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 Se├ín 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.