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:
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.”
“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.