US justices base their careers on corporate funds – Lord Gill. DURING a meeting at the Scottish Parliament almost one year ago, Scotland’s former Lord President & Lord Justice General launched a scathing attack on the judiciary of the United States of America, accusing top US judges of harbouring financial ties to corporations & vested interests – in order to ensure their election to judicial office.
The damning accusations against top US Justices – aired in an open session of the Scottish Parliament by Scotland’s longest serving judge - Lord Brian Gill (74) – were not in response to an international incident or some complicated round of diplomacy and trade negotiations.
Rather, Brian Gill’s pulverising attack on the integrity of the judiciary of the United States - looked upon by many as the world’s most powerful democracy – were in response to a proposal for Scottish judges to register their interests – in the very same way judges in the United States and other international jurisdictions are required to register their interests.
Answering questions from MSP Angus MacDonald, Lord Gill quipped: “I do not know that we would want to have a judiciary here that is like the one in the United States. It depends on your personal point of view. I do not give you my view, but I am sure that you can guess what it is.”
Responding to some measure of astonishment, Gill charged in and blew apart the integrity of his judicial colleagues in the US, stating: “I would be very sorry to see a judiciary in which candidates ran for election and in which candidates' election campaigns were based on fundraising from companies and corporations that might be litigants in their courts.”
Judicial Transparency, US style, or for that – judicial transparency from any other jurisdiction, was not welcome in Scotland - according to Lord Gill.
And Gill was the expert. For as one of the shortest term serving Lord Presidents’ of modern times – he spent much of his three year term battling against proposals to require Scotland’s elite, secretive judiciary to declare their significant wealth and connections to the professions & big business as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.
However, worse was to come from the notoriously anti-transparency judge, who once threatened to deny journalists access to court documents.
Lord Gill – who has since relocated to a posh seat on the UK Supreme Court based in London - was not content with lambasting US justices he accused of cuddling up to corporations for campaign cash.
In response to further questions from the Petitions Committee, Lord Gill opened up another sneering line of attack on US judges, castigating the highly valued nomination hearings of US Supreme Court justices which form a key part of the judicial process in America and are widely available to watch online, with examples such as the nomination process for famed Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Lashing out again at the almost alien concept of judicial transparency coming to Scotland, Lord Gill recoiled: “I would also be very sorry if the day ever came where, before appointment, judges had to come before a committee of this honourable legislature for confirmation and for examination of their political, ethical and social views.”
However, only weeks before Gill made his outburst against the judicial selection process in the United States, the behind closed doors approach to selecting Scottish judges – who dodge questions on their own ties to vested interests inside and outside the legal profession, was revealed in a media investigation here: TO PLAY THE PRESIDENT: Transparency, diversity & judicial reform on the cards as hunt begins for Scotland’s next top judge & Lord President of the Court of Session.
And, investigations by DOI revealed Scotland’s judiciary are themselves, no stranger to financial ties to vested interests and big banks, reported in further detail here: JUDICIAL RICH LIST: Register reveals top judges investments in dodgy justice system providers, companies linked to international bribes scandals and here: COURT BANKING, M’LORD: ‘Unworkable’ register of judicial interests reveals top judges’ financial links to world of big money, insurance giants, vested interests.
No one would ever claim the US justice system, or any justice system was perfect.
It is true, US justices do have links to corporations, and regular coverage appears in the media.
However at least in the United States and other international jurisdictions where registers of interests are required of the judiciary, court users, elected politicians, the media and public have the opportunity by right of law and expectation of transparency - to inspect their judiciary on a much more detailed level than in Scotland.
And, this is what makes the difference. Transparency. An altogether simple case to present. Nothing more complicated than openness itself.
Beware then, those who answer questions on transparency with hand gestures, demands on how to frame the questions being put to them, or using an underlying tone of aggression.
Video footage of Lord Gill’s meticulous, if short derision of judicial colleagues in the United States made clear the former Lord President’s opinion of judges who are required by law and due process to follow a path more transparent than his, and his colleagues within the Judiciary of Scotland.
Official Record: Petitions Committee 10 November 2015
Angus MacDonald: Thank you. It was important to get that fundamental view on the record.
What is your view of the fact that the United States of America has successfully introduced a register of judicial interests? Has the system in the States increased public confidence in the judiciary?
Lord Gill: I do not know that we would want to have a judiciary here that is like the one in the United States. It depends on your personal point of view. I do not give you my view, but I am sure that you can guess what it is.
Angus MacDonald: I will not pick up on that particular point.
Has there been any evidence on the impact that the US system has had on the independence of judges or the way in which the media treats judges in the USA?
Lord Gill: I would be very sorry to see a judiciary in which candidates ran for election and in which candidates' election campaigns were based on fundraising from companies and corporations that might be litigants in their courts. I would also be very sorry if the day ever came where, before appointment, judges had to come before a committee of this honourable legislature for confirmation and for examination of their political, ethical and social views.
The full evidence session held at the Scottish Parliament with Lord Gill on 7 November 2015 can be viewed here: Evidence of Lord Gill before the Scottish Parliament 10 November 2015 with a full report and transcript of the meeting here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests.
In between refusing to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament, Lord Brian Gill spent his time on international travel, and giving a lecture on judicial ethics while on a taxpayer funded state visit to Qatar – a country not known as a haven of transparency or human rights.
Lord Gill’s Qatar expedition funded by public cash is reported in further detail here: LORD JET SET: Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill takes 5 day STATE VISIT to Qatar as investigation reveals judiciary's international travel junkets spree.
A year on from the confrontation between Lord Gill and the Scottish Parliament – only after two refusals to give evidence – MSPs await to hear from Scotland’s current top judge Lord Carloway – who, like his predecessor, given an equally hostile opinion on the very notion of judicial transparency and requirements of judges to declare their interests.
A recent report on Lord Carloway’s opposition to judicial transparency can be found here: Top judge Lord Carloway hits out at judicial interests register proposal.
The proposals before the Scottish Parliament received cross party backing from MSPs during a full debate at Holyrood during October 2014 - Debating the Judges - call 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.
Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice 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.