Thursday, September 15, 2016

WOLFFE’D HALL: Edinburgh Council admit defeat in Parliament House titles fiasco - officials no longer pursuing recovery of Scotland’s top court buildings to common good public ownership

Top court now owned by ‘public body’ run by judges. THE City of Edinburgh Council have this week confirmed no further action is being taken by the council to recover ownership to the common good of Parliament House – the seat of Scotland’s top courts.

In a statement issued to the media, a spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council said in relation to Parliament House: “We are not pursuing legal action regarding ownership of the Parliament House.The building, however,  remains in public ownership and is publicly accessible.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) now have full title to Parliament House – granted to them by Scottish Ministers.

However as the SCTS is a public body which is effectively controlled by a quango commanded by Scotland’s top judges - the status of “public ownership” may well fall to be a loosely applied term given how the titles came to be in the possession of the courts after Scottish Ministers took ownership of Parliament House from the common good.

The City of Edinburgh Council’s costly £53K legal action to recover the lost titles of Parliament House – which was destined to be heard in the very same court buildings – was abandoned almost as instantly as papers were served by the council’s legal agents on the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and Scottish Ministers- reported in further detail here:  WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Commenting on the Laigh Hall – a large area of building which runs underneath Parliament House and was ‘gifted’ to the Faculty of Advocates by the Scottish Government, a Council spokesperson, said: “Shortly after Scottish Ministers registered these buildings they transferred the title for Laigh Hall to the facility of advocates. We understand that this transfer is subject to Scottish Ministers having first refusal to reaquire the property in the event of a sale.”

A spokesperson for the council also confirmed earlier moves by Edinburgh Council to ‘persuade’ the SCTS & Scottish Government to voluntarily hand back ownership, were also at an end.

DOI has previously published documents released under Freedom of Information legislation which revealed lawyers representing trustees of the Faculty of Advocates informed Registers of Scotland (RoS) that the Laigh Hall – part of the Parliament House complex - had been occupied by the Faculty for some 150 years, with no recorded titles – yet Scottish Ministers and Registers of Scotland went ahead and granted ownership to the Faculty of Advocates.

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.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI also revealed the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates - James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) - refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates.

Records of titles to the Laigh Hall – Parliament House – Queen Street – ownership stands 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 none other than High Court Judge Lord Brailsford.

Scotland’s current First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon also weighed in on the debate, but only after being asked questions during a session of First Minister’s Questions.

The First Minister gave little indication the Scottish Government were willing to ensure titles were handed back to the City of Edinburgh Council : Parliament House handed over to Faculty of Advocates FMQ's Nicola Sturgeon 19 February 2015 and as the Council have now confirmed, the matter is closed.


Amid rumours of plans loosely based around the Scottish Government’s desire for “modern justice centres” to one day move the Court of Session out of Parliament House, questions remain on who will ultimately benefit financially from any redevelopment of the imposing, gargantuan buildings which make up Scotland’s top court and power seat of the judiciary.

The sprawling complex of high value, if aging buildings - located in the centre of Edinburgh – are described as “inaccessible” “Victorian” and “unfit for modern court needs” in loose discussions between interested parties and land developers.

However, development possibilities for Parliament House reveal a host of difficulties in turning “an overly ornate set of imposing buildings” into a mixture of office, business and residential units.

Concerns of resistance from the legal profession, elements of the judiciary and a “public outcry” appear to be uppermost in the minds of developers and politicians who may wish to move the judges out of their plush Parliament House headquarters to a “greenfield site”.

In the last few years, ‘improvements’ to Parliament House saw £58 million of taxpayers cash spent on updating the constantly crumbling court buildings - which also house the offices of Scotland’s powerful judicial clique and their top judge – the Lord President, currently Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland).

Some in the legal fraternity have since pointed to the recent multi million pound expenditure on improvements as part of a move to clean up Parliament House before a possible transfer of court staff and court functions and eventual sale of the buildings to the private sector.

It also emerged during hearings at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee in the summer of 2013 - the Scottish Court Service (SCS) – the predecessor to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) had previously demanded around £120 million of taxpayers cash be spent on renovating Parliament House.


In the summer of 2013,  Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill – head of the Scottish Court Service Board, and the Scottish Court Service Chief Executive Eric McQueen appeared before MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee to give evidence on court closures and the millions spent on Parliament House – yet neither the judge nor the Courts chief mentioned their astonishing secret to the MSPs present – that the title to Scotland’s highest court buildings had been swiped by the Faculty of Advocates in a deal on the sly with Scottish Ministers.

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen gave evidence on the massive £60 million taxpayer funded spend on Parliament House.

The Court Service Chief told MSPs: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government's purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting beside Eric McQueen was Lord President Brian Gill, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Previous reports on the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court – Parliament House can be found here: Parliament House - The lost titles to the City of Edinburgh


Anonymous said...

a Council spokesperson, said: “Shortly after Scottish Ministers registered these buildings they transferred the title for Laigh Hall to the facility of advocates. We understand that this transfer is subject to Scottish Ministers having first refusal to reaquire the property in the event of a sale.”

Crime really does pay.

The Faculty take a public owned building and if they want to sell the taxpayer will have to cough up to reaquire it.

Disgusting.This agreement alone tells you a lot about how rotten the whole thing was from the very start and Scottish Ministers knew it.

Anonymous said...

You dont need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out who is ultimately going to benefit from this property theft.

Judges and lawyers.Possibly backhanders for politicians who turned a blind eye and made it all happen.

Anonymous said...

HA! Christine Grahame's B & Q quip came back to smack the Court service right in the face.Listening to the video clip and watching reactions one wonders if CG had any suspicions or advance warning of a plan to move the CoS out of Parliament House.I'd say Yes.

Anonymous said...

re your choice of Wolffe Hall in the headline

I surmise this relates to James Wolffe as Dean of Faculty during the publicity over the titles fiasco?

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me the council are well and truly nobbled!

Given all the slush floating around with the trams project the trams inquiry the property conservation inquiry the ashes inquiry this inquiry that inquiry Edinburgh residents have learned not expect honesty in any inquiry on whatever was/is being inquired into.

Anonymous said...

Surely a raw deal for the citizens of Edinburgh!

Anonymous said...

Like I said on your other post the logic of spending millions on Parliament House together with information you uncovered regarding ownership fit the scenario of a sale.
I am sure this sale will go ahead no matter who writes what and we can always say we read about it on your blog first.
However it may be the publicity and your material may slow the process and cause politicians to spend more time spinning a yarn about moving the Court of Session to save costs along with tall tales of healthcare and babies will benefit from the sale proceeds.
We all know who will actually benefit - the legal profession,politicians with ever increasing property portfolios and the judges who will have to be given severe bungs to go along with selling their 'jewel' or rather your description of the Court of Session as "ruinous".
A thoroughly predictable chain of events.
Thank you for a good read as always.

Anonymous said...

The statement from CEC spokesperson - "The building, however, remains in public ownership and is publicly accessible."

Something of a climbdown from CEC earlier position!

If the building remains in public ownership according to CEC then why did the council spend £52,991.00 on lawyers and an assortment of hangers on in an attempt to recover the titles?

What a scandal!

Anonymous said...

Parliament house handed over to a bunch of robbers

Anonymous said...

Edinburgh Council or the Scottish Government I am unsure which is the worse of the two one for handing it over the other for handing our courts over to a bunch of greedy lawyers

Anonymous said...

How poetic Scotland's bastion of corruption aka the Court of Session ends up in the hands of the thieves who run it!

Anonymous said...

On the main topic of your post I have read enough to conclude this was an organised affair from the outset.
There has to be no chance on this earth a capital city hands over titles to a building as central to Scotland and the justice system by accident.This is not possible.I do not believe it for one minute.Organised from the date of letter you posted in the bundle where Edinburgh council lawyers wrote the council was not interested in Parliament House to all events since.

On the video clip.
After watching the other Gill evidence video with his silent sidekick I am amazed Lord No-No allowed McQueen to answer any questions he did not authorise unless of course they both rehearsed from a script before the hearing took place.You never really know these days what goes on behind the scenes before these parliamentary committees perform for the cameras.Any chance of putting up the full hearing sometime? as I would like to see how this Justice committee tea and cakes with judges ended.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as one of many members of the legal profession with an axe to grind against the eternally slow Court of Session if Parliament house is destined to be sold off and turned into flats and souvenir shops this will be a fitting end for the most malfunctioning courts in all of Scotland.

I for one welcome the prospect of meeting and representing clients in a purposely built modern court building rather than daily navigation of what is little more than a bleak a incompetently run rabbit warren which should have closed its doors and been turned into tea towels and shortbread retailers at the turn of the millennium.

Anonymous said...

Many of the scum who work in the court of session helped steal property from thousands of ordinary people and enriched themselves along the way.How the f* hell does anyone think this crowd got so rich in the first place!

Anonymous said...

Good read and yes I agree a sale definitely on the cards given what said and by whom