Saturday, October 10, 2015

U-TURN, M’LORD: Top judge Lord Gill to appear before Scottish Parliament to face questions on judicial transparency & calls to create a register of judges’ interests

From Qatar to Holyrood - Lord Gill to give evidence on judicial register. SCOTLAND’S former top judge who led a bitter two year fight against proposals to create a register of judges’ interests – has finally agreed to face questions on his opposition to transparency and disclosure of judicial wealth & links to big business - at the Scottish Parliament next month.

Lord Brian Gill (73) – Scotland's longest serving judge who suddenly retired as Lord President in May - giving only 30 days of notice after serving three years in the post, will appear before Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee on 10 November 2015.

The former Lord President will face the same committee he twice refused to attend to give evidence and answer questions on the judiciary’s opposition to Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

The judicial transparency proposal calls for 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.

During the two year investigation by MSPs on calls to bring the judiciary into line with all others in public life who are required to declare their interests, Lord Gill waged a bitter, letter-only campaign against the notion judges could be required to declare their vast wealth, connections to the professions & links to big business.

In a series of terse written letters to the Public Petitions Committee, Gill condemned the media, litigants, court users, branding all a threat to judges’ privacy, insisting there would be no deal to declare judges interests.

The top judge went on to imply he may be forced to restrict judges interaction with Holyrood committees, using loopholes in the Scotland Act to claim members of the judiciary could not be forced to give evidence in public if they did not want to.

Lord Gill then embarked on a 5 day state visit to the middle eastern dictatorship of Qatar (among a slew of overseas junkets) – preferring to mingle in the company of politicians & prosecutors from a country condemned for its use of slave labour & abuse of human rights - instead of showing up at the Scottish Parliament to answer questions on vast undeclared judicial wealth, links to professions & banks, tax dodging, concealed investments in huge property empires, crime & unchecked power.

While in Qatar, Gill toured a motor museum, and was photographed attending organisations accused of being funding fronts for Qatar to influence international politics, business & wars around the world.

And, in yet another act of defiance against calls for openness, the aging Lord Gill blasted elected politicians and transparency itself as an “insidious threat” to the judiciary - during a speech at the Commonwealth Law Conference 2015 held in Glasgow earlier this year.

During his widely witnessed rant, given to a crowd of judges, lawyers & legal vested interests, Gill said: “The threats to judicial independence do not always come with a knock on the door in the middle of the night.  In a society that prides itself on the  independence  of  its  judiciary,  the  threat  may  come  in  insidious ways, even at the hands of well-meaning governments and legislators, in the name of efficiency and, ironically,  in the name of  transparency.”

In the same speech, the 73 year old judge went on to joke about two individuals who were allegedly protesting against the top judge “standing perhaps appropriately, at the Heart of Midlothian, the scene of public executions in Edinburgh in former times”.

The proposal to require all members of the judiciary to declare their interests gained cross party support from msps during a debate on the petition - held at the Scottish Parliament on 7 October 2014.

The Parliamentary debate, including video footage and the official record, was reported in the media, and on Justice Diary here: Debating the Judges.

During the debate, MSPs openly joked it may have been easier to visit Qatar and get answers from Gill than bring him before the Scottish Parliament – only a few steps down the Royal Mile from Gill’s seat of power – Parliament House.

As MSPs made their speeches – mostly in favour of the creation of a register of judicial interests, Gill’s refusal to attend the Scottish Parliament came in for heavy criticism.

Independent MSP John Wilson said of Lord Gill’s refusal to give evidence at Holyrood: “Clearly, we must ask why we cannot have a register. No doubt the associated media coverage of Lord Gill’s non-appearance at the Public Petitions Committee has led to him being given the title of Lord No-No. That is not something that I particularly welcome, although, quite frankly, it seems to have a degree of merit for an individual who spent six days in Qatar to give a speech about transparency and judicial regulation that lasted one hour, but who could not find the courtesy to accept an invitation from a mandatory committee of this Parliament.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw said: “John Wilson is absolutely right. I have here a copy of the 16-page speech that the Lord President gave in Qatar, incorporating the very issues that we addressed. Had the committee known, we could have applied to the parliamentary authorities to go to Qatar to hear the speech in person and tackle the Lord President there. If he did not come to the committee, the committee could have gone to him.”

Gill’s refusal to appear at Holyrood was condemned by Labour MSP Neil Findlay - who said in his speech during the debate: “.. is it not an outrage that Lord Gill had such contempt for this Parliament that he refused to attend a particular meeting? Does that not make people even more suspicious of his motives?”

Mr Findlay continued: “I fully support the proposal for a register of interests for members of the judiciary. After all, we have the right to know whether those who are involved in determining whether a man or woman loses their freedom have any financial, business, social, political or other relationship that could influence any decision they might make. Currently there is no compulsion to declare such an interest and we rely on what is known as the fair-minded observer test. That, to me, is wholly inadequate. Through history, we have heard allegations of religious, class, financial and political bias or of members of certain organisations being helpful to each other during trials. I can think of many industrial and other disputes that have gone to court where claims of bias and collusion have been made—and, I believe, with justification.”

“That situation has to end, and we should have a register with clear rules that leave no one in any doubt about who and what should be registered. Is it really a surprise to people that the legal establishment does not want such a register.”

Upon the debate’s conclusion, MSPs overwhelmingly supported a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests.

Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) - Moi Ali supported the judicial transparency proposal during a must watch evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013.

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

Earlier this year it emerged a secret meeting was held in February between Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse and Lord Gill during February - to discuss joint efforts between the Scottish Government and senior judicial figures to undermine proposals for increased judicial transparency.

Some weeks after the meeting, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued a letter of intervention declaring she felt judges should be able to conceal their interests and other activities – activities which now extend from shareholdings in corrupt businesses to lobbying for fracking interests to tax avoidance and more. The Scottish Government’s attempt to thwart a register of judicial interests was reported in the media here: INTERESTS INTERVENE: First Minister joins top judge in bid to block register of judicial interests

The Scottish Sun on Sunday reported on Lord Gill’s planned appearance at Holyrood next month:

 Lord Gill in U-Turn over quiz at Parly

By Russell Findlay, Scottish Sun 04 October 2015

FORMER top judge Lord Gill is to be grilled by MSPs over his opposition to plans for a register of judges' hidden interests.

The ex-Lord President has twice snubbed invites to appear at Holyrood.

But he has agreed to face the Petitions Committee next month after they issued a third plea.

Legal campaigner Peter Cherbi said: "This is a significant U-turn from a judge who spent the last two years fighting Holyrood's investigation of judicial interests.

"It's time for him to come clean on the closed world of judicial interests, wealth, influence and links to big business."

Tory Jackson Carlaw urged MSPs to make the third invite after the beak, 73, retired.

He said: "I'm sure the committee will host a fascinating and frank exchange of views."

The Sunday Mail also reported on Gill’s planned appearance at Holyrood:

 Lord No-No says yes to parly probe

MSPs to quiz judge

By Mark Aitken, Sunday Mail 4 October 2015

Former top judge Lord Gill will finally be quizzed by MSPs on his opposition to his colleagues' business and financial secrets being made public.

Lord Gill retired as Lord President of the Court of Session at the end of May.

He was dubbed "Lord No-No" for snubbing requests to appear before Holyrood's petitions committee, who are considering a submission by campaigner Peter Cherbi for a judicial register of interests.

Details could include gifts, hospitality, property, shares, criminal convictions and links to outside bodies such as law firms.

Lord Gill twice declined to appear before the committee, citing the need for judicial independence from political interference.

But his retirement from the bench means he will now give evidence at Holyrood on November 10.

Cherbi said: "Now Lord Gill cannot hide behind the rank of lord president and refuse to attend.”

"The judiciary must be brought into line with the 21st century whether they like it or not."

Committee member John Wilson MSP said: "It is disappointing he has taken the decision to appear before the committee when he effectively no longer has any influence on the judiciary."

The Sunday Herald newspaper also reported on the decision by the former top judge to visit the Scottish Parliament:

 Lord Gill to finally give Holyrood evidence

Paul Hutcheon, Investigations Editor Herald Scotland: Sunday 4 October 2015

ONE of the country’s top judges has finally bowed to pressure by agreeing to give evidence to a Holyrood inquiry on the creation of a judicial register of interest.

Lord Gill, who recently retired as Lord President, had twice snubbed calls to face MSPs but will be grilled on the contentious subject next month.

Currently, a range of senior public sector figures, including MSPs, MPs, councillors and public board members, must provide details of directorships or shareholdings, but judges and sheriffs are under no such obligation.

Members of the judiciary are instead require to 'recuse' - or excuse - themselves from cases where there might be a potential conflict of interest.

Campaigner Peter Cherbi tried to plug the loophole by tabling a petition to Holyrood that would require judges to declare their pecuniary interests.

However, Gill, who as Lord President was the most senior judge north of the border, submitted written evidence to Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee opposing the plan.

He argued that a judge’s privacy could be affected by "aggressive media or hostile individuals" and warned:

"The establishment of such a register therefore may have the unintended consequence of eroding public confidence in the judiciary."

However, Lord Gill then refused invitations by the Committee to explain his written evidence in person in front of MSPs.

He told Holyrood that the legislation that created the Parliament contained a provision that meant judicial officer holders could not be required to give evidence.

He instead agreed to a private meeting with senior members of the committee.

After Gill retired earlier this year, MSPs invited him to give evidence for a third time.

Gill has agreed and will face MSPs on November 10.

Cherbi said: “Now that Lord Gill cannot hide behind the rank of Lord President and refuse to attend the Scottish Parliament, it will be interesting to hear how Scotland’s longest serving judge attempts to justify a judicial exemption against transparency when openness is supposedly a pre requisite for all others in our courts and justice system.

Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw, who is also a committee member, said: “I warmly welcome this change of heart by Lord Gill to appear before the Committee, even if it is as the former Lord President. I am sure the committee will host a fascinating and frank exchange of views.”

Justice Diary recently revealed Lord Brian Gill emerged from his brief summer retirement - taking up an appointment as a supplementary panel judge at the London based UK Supreme Court.

Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations on judicial interests 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...

Hope the committee are ready for him instead of letting Gill drone on about how wonderful judges are while the rest of the planet basically in their view scum

Anonymous said...

and this guy is "Scotland's longest serving judge"???

pffft"!doesn't say much for the rest does it!"

Anonymous said...

Rehearsals at 10am
If anyone was honest at the Judicial Office they will tell you Gill always used to recite his address before the appearance.The one on corroboration went through several drafts.Everyone had to come up with lists of what they thought he would be asked.Justice Committee members were eerily easy to predict.

Anonymous said...

"While in Qatar, Gill toured a motor museum, and was photographed attending organisations accused of being funding fronts for Qatar to influence international politics, business & wars around the world."

Gill will be so chuffed with that.Let's hope the MSPs take him to task on his Qatar experience.

by chance are you referring to the Qatar Foundation?

Court convicts two Qatar Foundation employees of soliciting bribe
By: Peter Kovessy and Riham Sheble | June 30, 2015

A judge has sentenced two senior Qatar Foundation (QF) employees to five years in jail and ordered them to jointly pay a QR3 million (US$823,916) fine for requesting a payoff from an insurance company in exchange for renewing its contract with the organization.

This morning’s verdict also orders that Narayan Manugh, an Indian expat who worked as the director of payments and revenue at QF’s financial affairs department, and Faisal Al-Hajiri, a Qatari who served as director of the financial affairs department, be terminated from their positions.

After serving his sentence, Manugh is to be deported from Qatar, the judge said in a brief statement announcing the verdict.

The fine is equivalent to the amount of money Manugh was accused of requesting from the regional manager of a French firm, AXA, in the spring of 2014.

The Qatar Foundation, supposedly a charity, isn’t free of scandal. In 2009, it funded the creation of the Al-Qaradawi Centre for Islamic Moderation and Renewal. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, after whom the center is named, does not support “Islamic moderation.” Both the United States and United Kingdom have denied him visas due to his continued support for suicide bombing and anti-Semitism. The president of FC Barcelona brushed off these allegations as mistakes “made in good faith.” The Qatari sovereign wealth fund remains a tool of the Qatari absolute monarchy. It seems ironic that FC Barcelona, which suffered under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, is now sponsored by a tool of another undemocratic regime.

Anonymous said...

Well done!

Anonymous said...

Committee member John Wilson MSP said: "It is disappointing he has taken the decision to appear before the committee when he effectively no longer has any influence on the judiciary."


If Gill had gone along while in office it would have been difficult for the bbc to continue ignoring this story going right to the heart of justice.
Just the sight of Mr 'Top Judge' struggling to argue judicial secret wealth and other interests have to remain a secret may well have ended any remaining public confidence in Gill and the rest of the judiciary.As things stand Gill's actions alone have proved we need a register for the judges and with all the support the parliament should press ahead with it.

Anonymous said...

You gave Gill a hell of a good pummelling in your write up and deservedly so.

By what right is he saying judges cannot be made to register their interests when there is already a register with his name and interests (I am guessing some,not all)

Just a mad position for him to take all along.

Anonymous said...

Oh well Lord Gill has given himself and his judges nearly a three year start on any register of interests so they should have been able to hide as much as they can during that time.

Anyone else they would have been compelled to produce all their papers by a deadline.This shows up unequal Scotland and the rest of the UK really is.One law for the judges and their brethren another for us.To be honest I am surprised they did not try to do something to you to shut you up or persuade/order you to drop the petition.Judges can get away with whatever they like and they know it.

Shocking really.

Anonymous said...

Gill is toast because of his bad attitude.
The judiciary are no different they have to register like everyone else but they dont want to because they are being influenced in court by their wealth and connections and if they register we are going to see exactly what is happening to all these court cases won every time amazingly for the bank or the lawyer or the government or whoever the big business is in front of the judge with all their expensive lawyers.

As you say not difficult to work out is it!

Anonymous said...

Brian Gill is not going to appear in front of the Public Petitions Committee without some kind of plan.
Whatever he has cooked up you can be sure it is not in the best interests of your petition.

Anonymous said...

Nearly three years later and he finally deigns to show up?

Must be looking for some more bad press on how it is best to keep protecting the rich and powerful without asking how or why it is achieved by the judiciary!

Anonymous said...

'Nikkla' has made her position clear - yur no getting yur register!

Doubtless the 'tame' politicians on the Committee - we all know who they are - will bear this in mind while welcoming Lord Gill's input as he attempts to smooth ruffled feathers.

Previous support by both Judicial Complaints Reviewers and a plethora of MSPs for the Register will be 'soft-pedaled' or conveniently forgotten or overlooked, and the latest episode of this farce masquerading as due process will conclude with yet more hot air and further delaying tactics by the SNP.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the Petitions committee is unaware Brian Gill is still a judge albeit at the Supreme Court.You better let them know!

Anonymous said...

if Gill tries to pull the wool over that committee about what the judges are up to then the cops should go in and arrest all the crooked judges and expose all their case rigging and helping their pals get up the ladder with public money

a bunch of true robbers worse than mafia

Anonymous said...

During his widely witnessed rant, given to a crowd of judges, lawyers & legal vested interests, Gill said: “The threats to judicial independence do not always come with a knock on the door in the middle of the night. In a society that prides itself on the independence of its judiciary, the threat may come in insidious ways, even at the hands of well-meaning governments and legislators, in the name of efficiency and, ironically, in the name of transparency.”

In the same speech, the 73 year old judge went on to joke about two individuals who were allegedly protesting against the top judge “standing perhaps appropriately, at the Heart of Midlothian, the scene of public executions in Edinburgh in former times”.

What a preposterous comment from someone who is supposed to know better.This coming from a top judge who is supposed to be setting examples to the rest of us.

A complete disgrace.Like all judges Gill demands we respect the justice system and there he is having a good old laugh about protestors dragged away by the cops and we all know what the reference to the public executions means.

Now I have called it a disgrace will I be hung at the judge's behest on the jolly gallows on the Heart of Midlothian?

I hope someone at this committee asks him to explain all this and face tough questions.Really NOT ON for judges to dictate how the same laws that apply to us apply to them.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what Gill says to the committee the telling part is who stands behind him v who stands behind you and the petition.

The only supporters of keeping secret the interests of judges are the judges themselves and their own vested interests such as lawyers and those in the Scottish Government who need to keep the judiciary sweet so they can pass their daft laws.

It is the same the world over - vested interests support vested interests and as your petition has demonstrated the judiciary are possibly the most rotten branch of all otherwise judges would have been declaring their interests years ago.

Anonymous said...

Old Lord U-Turn will be laying down the law when he shows up.No transparency allowed here!
Gill will be just as arrogant in his letters to the committee you published and damn good you did because we can all now see what the judges really think of us

Anonymous said...

I never realized the world of Scots law is so interesting.
Well done you for outing the judges greatest weakness.
They are sworn enemies of transparency!

Justice Diary said...

@ 11 October 2015 at 12:11

Yes, Lord Gill did visit the Qatar Foundation.

Thanks for the additional information.

@ 11 October 2015 at 18:47

In several ways, the length of the debate on judicial interests has been more important than creating a register of judicial interests prior to now.

Headlines and Committee hearings prompt the right people to open up and reveal much more now than was previously published on judicial interests and the way the judges go about their business.

There is now a good pool of intel on what has been stashed away by members of the judiciary since MSPs began looking at judicial interests in January 2013 ... good for plenty headlines to come, along with allegations of improper business influence on court hearings etc

Anonymous said...

Lets hope they dont allow Gill to interview himself as he is used to doing