Monday, February 04, 2019

JUDICIAL REGISTER - MSPs urged to take forward SEVEN year petition to create a Register of Judges’ Interests as Holyrood Justice Committee handed evidence of Scottish Judges serving in Gulf states regimes known to abuse Human Rights

MSPs to consider judicial interests call. A PETITION calling for the creation of a Register of Judges’ Interests in Scotland – which is now in it’s SEVENTH year is to be considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee on Tuesday 5 February 2019.

The latest consideration of Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary comes after members of the Justice Committee initially heard the petition in late September 2018 – with several MSPs supporting the view the petition should be taken forward.

During the Committee’s meeting, John Finnie MSP of the Scottish Greens said: “Future generations will be surprised that we do not have such a register already.”

Daniel Johnson MSP (Scottish Labour) said: “We all need to be mindful that we have a legal duty to uphold the independence of the judiciary, but transparency enhances independence. I very much support the comments that colleagues have made. We should take the petition forward.”

The lengthy Scottish Parliament probe on judicial interests has generated over sixty two submissions of evidence, at least twenty one Committee hearings, a private meeting and fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate and has since been taken over by Holyrood’s Justice Committee after a recommendation to take the issue forward from the Public Petitions Committee in March 2018.

The proposal, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support, backing in the media, and crucial support from two of Scotland’s Judicial Complaints Reviewers – including Moi Ali

Moi Ali – who served as Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer (JCR) - appeared before the Public Petitions Committee in a hard hitting evidence session during September 2013,and gave full sypport to the proposals calling for the creation of a register of judicial interests.– reported here: Judicial Complaints Reviewer tells MSPs judges should register their interests like others in public life.

Video footage of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee’s first consideration of the judciial register petition in September 2018 can be viewed here:

Register of Judicial Interests - Justice Committee Scottish Parliament 25 September 2018

Official Report: Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

Margaret Mitchell MSP (Scottish Conservatives) (Convener) : Under item 4, the committee will consider two petitions. I refer members to paper 4, which is a note by the clerk, and paper 5, which is a private paper. The committee is asked to consider and agree what action, if any, it wishes to take in relation to each petition. Possible options are outlined in paragraph 5 of paper 4. I remind members that if they wish to keep a petition open, they should indicate how they would like the committee to take it forward. If they wish to close a petition, they should give reasons. We will consider each petition in the order in which they appear on the agenda.

This is the first time that the committee has considered PE1458. The petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to introduce a register of pecuniary interests of judges bill, or amend existing legislation, to require all members of the judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests and hospitality received to a publicly available register of interests. Do members have any comments or questions?

John Finnie (Scottish Green Party):  I seem to have mislaid the paper, but from memory there were a number of recommendations around requiring further information. I would support that approach. Future generations will be surprised that we do not have such a register already. We need to be best informed, so I suggest that we get that additional information and consider the petition again.

Rona Mackay (Scottish National Party) :  I agree with my colleague, John Finnie. The Public Petitions Committee believes that a register is not unworkable and recommended it. As John Finnie said, we need to explore the petition further and get as much information as we can so that we can take it forward.

Daniel Johnson (Scottish Labour) : We all need to be mindful that we have a legal duty to uphold the independence of the judiciary, but transparency enhances independence. I very much support the comments that colleagues have made. We should take the petition forward. It makes an awful lot of sense to do exploratory work.

The Convener: Is it the committee’s wish, therefore, that we keep the petition open and seek further information?

Members indicated agreement.

Since the Justice Committee considered the petition last September, there have been explosive revelations in the media in relation to Scottish and UK judges serving in Gulf States regimes and dictatorships, where the same judges are required to swear additional judicial oaths on top of the judicial oaths already sworn in Scotland and the UK.

An exclusive investigation by Investigative Journalist Russell Findlay revealed Scottish judges were serving in Abu Dhabi & UAE courts while serious Human Rights abuses were taking place against British citizens in the same countries.

The report reveals TOP judges are accused of selling the reputation of Scottish justice by working for Middle East countries with toxic human rights records.

Two judges are on the payroll of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where domestic violence against women is legal and where regime critics are tortured and jailed without trial.

The most senior is Lord Hope of Craighead — Scotland’s former top judge, a member of the House of Lords and ex-deputy president of the UK Supreme Court.

Our investigation found that Lord McGhie has been registered to sit in the UAE for the past two years while he was also dispensing justice at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

The investigation also reveals how Scottish and UK judges are lured to the UAE, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar with big money salaries are available here: JUDGES FOR SALE: Special investigation into top lawmen being lured with big money jobs in Qatar and the UAE and here: Scottish judges slammed for being on payroll of oppressive regimes abroad

Two weeks ago, the petitioner was contacted and requested to provide a submission for the Justice Committee’s consideration of the petition.

The submission to the Justice Committee took the following form:

Submission re Petition PE1458 – A Register of Interests for Members of Scotland’s Judiciary

In response to the Justice Committee’s initial consideration of this petition, I agree with the decision by members to seek further and additional information to take the petition forward and create a Register of Judicial Interests for members of Scotland’s Judiciary.

I would also like to submit further developments since members last considered the petition, where reports in the media have revealed senior members of Scotland’s judiciary serving in overseas courts, particularly in the Gulf States such as UAE, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and others.

It should be of interest to members that in the case of Lord McGhie, who is currently listed on the Judiciary of Scotland’s website as Chairman of the Scottish Land Court and President of the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, the biography of Lord McGhie’s interests does not mention the fact he also serves on the Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts.

Of note, the ADGM Court does list Lord McGhie’s service in Scotland as a member of the judiciary, however the Judiciary of Scotland omit all details of Lord McGhie’s overseas judicial service, as can be noted from the two separate judicial biographies forwarded to the Justice Committee,

An investigation by the Sunday Mail newspaper revealed Lord McGhie has been registered to sit in the UAE for the past two years while he was also dispensing justice at the Court of Session in Edinburgh – yet given there is clearly no mention of his service abroad, and the fact Lord McGhie will be subject to a judicial oath in the UAE as well as adhere to his judicial oath in Scotland, clearly a register of Judicial Interests would require information such as this to be published, while currently, the Judicial Office for Scotland does not publish such information.

It would be useful for the Justice Committee to make enquiries as to the two separate judicial oaths and terms of service which Lord McGhie is subject to, here in Scotland, and in the United Arab Emirates, as clearly, such information should be present in a publicly available Register of Judicial Interests.

The dual service of Scottish judges in overseas jurisdictions, including the Gulf States should be further examined, in the light of the published reports and significant public interest in the cases of lawyer David Haigh, where a Scottish Sheriff accepted Mr Haigh’s account of Human Rights abuses, and torture in Dubai, and the case of Matthew Hedges – held for five months without explanation, then charged with, and found guilty on allegations of espionage.

In recent enquiries with the Judicial Office for Scotland, I have noted there are no recusals by Justices of the Peace since the guidance on recusals was extended to JPs as of January 2018.

However, since Tribunal members interests were added to the recusals register, recusals jumped from around 20 a year to 49 in the past year.

The lack of recusals for Justices of the Peace, who number around 450 and comprise the highest proportion in terms of numbers of Scotland’s judiciary, are worthy of scrutiny, particularly as the Scottish Justices Association have expressed negative sentiments towards reform and transparency in the past, notably in the case of media reports in relation to overseas trips by Justices of the Peace, which are covered in a Sunday Herald investigation forwarded with this submission.

As part of the further information which the Justice Committee may wish to seek on judicial conflicts of interest, I would suggest making enquiries to the Judicial Office on how the guidance on recusals is being implemented, and how far down the line it goes, for instance, in selection and subsequent training of judicial office holders prior to their service on the bench and how such guidance plays a role in every day court proceedings.

The Register of Recusals is available for inspection online http://www.scotland-judiciary.org.uk/68/0/Judicial-Recusals

I also suggest members study the Norway model of a register of judicial interests https://www.domstol.no/en/The-Courts-of-Justice/The-ordinary-courts-of-Norway/Dommeres-sidegjoremal/ and how such a model, with enhancements could be created for Scotland’s judiciary.

From the report of the Justice Committee’s initial consideration of the petition, I agree with the support expressed by members for progressing the petition from Rona Mackay, Daniel Johnson, and John Finnie MSP who stated “Future generations will be surprised that we do not have such a register already.”

The Scottish Parliament, by way of the Public Petitions Committee, MSPs during the full debate in October 2014 and now the Justice Committee have amassed a level of information and submissions on this petition which should go forward in the public interest to create a Registrar of Judicial Interests - and apply the same level of transparency for members of the judiciary, which already exists for all other branches of the Executive and those in public life.

However, the above submission was initially rejected, by a Scottish Parliament clerk – who claimed there was no existing biography for Lord McGhie on the Judiciary of Scotland’s website, and that Lord McGhie was in-fact retired.

The clerk was challenged on his claims after journalists confirmed the existence of the biography for Lord McGhie remained on the Judicial Office website – and that Lord McGhie had in-fact sat as recently as 2018 on cases in the Court of Session, sitting alongside Lady Paton and Lord Drummond Young.

Journalist Peter Cherbi tweeted out the sequence of his findings on twitter, here: Twitter - Content of Judicial Service Bio of Lord McGhie questioned

The clerk, who has since been identified as Seán Wixted – did not reply to the petitioner’s information confirming the existence of the biography of Lord McGhie, nor was any response given as to why court opinions also show Lord McGhie sitting in court, despite the clerk’s claim the judge was retired.

A revised submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee contained the following substitute paragraphs:

It would be useful for the Justice Committee to make enquiries in relation to members of Scotland’s judiciary who serve in overseas jurisdictions and details in relation to the two separate judicial oaths and terms of service which judges swear to, in jurisdictions such as the United Arab Emirates and here in Scotland, as clearly, such information should be present in a publicly available Register of Judicial Interests.

The dual service of Scottish judges in overseas jurisdictions, including the Gulf States should be further examined, in the light recent media coverage of the dual service of Scottish judges and significant public interest in such cases.

and added the following suggestion MSPs experienced in the petition should be asked for evidence:

Lastly, and noting the recommendations listed in papers for members consideration of this petition on Tuesday 5 February 2019, I would like to request the Justice Committee invite members of the Public Petitions Committee to give evidence to the Justice Committee on this petition, given the PPC’s six years of experience, dedication and exceptional work on this petition, which has accumulated significant evidence, testimony and backing from all sections of the community in favour of creating a Register of Judicial Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

It was further noted in emails provided to the media the petitioner was not allowed to inform MSPs of the clerk’s demand the submission was edited at the request of the Committee’s own clerk, Mr Wixted.

Previously, on the Register of Judicial Interests Petition -

A video report of the Public Petitions Committee backing for the petition can be viewed online here: Petition PE 1458 Register of Judicial Interests Public Petitions Committee 22 March 2018

A full report containing video footage of every hearing, speech, and evidence sessions at the Scottish Parliament on Petition PE1458 can be found here: Scottish Parliament debates, speeches & evidence sessions on widely supported judicial transparency petition calling for a Register of Interests for Scotland's judiciary.

MSP at Holyrood have previously heard over sixty two submissions of evidence, during twenty one Committee hearings, and a private meeting between two MSPs and a top judge, and two private meetings since early December 2017 to decide a way forward on their six year investigation.

Cross party support for the Petition at the Scottish Parliament saw fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate spanning from 2012 to 2018.

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

Scotland’s second Judicial Complaints Reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE also supported  the petition and the creation of a register of judicial interests during an evidence session at Holyrood in June 2015.

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

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

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.

Monday, January 28, 2019

THE UNRECUSED: Mystery as 450 Justices of the Peace fail to register one single recusal in a full year after conflict of interest rules change for Scotland’s secretive army of lay magistrates

Justices of the Peace listed no recusals in court. CONCERNS are being expressed that Justices of the Peace are unwilling to declare conflicts of interest in court proceedings - after it emerged NOT ONE of Scotland’s Four Hundred and Fifty Justices of the Peace recused themselves from court proceedings in the past year – according to

The revelation comes after the Judicial Office for Scotland was quizzed on the lack of any registered recusal by a Justice of the Peace in the published Register of Recusals available on the Judiciary of Scotland website here: Judicial Recusals - Judiciary of Scotland.

In response to media enquiries the Judicial Office admitted it had not been informed of any recusal motion by any of Scotland’s Justices of the Peace.

The Judicial Office said: “We have received no notification of a JP recusing themselves from a case since the guidance came into force, which was in January 2018”

In response to further enquries for information relationg to any refusals of Justices of the Peace to recuse, the Judicial Office stated: “We are to be informed if a formal motion for recusal is granted or refused, or if the Judicial Office holder decides at their own accord to recuse.  Nothing has yet been reported to us.”

The worrying admission from Scotland’s top judges of their lower ranking colleagues failure to declare any conflicts of interest - comes after a solicitor suggested Justices of the Peace are unwilling or are refusing to declare what are known to be numerous conflicts of interest.

The statistics of not one single recusal by Justices of the Peace – who vastly outnumber Sheriffs, Judges of the High Court and Court of Session – have raised eyebrows in legal circles – after the steep increase in published judicial recusals from around 20 a year to 49 resulted after a change in recusal guidance last year - which saw requirements placed on tribunal members to register conflicts of interest.

Further enqiuries to legal sources have established there is some reticence on the part of Justices of the Peace to comply with the new guidance on recusals.

Speaking on condition of anonymity - a solicitor who has represented clients in relation to cases with troubling outcomes - heard by a Justice of the Peace with a known history of failing to address issues in the JP court – commented that he felt Justices of the Peace were not respecting requirements to list or declare their conflicts of interest.

The solicitor added that - particularly if someone is unrepresented before a JP court, there is little incentive for court clerks or the Justice of the Peace themselves to recuse themselves – given there is currently no fully published Register of Judicial Interests in Scotland.

Guidance requiring Justices of the Peace to declare conflicts of interest and recuse themselves from court hearings came into force in 2018 after calls for JPs to be brought into line with rules of recusals which apply to the remainder of Scotland’s judiciary.

This guidance was created after reports on Diary of Injustice here: DECLARE YOUR JUSTICE: Judicial Office consults with Lord Carloway on including Justices of the Peace in Register of Judicial Recusals - as questions surface over Lord Gill’s omission of 500 JPs from judicial transparency probe.

A report in the Scottish National newspaper in 2017 also featured the calls for JPs to register recusals, which can be viewed here: Campaigner calls on Scotland's top judge to extend register of recusals.

The remainder of Scotland’s judiciary – currently headed by Lord Carloway (Colin Sutherland) – have been required from April 2014 to recuse themselves from court hearings in which a potential conflict of interest may emerge, the Register of Recusals.

However, and curiously - the numerically superior force of Justices of the Peace were excluded from the Register of Recusals, created by Lord Brian Gill in April 2014 as a response to a probe by the Scottish Parliament into a petition calling for a fully published Register of Judicial Interests:

There has never been an explanation offered by Lord Gill, or his successor Lord Carloway – for the exclusion of Justices of the Peace from the Register of Recusals when it was created five years ago after the then Lord President Brian Gill, attempted to thwart what became a six year Parliamentary probe by the Public Petitions Committee into Judicial Interests - Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.

The proposal, first debated at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in January 2013 – calls for the creation of a publicly available register of judicial interests – containing information on judges’ backgrounds, figures relating to personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, membership of organisations, property and land, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

The move to create a register of judicial interests enjoys cross party support from a full debate at Holryood in October 2014.

The petition has generated over sixty two submissions of evidence, twenty one Committee hearings, a private meeting and fifteen speeches by MSPs during a full Holyrood debate.

The investigation by MSPs of the proposal to create a Register of Judicial Interests – now in it’s seventh year - has since been taken over by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee - and is due to be heard again on 5 February 2019.

Justices of the Peace resited scrutiny of junkets – demanded cull of whistleblowers:

It has also emerged that bitter divisions within the Scottish Justices Association – which saw ‘hysteria’ by senior figures in the Justice of the Peace courts against the Sunday Herald – after the paperreported on numerous publicly funded junkets for Justices of the Peace to New Zealand  and around the world – have similarly been expressed in private against the  new requirements of Justices of the Peace to reveal their conflicts of interest.

The Sunday Herald reported on the junkets for Justices of the Peace here: Justices of the Peace group under fire for latest 'junket' 

A further article in the Sunday Herald in relation to troubles at the Scottish Justices Association – after the Sunday Herald exposed the JP junkets - is reprinted below:

Mole-hunts and mass culls ... justices of the peace accused of 'borderline hysteria' after junket exposé

By TOM GORDON Sunday Herald 1 November 2015

THE Scottish Justices Association has been accused of "borderline hysteria" after proposing a mass cull of potential whistleblowers after being repeatedly criticised for overseas junkets.

The taxpayer-funded justice quango, which represents the country's 400 justices of the peace, is considering axing its entire board as part of an extreme mole-hunt.

The idea was proposed after the Sunday Herald revealed SJA chair John Lawless was going on a five-day, £3,500 conference trip to New Zealand in September.

The Glasgow and Strathkelvin JP had previously been to conferences in Malaysia and Uganda in 2011 and 2012 at a total cost of £3,800.

When the Sunday Herald enquired about his latest jaunt, outgoing SJA secretary Keith Parkes sent a furious email to the organisation's executive committee.

"The leak to the press should be considered a very serious breach of judicial ethics," he said, recommending an immediate report to a senior judge."

Parkes, who sits as a JP in Perth, suggested a complete clear-out of the SJA hierarchy.

"I consider that … the whole of the SJA executive committee should resign with immediate effect with new elections … where no current members would be allowed to stand."

Parkes is expected to raise the matter at the SJA's annual general meeting later this month.

Last year, the Sunday Herald revealed how Parkes, a former RAF pilot, sparked a row inside the SJA by going on a £3,000, five-day justice conference to Zambia.

Even some of his fellow SJA board members denounced the Commonwealth Magistrates' and Judges' Association (CMJA) event as a "junket" and a "gross misuse of public funds".

Held at the opulent Zambezi Sun Hotel next to Victoria Falls, the conference's entire last day was set aside for sightseeing.

This year's CMJA conference in the New Zealand capital Wellington, which Lawless attended, included two evening receptions, a "gala dinner", and another full day's sightseeing.

Although SJA bosses attending conferences are expected to write reports to enlighten their fellow JPs about the discussions, these have often been minimal in the past.

In 2008, two JPs at a CMJA conference in South Africa costing £4,227 produced "rather short reports that concentrated on their personal impressions of Nelson Mandela rather than what had been said at the conference", according to a leak - one report was just 250 words long.

Lawless's reports on his Malaysia and Uganda trips ran to 700 and 600 words respectively.

The SJA, which has a budget of around £18,000 a year, is entirely funded by the public purse.

Independent MSP John Wilson, who has previously queried the SJA's spending priorities, said the idea of replacing the entire executive was "borderline hysteria".

"This is a complete over-reaction," he said. "It's just because they've been named and shamed. The issue is not moles. It's junkets when the court service is underfunded and overworked." Lawless declined to comment.

The issue is not moles. It's junkets when the court service is underfunded and overworked;

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BACKGROUND - JUSTICES OF THE PEACE:

Justices of the peace are lay magistrates who sit with a legally qualified adviser to deal with summary criminal cases.

There are around 450 justices, who are drawn from all walks of life.

Justices sit either alone or on a treble bench and deal with many driving offences such as speeding, careless driving, tachograph offences and driving without insurance.

They also deal with less serious assault, breach of the peace, theft and other less serious crimes. Their powers of punishment are limited to 60 days’ imprisonment or a fine of up to £2,500 or both and to disqualify drivers on a discretionary basis.

The office of Justice of the Peace dates back to 1609, originally involving administrative, policing and judicial functions. The current justice of the peace courts were created in 2007 to replace district courts, which were operated by local authorities.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service is now responsible for the administration of Justice of the Peace courts, which are organised by sheriffdom rather than local authority area. Throughout their history, justices have remained lay people, dispensing criminal justice on a local basis.

Justices are appointed by Scottish Ministers for five-year periods on the recommendation of Justice of the Peace Advisory Committees.Portree.