Former Justice Secretary calls for top judge to appear at Holyrood. SCOTLAND’S as yet unnamed new top judge who will take on the role of Lord President & Lord Justice General – is to be called to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s three year probe on creating a register of interests for judges as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.
The call to hear from the new top judge was made by former Justice Secretary and Petitions Committee member Kenny MacAskill MSP during a brief discussion of Petition PE1458 at last week’s meeting of the Public Petitions Committee on 1 December 2015.
Calling on whoever is named to be Scotland’s new top judge, Kenny MacAskill said: “We have heard from the previous Lord President and I think that we should hear from the new Lord President, whoever he is likely to be—I do not think that there is a “she” on the shortlist. That appointment is likely to be made in the next week or so, so there is still time for him to appear before us.”
The petition 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.
The proposal to require judges to declare their interests enjoys cross party support, and was widely backed by MSPs during a full debate in the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber on 9 October 2014 - reported in full with video footage of MSPs and Scottish Ministers speaking during the Holyrood debate, here: Debating the Judges.
Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)
The Convener: Our next petition is PE1458, by Peter Cherbi, on the creation of a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. Members have a note on the committee’s previous consideration of the petition and the submissions from the petitioner.
Do members have any comments?
Kenny MacAskill: We have heard from the previous Lord President and I think that we should hear from the new Lord President, whoever he is likely to be—I do not think that there is a “she” on the shortlist. That appointment is likely to be made in the next week or so, so there is still time for him to appear before us.
The Convener: In that case, we will write to the new Lord President, as we said that we would.
Decision: The Committee agreed to write to the new Lord President once appointed.
During an earlier evidence session held on 10 November 2015, MSPs on the Public Petitions Committee heard from former Lord President, Lord Brian Gill (73) – who suddenly retired in May 2015 - after serving three years as Lord President & Lord Justice General - one of the shortest terms of a Lord President in recent history.
Lord Gill vehemently opposes any call for judicial transparency and calls to require judges to disclose their interests, and twice refused invitations to appear before MSPs to give evidence on the probe into judicial interests.
Gill spent two of his three years as Lord President writing a series of eight angry letters to the Public Petitions Committee, calling on MSPs to exit the petition and any discussion of judicial transparency – reported in detail here: Top judge branded media & public aggressive in attempt to avoid interests register & judicial transparency
The stormy evidence session with Lord Gill, reported here: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests saw ex top judge Brian Gill hound MSPs on three occasions with demands to close the petition.
Video footage of Lord Gill’s terse 50 minutes evidence to MSPs is available here: Evidence of Lord Gill before the Scottish Parliament 10 November 2015.
Highlights of the former top judge’s vested interests must remain secret approach include:
In an angry exchange with MSP Jackson Carlaw, Lord Gill demanded to control the kinds of questions he was being asked. Replying to Lord Gill, Mr Carlaw said he would ask his own questions instead of ones suggested to him by the judge.
And, in responses to independent MSP John Wilson, Lord Gill dismissed media reports on scandals within the judiciary and brushed aside evidence from Scotland’s independent Judicial Complaints Reviewers – Moi Ali & Gillian Thompson OBE – both of whom previously gave evidence to MSPs in support of a register of judges’ interests.
Facing further questions from John WIlson MSP on the appearance of Lord Gill’s former Private Secretary Roddy Flinn, the top judge angrily denied Mr Flinn was present as a witness – even though papers prepared by the Petitions Committee and published in advance said so. The top judge barked: “The agenda is wrong”.
And, in a key moment during further questions from committee member Mr Wilson on the integrity of the judiciary, Lord Gill angrily claimed he had never suspended any judicial office holders.
The top judge was then forced to admit he had suspended judicial office holders after being reminded of the suspension of Sheriff Peter Watson.
Several times during the hearing, the retired top judge demanded MSPs show a sign of trust in the judiciary by closing down the petition.
Questioned on the matter of judicial recusals, Gill told MSPs he preferred court clerks should handle information on judicial interests rather than the details appearing in a publicly available register of interests.
Lord Gill also slammed the transparency of judicial appointments in the USA - after it was drawn to his attention judges in the United States are required to register their interests.
In angry exchanges, Lord Gill accused American judges of being elected by corporate and vested interests and said he did not want to see that here. However, the situation is almost identical in Scotland where Scottish judges who refuse to disclose their interests, are elected by legal vested interests with hidden links to corporations.
Scotland’s first ever Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) - Moi Ali gave backing to the the judicial transparency proposal during a must watch evidence session held at Holyrood in September 2013.
Scotland’s current Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also backed the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.
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