Committee considered the latest evidence including an intervention by the First Minister, letters from Lord Gill, the petitioner and Gillian Thompson - the Judicial Complaints Reviewer.
Concluding the brief debate, members of the Petitions Committee decided to invite Gillian Thompson, Scotland’s current Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) to give evidence on the long running probe on judicial interests.
The consideration of Petition PE1458 at last Tuesday’s Public Petitions Committee hearing:
Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)
The Convener (John Pentland MSP, Scottish Labour): The next petition is PE1458, by Peter Cherbi, on a register of interests for members of the Scottish judiciary. Members have a note by the clerk and the submissions. I invite contributions from members.
Kenny MacAskill MSP (SNP): I think that it would be appropriate to hear from Gillian Thompson, the new Judicial Complaints Reviewer. She is a fresh pair of eyes and asking for her reflections in her new role may give us some insight.
The Convener (John Pentland MSP, Scottish Labour): Does everybody agree with that? Are there any other comments?
Jackson Carlaw MSP (Scottish Conservative): I agree with Mr MacAskill. I understand that the Lord President is due to retire in due course, and we will wish him well. He will leave knowing that he has managed to protect all the vested interests that he has so assiduously sought to represent in the conduct of this petition. As we will be hearing from Gillian Thompson, who is new to her position, it may even be that there will be more enlightened engagement with the Lord President’s successor, so I am all for keeping the show on the road.
The Convener (John Pentland MSP, Scottish Labour): As many people do, I recognise that the existing safeguards are robust, but are they sufficient? The problem is that the public cannot see that they are robust, even though that may well be the case. I think that inviting Gillian Thompson in to give evidence would be appropriate. Do members agree to take the action proposed?
Members indicated agreement.
Previously, Lord Gill refused several invitations to appear at the Public Petitions Committee to account for his opposition to creating a register of judicial interests.
The top judge sent a series of angry letters to msps, declaring there would be no judicial transparency or a register of interests during his term as Lord President.
In a bid to dodge attending an evidence session at Holyrood to face questions in public from msps, Lord Gill angrily claimed a loophole in the Scotland Act prevented msps from compelling a judge to attend a Holyrood Committee.
Lord Brian Gill, Scotland’s longest serving judge went on to fight a bitter two year battle against the proposal to require judges to declare their vast wealth & business connections.
Gill recently announced he is standing down after holding the post for only three years, reported here: From Lord No-No to Lord Go-Go: Top judge stands down after transparency battle with Holyrood
Now, Gillian Thompson OBE – Scotland’s second Judicial Complaints Reviewer will face MSPs in a future evidence session at Holyrood.
The JCR is already on record as supporting the creation of a register of interests for members of the Judiciary.
JCR Gillian Thompson’s backing for Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary comes after Moi Ali - Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer – quit her role as JCR after describing the job as “window dressing” during an evidence session with MSPs in September 2013, reported 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
In earlier written evidence to the Public Petitions Committee, Gillian Thompson wrote of her support for the proposal, and indicated she too had created her own register of interests for her role as judicial investigator.
Submission from JCR Gillian Thompson to Public Petitions Committee: I have seen the evidence provided to the Committee by my predecessor Moi Ali in May 2013, what was said by the Lord President in his written submission of 21 November 2014 and previously, the evidence provided by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs on 9 December 2014.
As a general principle I am in favour of those in public life, whether paid or unpaid, being required to maintain a register of interests including hospitality given or received.
We live in an age in which transparency about interests and activities of those in the public eye is regarded as good practice. There is a perception that anything less is the result of attempts to hide things. In the case of Judges, it is clear that court users and the public more widely seek reassurances of fairness and impartiality. I think it is difficult for those outside the Judiciary to understand the notion that the Oath taken by Judges on appointment should be regarded as sufficient evidence of their commitment to uphold the principles of public life.
Of course a register as called for by this petition would require to be kept up to date and the burden of cost and responsibility would have to be borne by, most likely, the public purse. It seems to me however that the costs attached would be offset to a degree by an increase in confidence and, conceivably, a drop in complaints.
In respect of the Annual Report by the Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) for the period 1 September 2013 to 31 August 2014, the Report is now on the JCR website. It was sent in draft to the Lord President prior to publication.
Finally, I have undertaken to publish my own register of interests on my website. Currently in addition to my appointment as JCR for which I am paid a daily fee of £213 over a restricted number of days annually, I am a non- executive director of Registry Trust Ltd a not- for-profit company based in London (fee of £8,200 paid for 10 days work a year), I am a Scottish Trustee of Stepchange Debt Charity (unpaid), a Scottish Ambassador for Tomorrow’s People a charity that works with disadvantage young people to find employment (unpaid). For each body I am required to provide regular updates of my interests. I am a member of the English Speaking Union Scotland and the Scottish Dachshund club. I make a monthly payments in support of Cancer Research, the RSPB and the SSPCA.
JCR Gillian Thompson’s support for the creation of a register of interests for judges featured in the Sunday Mail newspaper:
By Mark Aitken Jan 18, 2015
NEW judicial complaints reviewer Gillian Thompson has given backing for register despite protests from Scotland's top judge, Lord Gill.
A LEGAL watchdog who quit after supporting a register of interest for judges has been backed by the woman who replaced her.
Moi Ali was appointed as the country’s first judicial complaints reviewer in 2011 but resigned last year claiming she had no power and got no co-operation from law chiefs.
She was also criticised by Scotland’s top judge, Lord Gill, over her support for a register of interest for judges.
But her successor Gillian Thompson has also given her backing for a register.
Holyrood’s petitions committee are considering a submission by legal campaigner Peter Cherbi for a judicial register of interests which could details gifts, hospitality and links to outside bodies such as law firms.
In a letter to the committee, Thompson wrote: “We live in an age in which transparency about interests and activities of those in the public eye is regarded as good practice.
“There is a perception that anything less is the result of attempts to hide things.
“In the case of judges, it is clear that court users and the public more widely seek reassurances of fairness and impartiality.”
Lord Gill has repeatedly dismissed calls for a register of interests.
But Cherbi said: “Two judicial complaints reviewers in a row have supported a register while Lord Gill suspiciously clings to secrecy and refuses to accept transparency must be applied equally to judges as it is to everyone else in public life.”
MSPs held a full debate on calls to create a register of interests for judges - in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber on Thursday 7 October 2014, resulting in cross party support for the proposal. MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 - in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458, urging the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.
The full parliamentary debate was reported along with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges
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