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:
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:
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:
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