Friday, September 29, 2017

TRIBUNAL REGISTER: Calls for transparency as legal & wealthy, well connected interests dominate Tribunals system membership - Register of Recusals & Interests should be extended to cover all Tribunals in Scotland

Calls for tribunal members to publish interests & recusals. WITH THE announcement earlier this week of at least thirty solicitors have joined the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland, Housing & Property Chamber – there are calls for all members to be held to account by way of the publication of registers of interests for those who wish to take part in judgements affecting the lives of others.

The move comes after media enquiries have established a number of members of the tribunals have links to property businesses including letting, landlords services and other related interests which are not yet publicly declared by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS).

And, with the existence of a Register of Judicial Recusals since 2014 – which recently saw significant improvements after a media investigation exposed failures to record judges standing aside in cases – there are also calls for a fully pubic Register of Tribunal Recusals to be published with equivalent detail on cases and Tribunal members as is currently disclosed by the Judiciary of Scotland.

Moves to improve transparency in the Tribunals system - and bring it up to speed with the judiciary - have come about after a number of cases have been brought to the attention of the media – where Tribunal members have failed to declare significant interests or step aside from hearings – which some participants have described as “rigged”.

An enquiry to the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service last month – in the form of a Freedom of Information request – also revealed the SCTS is failing to keep any records of recusals of Tribunal members – despite the requirements in place for over three years that members of the judiciary have to notify and publish their recusals from court hearings.

In a response to the FOI request, the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service refused to provide any information on Tribunal members standing aside from cases. The SCTS – who manage the tribunals - indicated no such information was held.

The SCTS response ended with a note all Tribunal members are subject to the same guidance to judicial office holders in terms of the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics – which has already been found to be flouted on a regular basis by even senior Court of Session judges who have been the subject of cases now reported in the media where they deliberately concealed conflicts of interest.

The SCTS said in response to the request asking for information on Recusals of Tribunal members: “The only information held by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service that falls within the description of your request is contained within guidance issued to judicial office holders. That guidance is the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics.”

A Tribunals User Charter for the Tribunals managed by the SCTS makes no mention of Tribunal members recusals or any registers of Tribunal members interests.

The announcement of the latest intake of members into the Tribunals system – an intake which is managed by the Judicial Appointments Board, was made by the Judiciary of Scotland here:

New Legal and Ordinary Members of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland, Housing & Property Chamber

Thirty new Legal Members and 19 Ordinary Members have been appointed by the Scottish Ministers to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and assigned to the Housing and Property Chamber by the President of Scottish Tribunals, Lady Smith.

The announcement follows a recruitment round by the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland (JABS), which invited applications from any suitably qualified individuals who wished to be considered for appointment.

The new members were recruited to assist in managing the increased jurisdiction of the Housing and Property Chamber that will handle more private rented sector cases from December 2017, including the new letting agents’ regime; transfer of jurisdiction from the sheriff courts; and new private tenancies.

The new members are as follows:

Legal Members

Yvonne McKenna; Lesley-Anne Mulholland; Nairn Young; Shirley Evans; Alastair Houston; Steven Quither; Petra Hennig McFatridge; Colin Dunipace; Lesley Johnston; Anne Mathie; Kay Springham; Alan Strain; Aidan O’Neill; Jan Todd; Alison Kelly; Valerie Bremner; Eleanor Mannion; Virgil Crawford; Pamela Woodman; Lynsey MacDonald; Karen Kirk; Neil Kinnear; Fiona Watson; Nicola Irvine; Graham Dunlop; Andrew Upton; Joel Conn; Melanie Barbour; Lesley Ward; Andrew McLaughlin.

Ordinary Members

Eileen Shand; Elizabeth Williams; Janine Green; Jennifer Moore; Linda Reid; Angus Lamont; David Fotheringham; David MacIver; David Wilson; Gerard Darroch; Gordon Laurie; James Battye; Leslie Forrest; Tony Cain; Elizabeth Currie; Frances Wood; Jane Heppenstall; Melanie Booth; Sandra Brydon.

The appointments came into effect on 18 September 2017.

Under changes to Scotland’s tribunals system which came into effect in July 2014, the Lord President is the head of Scottish Tribunals.  He has various statutory functions, including responsibility for the training, welfare and conduct of its members.

The Lord President has assigned Lady Smith to the role of President of Scottish Tribunals. She has various statutory functions, including responsibility for the efficient disposal of business in the Scottish tribunals, for the assignment of members to individual Chambers within the First-tier Tribunal, and for review of the members.

The First-Tier Tribunal for Scotland comprises a number of separate Chambers within which similar jurisdictions are grouped. The Housing and Property Chamber, which was established on 1 December 2016, performs the functions of the former Private Rented Housing Panel (PHRP) and the Homeowner Housing Panel (HOHP) in relation to tenancy and property related disputes. The Chamber will also start to handle more private rented sector cases from December 2017 including those arising in relation to the new letting agents’ regime; transfer of jurisdiction from the sheriff courts; and new private tenancies.

Appeals from the First-tier Tribunal go to the second tier of the new structure, the Upper Tribunal for Scotland.

Appeals from decisions of the Upper Tribunal go to the Inner House of the Court of Session.

Further information about the Scottish Tribunals visit the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service can be found here: About Scottish Tribunals

The Tribunals (Scotland) Act 2014 created a new, simplified statutory framework for tribunals in Scotland, bringing existing jurisdictions together and providing a structure for new ones. The Act created two new tribunals, the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and the Upper Tribunal for Scotland.

The Lord President is the head of the Scottish Tribunals and has delegated various functions to the President of Scottish Tribunals, the Rt Hon Lady Smith.

The Upper Tribunal for Scotland: The Upper Tribunal hears appeals on decisions of the chambers of the First-tier Tribunal.

The First-tier Tribunal is organised into a series of chambers .

From 1 December 2016, the Housing and Property Chamber was established and took on the functions of the former Home Owner and Housing Panel and the Private Rented Housing Panel.

From 24 April 2017, the Tax Chamber was established and took on the functions of the former Tax Tribunals for Scotland.

Housing and Property Chamber

Tax Chamber

Tribunals Administered by the SCTS:

The Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland

The Additional Support Needs Tribunals for Scotland

The Council Tax Reduction Review Panel

The Pensions Appeals Tribunal

The Lands Tribunal for Scotland

The Scottish Charity Appeals Panel

If you have any experience before any of these Tribunals, or information in relation to cases, Diary of Injustice journalists would like to hear about it. All information and sources will be treated in strict confidence, contact us at scottishlawreporters@gmail.com

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.

Previous reports on moves to publish judicial recusals in Scotland and a media investigation which prompted further reforms of the Scottish Register of Judicial Recusals can be found here: Judicial Recusals in Scotland - Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

GOOD LORD, GLITCHES: “Gremlins & Glitches” theme of Lord Carloway’s opening of new legal year - Court of Session misses out on promised digital reforms, top judge takes swipe on judicial appointments in Law Society speech

Lord Carloway opens legal year 17-18. SCOTLAND’S top judge has marked the opening of the new legal year with an admission of significant problems with the rollout of digital technology in Scotland’s creaking, Victorian era courts & justice system.

Lord President and Lord Justice General - Lord Carloway (real name Colin Sutherland) – who presides over a £42milion a year 700 strong group of Sheriffs & Sheriffs Principal, Justices of the Peace and Court of Session judges who call themselves “Senators” – told his handpicked, closed door legal world audience that “Gremlins and glitches” had yet again slowed down major digital technology reforms.

Luckily for the creaking Court of Session and it’s judges - who are known to despise transparency and openly snear, perhaps even smite media intrusions into their haphazard and often calamitously costly hearings to litigants – Lord Carloway added integrated digital reforms were still some way off from impinging on salivating legal teams fees, which can in some cases have resulted in tens of thousands of pounds for what passes as a day’s ‘work’.

Carloway, spoke to an audience which included Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales  and Lady Thomas, along with Sir Declan Morgan, the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lady Morgan, Mr Justice Frank Clarke the new Chief Justice of Ireland and President of the Irish Supreme Court, Mr Justice John MacMenamin, a member of the Supreme Court in Ireland – and the new President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, Baroness Hale and her husband, Dr Julian Farrand.

Lord Carloway told his audience: “As is often the case, pronouncements, about the advent of digital technology as the panacea for procedural and evidential woes, have proved somewhat optimistic. The new digital Integrated Case Management System has been rolled out in the sheriff courts, but glitches and gremlins have slowed its process. Even assuming that the digital portal, which is designed to absorb all court documents, including productions, into the ICMS, will be operational in the not too distant future, it may still be some time before the ICMS is introduced to the Court of Session.”

However, earlier this year, in late February of this year, The Times reported - Lord Carloway -  “Scotland's most senior judge has claimed that the Scots legal system is stuck in the 19th century and needs to be modernised to provide better justice.

Lord Carloway, the lord president of the Court of Session and lord justice general of the High Court, claimed that many rules and procedures appeared to be "preserved in aspic".

Dear oh dear. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) received over £105million of public cash in the latest Scottish Government budget. If the courts cannot achieve a visit to PC World on £100million a year to equip the ageing Court of Session justiciary with an integrated computer framework, well, the public are not getting value for money.

Admittedly, over £11million of that figure is directed to the judiciary, in an effort to split the ever burgeoning judicial budget which hit £40.5million in 2016.

Alas, as in many public body accounts in Scotland - Cayman Islands style creative accounting  became the in-thing – where some Scottish Government Minister decided it would be good figure fiddling to split the judicial budget into two. That way, the financial accounts look like the judiciary took a £12million a year hit, yet in reality they now receive a near £12million bung via the main Courts budget.

And, yet, in yesterday’s Opening of the Legal Year 2017-2018 address to the usual closed shop audience, ever closed for fear of public criticism – amongst a speech of gremlins, glitches & the goonies, Lord Carloway reverts back to the myths of a ‘respectable’ and functioning justice system, which rests firmly in the day dreams of Scotland's judicary, and annual profits of mostly Edinburgh based law firms and cash collectors – otherwise known as the Faculty of Advocates.

Lord Carloway’s Opening of the Legal Year 2017-2018 speech in full:

Welcome everyone to the opening of the legal year. First let me thank you all for coming. Can I first introduce our guests from our neighbouring jurisdictions:

Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and President of the Courts of that jurisdiction and Lady Thomas;

Sir Declan Morgan, the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and Lady Morgan

Mr Justice Frank Clarke the new Chief Justice of Ireland and President of the Irish Supreme Court

Mr Justice John MacMenamin, a member of the Supreme Court in Ireland

and a welcome return to Edinburgh to the new President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, Lady Hale and Dr Julian Farrand

I am also pleased to welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, Annabelle Ewing, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs and Paul Johnston, the Director General for Education, Communities and Justice.

It is also a pleasure to have with us Liam McCollum, Chair of the Bar of Northern Ireland, Paul McGarry, the Chair of the Bar of Ireland, Seamus Woulfe, the Attorney General of Ireland and David Barniville, also from the Bar of Ireland.

Without indulging in a lengthy essay on the current state of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals, I would like to say a few words about where we are now and where we are going next.

We have now seen the structural changes of the Courts Reform Act bedding in; with the advent of the Sheriff Appeal Court, the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injuries Court and the raising of the exclusive jurisdiction of the sheriff court to £100,000. We have introduced important changes to the structure of Scotland's tribunals, with the establishment of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland and the creation of distinct chambers for housing and property and for taxation.

As anticipated by the reforms, there has been a significant reduction in both appellate and first instance civil work in the Court of Session and in summary criminal appeals to the High Court. There has also been a predicted drop in the number of commercial cases. As a consequence of all of this, this court the Court of Session ought to become leaner, trimmer and fitter in the coming years.

There ought to be a significant reduction in waiting times for civil first instance and appellate hearings. This has already happened with appeals, which are generally being disposed of (including judgment) on average within 8 months of marking. Proofs of 4 days duration are fixed within 6 months of the request to do so. However, I fully recognise that further work requires to be carried out to accommodate longer proofs, within much shorter time-scales. I include in that equation the issue of the final opinion. This will be achieved partly as a consequence of the abolition of court terms in the coming year. This has already seen some of these proofs being allocated over what was formerly known as the Summer Vacation or Recess.

The policy of having at least 4 non-commercial judges in the Outer House over a period of at least three months will continue, or rather increase to five, so as to avoid any criticism that ordinary first instance business is being regarded as less of a priority than other work. Major inroads have been made in relation to providing all judges with sufficient writing time in civil cases. Statistically, there has been a substantial improvement in the time taken to issue judgments, even if there continue to be problems in specific cases.

The High Court is already processing solemn appeals as efficiently as is reasonably practicable with disposals occurring within 6 months of the grant of leave. It is anticipated that far fewer criminal appeal courts will be needed in the coming months. This will mean that we will be able to continue to run two civil Divisions each week if necessary. The post reform developments will result in much less reliance on retired or temporary judges and, in the sheriff courts, dependence upon fee paid and retired sheriffs. I remain very conscious of the fact that almost all High Court cases require an extension of time. However, I do not consider that this is caused by an inefficiency in the system. Rather, the introduction of enhanced disclosure, the need to search electronic databases and social media and advances in forensic science have made it all but impossible to comply with timescales set in a different era whilst at the same time accommodating the diaries of parties' legal representatives. As a result of concerted efforts over the past year, all sheriff courts are now able to fix summary trial diets within the optimal 16 week timescale. In relation to domestic abuse cases that timescale is under 10 weeks. Reform in sheriff and jury practice ought to place the sheriff courts onto a similar efficient footing to the High Court.

As I said at this time last year, the focus must now change from structure to function. As is often the case, pronouncements, about the advent of digital technology as the panacea for procedural and evidential woes, have proved somewhat optimistic. The new digital Integrated Case Management System has been rolled out in the sheriff courts, but glitches and gremlins have slowed its process. Even assuming that the digital portal, which is designed to absorb all court documents, including productions, into the ICMS, will be operational in the not too distant future, it may still be some time before the ICMS is introduced to the Court of Session.

The enormously ambitious rules rewrite project, under the auspices of the Scottish Civil Justice Council, continues apace. Having produced its first report, the project now enters a second stage designed to develop a core narrative of draft civil rules applicable in both the Court of Session and the sheriff court. It has, to some, rather dull aspects, but the development of case management powers in relation to the conduct of proofs and other hearings will see an exciting change in the way things are done and the time which it takes to do them; provided, that is, that we continue to have a judiciary committed to improvement.

The next significant reform in solemn criminal procedure will be the expanded use of recorded evidence with vulnerable and child witnesses. This is already done, although not always consistently across the board. It is in summary criminal procedure that greater change is anticipated with fundamental proposals being made following upon the "New Model" paper produced earlier this year. The plan is to have all pre-trial procedures conducted by a digital case management process. More important will be the creation of a means to store, manage and share evidence digitally and securely. The idea that truth can be ascertained by using a combination of memory test, pressure and general inconvenience to witnesses will be replaced by a system which gives far greater precedence to images and statements recorded electronically at or about the time of the relevant incident and to the need to accommodate witnesses generally.

I would now wish to thank all of my judicial colleagues, especially the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian, for their continued help and support. I am grateful to the administrative judges Lords Malcolm (formerly Lord Menzies), Turnbull, Boyd and Matthews, for all their assistance throughout the year. I also thank the SCTS chief executive, Eric McQueen, the new head of the Judicial Office, Tim Barraclough, our new Principal Clerk, Gillian Prentice, and all the court clerks and other staff working here in Parliament House, in the High Court Centres and throughout the country. Their commitment and hard work remain important an driving force in ensuring not only the continued existence of the justice system but also its progress. I have also very much appreciated the court's continuing engagement with the Law Officers, all of whom are here today, in helping to develop policies and plans, both past and future, which make the system, as it is at present, fit for the 21st century.

Not least, I wish to thank the legal profession, especially those institutions represented here today, including the Faculty, the WS, SSC and Law Society, and also all those many counsel and solicitors who have participated so willingly, and for no reward, in the committees and working groups now beavering away in the background, for their dedication to the Scottish Legal System, for the effort which all have put in over the last year and in anticipation of the invaluable work which they will be carrying out in the coming year.

Lord Carloway, Lord President 25 September 2017

THE LORD PRESIDENT’S OTHER SPEECH:

The duties of a Lord President and his judges are far and wide.

International travel junkets akin to playing diplomat, or perhaps as unmasked by media attention - just charging up the taxpayer for ‘law conferences’ around the world in 5-Star hotels with golf courses, river tours and first class travel.

Or just a trip across Edinburgh to a law conference, the Lord President does not miss an opportunity to get his oar in give a speech, even if only to a shady bunch at the Law Society of Scotland annual conference – whose members are well practiced in dodging those murky Police Scotland & Crown Office hit-a-brick-wall probes into mortgage dealing, money laundering & bulk buying of properties on the cheap.

While the focus of Lord Carloway’s speech to the Law Society of Scotland audience, already fattened on over £1.3billion pounds of legal aid since the 2008 financial crash, and countless Scottish Government contracts of up to £20million a year and tens of millions more fleeced from public authorities & public bodies, the top judge took another swipe at those who may ‘interfere’ with a measure of transparency in the junta-like regime of Scotland’s courts & judiciary.

Lord Carloway breezed to his Law Society audience: “Under the ancien regime, before the advent of the Judicial Appointments Board, judges and sheriffs were recommended to the Queen for appointment by the Secretary of State, following consultation with the Lord Advocate and, in practice, the Lord President . It was perceived, by some, perhaps many, that judges were the product of cronyism or political patronage. It is true to say that every Lord Advocate in the century or so prior to 1970 was appointed to a superior court bench. Many nominated themselves as Lord President , Lord Justice Clerk  or became judges in the House of Lords .”

“That tradition was broken not so much with the appointment of Lord Wilson of Langside, who became Director of the old Scottish Courts Administration (now the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service) and then Sheriff Principal of Glasgow, but when Norman Wylie appointed George Emslie to be Lord President in 1972. Nevertheless, Lord Advocates  continued to be appointed as Lords Ordinary and, one way or another, often progressed rapidly to similar positions of high judicial office .”

“The appointment of judges generally was political in the sense of the selection being by government; a system which is common, albeit with different focus, in many western democracies. It is seen as an element in the balance of power. Its merits and demerits have recently been analysed by the new President of the UK Supreme Court, who has mooted re-involvement of politicians from both government and opposition in the appointment of the most important chairs in the English legal system.”

“No-one would pretend that every judicial appointment from that era was of a person with complete legal and personal skills equipping him (as all judges then were) for high judicial office or a sheriffdom. There were problems. What is clear, however, is that the person who was, in practice, recommending the appointment would be fully appraised of the candidate's qualities and failings. The Lord Advocate would be well aware of his prospective appointee's experience, ability and knowledge. Consultation with the Lord President ensured that there was substantial input on suitability from the person who would be responsible for the new judge's future performance and behaviour.”

Judicial Appointments

“There has been much recent public discussion, both in Scotland and in neighbouring jurisdictions, about the challenges which exist in the recruitment of new members of the judiciary. It is imperative, if Scotland is to maintain a high quality judiciary, especially at Court of Session level, that those at the top of the profession in the litigation field are highly motivated to apply for judicial office. It is equally important that the selection process itself does not deter or subsequently reject those candidates best qualified to fulfil the role. The aim must be to secure the services of those whom the profession regard as the leaders in their field and who are seen as the most able of their generation.”

“The independence of the judiciary is a vital element in our system. It is maintained primarily by selecting persons who have acted as independent advocates or solicitors throughout their professional lives, who have prosecuted and defended, and who have acted on the one hand for government, insurance companies and global conglomerates and on the other for the private individual, legal aided or otherwise, who has allegedly been oppressed or who has a legal right requiring vindication.”

“What must not be lost sight of is the simple fact, which cannot be underestimated, that for the Scottish justice system to operate properly, it needs judges and sheriffs who are not just competent lawyers with reasonable or even good people skills. It needs, at the high end, the best lawyers of the generation to lead the way; to take over the chairs of the permanent Divisions and to provide their wings. In the sheriff courts, although the same quality of legal skill and experience may not be a necessity, the appointments must be of people whom the profession recognise as prominent within their ranks.”

“I very much welcome the willingness of the new Chair of the Judicial Appointments Board to engage in a discussion about how the selection process might be improved to ensure that we do persuade the leading lights of the profession to apply for judicial office, and that the very best are successful in their applications.”

The full speech is available here:  LP Law Society of Scotland Annual Conference Keynote Address 19September2017

Put it this way. If suddenly, the Government banned elections, any form of public vote was suspended, and instead politicians were selected in the way the Lord President extols as fit for judges who head a £2.5 billion pound per annum publicly funded justice system, it would be branded undemocratic, a system of jobs for the boys, and well, in all honesty – totalitarian.

The “Greater Good” – The phrase used by the Lord President in the opening paragraph of his speech to the Law Society conference - is served by Transparency, in increasing amounts, and taken several times daily by a judiciary, courts and justice system in dire need of reform.

Monday, September 25, 2017

ROGUES GALLERY: Lawyer who spoke at Holyrood on behalf of Law Society - struck off for dishonesty, meanwhile concerns Police probe at bust law firm Ross Harper may hit Crown Office block on prosecuting colleagues in legal profession

Rogue lawyers & Police probes dog Scots legal industry. A LAWYER who gave evidence to MSPS on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland has been struck off – for serious dishonesty - after earlier findings of professional misconduct a year earlier.

Michael McSherry, who once gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice & Home Affairs Committee on Vulnerable and Intimidated witnesses – was struck off by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) after being found guilty of professional misconduct in relation to misrepresentation to two law firms on the purpose of funds being held, and failures to carry out proper money laundering checks.

The findings issued by the Discipline Tribunal also reveal a former solicitor, listed as 'Ms B' worked for McSherry.

The unnamed solicitor recently had her practising certificate removed by the Law Society of Scotland, yet she was easily able to find employment back in the legal services sector and began working with McSherry.

While the name of the solicitor is anonymised, the latest incident again reveals a trend where crooked lawyers who are turfed out of the profession land jobs as 'consultants' or 'paralegals' following them being stripped of their right to practice law.

McSherry was previously found guilty of professional misconduct in 2016 for failing to bank fees taken from clients, and his continuing to act on behalf of the client in his capacity as a solicitor when he was not the holder of a practising certificate, was not affiliated to any practising firm of solicitors and had no professional indemnity insurance cover. Law Society of Scotland v Michael Thomas McSherry (21 January 2016)

The latest Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal findings on Michael McSherry, recently published - are here: Law Society of Scotland v Michael Thomas McSherry (27 June 2017)

The full document listing the SSDT findings on Michael McSherry is here: SSDT Findings: Law Society of Scotland v Michael Thomas McSherry (27 June 2017)

Solicitor(s): Michael Thomas McSherry, Solicitor, 51 Morven Road, Bearsden, Glasgow

Tribunal Date: 27/06/2017 Appeal Status:No Appeal

Interlocutor: Edinburgh 27 June 2017.  The Tribunal having considered the Complaint at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland dated 11 April 2017 against Michael Thomas McSherry, Solicitor, 51 Morven Road, Bearsden, Glasgow; Find the Respondent guilty of professional misconduct singly in respect of his misrepresentation to Mr D about the purpose for which funds were held (issue 1), the improper, incomplete and inaccurate recording in the client ledgers (issue 2), and his misrepresentations to Slater, Hogg and Howieson and TLT Solicitors (issues 6 and 7); and in cumulo in respect of his failure to carry out proper money laundering checks on Company 1 and Mr C (issues 3 and 5), his failure to investigate the source of funds from Mr D (issue 4), his poor record-keeping and accounting practices (issue 8), his failure to reconcile bank statements (issue 9) and his failure to undertake training in connection with his role as cashroom manager (issue 10);  Order that the name of the Respondent be Struck Off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland; Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that this order shall take effect on the date on which the written findings are intimated to the Respondent; Find the Respondent liable in the expenses of the Complainers and of the Tribunal including expenses of the Clerk, chargeable on a time and line basis as the same may be taxed by the Auditor of the Court of Session on an agent and client, client paying basis in terms of Chapter Three of the last published Law Society’s Table of Fees for general business with a unit rate of £14.00; and Direct that publicity will be given to this decision and that this publicity should include the name of the Respondent but need not identify any other person.

And, it has also been reported in the media that a Police Scotland probe has been launched into the now bankrupt law firm – Ross Harper.

However, as observers to the ‘twilight zone’ world of Police investigations into lawyers will be well aware, most probes carried out by Police almost never result in a prosecution before the courts, as has previously been the case in relation to multiple cases involving fourteen law firms & millions of pounds of legal aid fraud – which resulted in not one case going to court, reported earlier here: FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years

The Sunday Mail reports on the Police Scotland probe of bust law firm Ross Harper:

Cops launch cash probe into bust law firm Ross Harper and Co after partners struck off

The company had offices across Scotland before they were shut down in 2012 after operating for more than 50 years.

By Craig McDonald 06:00, 17 SEP 2017

A police investigation has been launched into the collapse of one of ­Scotland’s top law firms.

Ross Harper and Co, who had offices across Scotland, were shut down in 2012 after more than 50 years in practise.

It emerged that public cash claimed in Legal Aid fees was not paid to ­suppliers and experts hired by the Glasgow firm.

A lengthy probe by the Law Society of Scotland led to four partners being struck off and two more being censured.

We can reveal a dossier has now been passed to police, who have launched a criminal investigation.

The Mail understands the initial focus is on former ­senior partner Alan Miller, 38, who was struck from the roll of solicitors last month.

One expert witness hired by the firm welcomed the probe. Forensic psychologist Ian ­Stephen, who’s owed £5000 in fees, said: “I think it’s appropriate that police investigate.

“If anyone commits a crime, be it fraud or anything else, then you would expect police would make inquiries into it.

“If this happened in any other profession, the appropriate ­professional body would make inquiries and, if there was a criminal element to it, you would expect police to become involved.

“I don’t not see how the ­situation should be any different for solicitors.”

Stephen, a former senior medic at the State Hospital at Carstairs, said: “I felt badly let down by Ross Harper. You should be able to put your faith in a lawyer.

“I was always writing to them to ask why I was not being paid. I was shocked they were so ­blatant about it.”

Professor Hugh Pennington saw £4000 in fees go unpaid.

The bacteriolgoist said: “I was shocked to ­discover Ross Harper were ­withholding payments from me and others. There has been a betrayal of trust.”

Miller and Jim Price, also a senior partner, were struck off last month by the ­Scottish ­Solicitors ­Disciplinary Tribunal for professional misconduct.

Price was employed as general manager of Nottingham Forest in 2013 but left the football club within a year.

Two further partners, Paul McHolland and Joseph Mullen, were censured by the SSDT but are still able to practise.

The SSDT found Legal Aid cash lay in “a drawer”, the firm’s bank account, for up to two years.

The cash was used to help them ­balance their books after the 2008 financial crash.

Accounts also showed a cheque was cancelled and ­reissued three times before it reached its destination.

On at least two occasions, the same tactic was used to hold up payments of £300 to Pennington.

We told last month how legal watchdogs are facing more than £100,000 worth of claims from victims of the firm.

Any compensation would be paid from a Law Society client protection contingency fund.

Ross Harper had 12 offices in Scotland and were the country’s biggest earning Legal Aid firm, with 2006-07 earnings of £1.7million. They were founded in 1961 by ex-law professor Ross Harper.

A police spokeswoman said: “Inquiries are at an early stage.”

A Law Society of Scotland spokesman said: “Concerns were raised about the firm’s ­accounting record following one of our ­routine ­compliance inspections.

“This led to us going to the Court of Session to request the appointment of a judicial factor to the firm in April 2012 and, ­following investigation, we prosecuted all six former partners before the independent SSDT.

“We have a legal duty to report suspicious activity to the ­relevant authorities but cannot comment on whether reports have been made on specific cases.”

The SSDT decision on Ross Harper is here: Law Society of Scotland v-Alan Miller, Joseph Mullen, Paul McHolland & James Price

The full document detailing the SSDT’s findings in relation to the Ross Harper law firm partners can be found here: SSDT Findings: Law Society of Scotland v-Alan Miller, Joseph Mullen, Paul McHolland & James Price

Solicitor(s): Alan Matthew Miller, 22 Broomknowe Avenue, Lenzie, Joseph Mullen, 9 Glen Mark, St Leonard’s, East Kilbride, Paul John McHolland, 24 Portland Road, Kilmarnock and James Price, formerly residing at 2 Rigside, Douglas Water, Lanark and now residing at Calle Java 19, 29591, Malaga, Spain

Tribunal Date: 08/05/2017 Appeal Status:No Appeal

Interlocutor: Perth 8 May 2017.  The Tribunal having considered the amended Complaint at the instance of the Council of the Law Society of Scotland against Alan Matthew Miller, 22 Broomknowe Avenue, Lenzie, Joseph Mullen, 9 Glen Mark, St Leonard’s, East Kilbride, Paul John McHolland, 24 Portland Road, Kilmarnock and James Price, formerly residing at 2 Rigside, Douglas Water, Lanark and now residing at Calle Java 19, 29591, Malaga, Spain; Find the First Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in respect that (a) The First Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper and in particular during the period when he was the designated Cashroom Manager being 1 April 2010 to 5 April 2012, operated a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties, whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients. Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid.

Further, the firm, under the authority and direct instruction of the First Respondent, took unauthorised and excessive fees despite there being insufficient funds at the credit of the client ledgers to meet those fees and without having had any legitimate basis for taking fees at the point in which they were deducted from the client ledgers.  Said funds and fees were taken and rendered in a dishonest, wrongful and improper use of client’s funds without the knowledge or consent of the clients to allow the said firm to continue to trade and operate within the limit of its banking facilities. All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011: (b) The First Respondent submitted false and inaccurate Accounts Certificates to the Complainers thereby deliberately concealing from the Complainers the true financial position of the said firm; (c) The First Respondent acted dishonestly in reporting matters to the inspection team of the Financial Compliance Department of the Complainers, and that in breach of Rule B6.12 of the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; (d) The First Respondent in his specific capacity as Designated Cashroom Manager between 1 April 2010 and 5 April 2012 failed to supervise the cashroom staff and cashroom systems to keep proper accounting records and that in breach of Rule B6.13 of the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011 and Rule 12 of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001; (g)The First Respondent failed to settle invoices rendered by professional expert witnesses timeously, and that despite having received reimbursement of these sums from third parties;

Find the Second Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in respect that The Second Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper acquiesced in the operation of a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients. Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid. 

All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, the Solicitors (Scotland) (Standards of Conduct) Practice Rules 2008 and the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011;  Find the Third Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in that The Third Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper acquiesced in the operation of  a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients.

Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid.  All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, and the Solicitors (Scotland) (Standards of Conduct) Practice Rules 2008 and the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; Find the Fourth Respondent guilty of Professional Misconduct in that (a) The Fourth Respondent during his tenure as a Partner and principal in the said former firm of Ross Harper operated a system or policy whereby the business of the former firm was improperly funded by payments due to third parties, whereby in particular, sums received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board and others were deposited in the firm’s bank accounts, and cheques were thereafter drawn on those accounts and purported payment of third parties outlays made which had been incurred on behalf of the former firm’s clients.

Said system or policy resulted in sums validly due to Third Parties not being timeously paid.  Further, the firm, under the authority and direct instruction of the Fourth Respondent as Joint Managing Partner, took unauthorised and excessive fees despite there being insufficient funds at the credit of the client ledgers to meet those fees and without having had any legitimate basis for taking fees at the point in which they were deducted from the client ledgers. 

The fees in these instances were deducted for the purposes of assisting the firm’s cashflow and financial position and to conceal the true level of the firm’s liabilities and overdraft. Said funds and fees were taken and rendered in a dishonest, wrongful and improper use of client’s funds without the knowledge or consent of the clients to allow the said firm to continue to trade and operate within the limit of its banking facilities. 

All of the foregoing in breach of the Solicitors (Scotland) Accounts etc. Rules 2001, the Code of Conduct for Scottish Solicitors, and the Solicitors (Scotland) (Standards of Conduct) Practice Rules 2008 and the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; (b) The Fourth Respondent countersigned and submitted false and inaccurate Accounts Certificates to the Complainers thereby deliberately concealing from the Complainers the true financial position of the said firm; (c) The Fourth Respondent acted dishonestly in reporting matters to the inspection team of the Financial Compliance Department of the Complainers, and that in breach of Rule B6.12 of the Law Society of Scotland Practice Rules 2011; 

Order that the name of the First Respondent be Struck Off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland; Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that the order shall take effect on the date on which the written findings are intimated to the First Respondent; Censure the Second Respondent; Censure the Third Respondent; Order that the name of the Fourth Respondent be Struck Off the Roll of Solicitors in Scotland; Direct in terms of Section 53(6) of the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980 that the order shall take effect on the date on which the written findings are intimated to the Fourth Respondent; Find the Respondents jointly and severally liable in the expenses of the Complainers and of the Tribunal including expenses of the Clerk, chargeable on a time and line basis as the same may be taxed by the Auditor of the Court of Session on an agent and client, client paying basis in terms of Chapter Three of the last published Law Society’s Table of Fees for general business with a unit rate of £14.00 restricted in the case of the Second Respondent to 20% and in the case of the Third Respondent to 10%; and Direct that named publicity be given to this decision, declaring that such publicity shall not contain the name of the clients or otherwise identify them as the publication of their personal data is likely to damage individuals’ interests.

Alistair Cockburn Vice Chairman

Second Interlocutor:

The Tribunal having made findings of professional misconduct in respect of matters complained of by Thomas Aulds, ARM Architects LLP, 2a Berkeley Street, Glasgow; Dr Peter Thornton, 49 Carlogie Road, Carnoustie; Ian Stephen, 19 Glen View Crescent Gorebridge; The PRG Partnership, 111 Cowgate, Kirkintilloch, Glasgow; Ewa Daly, Pierwsza Pomoc Polscotia, St George’s Building, 5 St Vincent Place, Glasgow and David Bartolo, 2/52 Rallinson Road, North Coogee, Western Australia, appoints them if so advised to lodge statements of claim with the Clerk to the Tribunal at Unit 3.5, The Granary Business Centre, Coal Road, Cupar, Fife, within 21 days of the date of intimation hereof.

Alistair Cockburn,  Vice Chairman.

Compensation Interlocutor:

Glasgow,   21 August 2016.  The Tribunal having made a finding of professional misconduct against Alan Matthew Miller, 22 Broomknowe Avenue, Lenzie, Joseph Mullen, 9 Glen Mark, St Leonards, East Kilbride, Paul John McHolland, 24 Portland Road, Kilmarnock, and James Price formerly residing at 2 Rigside, Douglas Water, Lanark, and now residing at Calle Java 19, 29591, Malaga, Spain; Having allowed 21 days for the Secondary Complainers, Thomas Aulds, ARM Architects LLP, 2a Berkeley Street, Glasgow; Dr Peter Thornton, 49 Carlogie Road, Carnoustie; Ian Stephen, 19 Glen View Crescent Gorebridge; The PRG Partnership, 111 Cowgate, Kirkintilloch, Glasgow; Ewa Daly, Pierwsza Pomoc Polscotia, St George’s Building, 5 St Vincent Place, Glasgow; and David Bartolo, 2/52 Rallinson Road, North Coogee, Western Australia to lodge their claims for compensation;  Having received confirmation from Dr Peter Thornton that he does not wish to submit a claim for compensation and having received no correspondence from said Thomas Aulds, Ian Stephen, The PRG Partnership, Ewa Daly and David Bartolo within said 21 days; makes no further order and no further finding of expenses.

Alistair Cockburn, Vice Chairman

Previous reports on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal can be found here: Cases of repeat offender rogue lawyers rise at Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal

Friday, September 15, 2017

SUPREME SECRETS: UK Supreme Court refuses to publish recusal data - Court rejects release of info on UKSC justices' conflicts of interest in response to Freedom of Information recusals probe on top UK court

Top UK court obstructed Scots media judicial recusals probe. THE UK Supreme Court (UKSC) has refused to disclose how many of it’s justices have recused themselves from court hearings over conflicts of interest or requests to step aside from cases.

And, the top court’s refusal to disclose the information only came about after the Information Commissioner (ICO) decided to issue a decision notice forcing the Supreme Court to respond to Freedom of Information requests submitted in May 2017.

Unlike in Scotland, where the Judiciary of Scotland publish a Register of Judicial Recusals– listing judges who have stood aside in cases for certain conflicts of interest (not including financial, wealth or other status related interests), the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court in London does not publish any recusal information.

However, Freedom of Information requests seeking disclosure of the UK Supreme Court’s recusal data encountered obstacles after UKSC officials took a decision to refuse to respond to Scottish journalists FOI requests.

And, it can also be revealed the Ministry of Justice – the body in charge of all courts in England & Wales followed the Supreme Court’s anti-transparency position – refusing to respond to a similar FOI request again sent from Scotland in May 2017.

Four months after the original Freedom of Information request was made to the UK Supreme Court, and amid numerous reminders to UKSC officials, the Information Commissioner’s office was contacted in July for assistance.

After discussions with ICO staff, the Information Commissioner gave the top court an extra month to reply.

However, the Supreme Court again refused to respond to any Freedom of Information requests from Scotland on the subject of recusals.

A legal insider claimed the refusal to reply to the requests originated over fears the material was to be referred to at the Scottish Parliament in connection with a five year probe on judges’ interests and a call to create a register of judicial interests - Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

However, after the Information Commissioner again contacted Scottish journalists making the requests, the ICO confirmed it would issue a determination to order the UK Supreme Court to respond to the requests.

In an email of 25 August 2017, Matthew Cresswell of the Information Commissioner’s office informed journalists seeking the recusal information: “As the Supreme Court have failed to respond to your information request within the statutory time limit set out in section 10(1) of the FOIA, the Commissioner can now start the process of ordering a decision notice on this case. A decision notice is a legally binding document that will require the public authority to provide a response.”

Coverage of the case then appeared in The National newspaper on 30 August – which prompted the Supreme Court to finally issue a response to the Freedom of Information requests.

However, the UKSC refused to divulge any details of UKSC justices’ recusals, citing cost grounds of gathering the information.

Paul Brigland, for the UK Supreme Court claimed logging errors where the real reasons for a lack of reply to the FOI requests, rather than a determined policy by the UK Supreme Court not to respond to a Scottish Freedom of Information request.

Paul Brigland, the Head of Office and Building Services & Departmental Records Officer said: “Firstly, I would like to apologise for the mishandling of your request and the failure to reply. This is entirely due to an error in our logging process in which this request was incorrectly marked as dealt with, but had in fact been mistaken for a separate request you made under the FOLA at the same time which we responded to within the correct time limit. I hope you will accept our apologies for this error. I should also explain that since you made your request we have changed the way in which we log and handle FOI requests, so this situation should not arise in the future.”

Paul Brigland then confirmed the UKSC held information relevant to the request.

Mr Brigland said: “I can confirm that we do hold some information relevant to your request.”

However, Paul Brigland claimed the work involved and cost would prohibit the information being disclosed.

Brigland added: “In order to provide you with the information on the scale that you have requested would require a search of individual paper case records. We do not maintain a central record of any such requests as there is no business need to do so.”

“Section 12 of the FOLA makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in determining whether the Department holds the information, locating, retrieving and extracting the information.”

“As your request is widely framed, I estimate that it will take us more than 3.5 working days to determine appropriate material within the scope of your request, and locate, retrieve and extract that information.”

“I am sorry that on this occasion I cannot suggest ways in which you could narrow the scope of your request to bring it within the cost limit. This is because any information sought under a revised request, for example requesting information for a shorter time period, would still be exempt under section 32 (court records).”

“However, outside the terms of the Act, and to be helpful, I can explain the following.”

“Where there are reasons that a Justice considers there might be an issue of recusal, that information is sent to the Justice chairing the panel (normally the President or Deputy President) and then a letter is sent to the parties. I can confirm that there have been no instances where we have written to parties that has subsequently led to a request from the parties for a Justice to stand down.”

“Similarly, I can confirm that there have been no instances where a Justice has recused themselves following a request initiated by a party to a case.”

However, the explanation offered by the UKSC does not actually confirm if any justices have refused to recuse themselves following any request from litigants or parties to do so.

And, as no register of recusals currently exists at the UK Supreme Court, legal insiders have suggested the explanations from the UKSC on recusal data should be taken with a pinch of salt.

A legal insider has suggested legal teams operating in the UK Supreme Court are dissuaded from – or not minded to ask for recusals.

The source said “ justices do not take well to their position being questioned to recuse from a hearing”.

A solicitor from England who has now come forward on the issue said he was aware of certain cases at the Supreme Court which may have necessitated a recusal.

The solicitor, who has studied the details contained in Scotland’s register of judicial recusals said it was clear in some cases before the UKSC, comparable examples of justices links to issues do exist, and therefore should be acknowledged in a similar register of recusals at the Supreme Court.

However, the solicitor cited the Supreme Court’s determination to avoid declaring justice’s interests in a register of interests as one reason which the UKSC is avoiding publishing any data on it’s justices’ recusals.

Amid the Supreme Court’s refusal to release information on recusals, Scottish journalists asked for a review of the decision, which was handled by William Arnold, the Head of Corporate Services.

Mr Arnold did not provide a review response on material with the UK Supreme Court logo, instead responding by email in the following terms.

Willian Arnold said: “As Mr Brigland explained, the UK Supreme Court does not maintain any formal central register of requests  to Justices to recuse themselves  from particular cases, since there has never been any operational need to do so.”

“Identifying the record of any such requests would therefore entail reviewing all the case papers in every case heard since January 2014 to the present date. I am satisfied that Mr Brigland was correct in assessing that carrying out this review would require staff resource input, which would exceed the cost limit for answering FOI requests of £600.”

“As Mr Brigland went on to say, this would be a pointless exercise in any event, because any such recusal request, if one was found, would form part of the records of the individual court case; and in Section 32 of the FOI Act Parliament has enacted an exemption of court records from the FOI regime. This exemption is not subject to any kind of public interest test, so the UKSC would not in any case be able to release any such recusal request, if one was found, to you under the FOI regime. I agree with this analysis.”

“In order to try to be helpful, Mr Brigland, however, went on to tell you, outside the provisions of the Act, since this is not recorded information which the UKSC holds, that the practice is that where a Justice considers he might have interests which might generate a request for recusal, a letter is sent to the parties outlining those interests.”

“Nobody here of those staff who have been at the UKSC since its inception in 2009 can remember any instance where such a letter has resulted in a request from a party to a case for a Justice to recuse themselves. Equally nobody here can recall any instance where a party has ever initiated a request for a Justice to recuse themselves, so the question of acceding to or rejecting such a request has never arisen.”

Mr Arnold went on to contradict Paul Brigland’s initial explanation where he stated the UKSC did hold material in relation to recusal information.

William Arnold stated: “The only sentence in Mr Brigland’s letter which I do repudiate is on page one  where he says “I can confirm that we do hold some information relevant to your request.”

“He may have been thinking of the letters we send to parties, where a Justice believes they have interests they should disclose, as set out above, but it is not clear to me that these are strictly relevant to your request; and I cannot find any other evidence which leads to the conclusion that the UKSC ‘holds some information relevant to your request’.”

“Indeed I have reached the opposite conclusion – that we likely do not hold any such information, although we could not be formally sure of that without carrying out the review of all our cases, which on cost grounds, as set out above, we have declined to do.”

A barrister who studied the correspondence from the UK Supreme Court, including the initial FOI response and the UKSC’s review – said the responses were evasive.

He also noted the UKSC’s position on holding no recusal data revolved around process where a letter is sent out to parties in relation to a justices’ conflict of interest - rather than an interest being raised by a party or legal representative.

The barrister said: “The UK Supreme Court has existed for eight years. I think it highly unlikely not one single request for a recusal at the Supreme Court has been made during such a considerable length of time.”

While the UK Supreme Court remains determined to refuse any further disclosure of information on judicial recusals, the Information Commissioner has been contacted again over the Ministry of Justice’s refusal to answer similar requests for disclosure of recusal information from the English courts.

A decision from the Information Commissioner on this matter is awaited.

However, the position Scottish users of the UK Supreme Court now face is that judges in Scotland are required to publish their recusal data, while the UKSC has decided against any such transparency – leaving Scottish court users at a considerable disadvantage.

The National reported on the battle to obtain recusal information from the UK Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice in two articles, published below:

Victory for Scottish information campaigner in battle with Supreme Court

Martin Hannan Journalist 30th August

THE UK Supreme Court will be ordered by the Information Commissioner to reply to question from a Scottish legal rights campaigner, after it refused to say whether it had a register of recusals by court justices.

Recusal is the term used when a judge has to step aside from a case because of a possible conflict of interest. It is thought that various Supreme Court justices have recused themselves from numerous cases, but no such information is made public.

The National can reveal the Information Commissioner has decided to act after the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice for England and Wales failed to reply to blogger and campaigner Peter Cherbi’s request for information.

A register of recusals has been in existence for several years in Scotland – it can be viewed online – and Cherbi wants to see the system extended to all the judiciary in the UK.

The Information Commissioner told Cherbi, above: “As the Supreme Court has failed to respond to your information request within the statutory time limit set out in section 10 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act, the Commissioner can now start the process of ordering a decision notice on this case.

“A decision notice is a legally binding document that will require the public authority to provide a response.”

Sources at the Supreme Court have indicated that the decision notice has not been received by the court, but that it will be acted upon.

Cherbi’s long-term aim is to see the creation of a register of judicial interests similar to that which MPs, MSPs and police officers must complete. His petition calling for that register has been debated by MSPs for nearly six years, and a decision is due next year. He feels the delay is an attempt to stop the register of interests. The National can reveal that lawyers in London support Cherbi’s case, but think judges will oppose it.

One legal source said: “They fear recusals up here in Scotland are inevitably leading to a register of judicial interests and it will lead to the same thing happening in England and Wales.”

The Supreme Court has already decided against a register of interests, stating: “The justices have decided it would not be appropriate, or indeed feasible, for them to have a comprehensive register of interests, as it would be impossible for them to identify all the interests, which might conceivably arise, in any future case that came before them.

“To draw up a register of interests, which people believed to be complete, could potentially be misleading. Instead the justices of the Supreme Court have agreed a formal code of conduct by which they will all be bound, and which is now publicly available on the court’s website.

“In addition, all the justices have taken the judicial oath … which obliges them to ‘do right to all manner of people after the law and usages of this realm without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

“And, as is already the practice with other members of the judiciary, they will continue to declare any interest which arises in the context of a particular case and, if necessary, recuse themselves, whether it is a substantive hearing, or an application for permission to appeal.”

Cherbi said: “Refusing access to information is not accidental. We are looking here at a coordinated attempt to thwart the introduction of Scottish judicial transparency to the rest of the UK.”

The Ministry of Justice referred The National to the Supreme Court where a spokesman confirmed that they were awaiting the Commissioner’s formal decision.

Supreme Court finally responds to Scottish FoI request about recusals ... and rejects it

Martin Hannan Journalist 06 September 2017

THE UK Supreme Court has refused to issue information on how many of its justices have stood aside from cases because of a conflict of interest.

The National revealed last week that the Information Commissioner in England had ordered the Supreme Court to deal with Scottish law campaigner Peter Cherbi’s freedom of information request after it failed to reply to him in time.

Now the Supreme Court has written to Cherbi apologising for failing to deal with his request timeously but saying it will not give him the information as it would cost too much to provide it.

“That’s just ludicrous,” Cherbi said yesterday, “and it just makes people all the more suspicious that the Supreme Court is covering up something that the public should have the right to know.”

In another development, Cherbi is to ask the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee to invite the new President of the Supreme Court to give evidence as to why she and her fellow justices oppose a register of interests for the judiciary similar to that for MPs and police officers.

The committee has been discussing Cherbi’s call for a register of judicial interests in Scotland for almost five years.

Cherbi said: “I would like Lady Hale to come to Holyrood and explain why the UK Supreme Court’s members are so set against a register of interests.

“We have already seen Scotland’s top judges opposing it, and it would be good to know why the UK Supreme Court opposes it – after all, the Supreme Court sits in judgement on Scottish cases all the time, so why should the public not be able to see what interests, financial and otherwise, that judges have?

“As the President of the UK Supreme Court, Baroness Hale will be able to give a substantive account of why Supreme Court justices no longer consider they require to adhere to the expectation of completing a register of interests as they did pre-UK Supreme Court days as Law Lords in the House of Lords.

“After all, we ask our MPs and MSPs and police officers to register their interests so that everything is seen to be above board, so why not the judges in the highest court in the land?”

Cherbi also wants Lady Hale to tell the committee why the Supreme Court does not keep a register of recusals (when judges step aside from a case) as happens in the Scottish courts.

In its delayed response to Cherbi, the Supreme Court said: “To provide you with the information on the scale that you have requested would require a search of individual paper case records. We do not maintain a central record of any such requests as there is no business need to do so. Section 12 of the Freedom Of Information Act makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600.

“This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in determining whether the department holds the information, locating, retrieving and extracting the information.

“As your request is widely framed, I estimate that it will take us more than 3.5 working days to determine appropriate material within the scope of your request, and locate, retrieve and extract that information.”

A legal expert told The National: “The information on recusals certainly exists, so all that needs to be done is to send an email to the justices and their assistants and the information could be gathered in a day.”

Cherbi said: “We have a register of recusals in Scotland. It’s time they had one for the Supreme Court and all English and Welsh courts.”

Previous reports on moves to publish judicial recusals in Scotland and a media investigation which prompted further reforms of the Scottish Register of Judicial Recusals can be found here: Judicial Recusals in Scotland - Cases where judges have stood down over conflicts of interest

Recent reforms to the way in which judicial recusals are recorded and entered in Scotland’s register of judicial recusals were reported 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

Saturday, September 02, 2017

DECLARE THE CROWN: Secrecy block on Crown Office Register of Interests - after fears info will reveal crooked staff, dodgy business dealings, prosecutors links to judiciary, criminals, drugs dealers and dodgy law firms

COPFS secret register contains links to judges, crime & business. AN INVESTIGATION has revealed Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) are blocking the publication of a staff register of interests – over fears it will reveal close relationships between prosecutors & judges, suspended solicitors, staff with criminal convictions including drugs crimes, and links to organised crime and sectarian behaviour.

The secret COPFS register of interests only received public acknowledgement of its existence – after the Scottish Information Commissioner became involved over refusals by Scotland’s top law officers to publish the information similarly disclosed in other registers of interest held by public bodies – including Police.

The issue came to light when journalists examined discussions between the Crown Office and the Scottish Parliament over a call for the Lord Advocate to submit evidence on Crown Office employees register of interests.

However, the Crown Office bluntly refused to provide any evidence or testimony to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – who have been investigating proposals to require Scottish judges to declare their interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

Senior figures at COPFS put a secrecy block on publication of their own register of interest after journalists uncovered a host of conflicts of interest by COPFS staff, including links to disgraced solicitors and suspended judges, unrecorded meetings with Ministers and members of the judiciary, business connections and interests of COPFS staff and dumbed down criminal convictions of prosecutors still working for the Crown Office.

And the Crown Office block on publication remains in force today - after over two years of refusal to disclose the information in response to Freedom of Information requests.

When journalists approached the Scottish Information Commissioner for assistance, the SIC made enquiries of the Crown Office to be told “As you have noted, our original response indicated that in our view no application could be made to the Commissioner. COPFS considered that section 48(c) of FOISA applied as the information requested is held by the Lord Advocate as head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland. You have now asked us for our views on why we consider that to be the case.”

“I can confirm that COPFS holds a Register of Interests which extends to all members of staff. The Register is held on behalf of the Lord Advocate in order to guard against conflict of interest in prosecutorial decision making. The register of interests is designed to ensure that impartiality can be demonstrated in relation to any individual making prosecutorial decisions or involvement in the preparation or presentation of any case. Given the register is held on this basis, we consider that the information is held by the Lord Advocate in his capacity as the Head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland.”

 Scottish information Commissioner files released on discussions with COPFS Register of Interests.

However, the enquiries and media interest prompted the Crown Office to acknowledge publicly for the first time the register of interests existed.

The Crown Office statement to the SIC in a letter dated further revealed: “Coincidentally, this issue has recently been considered by the COPFS Executive Board and a decision has been taken that the register should not published. To provide information about the personal interests of prosecution staff could compromise the security of individual staff members, undermine their ability to do their job and create conflict with our obligations under the Data Protection Act.”

“We intend, however, to provide a public statement of explanation about why we do not publish details of the Register of Interests on our website within the next 6 weeks and I will ensure that you are provided with a link to this when it is published.”

However, tt can now be revealed COPFS feared the register would also reveal close links between Advocate Deputes who prosecute criminals in court – and their spouses and partners who work in the Scottish Courts and some who serve on the judicial benches.

Discussions took place with regard to media enquiries , and fears were raised if the public and persons in court found out of  personal and family links between prosecutors and the judiciary, there could be questions over impartiality.

One such example of a Prosecutor with family in the judiciary is that of Advocate Depute Murdoch MacTaggart - who prosecuted the longest fraud trial in UK history in the case of Edwin & Lorraine McLaren - in connection with their sell your house & rent it back property scheme. MacTaggart was married to a Sheriff – Mhairi McTaggart.

There are a number of other personal relationships between prosecutors, crown office staff, the legal profession and judiciary – some of whom have appeared in and on both sides of the court together during  criminal trials – without any questions being raised on impartiality.

It is very clear COPFS felt the disclosure of personal and family relationships between prosecutors and judges may cause problems in a number of previous and ongoing trials.

However, the personal relationships between COPFS and others may be of lesser importance than prosecutors & COPFS staff business interests, which are significant and wide ranging, in a similar nature to what has recently been disclosed by Police Scotland, more on which is available here: POLICE REGISTER: ‘First responder’ Police Officers transparency in cops business interests register

However, in the case of COPFS employees & prosecutors business interests, there exists significant;y more potential for conflict of interest in court.

And, it can also be disclosed a number of COPFS employees relatives and direct family appear to be working in highly paid positions in other public bodies, the Scottish Government and organisations within the justice system  including the courts - some of whom secured jobs without interview.

Enquiries in relation to the work histories of several Crown Office employees also reveals some Prosecutors and Advocate Deputes may also be exposed to questions over their links to law firms alleged to have committed significant fraud  with legal aid cash and embezzlement of client funds.

In a further investigation linked to the long running McLaren fraud trial, COPFS refused to respond to queries in relation to the status of any proceedings against a suspended lawyer - Karen MacTaggart – who was suspended as a solicitor from April 2014, according to a notice issued in the Gazette.

Karen MacTaggart is the sister of a Crown Office Advocate Depute - Murdoch MacTaggart.

The Crown Office was approached for an explanation on this but refused to respond.

The investigation has also revealed further concerns at the Crown Office - over fears publication of their Register of Interests would expose details of serving employees criminal convictions on everything from common assault, to perverting the course of justice, and dealing of Class A drugs including Cocaine – to COPFS colleagues and members of the public.

A further block on publication of the COPFS register of interests came about after members of IT staff at the Crown Office became embroiled in a scandal involving anti-catholic sectarian behaviour 

One COPFS employee was sacked and another quit after an investigation was launched into alleged sectarian comments made on an internal messaging system.

Shocked staff blew the whistle on their colleagues after spotting the anti-catholic remarks & comments on their computer screens, and following an internal probe, the men were found to have breached strict rules on bullying, harassment and discrimination.

As a result, one worker has been sacked and another has resigned, and a third, who had a senior managerial role, was given a final written warning.

The male members of staff who made the comments worked in the IT department of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in Ballater Street, Glasgow, close to the city’s sheriff court. It is also understood that a second IT manager was moved to another department after the probe was completed.

An investigation was first launched after two Catholic staff members complained that sectarian hate comments had been posted by the three men but the resulting inquiry failed to find evidence to substantiate the claims – even though other members of COPFS saw the actual comments.

None of the COPFS staff involved in the sectarian probe have been named by prosecutors, however the names have now been passed to journalists who are looking further at the case.

Another reason for the Crown Office to refuse publication of it’s own register of interests hit the headlines in March 2016, when the Sunday Mail newspaper reported that the then Lord Advocate’s brother was at the centre of a probe into financial dealings – reported here: Revealed: Lord Advocate's brother Iain Mulholland at centre of dirty money probe after arranging £550k mortgage for rogue lapdance tycoon

Iain Mulholland, the younger brother of Scotland’s top prosecutor who announced he was standing down last week, helped prepare paperwork that secured businessman Steven MacDonald a huge loan now being probed by the Crown Office.

Prosecutors hunting assets linked to organised crime claim MacDonald conned bank bosses into lending him enough cash to buy his Diamond Dolls strip club.

They claim the businessman lied on a mortgage application to get a £552,000 cash injection from the Bank of Scotland to purchase the property in Glasgow city centre.

Mortgage broker Iain Mulholland arranged MacDonald’s loan application through his First to Mortgage firm.

The 48-year-old fixed the loan that is now the focus of a major investigation by the Civil Recovery Unit (CRU) – investigators at the Crown Office, led by his brother, who seize dirty money, property and other assets linked to organised crime.

In another case referred to within COPFS circles amid media queries on the secret register of interests - concerns were raised after a senior female member of staff was discovered to be involved in a relationship with an underworld figure accused of supplying guns and drugs.

There were fears information was being provided to the crook – which may have impacted on a now collapsed prosecution against several gangsters.

And in another development, information has come to light regarding the status of a Grade 6 Manager at the Crown Office, and the employment of his relative who was later charged with drug dealing.

The COPFS Manager’s step-son – who worked part time in the NHS – and has a direct relative working in the same organisation -  was handed a lucrative Crown Office job with access to sensitive information - without even an interview.

The individual – identified as Mr Peter Murphy -  worked at the Crown Office for around two years and was then arrested, apparently, on a Petition Warrant relating to the supply of Class A drugs.

Murphy’s employment at COPFS included access to sensitive information and systems which contained files relating to drug dealers within the city.

Sources said “It was presumed that given the quantity of drugs involved the case would be prosecuted at the High Court” - however no trace of any trial has been discovered and, allegedly, the Crown Office drug dealer received a community disposal at Sheriff Court level.

COPFS staff suspect the watered down and preferential treatment of the COPFS drug dealer was a result of information provided to the police or the Fiscal reducing the charges.

After the incident, Peter Murphy was allowed to resign from the Crown Office, rather than be sacked.

However, investigations around the case first revealed in the Scottish Sun during 2016 in reports of drug dealing at the Crown Office case – has since established Mr Murphy’s identity as the COPFS employee charged with drug offences.

The Crown Office has refused to answer further questions on this case, however, records show Mr Murphy’s step father - John Tannahill – a Grade 6 Manager – has worked at the Crown Office since October 2002.

John Tannahill currently occupies the positions of Head of COPFS Police Reform Team and Process Review Team and Major Incident Co-ordinator, Chair, Judicial Panel Scottish Football Association - according to Mr Tannahill’s Linkedin page.

Further internal discussions on the publication of the register reveal senior legal figures concerns that their own staff may be identified as members of organisations condemned for associations with the far right and racism if the Crown Office register becomes public.

There are now calls to make the Crown Office Register of Interests a polished document, to enable court users and legal representatives have access to the information in relation to Prosecutors interests.

However, the Crown Office has refused to issue any further comment on the content of their register of interests other than a brief online reference to it’s existence, which was only published after discussions with the Scottish Information Commissioner.

Crown Office Register of Interests

The Civil Service Code, which applies to all civil servants, requires that they should not put themselves in a position where duty and private interests conflict, nor make use of their official position to further those interests.
As a public servant, an employee has a particular duty to ensure that their public position is not, and raises no reasonable suspicion of being, abused in their own personal interest.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service holds a formal Register of Interests which extends to all members of staff.

The Interests are defined as:

Business interests (including directorships) not only of the employee but also  close family members

Shareholdings or other securities/financial interest which the employee or members of their close family hold

Any political interest or interest/membership in an organisation, club or society where there is the potential for a conflict of interest to arise as a result of official position

It is held on behalf of the Lord Advocate in order to guard against conflict of interest in prosecutorial decision making.

It is designed to ensure that impartiality can be demonstrated in relation to any individual making prosecutorial decisions or involvement in the preparation or presentation of any case.

The Register is not published.

To provide information about the personal interests of prosecution staff could compromise the security of individual staff members, undermine their ability to do their job and create conflict with our obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998.

It is worth noting while the Lord Advocate is determined to withhold the information contained in the COPFS register of interests from public scrutiny, the Crown Office itself believe members of their own staff are not honest in their own declarations and entries in the register.

And, in a number of trials, prosecutors and COPFS staff have been switched around at the last minute after failing to declare interests which could have potentially harmed criminal trials.

While the Crown Office would only issue the above statement online in relation to it’s secret Register of Interests – the evidence now in the public domain in relation to serious conflicts of interest held by prosecutors, personal links to the judiciary, businesses who themselves have contracts within the justice system, and other more serious issues including jobs handed out to family members – make the case for publication much stronger.

For previous articles on the Crown Office, read more here: Scotland's Crown Office - in Crown detail