Monday, September 07, 2015

SUDDEN EXIT, M’LORD: Documents reveal 30 day notice of top judge to quit post of Lord President - after battle with Parliament on judicial transparency & register of judges’ interests

I’m off in 30 days – top judge. THE EVENTS surrounding the sudden retirement of Scotland’s top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill remain as shrouded in mystery as some court reports - as documents released by the Scottish Government reveal the short notice Brian Gill gave to Scotland’s First Minister - of his intention to leave office thirty days later on 31 May 2015.

Gill unexpectedly stood down from the role as head of Scotland’s judiciary earlier this year after waging  a bitter two year battle with the Scottish Parliament over plans to create a register of interests for judges.

The documents, released by the Scottish Government in response to a Freedom of Information request also reveal short exchanges between Stephen Humphreys of the Judicial Office & staff of the Scottish Government’s justice directorate – who appear to have been caught unaware by the sudden announcement.

In the Lord President’s letter to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Brian Gill (73) thanked members of the Scottish Government past & present for ‘their support’ during his tenure of office - support which included Scottish Ministers attempts to undermine and block a Scottish Parliamentary investigation into the judiciary’s secretive links to big business, financial interests and other vested interests.

In response, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – who personally intervened earlier this year in a bid to thwart a register of judicial interests going ahead, praised Lord Gill for his service to the court.

The First Minister also wrote of Lord Gill’s “legacy to the justice system in Scotland” – referring to his work on the Scottish Civil Courts Review – sought to change some of the antiquated structures of Scotland’s expensive, closed shop and out of reach civil courts.

Just prior to the launch of the report on civil justice in Scotland – which took two years to complete, Lord Brian Gill condemned the civil justice system as “Victorian” and “unfit for purpose”

In a speech to the Law Society of Scotland’s 60 year anniversary conference several years ago, reproduced in full here Lord Gill said : “The civil justice system in Scotland is a Victorian model that had survived by means of periodic piecemeal reforms. But in substance its structure and procedures are those of a century and a half ago. It is failing the litigant and it is failing society.

“It is essential that we should have a system that has disputes resolved at a judicial level that is appropriate to their degree of importance and that disputes should be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently and without unnecessary or unreasonable cost. That means that the judicial structure should be based on a proper hierarchy of courts and that the procedures should be appropriate to the nature and the importance of the case, in terms of time and cost. Scottish civil justice fails on all of these counts. Its delays are notorious. It costs deter litigants whose claims may be well-founded. Its procedures cause frustration and obstruct rather than facilitate the achievement of justice."

In reality, much of Lord Gill’s recommendations contained in the Civil Courts Review were watered down by the Scottish Government who commissioned the Taylor Review - carried out at the insistence of the legal establishment - who feared giving the public easier and cheaper access to court would impact on the dwindling profits of Scots law firms.

The First Minister ends her letter by wishing Lord Gill the very best for his retirement.

However the former top judge's retirement appears to have been short lived after it came to light Lord Brian Gill is now sitting again as a judge on the UK Supreme Court, based in London.

From Lord President Lord Gill to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon:

I have today sent you formal notice of my retirement from the offices of Lord President and Lord Justice General.

I write to thank you and your predecessor, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and his predecessor, and the civil servants in your various departments for all the support and encouragement that I have received during my tenure of office.

It has been one of the great privileges of my life to serve in the offices that I have held.

I am pleased to tell you that the work of the Superior Courts, civil and criminal, and of my Private Office is up to date. I have every confidence that the Superior Courts and my Private Office will continue to function efficiently while my successor is being recruited.

In response, the First Minister thanked the outgoing Lord President for service to the courts and tenure as top judge:

Letter from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to Lord Gill:

Thank you for your letter of 1 May 2015, together with your formal letter informing me of your intention to retire from the offices of Lord President and Lord Justice General General as of 31 May 2015.

I am enormously grateful for the service you have given as a judge in Scotland since 1994 and, in particular, for your service in the offices of the Lord President and Lord Justice General over these past three years.

Your legacy to the justice system in Scotland will continue to endure in areas but I would highlight your proposals for the far-reaching reform of the civil courts system in Scotland that will result in a more modern and efficient court system fit for the 21st Century.

Once again, I am very grateful for your distinguished service and, may I take this opportunity to wish you and Lady Gill all the very best for your retirement

JUDICIAL TRANSPARENCY PETITION & SCOTTISH MINISTERS:

The judicial transparency petition – opposed by Scottish Ministers & Lord Gill - nevertheless enjoys cross party support. The petition has been the subject of a two year investigation by Holyrood and proposes the creation of a publicly available register of judicial 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.

Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) - Moi Ali gave the judicial transparency proposal her full backing. During the evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013 - Moi Ali provided a first hand, honest and highly detailed account of the workings of Scotland’s judiciary and lack of judicial transparency & accountability.

Current JCR Gillian Thompson OBE gave further support for the plan to create a register of interests for judges during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

A full parliamentary debate on the question of creating a register of judicial interests was reported along with  video footage & the official record, here: Debating the Judges & here : Top judge & Scottish Government told to rethink refusal on declarations of judges as Holyrood MSPs support calls to create a register of judicial interests

Last Friday, Justice Diary revealed Lord Brian Gill has since come out of retirement and now sits on the supplementary panel of judges at the London based UK Supreme Court.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Must be one of the shortest retirements in history!

Anonymous said...

Have to laugh at this - Sturgeon wishes him all the best on his retirement and Gill ends up on the Supreme Court aka the court hated by Scottish Govt for meddling in Scots affairs.Nice one Peter :)

Anonymous said...

Have I read this correctly?

Gill is a judge since 1994,he ends up as top judge and then gives 30 days notice he is quitting and now he works at the Supreme Court?!!

More like abandon ship than retiring!

Anonymous said...

Reading through the documents.

Gill's decision to retire sounds a hurried affair.
On one of the pages they talk about it not being public knowledge although much speculation something is afoot and then a plea from Stephen Humphreys to discuss over the telephone (presumably an otr discussion)

Interesting only 30 days notice given.Odd for the rank of Lord President and no health implications in play as he is now on UKSC.

Anonymous said...

His own fault he had to go.Shocking way to treat the Scottish Parliament no one should be allowed to get away with this not even a judge.Bring on your register of interests for the judges and Mr Gill!!!

Anonymous said...

In a way cant blame him for heading south.The justice system under the current Scottish Government has gone to pot.Infiltrated by political zealots, special interests, lobbyists and spin doctors.Taken together with his lack of ability to control you,the press,the parliament etc he only had one way out.At least you give him good write ups on the Civil Courts review.It is exactly as you wrote,a busted flush due to the Taylor review and endless meddling from civil servants on behalf of groups such as the Law Society and Faculty of Advocates.

Anonymous said...

Sturgeon says to Gill "Once again, I am very grateful for your distinguished service and, may I take this opportunity to wish you and Lady Gill all the very best for your retirement"

Last Friday, Justice Diary revealed Lord Brian Gill has since come out of retirement and now sits on the supplementary panel of judges at the London based UK Supreme Court.

LOL Nicola!How many days was he retired?

Anonymous said...

Gill has more power now than Sturgeon.
He can help take apart any loony Scotgov legislation via the Supreme Court if something comes up for challenge.Given the lack of opposition in Scotland it may be the only defence left to reason and democracy.

Anonymous said...

30 days notice for a judge seems a little short?

Anonymous said...

"I have every confidence that the Superior Courts and my Private Office will continue to function efficiently while my successor is being recruited."

Actually,No.

Anonymous said...

Not too much grovelling tosh in Nicola Sturgeon's letter then..

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the boss got tired of SG faces phoning home on staff and sifting through our emails and Wifi use.The creepy order to hand out Scottish Government leaflets full of praise and how only SG can help people one of many last straws.

Word of warning to court colleagues be careful who you speak to in the press as colleague involved in tip off ended up burned for some pish handed down by SG CommunicationsSaferStronger.Please check up on the paper's views or political before you leap.

If you could publish this comment please when you see it thanks and can I just remind those of us who feel they are being targeted by SG bullies to get in touch with our union the PCS at www.pcs.org.uk

Anonymous said...

Clearly a resignation dressed up as retirement.
You dont suddenly get an invitation to sit on the Supreme Court.Time and planning.I am sure you know all about it.

Anonymous said...

Scotland's top judge fled office in time it takes to cancel tv subscription.

Worthy of a few newspaper headlines perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Maybe Gill wanted to leave before today's slow motion car crash in the Court of Session.
Talking to someone tonight about it they said it was a thinly disguised politically motivated bid to unseat Carmichael.Shades of 1930's Germany in the making.
Time for those with sense and businesses who want to progress to head south methinks.

Anonymous said...

Agreed.The wording says it all.
A resignation if ever I saw one.

Anonymous said...

From reading your first story on Gill to go I thought this was more than just a retirement

Anonymous said...

Must admit he left office in style!

Anonymous said...

Yes,the 30 days notice is a little like two fingers up to the Scottish Govt stage show

Justice Diary said...

@ 7 September 2015 at 22:32

R Dunlop presented decent arguments yesterday, the waffle iron version today was enough to conclude it should be dismissed ...

@ 7 September 2015 at 20:44

Would like to know more about your comment, it may match with something currently being looked at ...

Anonymous said...

Interesting as always.

I also believe the Gill letter smacks of resignation not retirement.If it was a retirement I hardly think he would have popped up on the Supreme Court so soon.

Given his hands round the neck approach to your petition he is obviously a judge who enjoys his work.Perhaps as others are saying it all got a bit too hot or maybe dead end and he felt the need to move on.

Referring to the 20:44 comment what exactly is "Communications Safer Stronger"?

Anonymous said...

Something certainly does not add up in the retirement of Mr top judge and all the rush to pr it away in the documents you published

Anonymous said...

As you rightly point out little or no meaningful improvement to Scotland's "Victorian system" of justice has happened since the Gill Committee finally recognized the longstanding need for urgent changes - which the Scottish Judiciary agreed should not be 'cherry picked' if they were to be effective.

Of course 'Nikla', McAskill and the SNP made sure that did not happen.

William Forbes said...


Peter,

Great work and uncovering the letter from the First Minister was a valuable find:

“The Scottish Government considers that such a register of judicial interests is not necessary and that the existing safeguards - the Judicial Oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and the system for complaints against the judiciary - are sufficient.”

I have two current complaints (against Lord Glennie and Lady Paton) for breaking the Judicial Oath and acting contrary to the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics, so a real test of Nicola Sturgeon’s faith in the “existing safeguards”. I’ll let you know how they go. What stage is the Petition at?

With regard to the other comment about “Please check up on the paper's views or political before you leap.” (7th September @ 20:44), I would have to endorse that unfortunately. As someone who regularly contributes to The Scotsman’s comments forum, I found myself banned after my posts on the Carmichael case on Tuesday – no warning from their moderators – just banned completely so I don’t know which post offended them.

Keep up the good work,

Regards,

William Forbes

Anonymous said...

Quite a thing toppling a judge.
How did you develop such a handle on the invincible judiciary?

Anonymous said...

All very murky and sudden this retirement of Gill and then he turns up again at Supreme Court and all goes unnoticed except by you..

Something very fishy going on in the background