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.
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:
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.