Thursday, August 17, 2017

COPS & LAWYERS: Concerns on Public Bodies Legal Fees spending as figures reveal Scottish Police Authority fork out over £1m in legal fees, Police Scotland spend at least £1.3 million on external lawyers

Millions from Police budget ends up funding lawyers. SCOTLAND’S single national Police service – Police Scotland is spending millions of pounds of public cash on external law firms, advocates & QCs over and above the significant costs of it’s own in-house legal teams.

The single national Police service for Scotland has admitted paying at least £1,316,819 to external solicitors, QCs, advocates and the courts over a three year period - over and above costs for in-house legal teams.

The largest beneficiaries of public cash from Police Scotland are Clyde & Co (formerly Simpson & Marwick) who were paid £361,801.91.

However, while that firm was still Simpson & Marwick prior to its merger with Clyde & Co, they earned £284,914.15, giving total earnings since January 2014, of £646,716.06.

Other big-earning firms from Police Scotland’s public cash splurge on major law firms were Morton Fraser (£278,069.60) and Ledingham Chalmers (£103,906.08).

However, the figures - released in response to a Freedom of Information request - Police Scotland & SPA Fees to external lawyers, law firms & QCs 2014 to 2017 - are now subject to scrutiny - after journalists questioned the Police as to why over half a million pounds paid by the Police to a law firm named in a £400m collapsed Hedge Fund scandal and a suspended judge were excluded from the figures handed over by Police well out of timescales tolerated by the Scottish Information Commissioner.

It was reported by the Scottish Sun in March 2016, a sum of £187K was paid to lawyer Peter Watson – a sheriff who has been suspended from the judicial bench for well over two years, and a further £364,830 was paid to Levy and Mcrae – the Glasgow based law firm named in a £28m writ in connection with the collapse of the Heather Capital hedge fund, run by Gregory King who is subject to a Crown Office probe now in it’s fourth year.

Police Scotland also disclosed at least £52,014 has been paid to in respect of Opinions of Counsel and Senior Counsel instructed by in-house Legal Services directly and at least £32,378 has been paid to the Scottish Court Service since January 2014 by in-house Legal Services directly.

Police Scotland also disclosed the names of law firms and Advocates Chambers who have received legal fees.

And, today, it has emerged in an additional, three months late FOI disclosure – the controversial Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has admitted to spending millions more on legal fees for it’s own use, with at least £623K spent on external law firms and £435K on it’s own in-house legal teams.

SPA Legal Costs (in-house and Third Party) From Jan 2014 to June 2017 saw the following public cash spends on third party legal costs: £154,449 (2013/14) £104,570 (2014/15) £175,785 (2015/16) £167,667 (2016/17) and £20,543 spent already in this financial year which runs to 2018 making a total of £623,012 on third party legal costs.

Costs for the SPA’s own in-house legal team has now reached £434,512 in just three years.

However, unlike Police Scotland, the secretive Scottish Police Authority refused to identify the names of law firms & counsel involved in it’s £1million plus legal expenses bill.

The SPA’s refusal to identify legal firms via FOI legislation has now been submitted for review, and possible investigation by the Scottish Information Commissioner, after weeks of deliberate delays by the SPA in disclosing the legal costs.

Additionally, questions are also being raised with the Scottish Information Commissioner on Police Scotland’s attitude towards Freedom of Information timescales after weeks of deliberate delays in the force’s handling of FOI requests.

The breakdown of the total figure for solicitors' fees by solicitor from 2014 – 2017 as paid by Police Scotland are as follows:

AC White £396; Allan Black & McCaskie £300; Allcourt Solicitors £462; Balfour & Manson £1236.3; Blackadder & McMonagle £342; Brazenall & Orr £168; Carruthers Curdie Sturrock & Co. £324; Clyde & Co.(Simpson & Marwick) £361801.91; Cockburns  £54; Corrigal Black £306; Criggies £42; Douglas Gilmour & Son £36; DWF £134.8; Gray & Gray £60; George Mathers & Co £600; Grigor & Young £1920; Hamish L Melrose £540; Hunter & Robertson Solicitors £1872; John Henderson & Sons £2232; Leddingham Chalmers £103906.08; Linda George Family Law £984; MacIntosh Humble £174; Mackie Thomson £96; Mackintosh Wylie £48; Macnabs Solicitors £312; Malcolm & Hutchison £132; Mathie McCluskey £78; McCluskey Browne £2032; McCusker McElroy & Gallanagh £30; McIntyre & Co £258; McLellan Adam Davis £54; MacDonald McIver & Co £353.1; Morton Fraser £278069.6; Patten Prentice £96; Rankin & Aitken £42; Reid Cooper £15901.92 ;Russel & Aitken £60; Russell, Gibson McCaffrey £4084.8; Simpson and Marwick £284914.15; Stewart Balfour £48; Thorntons £3760.16; W & AS Bruce £60 TOTAL: £1,068,320.82

The sum paid to advocates broken down by chamber and year are as follows:-

Chambers fees from 2014 - 2017: 5 Essex court £16620; Ampersand £84000; Arnot Manderson £12840; Axiom  £8640;  Black  £6600; Compass £20334; Terra Firma £3780 TOTAL: £152,814

The National newspaper reports on the Police spend on external law firms, here:

Police Scotland ‘spends £1k a day to fight legal battles’

Martin Hannan Journalist 13th August

Police Scotland's legal costs were exposed after FoI requests

DESPITE having its own legal team, Police Scotland has spent more than £1000 per day on external legal lawyers and court costs since January, 2014.

In the three years and six months to June of this year, Police Scotland paid out £1,316,819 to external solicitors, QCs, advocates and the courts, according to figures released under Freedom of Information (FoI) rules.

Peter Cherbi, the legal issues campaigner and blogger who made the FoI requests, has criticised the force after it refused to answer The National’s questions on the issue, directing us to use FoI questions.

Cherbi said: “There are firms on the FoI list provided by Police Scotland who specialise in legal issues relating to defence of damages claims and other similar legal issues, yet at this time the force appears unwilling to cough up the real reasons for running to lawyers at all hours of the day.”

More than 950 fee notes were issued to Police Scotland by law firms and individual solicitors, with £32,378 paid directly to the Scottish Courts Service for costs incurred in numerous actions.

More than 40 law practices across Scotland were paid for work, some of which is believed to have been connected to the many police property disposals which have taken place over the past few years since the national force was created in 2013. Other firms were paid for expertise in various personnel and legally complex matters, and QCs, solicitor and advocates all represented the force in court, including cases at the Court of Session.

In all, solicitors received £1,068,320 in that time. The National can reveal that the biggest earners from police work were Clyde & Co (formerly Simpson & Marwick) who were paid £361,801.91 for their involvement in such high-profile cases as former Assistant Chief Constable John Mauger’s failed action for judicial review of a decision by then Chief Constable Sir Stephen House – Maria Maguire QC acted for the force in that case.

While that firm was still Simpson & Marwick prior to its merger with Clyde & Co, they earned £284,914.15, giving total earnings since January 2014, of £646,716.06.

Other big-earning firms were Morton Fraser (£278,069.60) and Ledingham Chalmers (£103,906.08). By contrast, Renfrewshire law firm McCusker, McElroy and Gallanagh were paid just £30.

The total sum paid to advocates and QCs was £152,814 – in its response to the FoI request, Police Scotland explained: “These figures relates to instances where advocates have been instructed directly by Legal Services.”

The force’s response added: “I regret to inform you that I am unable to provide you with the figure in respect of fees charged on occasions where Counsel and/or Senior Counsel have been instructed by external solicitors acting for the Chief Constable as it would prove too costly to do so within the context of the fee regulations.”

The response did state, “951 fee notes have been rendered by external solicitors since January 2014”.

The National asked the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) which is supposed to superintend the national force if it was aware of the extent of usage of lawyers outside the legal services section of Police Scotland. We also asked if Police Scotland had to pay the legal costs of anybody taking out a court action against the force, and why do many solicitors firms were used?

We also asked what is the annual budget for the legal services section and asked both Police Scotland and the SPA to say if any of the costs were for defending Police Scotland personnel accused of crimes, or if any external cost was incurred in defending Police Scotland personnel in civil cases. The reply we received was “you would have to submit an FOI request in relation to these questions”.

Peter Cherbi commented: “While chief constables and senior officers have been talking up their lack of resources and funding in public, Police Scotland have been keeping law firms afloat with huge public spends of funds better spent on front line policing.

“The force’s overuse of law firms for legal action and other legal services must be opened for public inspection on a case-by-case basis. What are Police Scotland spending all this money on lawyers, and why? What are the processes employed by Police Scotland for using legal services? A key question given they have their own in-house lawyers.

“The public have a right to know and the Scottish Parliament should be looking to raise questions on this issue, which would make for some interesting exchanges before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice sub committee on Policing.

“This addiction to lawyers and exorbitant legal fees by Police Scotland and other public bodies must be brought to a halt as the operational budgets for policing and any public service are not meant to act as unaccountable public subsidies for the legal profession.”

Previous articles on the Scottish Police Authority can be found here: Scottish Police Authority - Poor governance, private meetings & lack of accountability at Police regulator

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

APPROVED BY M’LORD: Former Police Chief & Legal Complaints board member receives approval from Lord Carloway to fill ‘window dressing’ Judicial Complaints Reviewer post

Ex top cop & SLCC Board member is new Judicial Investigator. A FORMER Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police who served as Convener of the Standards Commission for Scotland and was a board member of a tainted legal complaints quango – has been approved by Scotland’s top judge to investigate judges and serve as Scotland’s third Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR).

Ian Gordon, who also formerly served as a board member of the pro-lawyer Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) and is currently Acting Commissioner with the Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman Office – will now serve as Judicial Complaints Reviewer from 1 September 2017 to 31 August 2020.

Ian Gordon’s appointment as JCR, which is required to be approved by Scotland's top judge – currently Lord Carloway - was announced by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson yesterday, Monday 14 August.

However, MSPs from across the political spectrum have called for the judicial watchdog to be given new powers and a review of the role undertaken by the Scottish Government amid controversy over the lack of powers to the JCR.

Moi Ali - Scotland's first Judicial Complaints Reviewer branded the JCR role as “window dressing” in evidence to MSPs at Holyrood during September 2013 – featured in a report here: As Scotland’s top judge battles on against transparency, Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life

Moi Ali continually called for extra powers until she quit the role in 2014 amid lack of cooperation from the judiciary & Scottish Government.

Gordon’s appointment as Judicial Complaints Reviewer comes after both his predecessors complained the SNP Government starved the post of resources.

Last week, the Sunday Herald published a further report on the controversy around the office of Judicial Complaints Reviewer, revealing current Gillian Thompson has published further concerns on the relevance and efficacy of the job.

Gillian Thompson said her contracted hours of just three days a month “inevitably” led to delays, “inconvenience for complainants” and ultimately “a poor service”.

She said she doubted public expectations were being met, complained her access to investigation files was limited, and urged ministers to “review the relevance of the role”.

Gillian Thompson published two annual reports on her work as JCR, last week - which contain no case histories after the Scottish Government suggested such references be excluded in published reports.

Several weeks ago Thompson was caught in a controversy where documents released by the Scottish Government revealed she had accused her predecessor of being the source of media interest in the lack of published annual reports by the JCR.

The accusations turned out to be false, and the Scottish Government ordered journalists to destroy the initial release of documents, which was swapped for another version by Stuart Lewis, a Senior Media Manager for the Scottish Government’s Justice & Education hub. Lewis refused to identify who took the decision to order destruction of the FOI documents.

Further concerns have been raised after the Scottish Information Commissioner dodged calls to look into the case, after journalists called for a re-examination of how exemptions are used by the Scottish Government where Thompson’s written accusations were then censored under the guise of ‘protecting free and frank discussions between officials’.

A full report and publication of the FOI documents on the controversy around Thompson and the Scottish Government’s FOI release can be found here: Scottish Government request destruction of FOI papers - Files reveal Ministers silence on judicial complaints & civil servants attempts to exclude case histories from Judicial Investigator’s annual reports

Ms Thompson’s predecessor Moi Ali also complained a lack of funds and support had made the role of Judicial Complaints Reviewer “enormously frustrating and difficult”.

Today, it has been reported LibDem MSP Liam McArthur has urged Mr Matheson to review the post of JCR.

In a letter to the Justice Secretary, Mr McArthur said: “The only two holders of the post have both provided blistering accounts of their experiences. In appointing the third JCR the Scottish Government cannot ignore the criticisms of his predecessors and the serious questions that surround the credibility of this office. It is clear that the current system is not working.”

Tory MSP Liam Kerr said: “Given the criticism levelled at the Scottish Government by the former reviewer, it appears her successor has quite a job on his hands.

“If this role is to be a success, ministers have to provide the resources and support necessary. We can’t afford for this to be yet another wasted 12 months.”

Labour MSP Claire Baker added: “It is clear that the new JCR needs far greater support.

“For the SNP to simply announce a new JCR but fail to address any of the serious structural shortcomings in the role is simply unacceptable.

“The Scottish Government cannot hide from their responsibility. They must fully fund and resource the new JCR so that he can carry out his role in the best interests of the public.”

However the biography issued by the Scottish Government on Mr Gordon contains no references to his time as one of the first intake of Board members at the discredited Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.

The SLCC was recently branded as a “toothless waste of time” by former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP (SNP Airdrie and Shotts) after the legal services regulator failed to act in a high profile case involving a senior QC caught up in a cash payments scandal.

The team responsible for setting up the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and it’s board members in 2008 was led by Angela McArthur, Chief Executive of the Parole Board since December 2009

During Mr Gordon’s time on the board of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, the pro-lawyer regulator lurched from controversy to scandal, where media reports revealed board members infighting over dealing with members of the public, campaign groups, and drunken exchanges between board members & senior SLCC staff.

Ministerial Announcement of new Judicial Complaints Reviewer: Judicial Complaints Reviewer appointed

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson has announced the appointment of the third Judicial Complaints Reviewer.

Ian Gordon is a retired Deputy Chief Constable of Tayside Police. He is currently an Acting Commissioner with the Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman Office.

He was seconded to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and was the lead police officer on the annual statutory inspection of five UK police forces, and was a member of the UK Police Professional Standards Group. He has conducted criminal, conduct and complaints investigations in the UK and undertaken enquires abroad on behalf of the Foreign Office.

Mr Gordon was also a Convener for the Standards Commission between 2010 and 2017 and contributed to a focused improvement to awareness of the codes of Conduct by elected members and Boards of Public Bodies.

This appointment was established by the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 to review, when asked, the handling of a complaints investigation into members of the judiciary, to ensure that it has been dealt with in accordance with The Complaints About the Judiciary (Scotland) Rules 2016. The Reviewer has no powers to consider the merits of any complaint or the disposal of the complaint.

The appointment will be for a period of three years from 1 September 2017 to 31 August 2020, and will be paid a daily fee of £217. The appointment has been made with the approval of the Lord President.

All appointments are made on merit and political activity plays no part in the selection process.

FROM EX-COP TO JUDGING JUDGES - BIOGRAPHY IAN GORDON:

Ian Gordon is listed as Chair on the website of the Ericht Trust and is an active director of the Ericht Trust which is also registered as a company limited by guarantee, managed by a Board of Trustees who are elected at an Annual General Meeting, and a Company Secretary.

The Ericht Trust has since reported in March 2017 to be in the process of changing it’s name to the Erich Trust.

The Ericht Trust describes itself as a 'not for profit' charitable organisation, which focuses on community development and regeneration in line with Scottish Government policies on community empowerment. It is a member of Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS). DTAS provides support to its members and a link into a network of the many comparable Trusts working for the benefit of their communities across Scotland. Being part of this bigger family gives strength to the organisation when voicing opinion or seeking support from Government and Local Authorities.

The object of the Trust is to stimulate a range of community projects which will benefit residents and businesses and draw visitors to this area.

A register of interests posted by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission also listed Mr Gordon as a director of Quarere Ltd.

Quaere Limited was set up on 20 Dec 2006 has its registered office in Perthshire. Its current status is listed as "Dissolved". The company's first directors were Marion Therese Gordon, Ian Alexander Gordon. Quaere Limited has no subsidiaries.

The company was listed under the headings of SIC 2003:7414 — Business And Management Consultancy Activities & SIC 2007: 70229 — Management Consultancy Activities (Other Than Financial Management)

Last annual accounts of Quarere Ltd were filed in 2009.

Other interests listed in Mr Gordon’s register of interests from his time at the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission include:

• Associate Professor in Policing for Charles Sturt University (Australia).
• Formerly Chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) Professional Standards Business Area.
• Vice-Chair of ACPOS General Policing Business Area.

Previous articles on the Judicial Complaints Reviewer and complaints against Scotland’s judiciary can be found here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer - Reviewing complaints against Scotland's judiciary

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

JUDICIAL REGISTER: Calls for all UK judges including UK Supreme Court, and Tribunals to declare links to business, wealth, professional & other interests in published registers of interests

All UK Judges & tribunals should declare interests. AS THE Scottish Parliament continues an investigation into proposals calling for members of the Judiciary of Scotland to declare their interests, a call has been made to roll out a publicly available judicial register for all judges & tribunals all across the UK.

Calls to bring all UK judges, including top judges based at the UK Supreme Court, and all tribunal members into line with judicial transparency proposals currently being considered in Scotland - would require those who sit in judgement to declare all interests, professional & personal links, wealth, property and other interests, in a register of interests, similar to disclosures made by politicians and others in public life.

The move comes after a recent development where Scotland’s top judge conceded to calls for full transparency on judicial recusals, reported last week here: RECUSALS JUST GOT REAL: Judicial Office concedes to reforms for Judicial Recusals Register, full case details where judges stand down from court hearings to be entered after media & FOI probe success

Attempts by Scotland’s judiciary to become more transparent and open up the workings of Scotland’s courts and judiciary to the public, have come in response to MSPs consideration of judicial transparency proposals contained in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

The petition, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests.

The creation of such a register would ensure full transparency for the most powerful people in the justice system – the judiciary.

The resulting publicly available register of judicial interests would contain information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, 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.

A full debate on the proposal to require judges to declare their interests was held at the Scottish Parliament on 9 October 2014 - ending in a motion calling on the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests. The motion was overwhelmingly supported by MSPs from all political parties.

A full listing of evidence in support of the petition calling for a register of judicial interests can be found here: JUDICIAL REGISTER: Evidence lodged by Judicial Investigators, campaigners, judges & journalists in four year Holyrood probe on judges’ interests - points to increased public awareness of judiciary, expectation of transparency in court

And, two of Scotland’s recent top judges, former Lord President Lord Brian Gill, and current Lord President Lord Carloway, have testified before the Scottish Parliament on the petition, both failing to prove any case against creating a register of judicial interests.

A report on Lord Brian Gill’s evidence to the Scottish Parliament in November 2015 can be found here: JUDGE ANOTHER DAY: Sparks fly as top judge demands MSPs close investigation on judges’ secret wealth & interests - Petitions Committee Chief brands Lord Gill’s evidence as “passive aggression”

A report on Lord Carloway’s widely criticised evidence to the Scottish Parliament in July 2017 can be found here: REGISTER TO JUDGE: Lord Carloway criticised after he blasts Parliament probe on judicial transparency - Top judge says register of judges’ interests should only be created if judiciary discover scandal or corruption within their own ranks

The National reports on recent developments here:

Fresh call for all UK judges to register interests

Campaigner says UKSupreme Court should follow Scotland example on Judicial Recusals

Martin Hannan Journalist 2 August 2017 The National

THE UK Supreme Court and the courts in England and Wales and all tribunals across Britain do not have a system that shows where judges and tribunal members have been forced to step aside from cases due to actual or possible conflicts of interest.

As The National revealed on Monday, Scotland is shortly going to have an expanded register of judicial recusals that records when judges and sheriffs withdraw from cases, but no such register exists for the judiciary south of the Border or for any public tribunal.

Now the legal campaigner who has fought for Scottish judges to declare their interests for more than five years is calling on UK Supreme Court justices, the English and Welsh judiciary and the various tribunals to do the same and keep a register of recusals.

Peter Cherbi’s current petition before the Scottish Parliament is asking that the judiciary in this country declare their financial interests, as US Supreme Court Justices must do.

Cherbi accepts, however, that the Judicial Office in Scotland has already acted to bring in a more details register of recusals. Now he wants the UK Supreme Court to do the same.

Cherbi said: “We have now moved forward in Scotland in terms of judicial transparency with the publication of judicial recusals. If Scotland can do it, so can England and Wales, and the courts in Northern Ireland. The English justice system touts itself worldwide as the law of choice for litigants. If this is truly the case, then it is for the UK judiciary to be as transparent as Scotland and publish their own recusal register, and a register of interests as we are working on here.

“With the recent announcement of Lady Hale being appointed as President of the UK Supreme Court, I will be writing to her, requesting she consider creating a register of recusals for UKSC, as so far, the UK Supreme Court has also been silent on matters of recusals, which the public, court users, and legal representatives have a right to know.

“I shall also be contacting the European Court of Justice and the European Union to ask that courts throughout the EU be encouraged to publish recusal data and more detail on their judges. All EU citizens should have the same entitlements to judicial transparency we are now creating in Scotland.”

Cherbi thinks the Supreme Court and English and Welsh courts can lean learn from the experience here, where a register of recusals has been kept since 2014 and which is to be expanded.

He said: “Our approach in Scotland to improving courtroom and judicial transparency, fuelled by the hard work of cross party MSPs, the Scottish Parliament, fantastic support from Judicial Complaints Reviewers Moi Ali and Gillian Thompson, and backing by the media is a good reminder that team work and cross party support can bring significant change for the good.”

He also wants entities such as employment tribunals to be more open: “My ongoing investigations into tribunals suggests declarations of interests are more often than not concealed, and recusals are few and far between, if ever occurring, and there is little if anything those before tribunals can do about it.

“The public, who are being judged, are entitled to know who their judges are. It is as simple as that.

“Those who judge cannot be judge in their own cause, nor write and approve their own rules, without expectation of full transparency and accountability. Independence of the judiciary is guaranteed, and no one would ever question it. However, those who judge must live by the same laws and expectations of transparency they enforce upon the rest of us.

A spokesman for the UK Supreme Courts said: “Justices are bound by their judicial oath and a code of conduct to declare any relevant interest in a case to the parties, before they consider the matter. There are no current plans to publish a register of recusals.”

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.

Friday, August 04, 2017

RECUSALS JUST GOT REAL: Judicial Office concedes to reforms for Judicial Recusals Register, full case details where judges stand down from court hearings to be entered after media & FOI probe success

Spotlight on Judiciary brings success on Recusals. SCOTLAND’S top Judge - Lord President Lord Carloway - has conceded to calls to publish full details of cases in the Register of Judicial Recusals – a publicly available register which records  instances where judges step aside in cases due to conflicts of interest.

The improvements to the register of recusals, agreed after lengthy exchanges between the Head of Governance of the Judiciary of Scotland & journalists - acknowledge the woeful lack of detail previously entered on cases, where little was given away about the case subject, litigants, points of law involved or even whether judges had refused to recuse themselves after being asked to do so.

Soon, members of the public, court users and legal representatives will be able to find out much more about why judges have stood aside in cases, the identity (where appropriate) of legal cases, litigants, case reference numbers and legal representatives – which all appear in court opinions published online by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS).

The move has come about after Lord Caloway was quizzed on Judicial Recusals at a recent meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – where it became clear recusals of judges which had occurred, were not included on the register for reasons not well explained by Lord Carloway in his responses to former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil MSP.

Now the register is to be corrected, and all the extra information now agreed to be entered by the Judicial Office will also be backdated to the date the recusals register came into being, in April 2014 – when Lord Brian Gill created the register of recusals in response to the Scottish Parliament’s ongoing consideration of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

The further publication of information revealing the identities of solicitors & law firms bold enough to challenge the judiciary and raise motions for recusals could also significantly benefit members of the public in access to justice issues, enabling clients to select a lawyer who isn’t afraid to raise questions on the appropriateness of a judge to hear a case if there are conflicts of interest which must be raised as matters for recusal.

The extra concessions from the Judicial Office – which go further than Lord Carloway indicated during his meeting with MSPs, come after journalists pursued a Freedom of Information request seeking all information contained in forms submitted in motions from legal teams & litigants for judges to step aside in court hearings.

Initially, the Judicial Office claimed it held no information on recusals other than a form for collecting information on recusals, a blank copy which was provided to journalists, who then sought a review of the refusal to release further information.

Then, writing in response to a request for a review of the Judicial Office’s earlier decision to refuse release of detail on recusals, Mr Steven D’Arcy Head of Strategy & Governance said: “Following the Lord President’s letter to the Petitions Committee, the Register of Recusals will be extended to cover instances when a judge has recused them self and when he or she has declined to do so - a copy of the this letter can be found here. The Judicial Office for Scotland has amended the guidance for SCTS staff and a copy is attached to this letter.”

The Judicial Office does hold copies of submitted recusal forms. However, when a form is submitted the information of the recusal is placed on our website. Therefore this is exempt information as you can reasonably obtain it other than by requesting it (section 25(1) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002)).”

The form now issued by the Judicial Office for Scotland to collect recusal data lists the following information and terms:

Intimation of a Decision of Declinature (Recusal)

Declinature of jurisdiction, also referred to as recusal, refers to the act of a judicial office holder abstaining from participation in legal proceedings due to a conflict of interest or when his or her impartiality might reasonably be impugned.

The attached form  should be completed by clerks of court in the event of a formal motion for recusal being granted or refused in open court and accordingly recorded in an appropriate interlocutor.

The return should only be completed for recusals involving a senator, temporary judge, sheriff principal, sheriff or summary sheriff (this includes fee-paid members of the judiciary). It should not be completed when there has only been an informal administrative decision not to sit in a particular case.

The returns should be completed electronically and emailed to the Judicial Office for Scotland.

This information is being collated on behalf of the Lord President and this requirement should be completed accurately and timeously. Local records should be noted once the return has been submitted.

If you have any questions please contact the Judicial Office for Scotland.

The form of Intimation of a Decision of Declinature of Jurisdiction (Recusal) seeks, and records COURT (Location), DATE, NAME OF JUDGE, CASE NAME & REF, ACTION TYPE, MOTION (please select), GRANTED/REFUSED, REASON (please provide specific reasons), CLERK OF COURT, CONTACT DETAILS.

However, on analysing the form provided by the Judicial Office, it was plain there was a significant amount of information gathered by the form which was still to remain unpublished.

A series of discussions then took place between the Head of Governance at the Judicial Office & journalists pursuing the release of recusal information, which ultimately concluded in an agreement to publish all the information where appropriate.

Journalists asked: Just to confirm this information to be published will go right back to the first recusals in 2014 contained in the register of recusal archive?”

Mr D’Arcy responded: “…if it was 2014 then the answer is Yes. All case names/references that we can publish will be added to the list of recusal information on our website.”

A recent investigation by Diary of Injustice revealed instances where senior Court of Session judges have stood aside from cases were not entered into the register of recusals, for up to a year later, and then only after DOI journalists had queried the Judicial Office over the cases.

A full report on investigations into judicial recusals can be found here: Doubts over credibility of register of judges’ recusals - as Judicial Office admit court clerks failed to add details of senior judges recusals – then silently altered records a year later

During enquiries into failures to record recusals, Elizabeth Cutting, Head of Communications of the Judicial Office stood down from her post, leaving acting head Baktosch Gillan to reply to queries on why a recusal relating to Lord Bracadale had been concealed from the register of recusals for up to a year.

Responses from the Judicial Office claimed there had been a “clerical error”, a claim echoed by Lord Carloway during his attendance at the Petitions Committee where the top judge was widely criticised for his attempts to thwart increases in judicial transparency with the creation of a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary.

The National reported on the developments to publish full details on judicial recusals in Scotland, here:

More details to be shared about judges recusing themselves from cases

Bridget Morris Journalist 31 July 2017 The National

THE register which shows when judges have stood aside from court cases because of a probable or perceived conflict of interest is to be extended and give more details to the public.

Since the Register of Recusals – the legal term for stepping aside from a case – was started by the Judicial Office for Scotland in 2014, the public has been able to read about the location of the recusal, the reason why sheriff or judges recused themselves and the name of those sheriffs and judges, but not the name of the cases or their reference numbers.

Now, after a Freedom of Information request by the legal blogger and campaigner Peter Cherbi, full details of the cases including names and reference numbers will be added to the Register of Recusals.

The Judicial Office has decided to backdate the information to the start of the register three years ago, though sensitive matters such as child protection cases will not be included in the extended release of details.

The decision, which is understood to have been made or sanctioned by Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Carloway, the Lord President, will make accessing information on recusals much easier.

Cherbi said: “With the latest concessions offered by the Judicial Office on releasing all information with regard to recusals, this is a tacit acceptance that the content of the recusals register created by Lord Gill in early 2014 has been woefully lacking in critical detail, and has by the very lack of detail led to a register which has omitted key recusals for reasons not well explained by Lord Carloway.

“The release of case references, identities of litigants if appropriate and also, I urge, the identities of legal teams acting in such cases where recusals have been sought, gained or refused could have assisted court users and legal representatives in making a more accurate assessment of how to progress cases before judges who may have conflicts of interest which, as we have seen from recent reports do occur."

Previous article on Judicial Recusals can be found here:  Judicial Recusals in Scotland - Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest