Thursday, June 28, 2018

PROBE CONFLICT: £604K public cash inquiry magnate Ex Lord Advocate appointed to investigate Police complaints – linked to lawyers representing cops facing complaints

Ex Lord Advocate conflict of interest in inquiry role. A FORMER Lord Advocate who has links to lawyers and a suspended judge who represent the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) and cops facing complaints – has been appointed to review how complaints are handled against cops.

However, details released of the review fail to mention that Dame Elish Angiolini (nee McPhilomy) – hired Levy and Mcrae - who have been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by Police Scotland & the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) – to get cops off the hook from complaints - including probes into deaths.

One of the lawyers linked to ex Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini – is suspended Sheriff Peter Watson.

Watson, who was suspended from the judicial bench by  Lord Brian Gill in 2015, after being named in a £28m writ linked to bust hedge fund Heather Capital - represents Police officers facing complaints and investigations by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.

Links between Angiolini and Watson are revealed in documents obtained from an investigation by Audit Scotland into payments of public cash by the Crown Office to Levy and McRae and Peter Watson.

Meanwhile Watson and his now former law firm Levy and Mcrae - also scoop up public cash for representing cops who are being investigated over complaints.

A recent report in the Scottish Sun found Police paid £187,000 to Peter Watson’s law firm PBW law for legal fees for representing cop clients facing complaints and other ‘issues’.

The newspaper also reported Police Scotland also paid £364,830 in charges over three years to Watson’s former law firm Levy & McRae – who are also linked to Angiolini.

Records also show Peter Watson represents Police Officers on behalf of the Scottish Police Federation – who assign Watson to officers facing difficult complaints investigations.

One of the high profile cases where Watson represents cops being investigated over complaints - includes  the three year investigation of Police Officers involved in the death of Sheku Bayoh.

Sheku, 31, died after being restrained by nine officers responding to reports of a man carrying the knife in the street in Kirkcaldy. Officers used CS spray, pepper spray and batons, after it was claimed Sheku struck Short. Dad-of-two Sheku lost consciousness and died in hospital shortly afterwards.

The Daily Record reported that Days after Sheku’s death in Police custody, the very same lawyer linked to Angiolini –  Peter Watson - who now has his own law firm PBW Law - issued a statement on behalf of the Scottish Police Federation and the officers involved.

He claimed Sheku “punched, kicked and stamped on” a female officer. However, none of this has been proved and a probe into the death is still underway.

The paper also reported Watson threatened the family of the deceased Mr Bayoh, in relation to a facebook posting, claiming the contents were a ‘breach of criminal law’.

A recent report in the Sunday Mail newspaper revealed PC Alan Paton, 44, has been paid about £75,000 to remain at home while the inquiry into the death of Mr Bayoh in Police custody, continues – three years after the events occurred.

A second officer involved in the investigation, PC Nicole Short, is also being paid similar amounts while off duty since Sheku’s death in 2015.

Now, an investigation by journalists into Elish Angiolini’s lucrative inquiry jobbing has revealed the former Lord Advocate has scooped well over half a million pounds of public cash - writing reports on policy areas which in reality have seen little change over the years, and are mainly used by ministers for PR purposes.

Details of large amounts of public cash payments to Elish Angiolini obtained by journalists using Freedom of Information legislation reveal Angiolini has received at least £603,985.41 for a handful of reports.

Payments of public cash from the City of Edinburgh Council to Elish Angiolini reveal the former Lord Advocate received large payments of public cash totalling £123,450 broken down to £40,350.00 in 2013-2014 and £83,100.00 in 2014-2015 - for the Mortonhall Crematorium Investigation and report.

However, the City of Edinburgh Council bitterly resisted releasing details of the payments, and the figures were only eventually disclosed after the intervention of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

Details obtained from the Scottish Government – who also resisted initial disclosure of what are listed as separate payments to Angiolini for a report into National Investigation into Infant Cremation Practices reveal Angiolini received even larger sums of public cash from the Scottish Government totalling at least £240,000 - broken down to £60,000 in 2014/15, £120,000 in 2015/16, and £60,000 in 2016/17

Expenses paid to Angiolini for the exact same report - which were claimed to involve meals for ‘other team members’ totalled £437.13 in 2014/2015, £621.18 in 2015/2016, and £292.05 2016/2017

A response from the UK Home Office disclosed the total amount paid to Dame Elish for work done on the review of Independent Review of Serious Incidents and Deaths in Police Custody was £116,667.

The Metropolitan Police, who paid Angiolini for a Report of the Independent Review into The Investigation and Prosecution of Rape in London – initially refused to release details of their huge payments to Angiolini,.

It then took over five months before the figures were released, and only after the matter had been reported to the Information Commissioner who began an investigation into the Metropolitan Police handling of the FOI request.

The response from the Metropolitan Police, received earlier this week stated: I can confirm the amount paid to Dame Elish Angiolini was £122,518.05 - £120,715.30 for the review and report; and £1802.75 for travel and hotel expenses.

Angiolini, who was Lord Advocate from 2006 to 2011, was appointed ten days ago by the now ousted Justice Secretary Michael Matheson - to look at how complaints are handled against the very same cops her own former lawyer now represents.

However, Angiolini had a chequered career as Lord Advocate, and was once accused of deliberately undermining the judiciary by Scotland’s top judge, the well respected Lord Hamilton.

In a letter released to the media, Lord Hamilton hit out at Elish Angiolini’s use of her Ministerial rank to tell a story of different sorts to the Scottish Parliament, for the collapse of the World’s End murder trial in 2007.

In her address to MSPs in 2007, Lord Advocate Angiolini attempted to blame the court for failures in the collapse of the high profile murder trial, failures which were clearly of her own Crown Office.

Taking issue with Angiolini’s statement in Holyrood’s main chamber, Lord Hamilton said in his letter to Angiolini at the time: I am of the clear opinion that the evidence that was made available to the court was sufficient to put before the jury to allow it the opportunity to decide on the case against Angus Sinclair. Let me set out the Crown case presented to the court."

You then set out, in a detailed and carefully crafted narrative, the evidence apparently adduced by the Crown and conclude at column 1769 -

"It was the Crown's position that the evidence in this case allowed ... an inference [of guilt] to be drawn."

It is clear that you were, as Lord Advocate, stating to the Parliament that in your "clear" opinion there was sufficient evidence to go to the jury. The plain implication from that statement was that you were publicly asserting that the decision of the trial judge was wrong.

Although I have read the whole of your statement to Parliament and the statement which the trial judge issued giving detailed reasons for his decision, I have formed no view as to whether or not that decision was sound in law. I am, however, concerned that you have thought it appropriate to challenge, in a public and political forum and in the way which you have, a final decision of the court (whether that decision be right or wrong).

Section 1(1) of the Judiciary (Scotland) Bill provides that certain office holders, including the Lord Advocate, must uphold the continued independence of the judiciary. That section, I believe, reflects an existing recognition that the Lord Advocate, among others, has such a duty. The independence of the judiciary depends, in my view, not only on freedom of individual judges from prior interference with decisions they have to take but a preparedness by the Lord Advocate and others to recognise, in all public pronouncements, that final decisions made by judges, whether on points of law or on applications of the law to particular facts or to particular evidence, reflect the law as it stands and must be respected as such. If such respect is not afforded, the independence of the judiciary as the final arbiter of legal issues is put at risk. An open challenge to the correctness of a final decision does not afford the requisite respect. Rather, it tends to undermine for the future the confidence which judges, faced with difficult decisions in controversial cases, can reasonably expect to have that their decisions will not be openly criticised by other organs of government.

The public prosecutor may of course entertain private views as to the soundness of legal decisions. In the light of experience steps may be taken to amend the law or in a legal forum to challenge the soundness of an earlier decision. But public criticism in a political forum of particular decisions, especially in controversial and sensitive areas, is in my view inappropriate.

My concern is not restricted to this case. The same situation might well arise in any case in which a trial judge sustained a submission under section 97. It might also arise where, on an appeal against conviction, the court held that there had been insufficient evidence in law to warrant it. While such events commonly occur without public interest, they may well occur in controversial cases. It would be most unfortunate were the Lord Advocate to adopt a practice of publicly criticising such decisions.

I can readily understand that, given the issue which had arisen as to whether the Advocate depute had properly exercised his discretion as to what evidence he should lead (or not lead), you would find it appropriate publicly to support him. But such support could have been afforded without public criticism of the judge. In particular, respect for what was treated as being a final decision of the High Court of Justiciary might have been expressly afforded.

I have discussed this letter with the Lord Justice Clerk. He agrees with its terms. He also agrees with my view that the letter should be made public.

The review of PIRC News comes after the PIRC Commissioner Kate Frame spoke out on the subject of who should investigate the Police in a recent Sunday Post article, here: So who should police the police? In her first interview in four years, Police Scotland watchdog breaks her silence

In the interview, Kate Frame called on MSPs to review who probes misconduct claims against officers and said whistleblowers should be able to turn to investigators outside the force.

Ms Frame said: “There is a discussion to be had about whether the police should investigate themselves.

“I think that from the public’s position, they would feel an independent investigation which has not been undertaken by the police would be preferable.”

In an earlier article it was revealed Police Complaints watchdog Kate Frame had accused Scottish Ministers of interfering in her functions as Scotland’s independent Police watchdog, reported by the Sunday Post here: Emails reveal police commissioner accused Scottish government of interfering after Justice Secretary’s aide asks her to delay scathing report

In the article,the Sunday post reported “the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner had to warn one of Justice Secretary Michael Matheson’s senior civil servants to back off after he attempted to persuade her to delay the publication of a damning report.”

“Ms Frame responded to the civil servant’s suggestion that her report might be delayed by writing: “My perception of your remarks is governmental interference with my independence.”

In the wake of the recently announced review to be conducted by the former Lord Advocate, legal insiders view the Scottish Government inquiry run by Angiolini move as an attempt to intimidate further outspoken views against Scottish Ministers interference in the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner and Police Scotland – which has been hit by multiple scandals used by senior officers & ministers in government to set their own agenda for Scotland’s single national Police force.

Angiolini’s glowing fanpage on Wikipedia records she was also working at the Crown Office as Solicitor General during the time in which prosecutors refused to look into 5 allegations of serious sexual assault against Scotland’s now current top cop, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone.

A report on the allegations of sexual assault against Iain Livingstone by a female Police Officer, allegations which were dismissed by a tribunal headed by male Police Officer colleagues of Livingstone was reported earlier by DOI here: TOP COP SECRETS: Transparency lacking at Police Scotland as spy scandal cops refuse to disclose files on complaints & historical sexual assault case details involving Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone

Issues surrounding the allegations of sexual assault made by a female Police Officer against Iain Livingstone while he served at Lothian & Borders Police in 2003 resurfaced during recent scrutiny of Police Scotland over the past year.

Livingstone was however, cleared of the allegations by a hearing chaired by another senior Police officer - John McLean, Strathclyde assistant chief constable. The Police led hearing on allegations against Police Superintendent Livingstone established there had been no sexual impropriety or intent on Mr Livingstone's part.

However, interest in the 2003 case and details surrounding it has resurfaced – after the single Police service – created by the Scottish Government in 2013 - was hit by several scandals including numerous suspensions of senior officers, allegations of Ministerial meddling with ultimately led to the ousting of Chief Constable Phil Gormley, and the ongoing probe into senior officers use of a surveillance unit within Police Scotland to illegally spy on journalists & cops.

At the time of the sexual assault allegations in 2003, Iain Livingstone, 37, was working as an aide to Scotland's most senior police officer, Sir Roy Cameron, at Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, when he was suspended in February 2003 over the claims - which arose from a drunken party at the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan.

It was reported at the time that Iain Livingstone - previously a solicitor and member of the Law Society of Scotland - had been suspended for 17 months after the WPC claimed she had been sexually assaulted during the party.

Five allegations of serious sexual assault made by the female Police officer against Livingstone were dismissed - but, at an internal misconduct hearing, Mr Livingstone admitted less serious allegations, including being in the woman's room overnight after falling asleep.

The Crown Office has refused to disclose any material in connection with their consideration of allegations of sexual assault again Iain Livingstone - and this would include material during the time which Elish Angiolini was Solicitor General.

Among the raft of appointments to write reports & reviews, including the position of Principal of St. Hugh's College of the University of Oxford - where she wrote a glowing appraisal of Aung San Suu Kyi, Angiolini is also listed as an Honorary Professor of  The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Angiolini’s biography on the Honk Kong university site claims “As Lord Advocate she is seen as a moderniser, immediately announcing plans to speed-up justice and clear court congestion, including a scheme to quickly fine minor offenders and require them to pay compensation to victims.” - but makes no mention of significant failures during her time as Lord Advocate, including the episode where she was accused of undermining Scotland’s judiciary.

Michael Matheson’s announcement of Angiolini’s appointment by the Scottish Government was made in the Scottish Parliament:

Ministerial Statement on Police Complaints and Conduct Review

The written transcript of Michael Matheson’s statement:

Cabinet Secretary for Justice – Parliamentary Statement on review of complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to Policing.

19 JUNE 2018

Thank you Presiding Officer.   

When I addressed the Chamber in November, on the leadership and performance of policing, I set out my intention to reflect on the operation of police complaints and conduct with key partners.   As I said then, I am open to considering whether there is scope for further improvement.

It is of the utmost importance to me and the public that parliamentary confidence in the police is high – and independently justifiably so – but equally that our systems provide suitable protection for the vast majority of police officers and staff who work hard to keep us safe.

Over recent months, I have listened to a range of different perspectives from those directly involved.  It is clear to me that complex issues have emerged in relation to the existing framework, operational responsibilities and procedures that need to be looked at afresh.

Five years on from the creation of Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority and the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, the time is right to look at how the structures and processes are working.

To do that effectively will require an independent and authoritative assessment and that is why I, together with the Lord Advocate, have commissioned Dame Elish Angiolini QC to take this work forward.

I am delighted that Dame Elish has agreed to lead that Review.  As members will be aware, she is exceptionally well qualified to scrutinise these issues, as a former Procurator Fiscal, Solicitor General and Lord Advocate.

Her outstanding record of public service in Scotland is well known, having chaired the Commission on Women Offenders, as well as the Mortonhall Crematorium Investigation for the City of Edinburgh Council and National Cremations Investigation for the Scottish Government.

More recently, she led the independent Review into Serious Incidents and Deaths in Police Custody in England and Wales for the UK Government.

Under Dame Elish’s leadership, the Review of Complaints Handling, Investigations and Misconduct Issues in Relation to Policing will bring independent scrutiny to the framework and processes for handling complaints against the police and investigating serious incidents and alleged misconduct.

As well as assessing the current framework, the Review will report on the effectiveness of structures, operational responsibilities and processes. It will also make recommendations for improvements to ensure the system is fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, in order to strengthen public confidence in policing in Scotland.

The Review will consist of two phases:

    The first phase will include a consideration of current procedures and guidance to identify areas for immediate improvement;
    The second phase will include a wider assessment of the frameworks and practice in relation to complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues. It will cover the work of the Police and Investigations Review Commissioner, the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland.

The Review will take evidence from a broad range of stakeholders, including the Scottish Police Federation, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, the Scottish Chief Police Officers Staff Association, Unison, Unite, as well as the PIRC, SPA, Police Scotland and the Crown Office. Dame Elish may also wish to speak with those who have had experience of the current system to hear their views and understand where further improvement could be made.

Recommendations in the final report should take into account human rights considerations, as well as seeking to identify longer term improvements.

Presiding Officer, I am aware that the Justice Committee has invited evidence as part of its post-legislative scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012.  I welcome this scrutiny of the landmark legislation that enabled the creation of single police and fire services.

I am also aware that evidence has been submitted on the provisions within the Act that underpin our current system of police conduct, complaints and investigations. Those provisions were intended to strengthen the governance, accountability and scrutiny arrangements for policing and created a clear statutory framework for independent review and investigation.

It is only right that the Committee considers this evidence as part of its broader scrutiny of the Act and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of that process.

However, as the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for the overall framework for dealing with police complaints and conduct issues in Scotland, which includes other primary and secondary legislation, I have a duty to ensure that the whole system is working well.  And the Lord Advocate has an independent interest, as head of the system for the investigation and prosecution of crime in Scotland.

The arrangements for complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing, have seen a period of intense parliamentary, media and public scrutiny.

It is a framework that must ultimately build public confidence in policing and the events of recent months have raised questions about the way the system works and whether it could be improved.

It is only right that I listen to those questions and act decisively to address them, which is why the Lord Advocate and I have commissioned this Review.

The key outcomes of the Review will be to ensure that:

    roles and responsibilities at all levels are clear;
    there are agreed protocols that balance transparency with an appropriate level of confidentiality; and
    the framework and processes are fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, upholding fundamental human rights.

Fairness. Transparency.  Accountability. Proportionality. These are the guiding principles of the Review and go to the very heart of what any system, which holds public services to account, should deliver.

The commitment to upholding fundamental human rights is embedded in police training, in the oath taken by officers and is central to Police Scotland’s Professional Ethics and Values. This is to ensure that policing operations respect the human rights of all people and officers, who in turn should have their rights respected.  This must also be central to the process for handling police complaints, conduct issues and investigations.

It is vital that the police are held to account when things go wrong.  Policing by consent depends upon that accountability.  And it is essential that lessons are learned and improvements made to prevent mistakes, bad practice - and criminality - recurring in the future.

In order to do that effectively, our systems must treat all parties fairly and justly if they are to earn the trust and respect of those involved and of the wider public.

Let me also be clear about what the Review will not do.  It will not consider the role of the Lord Advocate in investigating criminal complaints against the police.  Nor will it look at the role of HMICS in scrutinising the state, effectiveness and efficiency of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.

It is also important to emphasise that the Review will not re-examine specific cases or review specific decisions, although they may provide evidence for an overall assessment of the efficacy of current systems and processes. 

There are a number of high profile criminal investigations relating to serious incidents involving the police, currently underway. Those investigations are a matter for the Lord Advocate and it would be wrong to suggest that this Review should examine those cases – or pre-empt the investigation process.

Presiding Officer, I am confident that this Review, under the authoritative leadership of Dame Elish Angiolini will bring fresh scrutiny to the framework and structures we established 5 years ago, to ensure they are robust and true to the principles that I have outlined.

It is essential that our systems for complaints handling, investigations and misconduct issues in relation to policing are fair, transparent, and accountable, respecting the rights of all those involved.  Systems that police officers, staff and the public can have confidence in.

Let me finish, by putting on record my thanks and appreciation for the work of Police Scotland, the SPA, the PIRC, HMICS and the Crown Office, commending all those who work to keep our communities safe.

The Scottish Government’s announcement of Angiolini’s appointment makes no mention of her involvement with lawyers who also represent Police Officers facing complaints – including probes into deaths in custody: Police conduct review; Former Lord Advocate to consider investigation processes.

Former Lord Advocate Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini QC is to review the processes for handling complaints against the police and investigating serious incidents and alleged misconduct.

The independent review, jointly commissioned by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, will assess the current framework and report on the effectiveness of structures, operational responsibilities and processes.

It will also make recommendations for improvements to ensure the system is fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, in order to strengthen public confidence in policing in Scotland.

Mr Matheson said: “Most of us recognise and welcome the diligent, expert and often courageous work of the many thousands of police officers and staff who help keep Scotland’s communities safe.  That public confidence is also sustained by knowing that when things go wrong, the police are held to account, lessons are learned and improvements made.

“Given some of the questions raised in recent times about the processes for police complaints-handling, investigations and misconduct issues, and whether they could be improved, the time is right for this independent review, which will be ably led by Dame Elish.

“The review will seek to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clear, agreed protocols will balance transparency with appropriate levels of confidentiality, and that the processes are fair, transparent, accountable and proportionate, upholding fundamental human rights.”

Dame Elish said: “I am pleased to be invited to undertake this important independent review.  It is vital that systems for handling complaints, investigating serious incidents and alleged misconduct in relation to the police is both robust and fair, and trusted by all those involved.

“I look forward to engaging with those with direct involvement and experience of the current system – from all perspectives – to understand how it is working in practice and to identify areas for improvement.”


The independent review will formally begin in the autumn.

The Right Honourable Dame Elish Angiolini QC served as both Solicitor General for Scotland and, in 2006 was appointed Lord Advocate, the first to serve two different Scottish Government administrations.  She was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2011 for services to the administration of Justice.  In 2012, Dame Elish was elected Principal of St Hugh's College, Oxford, and is both visiting Professor at the University of Strathclyde and Chancellor of the University of the West of Scotland.

Dame Elish has chaired a number of ground-breaking reviews in the fields of law and criminal justice, as well as public health.  In June 2011 she was appointed as Chair of the Commission set up to examine the issue of how female offenders are dealt with in the Criminal Justice System in Scotland.  She led the Independent Review into the Investigation and Prosecution of Rape in London, which reported in 2015 and also chaired the Mortonhall Review for Edinburgh Council and the National Cremation Investigation for the Scottish Government, which reported in June 2016.  Dame Elish’s report into deaths in police custody in England and Wales, commissioned by the UK Home Secretary, was published in October 2017.

Previous article in relation to Police Scotland can be found here: Police Scotland - Previous articles

Previous articles in relation to the Crown Office & Lord Advocate can be found here: Crown Office - Previous articles & Lord Advocate - Previous articles

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

DEAL AXES TRUTH: Scottish Ministers avoid probe of undermining Freedom of Information requests as political deal sidelines report revealing secret two-tier FOI regime

Holyrood deal blocks probe of Ministers FOI misuse. THE Scottish Government has avoided an independent investigation into a deliberate policy by Ministers to mishandle and undermine Freedom of Information requests.

Earlier today, demands for an independent review of how Scottish Ministers deliberately mishandle FOI requests from journalists & the public were thwarted after the Scottish Government struck a deal with the Liberal Democrats against a Scottish Labour motion calling for a probe.

Now, after months of work by the Scottish Information Commissioner’s Office on a report into the Scottish Government’s abuses of Freedom of Information laws (FOISA), the widely criticised anti-transparency attitude of Scottish Ministers will instead result in a ‘consultation’ on Libdem proposals to extend FOI coverage to private contractors providing services to the public sector.

However, the highly critical report published by the Scottish Information Commissioner earlier this month, found Scottish Ministers are operating a secret two-tier FoI regime – which deliberately & consistently obstructs the release of any information which is likely to embarrass them.

The report also found that journalists, MSPs and their researchers were subject to extra scrutiny, leading to deliberate delays (sometimes of many months) in requests being handled, despite the law saying the FoI system should be blind.

There is also anecdotal evidence in recent media reports that the Scottish Government’s anti-transparency attitude towards Freedom of Information compliance has trickled down to almost every single Scottish Public authority – including Police Scotland, the Crown Office & other key justice related agencies.

Today, during the Holyrood debate on calls for an independent probe of Scottish Ministers & their misuse of FOI legislation, parliamentary business minister Joe FitzPatrick agreed the deal with the LibDems instead of a fully independent probe into Scottish Ministers.

Mr Fitzpatrick said: “Against a backdrop of an ever-changing public service delivery landscape, where services traditionally provided by public authorities are now being provided by the third sector or private contractors, I'm conscious there are increasing demands to look again at the scope of coverage of the legislation.”

The full debate can be viewed online here:

Debate: Review of Government FOI Handling and Record Keeping - 20 June 2018

Readers may also be interested in a retired journalist’s petition to bring a guarantee of honesty to Freedom of Information legislation, after it was found public authorities were distorting and in some cases, providing dishonest information in response to Freedom of Information requests.

Video footage of the proposal to the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee in April 2014, by retired Scotsman journalist William Chisholm MBE, can be viewed here:

Petition PE01512 Amendments to the Freedom of Information Scotland Act 2002 Scottish Parliament

However, and somewhat surprisingly, Rosemary Agnew - who was at the time, the Scottish Information Commissioner - and is now currently serving as the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman - blocked the attempt to bring a guarantee of honesty to Freedom of Information responses.

Video footage of Rosemary Agnew’s evidence to the Petitions Committee and her position against addressing issues of honesty in Freedom of Information responses, can be viewed here:

Scottish Information Commissioner Evidence to MSPs on Petition PE1512 6th May 2014

A full history of the work & report by the current Scottish Information Commissioner on the Scottish Government’s policy of undermining Freedom of Information requests, can be found here on the SIC website - which has published the following details:

Intervention 201702106: Scottish Government 

Intervention Report: Assessment Phase

On 13 June 2018 the Commissioner published his report following the assessment phase of his intervention into the Scottish Government's FOI practice and performance. The full report is available to download below.

The report details the findings of the Commissioner's extensive assessment. These include:

  • It is an important principle of FOI law that, in most cases, it should not matter who asks for information. The practice of referring requests for clearance by Ministers simply because they come from journalists, MSPs and researchers is inconsistent with that principle.
  • The Scottish Government's FOI policies and procedures are not clear enough about the role of special advisers in responding to FOI requests.
  • The Scottish Government takes longer to respond to journalists' FOI requests than other requests, but in only one case did the Commissioner find evidence that delay was deliberate.
  • The Scottish Government's FOI practice has improved significantly over the last year, following the Commissioner's first intervention: average response times to all requests, including journalists' requests have reduced.
  • The Commissioner makes seven recommendations for further specific improvements to: clearance procedures; quality assurance of FOI responses; training; case handling and case records management; monitoring FOI requests and review procedures.

This assessment included:

  • Statistical analysis of data from 7,318 FOI requests received by the Scottish Government between December 2014 and December 2017
  • Inspection of 104 individual Scottish Government FOI case files
  • Examination of 87 appeals to the Commissioner about the Scottish Government's handling of FOI requests
  • Review of the Scottish Government's FOI guidance and procedures
  • Face-to-face interviews with 31 Scottish Government officials and four Cabinet Secretaries.

The Commissioner requires the Scottish Government to develop an action plan (for his approval) by 13 September 2018. The Commissioner will monitor and review the implementation of the action plan.

Read the Report:

Scottish Government Intervention - Assessment Report (PDF - 321 kB)


In November 2017 the Commissioner confirmed that he would be undertaking a further intervention into the Scottish Government's FOI performance. The Commissioner's letter to the Minister for Parliamentary Business provides background to the intervention.

Invitation to journalists to provide further information

On 13 December 2017, the Commissioner issued the invitation below to the signatories of a letter sent by journalists in May 2017 to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. He invited them to provide further evidence to help him frame accurately the assessment phase of the intervention.

The invitation provides useful information about the scope of the intervention and a list of the questions the assessment phase will focus on.

Invitation to provide further evidence

We will publish a summary of the responses to this invitation as soon as possible after the closing date for submissions (12 January 2018).

Terms of the intervention

The Commissioner wrote to the Minister on 2 February 2018 to set out the aims of the intervention, the methodology for the assessment phase and the questions the intervention will explore.

The assessment phase is due to begin at the end of February 2018.

2018 02 02 Commissioner's letter to Minister for Parliamentary Business

Correspondence about the intervention

On 8 February 2018 Tavish Scott MSP wrote to the Commissioner about the intervention. You can read the exchange of correspondence below.

2018 02 08 Letter from Tavish Scott MSP to Commissioner

 2018 02 15 Letter from Commissioner to Tavish Scott MSP

Previous articles by Diary of Injustice on Freedom of Information issues, including investigations by the Scottish Information Commissioner can be found here: Reports & investigations on Freedom of Information disclosures in the legal sector & public authorities in Scotland

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

COURT FRACKING: Scottish Government ban on fracking does not exist says Lord Pentland - Court of Session throws out INEOS challenge as Judge says Ministerial claims “did not accurately express the legal effect of the decisions”

Scottish Govt fracking ban does not exist – judge. SCOTLAND’S top court has ruled that claims by Ministers that fracking is banned, are not consistent with current law, and therefore the forced extraction of extracting shale gas from subterranean  rocks - has not been banned in Scotland.

The Court of Session’s decision also hits out at numerous “mistaken” statements by SNP ministers of a ban on what many regard as an environmentally damaging process which uses water and chemicals pumped at high pressure into underground shale beds to release methane gas.

Earlier today, the Judiciary of Scotland published Lord Pentland’s ruling on the INEOS challenge to the Scottish Government’s claims of a ban on fracking – in which the court threw out the challenge, on the grounds there was and is no existing prohibition against shale gas extraction in Scotland.

Despite claims of a ban on fracking by numerous Scottish Government Ministers, including the First Minister herself Nicola Sturgeon, Lord Pentland ruled that no such ban exists, and that in reality there is little more than an evolving planning policy.

Revealing there is no existing legal basis for claims by the First Minister & others that a ban on fracking is in force - Lord Pentland said statements by ministers including Paul Wheelhouse MSP and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that a ban existed “did not accurately express the legal effect of the decisions” involved.

The statement issued by the Judicial Office notes that [despite numerous claims by Ministers] “the Lord Advocate, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, made it clear to the court that such statements were mistaken and did not accurately reflect the legal position”.

Lord Pentland’s judgement concludes that “as a matter of law, there is no prohibition against fracking in Scotland”.

The ruling issued today followed statements by the Scottish Government to the Scottish Parliament during October 2017 that fracking had effectively been banned through the use of new guidance on planning consent.

Energy minister Paul Wheelhousewho once made false claims to a Holyrood Committee that fictitious gangsters made transparency in the judiciary impossible - told MSPs last year that “fracking cannot and will not take place in Scotland”.

Similarly, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said “fracking is being banned in Scotland - end of story”.

Earlier this year, and after the continued claims by the Scottish Government and it’s supporters of a ban on fracking, Ineos Upstream Ltd and Reach CSG sought a judicial review of the effective ban, the Scottish Government began t changed its tune.

When the case was called in court, the Scottish Government’s own lawyer - James Mure QC  - claimed the legal challenge by Ineos was premature as SNP ministers had “not yet adopted a position” and that in effect Ministers had merely announced a preference for a ban.

James Mure QC was forced to admit to the court that his client the Scottish Government had merely spun the issue of a preference of a ban, into an actual ban.

The QC was forced to tell the court in the earlier hearing: “The concept of an effective ban is a gloss. It is the language of a press statement.”

However, in the Court of Session opinion issued today, Lord Pentland’s judgement rubbished Ministerial claims of a ban on fracking, concluding that “as a matter of law, there is no prohibition against fracking in Scotland”.

In the judgment, Lord Pentland also rejected Ineos and Reach CSG's case on the basis that no ban exists.

The Herald newspaper reported on the court’s decision today, and also reported - “After the judgment was released, the SNP rewrote the environment section of its website, deleting the words "The Scottish Government has put in place a ban on fracking in Scotland".

Ineos, which runs the Grangemouth refinery and already imports US shale gas as a precursor for petrochemical works, would like to frack gas in the Central Belt.

It has previously accused the government of an “Alice in Wonderland” position on fracking.

Ineos said it now expected all planning applications for fracking to be considered on merit, not "prejudice and political expediency" and ministers of wasting public money by not being clearer earlier.

Mr Wheelhouse, who told MSPs there was a ban, welcomed the Court saying there wasn’t.

He said: “This decision vindicates the extensive process of research and consultation which the Scottish Government has undertaken since 2015.

“As I set out in October, our preferred position is not to support Unconventional Oil and Gas extraction in Scotland, and that position remains unchanged.

“I have repeatedly set out to parliament that we would undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) ahead of finalising that position and that approach has been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament.

“The work to complete the SEA and a Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment is currently underway and the findings will be carefully considered.

“In the meantime, a moratorium is in place which means no local authority can grant planning permission and Ministers would defer any decision on any planning application that did come forward until the policymaking process is completed.

“The practical effect of the current moratorium and the policymaking process which is underway to finalise our position is that no fracking can take place in Scotland at this time.”

In his judgement published earlier today, Lord Pentland quoted First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Wheelhouse’s statements in parliament about there being a ban.

However, in what seems an attempt at appeasing the misleading statements by Ministers, Lord Pentland was forced to add that the accuracy of such misleading ministerial statements was not the core issue – even though the existence of the misleading claims by the First Minister & Scotish Government led to the Ineos legal challenge in the first place.

Lord Pentland said: “The legal question is not whether ministers have accurately described or commented on their understanding of the legal effect of the various steps they have taken or authorised to be taken under the planning system, but the fundamentally different question of what the legal effect of those steps really is.

He added: “The ministerial comments reflecting the opinion that there was an effective ban on fracking are (a) irrelevant to the legal question before the court; (b) not binding on the court; (c) in any event, not determinative of the question of construction that the court has to address; and (d) to the extent that they did not accurately express the legal effect of the decisions taken must be left out of account when it comes to answering the legal question.”

“To the extent that some sections of the ministerial statements made to the Scottish Parliament were capable of being read as suggesting that the policy would amount to a ban on fracking, Mr Mure QC accepted on behalf of the Lord Advocate that such statements did not accurately reflect the legal position; they were to that extent mistaken.”

The full statement issued by the Judicial Office for Scotland

Ineos Upstream Ltd and another v Lord Advocate

A petition seeking judicial review of certain acts and decisions of the Scottish Government in implementation of what was purportedly an indefinite ban on “fracking” has been refused. The Court of Session held that the legal effect of certain statements and planning directions made by the Scottish Ministers to the effect that the Scottish Government will not support the development of unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland, and a subsequent decision that the directions should continue in force indefinitely, is that there is in fact no prohibition against fracking in force. The following is a summary of the detailed opinion issued by Lord Pentland.

On 28 January 2015 the Scottish energy minister, Mr Fergus Ewing MSP, made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on the development of unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland (“UOG”) to the effect that there was to be work on planning and environmental regulation, a health impact assessment, and a consultation process on UOG. He stated that given the importance of this work it would be inappropriate to allow any planning consents in the meantime. He therefore announced what he described as a “moratorium” on the granting of planning consents for all UOG developments, including the method of oil and gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. The moratorium was to continue until such time as the work referred to had been completed. The minister stated that a direction would be sent to all Scottish planning authorities to give immediate effect to that policy. A similar direction would be issued to SEPA.

The 2015 Planning Direction and the 2015 SEPA Direction gave legal effect to the moratorium, by requiring planning authorities to intimate the receipt of planning applications for any UOG developments to the Scottish Ministers, prohibiting planning authorities from granting planning permission within 28 days of notification to ministers, and giving ministers the power to call in applications for determination by them. The power of the Scottish Government to call in planning applications for determination by them, coupled with the 2015 Planning Direction and the 2015 SEPA Direction gave Scottish Ministers the means to control two of the essential legal requirements for onshore extraction of UOG. By refusing planning permission or authorisation of controlled activities, the Scottish Government could prevent onshore UOG development extending beyond drilling of core samples. To date, the notification requirements under the 2015 Planning Direction have not been triggered. No application has been remitted to ministers by SEPA under the 2015 SEPA Direction.

Following further research into the impact of onshore UOG development in Scotland and a public consultation, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Mr Paul Wheelhouse MSP made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on 3 October 2017 in which he confirmed the Scottish Government’s “preferred position”, namely that it would not support the development of UOG in Scotland and that it would use planning powers to deliver its position; that it had written to local authorities across Scotland to make it clear that the directions that give effect to the moratorium would remain in place indefinitely; and that this action was sufficient to “effectively ban” UOG in Scotland.

On 5 October 2017 at First Minister’s question time, in reply to an observation that there was concern that the ban was not yet legally watertight, the First Minister said that: “What Paul Wheelhouse outlined to the chamber earlier this week is an effective way of banning fracking and … is the quickest way of banning fracking.” 

At a debate on UOG in the Scottish Parliament on 24 October 2017, Mr Wheelhouse said that the Scottish Government was honouring the commitment it had previously given to allow MSPs an opportunity to “endorse our carefully considered and robust position on unconventional oil and gas”.  An amended motion was passed endorsing the Scottish Government’s decision to introduce an immediate and effective ban on UOG and noting that this position would be subject to a strategic environmental assessment before being finalised.

In December 2017 Ineos Upstream Limited and Reach Coal Seam Gas Limited, which both hold interests in petroleum exploration and development licences (“PEDLs”) in respect of certain onshore areas in Scotland raised the present proceedings, seeking judicial review of the acts and decisions of the Scottish Government in relation to UOG in Scotland. The basis of the petitioners’ case was that in 2017 the Scottish Government unlawfully imposed an indefinite ban on fracking. 

The Lord Advocate on behalf of the Scottish Ministers maintained that, on a correct understanding of its acts and decisions, the Scottish Government did not impose any such ban. He contended that since there was no ban the petitioners have no case; the petition for judicial review was based on a series of fundamental misunderstandings of the Scottish Government’s position and should accordingly be refused.

Refusing the petition, the judge held that, as a matter of law, there is no prohibition against fracking in Scotland. The fact that the emerging policy position was expressed as being a “preferred” one shows that the Scottish Government understood that unless and until the strategic environmental assessment was completed, a policy on UOG could not lawfully be finalised and adopted. Ministerial comments reflecting the opinion that there was an effective ban on fracking were (a) irrelevant to the legal question before the court; (b) not binding on the court; (c) in any event, not determinative of the question of construction that the court had to address; and (d) to the extent that they did not accurately express the legal effect of the decisions taken must be left out of account when answering the legal question. 

Lord Pentland’s opinion stated: “The petition is predicated on the proposition that the Scottish Government has introduced an unlawful prohibition against fracking in Scotland. Whilst acknowledging that there have been a number of ministerial statements to the effect that there is an effective ban, the Lord Advocate, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, made it clear to the court that such statements were mistaken and did not accurately reflect the legal position. The stance of the Scottish Government before the court is that there is no legally enforceable prohibition. For the reasons set out in this judgment, I consider that the Government’s legal position is soundly based and that there is indeed no prohibition against fracking in force at the present time. What exists at present is an emerging and unfinalised planning policy expressing no support on the part of the Scottish Government for the development or extraction of UOG in Scotland. The process of policy development is not yet complete; the important stages of a strategic environmental assessment and a business and regulatory impact assessment have still to be carried out. There is no basis on which the court should interfere with those procedures; the petitioners will have a full opportunity to contribute to and participate in them. I conclude that since there is no prohibition against fracking, the petitioners’ case is unfounded; their application for judicial review of the alleged ban must accordingly fail.”

The full opinion can be accessed online here: Ineos Upstream Ltd and another v Lord Advocate

The Top judge who said court lawyers & judiciary should profit from & serve shale gas extraction & fossil fuel interests:

THREE years ago, Scotland’s now former top judge - Lord Brian Gill spoke on the very same day the Scottish Government announced the ‘moratorium’ on fracking, expressing his desire – and ultimately judicial policy - that fracking for shale gas should go ahead, and will increase business in the courts.

In a speech given at a Holyrood digital media conference on the same day that Minister Fergus Ewing MSP announced the moratorium on fracking, Lord gill also said he wanted to turn Scotland's legal system into a mediation haven for big business, big oil, shale gas barons & bankers, according to a speech he gave on the theme of “Digital Justice” last week.

Lord Gill’s plans for fracking & big oil mediation was hoped to draw in millions for lawyers and judges - without the need to declare any interests.

During the fourteen page speech – Gill (72) also urged the legal sector to better exploit Scotland’s “natural resources” and renewable energy for their own profit.

Speaking on the issue of fracking, and taking aim squarely at the Scottish Government’s alleged policy on a moratorium, Lord Gill told conference delegates: “Our resources of energy may be increased by the retrieval of shale gas, if that should be allowed. It seems to me therefore that the opportunity that our natural resources present should be served by the court system.”

Speech by Lord Gill on Digital Justice, Fracking & Big Oil. During the speech, Lord Gill also chastised his own judicial colleagues & lawyers for missing out on exploitation of Scotland’s oil boom.

Lord Gill said: “In the 1960s and 1970s the economy of Scotland was transformed by the discovery of North Sea oil. The judges and lawyers of that time were not alert to the opportunity that Scotland could be an international forum for resolving disputes in the oil and gas industry. We paid a price for our complacency when the international oil and gas industry passed us by.”

Gill continued: “Half a century on we should look at Scotland's economic opportunities and see how the courts can best serve them. In recent years a commitment to renewable energy has brought wind power to the fore as an energy source. Other forms of renewable energy may follow.”

The top judge also claimed Scotland can be made an international centre for litigation and mediation.

Gill said "Our legal system should be a driver for economic progress in Scotland. Our courts and our judges can and should contribute to the prosperity of our country. We can do that if, by the excellence of our judges, and our legal profession and the efficiency of our courts, we make Scotland a forum of litigation that not only retains litigations that at present go elsewhere but also becomes a forum of choice for litigations from abroad.."

Lord Gill’s own speech on the issue of fracking, and personal desire for shale oil gas extraction to go ahead, as a matter of judicial policy – was at complete odds with the statement issued by Scottish Government Minister Fergus Ewing on the same day to MSPs at Holyrood.:

While Gill gave his ‘fracking is good for the legal profession, courts & judiary’ lecture, Mr Ewing told the Parliament: "I want to ensure that the voices of the communities likely to be most affected are heard, and are heard in a more formal and structured way.I am therefore announcing today that in addition to the technical work I've referred to on planning, environmental regulation and upon assessing the impact on public health, Scottish ministers will also launch a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction."

An earlier report on Lord Gill’s speech on the issue of fracking can be found here: FRACKING JUDGES: Scotland’s top judge promotes shale gas extraction, big oil and renewable energy as profit incentive for courts on same day Scottish Government announce ban on fracking