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;



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.