Thursday, June 09, 2016

WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall & new Lord Advocate refused to give expectations on move to recover public ownership of Parliament House

New Lord Advocate’s role in Parliament House titles fiasco. DOCUMENTS obtained from the Scottish Government reveal Scotland’s new Lord Advocate - James Wolffe QC – refused to give expectations of any success on efforts by the City of Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

Emails from James Wolffe to the Scottish Government also claim the Faculty of Advocates spent £320K on legal costs and work refurbishing the Laigh Hall – which Edinburgh City Council contend was wrongly taken from public ownership.

The series of exchanges between the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and Scottish Ministers in relation to the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court buildings - came to light in papers released by the Scottish Government in response to a Freedom of Information request.

In one letter dated 2 April 2015 to Alex Neil MSP  - the then Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice – James Wolffe told the Minister he did not object to a meeting between representatives of the City of Edinburgh Council and the Faculty of Advocates.

However, Wolffe added to the same letter “At the same time I would not wish to give any expectation to you or the council as to the outcome of any discussion.”

The long time lawyer & QC – recently selected by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s latest Lord Advocate -  also felt confident enough to pass along details of the financial costs of ‘refurbishing’ the Laigh Hall - which the City of Edinburgh Council maintained were part of the common good & therefore owned by the council.

In a separate email to a senior Scottish Government civil servant - James Wolffe added: “I am advised that the of refurbishing the Laigh Hall following the grant of title to the Faculty was £242,270 plus VAT, with professional fees of £33,537 plus VAT.”

Responding to Wolffe’s claim the Faculty of Advocates paid out over £320K on refurbishing parts of buildings formerly in public ownership - an individual at the Scottish Government whose identity has been censored in the released documents – made light of further coverage of the Parliament House fiasco in the Scottish media.

In a further email, Wolffe alerted the secretive Scottish Government contact to additional coverage, pointing to an article written by Martin Hannan in The National, titled “Edinburgh asks: Can we have Parliament House back, please?

Meanwhile, unredacted sections of legal advice given by the Scottish Government’s own lawyers to Scottish Ministers revealed in the documents state the following:

• The Scottish Court Service (SCS) is the current proprietor and occupier of Parliament House.

Consequently it is that independent body (and not the Scottish Ministers) that would have to agree to a voluntary transfer of its title to the local authority. We don't know what view the Lord President would be likely to take on that matter and whether he would agree to the transfer in circumstances where the public body has a valid title. He may, for example, be influenced by the fact that the SCS has recently undertake a major refurbishment of the building complex at a cost of around £58 million.

• The finance position is complex. SCS holds a valid title and will have accounted for bot the property and the recent refurbishment works in its accounts: Whilst a transfer to the council would retain the property in public ownership, there are tricky issues around accounting and public finance rules t at would require further investigation.

• Although neither a legal nor financial impediment, the title position is very complex. Parliament House is not one building but rather a number that are stitched together, built down the centuries. it is not clear whether the entire property was, and remained, part of the Common Good Fund when Scottish Ministers registered a title. This may be relevant when considering whether or not it would be appropriate to transfer the entire property. My understanding is that it would be an expensive exercise to undertake any further examination of the title and it is unlikely that it would in any event achieve any greater clarity.

• The Faculty of Advocates holds a registered title to the Laigh Hall. It mayor may not agree to a voluntary transfer, and if they were inclined to do so, we don't know upon' what basis.

As ministers sought to arrange meetings and seek views on the subject, Lord Brian Gill – then Lord President – wrote to Alex Neil MSP, asserting “this matter is best dealt with at official level”

Gill said he would ask Eric McQueen - Chief Executive of Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, to meet with officials of the Council.

However, after a year of fruitless negotiations between council officials, the Scottish Government, and other parties, the City of Edinburgh Council served writs on Scottish Ministers, the Keeper of the Registers and the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service on 25 November 2015.

The action by the council - seeking declarator that the City of Edinburgh Council is the owner of Parliament House, High Street, home of the Court of Session – has since been abandoned.

In response to media enquiries, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service confirmed the council’s legal action had ceased, and said : “SCTS holds legal title to Parliament House.”


Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP - revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation - revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

And, throughout the documents – which contain communications between civil servants, briefings to Ministers, land reports and letters from Edinburgh City Council asking for meetings, it was clear Scottish Ministers favour leaving the titles to the nation’s top courts with the vested interests of the legal profession.

During an earlier check on the titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stood in the name of “SIDNEY NEIL BRAILSFORD Queen's Counsel, Treasurer of HONOURABLE THE FACULTY OF ADVOCATES Edinburgh, as Trustee and in Trust for said Faculty”.

Sidney Brailsford is High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scottish Government files reveal how court titles were handed over to advocates After a series of briefings with Ministers – involving everyone from the Lord Advocate & Solicitor General to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Minister for Legal Affairs and others, a position was adopted by Scottish Ministers “That we confirm to Council officials that it is the Scottish Government's position that title to Parliament Hall was taken by Scottish Ministers in good faith and with the full knowledge and consent of the Council. The Scottish Court Service and Faculty of Advocates therefore have good title to the property and Ministers propose no further action.”

Lawyers for the Scottish Government also sought to distance themselves from the huge £58 million taxpayer funded spend on the Scottish Court buildings – long after titles were handed over to the advocates.

One lawyer stated in an email: “Was the PH [Parliament Hall] refurb about £60m? It went over in the SCS [Scottish Court Service] budgets I think but from my recollection of briefing on their budget it is not easily identifiable within their budget lines. So SCS [Scottish Court Service] spent the money not SG [Scottish Government]?”

In another memo, it is revealed Edinburgh City Council may be compelled to take legal action to recover the titles and details an example of how Common Good land disputes have affected legislation in the past.

As previously reported, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already given her blessing to the multi million pound title handover freebie to the Faculty of Advocates. The First Minister claimed there was “no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council”. The First Minister’s response to a question from Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone during First Minister’s Questions, follows:

Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ's Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015

Official Report of debate: Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): It transpired this week that the 17th century old Parliament hall in Edinburgh was transferred from the collective ownership of my constituents to Scottish ministers without knowledge or recompense to the common good fund.

The City of Edinburgh Council failed in its role as steward of the fund, but is now seeking to resolve the situation. Can the First Minister assure my constituents that any requests from the council to restore ownership of that common good asset to the council will be considered seriously and favourably?

The First Minister - Nicola Sturgeon: I will briefly state the background to this issue, of which I am sure that Alison Johnstone is aware.

The Scottish Government’s position is that title to Parliament hall was taken by Scottish ministers in good faith, and that that was done with the full knowledge and consent of the council. The Scottish Courts Service and the Faculty of Advocates, therefore, have now got good title to that property.

Of course, I am more than happy to ask the relevant minister, Marco Biagi, to; meet and discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, but as far as I can see there is no fault here on the part of the Scottish Government.

Further, of course, title has since been passed on, so it may very well be that there is no easy solution to the issue of restoring title to the City of Edinburgh Council. I think that any questions on how the situation has arisen probably have to be directed to the council.


Anonymous said...

How easy for state backed institutions to steal property from public ownership and pass it on quietly to lawyers.
Remember folks this happened under Jack McConnell although Sturgeon's less than glowing performance gives us fair warning on how the Scottish Govt will deal with land reform - as in bury it.

Anonymous said...

From the published material on your blog Mr Wolffe was not asked the cost of refurbishment or legal costs yet volunteered the figures anyway.

You know where I am going with this I am sure.

Anonymous said...

the advocates must have went out and robbed a few more clients to foot the £320K bill if there was such a bill.Maybe the whole thing was done by a couple of cowboy builders paid for in cash and tax dodged.

You can rest assured the advocates did not pay for something when they can leech cash out of their clients!

Anonymous said...

May I insert a reality check I am sure you will agree with and hope you publish.

The Scottish Court Service holding title to Parliament House is not the same as elected local government holding title to Parliament House.

The Scottish Court Service SCTS or whatever they now want to call themselves is an unelected unaccountable so-called public body with little interest in the common good as you have studiously pointed out on earlier occasions.

The titles along with the Laigh Hall should be properly transferred back to the City of Edinburgh Council and any costs borne by those who took them away from public ownership.

Anonymous said...


taken only six days to debunk the many myths spun by Sturgeon on the new Lord Advocate

good you are around to put the facts right!

Anonymous said...

Edinburgh Council have no chance.It was their own fault handing over the Parliament House buildings to the old Scottish Executive.Just goes to show what an incompetent council runs Scotland's Capital city.Handing over what must be a prime asset to a bunch of numpties who then gave it away to the Faculty of Advocates (and received what in return I wonder)

Someone made a lot of money bribes favors call it what you like out of this giveaway.

Anonymous said...

lawyers are a vile gang running Scotland stoop to any level to steal plunder what they want

Anonymous said...

Sturgeon is such a dud when it came to answering why the court was handed over to a bunch of scumbags and cannot be handed back.No wonder she lost her majority!

Anonymous said...

"The action by the council - seeking declarator that the City of Edinburgh Council is the owner of Parliament House, High Street, home of the Court of Session – has since been abandoned."

No doubt because they realized there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of them ever getting a hearing before an impartial judge. The Council should therefore take the matter beyond the borders of the little parish of Edinburgh to seek restitution of public property.

Those Scottish Ministers who‘gifted’ the property to the Faculty of Advocates should be sacked immediately and prosecuted.

All this just demonstrates AGAIN that there is no proper rule of law when the legal profession have an interest in the outcome.

Anonymous said...

For the dimwitted the message is clearly pay Dick Turpin the £320,000 and Edinburgh can have the mangy cellar underneath the court of session.
For the record I've heard similar sentences described as blackmail by Crown counsel more than once at the High Court in Glasgow and Edinburgh.Any court journo worth their salt will concur.

Anonymous said...

Funny how the newspapers kept quiet on what happened after the events of 2015.
Nothing about CEC abandoning the legal case nothing about the £320K and no mention of Lord Advocate Wolffe other than in the usual glowing terms akin to legal publications.
This is what happens when lawyers are allowed to block news stories from the masses.

Anonymous said...

The Scottish government are lying to you in the Freedom of Information reply.
I have a friend at the council who read your blog and those files you published tonight.He says there is a lot more with the Faculty of Advocates and Wolffe and the Scottish Government than in those papers from Jan Marshall and urges you to continue investigating.

Anonymous said...

Should we not be worried Scotland's top prosecutor was once the boss of the advocates who took or received dodgy titles formerly in public ownership?
I looked through your blog and did a wee search to find a fax in one of your files sent to the Scottish Courts by the Faculty of Advocates and this seems to be their only basis for a claim of ownership.
Good you have all the evidence to back this up and astounding the same man who headed the same faculty and communicated in the way he did with ministers is now boss of the crown office on nothing more than Sturgeon's say-so.

Anonymous said...

Jan Marshall has been at the Scottish Executive since the early 1990s so she will know plenty about what goes on especially about this!

Anonymous said...

Wont be long before the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service hand over the remaining titles to the greedy advocates.You can see this is the intention and at some point Parliament House sold off or becomes a conference venue and the out of touch pensioner judges shunted into some former B&Q store where they truly belong.

Anonymous said...

dont blame the council for abandoning the action since there is not much point in hearing a case in front of judges who own the same court buildings after their brethren in the faculty pilfered it from the public purse

Anonymous said...

wow look at sturgeon umm ahh umm ehh no easy solution ahh ummm and all because this involves lawyers getting their greedy mitts on the court for their own pockets and guess who used to be a lawyer!

Anonymous said...

In a separate email to a senior Scottish Government civil servant - James Wolffe added: “I am advised that the of refurbishing the Laigh Hall following the grant of title to the Faculty was £242,270 plus VAT, with professional fees of £33,537 plus VAT.”

And where exactly did the money actually come from?

I wager clients found their courtroom agony prolonged a few years courtesy of their dishonest legal reps to pay for all this.

One thing for sure - the Faculty of Advocates did not cough up the money out of their own pockets because lawyers never do.

Anonymous said...

Surely whatever passes for a justice committee in Scotland should be investigating how this came about and see to it the titles are returned.If not then what is the point of having a Scottish Parliament law making body in the first place?

Anonymous said...

'Doing the right thing' would have entailed an orderly agreement of a handover rather than haggle with figures and tell Alex Neil to go take a hike.

Not a good start for a Lord Advocate who will most certainly encounter land reform issues along the way.

Anonymous said...

Good coverage and with the documents there for all to see.
I always marvel at how easily you take down these establishment types.They may keep their jobs but we all know thanks to you what is actually going on rather than the soft focus versions from the establishment media.

Anonymous said...

As the figures quoted by James Wolffe in his role as Dean of faculty suggest - the Laigh Hall is not a "mangy cellar" as some in the legal profession obviously want the general public to believe

Photographs of the Laigh Hall are on

Take a look before the Faculty of Advocates insist on deletion.

Anonymous said...

I see the black ink brigade have been through your foi with a fine tooth comb.

Must be a mark of how much corruption and double dealing is going on behind the scenes on the titles fiasco.

Also in reply to an earlier comment no use pinning this on McConnell's administration.Sturgeon had her chance to do the right thing with this and she backed off.Someone else said what is the use of having a law making body if it wont act - well said.Same goes for an FM who always backs off acting and just sits there "leading calls" for something to happen and surprise it never does.

Anonymous said...

Hard to believe Lord Gill played this so hands off considering the earlier notes in the foi where the Scottish gov were worried about the Lord President's view on any transfer of ownership back to Edinburgh

Also I find it hard to believe someone at the council handed over the titles to Parliament house without some sly involvement from someone in the legal establishment.

It is not too difficult to imagine a conversation where a lawyer was told of the enquiries by Scottish ministers and saw too it someone at the council waved through the lack of interest without going to a full debate and all the attendant publicity.

I suspect foul play all along.

Diary of Injustice said...

@ 9 June 2016 at 18:32

Completely agree ...

@ 9 June 2016 at 20:31

True ... impartiality in the judiciary is a myth, when vested interests come into play ...

@ 9 June 2016 at 21:36

Feel free to contact the blog, through advertised or arranged channels ...

@ 9 June 2016 at 23:01

Someone made a similar comment during a Justice Committee hearing not so long ago ...

@ 10 June 2016 at 12:54 Delete

Yes ... far from a "mangy cellar".

The Laigh Hall has enjoyed significant upgrades on the backs of others ...

@ 10 June 2016 at 14:37

There is some circumstantial evidence to support your comment ... time will tell however the lack of debate or public information when Scottish Ministers and the City of Edinburgh Council were in contact is an indication something was up .. at the very least it appears the public were shut out to prevent any objections to what happened next ...

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the council and the ex Scottish executive imposed a news blackout at the time.

When was this? around 2006? oh yes would have been easy at the time to make sure no one printed anything and is exactly what happened.Total silence.I do not recall any councillor at the time making a flap so the council must have been just as eager to keep this under wraps.

Anonymous said...

another cover up Scotland is full of them no matter what area of business you can find corruption although I must say from reading your many fine and highly detailed reports the legal profession in Scotland must be the most corrupt in the entire world!

Anonymous said...

"however the lack of debate or public information when Scottish Ministers and the City of Edinburgh Council were in contact is an indication something was up .. at the very least it appears the public were shut out to prevent any objections to what happened next"

I'll go with what you said and the other comment about foul play at work.This was arranged from the start by the legal eagles or persons connected to them.It must be near impossible to give away titles to our top courts by accident or a clerical error.This is an absolute scandal.

Anonymous said...

Rule of law in Scotland?

There is no such thing.More like corruption comes first.

Anonymous said...

You could be right about the transfer being kept out of the news deliberately I also find it very hard to believe no one talked at the time.Doesn't say much for the press does it when ownership of the courts can slip away to some quango and a private group of lawyers unnoticed.
Also have to wonder what Holyrood was playing at during the time this happened or were they told to keep out by the legal squad.Keep digging!

Anonymous said...

New Lord advocate same as the old and crown office as corrupt as before

Anonymous said...

Look at it this way - someone wanted you to publish these docs!
As someone was saying earlier today your blog is necessary to keep certain people in check!

Anonymous said...

No wonder Sturgeon was covering up and says it cannot be handed back to the council because handing public owned prime land over to lawyers is more important isnt it nick!

Anonymous said...

I'll go with what you said and the other comment about foul play at work.This was arranged from the start by the legal eagles or persons connected to them.It must be near impossible to give away titles to our top courts by accident or a clerical error.This is an absolute scandal.

10 June 2016 at 18:15

Sounds like common sense to me.

Must have been an inside job handled by lawyers and complicit politicians given the lack of any public info at the time.

Anonymous said...

Surprising a judge has the bare faced cheek to put his name on titles which appear to have been wrongly handed over to the Faculty of advocates.

Then again as you said previously judges hold far too much power and about time their claws are clipped.

A complete disgrace the whole thing and very telling BBC Scotland have made sure of no mention of this in what passes for their national news or investigation programmes.

Anonymous said...

Oh Peter someone at the FoA really does not like you over your Wolffe Hall series!Too bad the truth hurts!Well done!

Anonymous said...

Anyone with a case unexpectedly dragging on for months? Chances are you helped pay for the faculty of corruption's refurbishment bill.

btw just a thought did they put in for planning permission and building inspections for their project? Anyone living in a historic building in need of work or repairs will tell you the council Historic Scotland etc insist on the full monty before a door knob is changed.If none of this exists there is definitely a cover up!

Anonymous said...

so after all this time nothing was done about this?proves how rotten the Scots legal system is

Anonymous said...

I am surprised you have not written about Brexit

A natural in for your blog surely given the fact all the international banks and law firms who may be forced to leave the UK will probably choose flight to the continent rather than a flit to untrustworthy and poorly regulated Scotland

Give us your thoughts please

Diary of Injustice said...

Comments from 16-26 June are held for consideration.

In relation to comments identifying individuals connected to this article it is the policy of DOI to look into information provided, investigate and publish articles at a later date.

Anonymous @ 26 June 2016 at 19:07

Whether Brexit or remain you can be assured there is little justice or consumer protection for clients of the legal profession, in Scotland, England & Wales.

Banks and law firms prefer as little regulation as possible, however it is doubtful London based banks would make the mistake to flee to Scotland, given the underhanded and unreliable reputation of the Scots legal services sector and the finance sector which has produced banking crashes and multi million pound investment frauds incapable of being investigated or prosecuted by equally dishonest prosecutors.

Anonymous said...

interesting response direct and with conviction as always

Given what you say and your obvious knowledge of how legals/financials operate in Scotland let me ask you the following question in the hopes of an equally direct answer.

Would you recommend any financial institution or investors place their money in a Scotland based bank if brexit occurs and Scotland becomes independent?

Diary of Injustice said...

Anonymous @ 1 July 2016 at 09:33

In short, No.

Scotland has no financial regulation of it's own, no Central Bank and the politician who knows finance best was sent to the Education brief.

Financial regulation takes years to create, develop and gain a reputation, same for a Central Bank.

Scottish banks no longer have the honest reputation, nor does Scotland's finance industry if you look closer at collapses such as Heather Capital.

Listening to claims of world respect for Scottish law from the ageing judiciary and legal vested interests is not a credible guide to how any regulation for other services such as financial would work in an independent Scotland.

In any case, London banks who want to do business in the EU will remain where they are or transfer to other capitals on the continent if they want to get on.

As for law firms well there have been many mergers between UK law firms and Scottish law firms, however from what some journalists have been told, regrets are regularly expressed at the lack of ability at the Scottish end, and the fact staff from merged firms in Scotland appear to be slipping clients, contracts and business out of their own firms to competitors for deals on the side.

Transfers into such a market are not recommended ...