Seven years on - Judicial probe. OVER ONE year ago, and amid much positivity – a cross party backed public petition calling for the creation of a register of judges’ interests was passed to the Scottish Parliament’s powerful Justice Committee.
The transfer of the petition came after six years of a Scottish Parliament investigation on Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary – including work and evidence heard by Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee.
The Public Petitions Committee’s support for creating a register of judicial interests and transfer of work to the Justice Committee - was reported in detail here: JUDICIAL REGISTER: Holyrood Petitions Committee calls for legislation to require Scotland’s judges to declare their interests in a register of judicial Interests
Now, SEVEN YEARS on from when the petition was first filed at Holyrood, in October 2012 – further evidence from the petitioner, and supporters of judicial transparency – urge MSPs on the Justice Committee to press ahead with work on legislation to create a publicly available register of judges’ interests.
Petition 1458 is to be considered again by members of the Justice Committee on Tuesday 28 May 2019, fourteen months after the Public Petitions Committee agreed to back the petition, and pass it to the Justice Committee for further work.
However, it was revealed last week by Justice Committee clerks - that only one of the branches of the justice system requested to give evidence by the Justice Committee had replied to MSPs request for cooperation.
From the Crown Office, to the Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates and even the Lord President himself – Lord Carloway – all refused or ignored requests for evidence from the Justice Committee.
Quizzed on the work done by the Justice Committee in the last year, a Committee clerk informed the petitioner: “Before the Committee last considered your petition on 5 February, clerks approached those who have previously given evidence to the Public Petitions Committee to ask if they had anything to add to their previous submissions.”
“We approached the Lord President, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and the Judicial Complaints Reviewer. Only the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service responded, stating that they had nothing to add”
From contact with the Justice Committee, it also emerged the Justice Secretary - Humza Yousaf had written to MSPs, claiming judges should be allowed to judge themselves, and that the public must rely on judicial oaths & ethics – written and approved by the judiciary - instead of transparency in courts.
The Justice Secretary also, and erronesouly, claimed existing complaints rules negated the creation of a register of judges’ interests – a claim which prompted former Judicial Complaints Reviewer Moi Ali – to write to the Justice Committee in support of the petition, and to give her views on the effectiveness of judicial complaints rules.
Moi Ali’s letter was reported in further detail here: SCRUTINY FOR JUDGES: Former Judicial Complaints Reviewer to MSPs - Judicial complaints rules are no substitute for protection generated by a full register of judicial interests
Mr Yousaf also claimed in his letter that “no further evidence has been provided to the Justice Committee that strengthens the arguments already put forward in favour of the introduction of the register.”
Mr Yousaf’s letter was reported in further detail here: COPY MINISTER: ‘Copied’ content from ex Minister sent by Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to Holyrood MSPs - Public must rely on judges judging judges for transparency, Scottish Government will not create register of judges’ interests
However, recent submissions to the Justice Committee including accounts of serving Scottish judges swearing dual oaths for high earning judicial posts in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and other Gulf States point to substantial new evidence submitted to MSPs, backing up the need for a full register of judicial interests.
Evidence and media reports in relation to the Gulf States service of Scottish judges was reported in more detail here: 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
Now, the petitioner has made a submission to the Justice Committee, calling on MSPs to hear further evidence if required, and take the petition forward to create legislation for a judicial interests regiser.
The full submission to the Justice Committee from the petitioner is reprinted here:
Submission re Petition PE1458 – A Register of Interests for Members of Scotland’s Judiciary
Noting the previous hearing of the petition, I am grateful to members comments in relation to openness and transparency not being a contradiction to the independence of the judiciary, and proposals by members to investigate the way other jurisdictions handle recusals and judicial declarations.
I would refer members to such jurisdictions as Norway and the USA – which both operate registers of judicial interests, and judicial recusals. I believe both could serve as a model to assist in the creation of a publicly available register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary.
Given members comments in relation to evidence collected by the Public Petitions Committee, I do feel it would be productive for the Justice Committee to hear further evidence from Scotland’s first Judicial Complaints Reviewer – Moi Ali.
I believe such an evidence session would refresh members views, and support the confidence exhibited in previous expressions of cross party support during the main chamber debate on this petition in October 2014, and enhance the backing of the Public Petitions Committee in requesting the Justice Committee consider this matter.
As I have previously indicated, I believe members would also benefit by hearing in an evidence session - from Petitions Committee members whose work brought this petition forward, and hearing from MSPs such as Alex Neil – who have looked closely at how the judiciary have handled questions of transparency and conflicts of interest.
Noting the Justice Secretary’s response to the Committee, it appears unfortunate the Minister was not informed of new and widely reported evidence submitted to members in relation to senior Scottish judges holding dual judicial posts, both in Scotland and in the Gulf states – and notably with no reference to such by the Judiciary of Scotland.
It is worth noting, that due to the passage of time of this petition – considerable, and regular presentations of new evidence to the Public Petitions Committee - in relation to issues such as a lack of judicial transparency, failure of judges to interact or cooperate with parts of the Judiciary & Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 – particularly interaction with the Judicial Complaints Reviewer - and widely reported developments in court proceedings from conflicts of interest to failures to recuse – depict a markedly different view of the current state of judicial transparency, and how a Register of Interests would benefit both judges, and increase public confidence in the justice system.
None of these matters are in doubt. The Public Petitions Committee evidence – both in written form and live evidence sessions with witnesses – including two of Scotland’s top judges, both previous Judicial Complaints Reviewers, academics and Ministers, gave the Public Petitions Committee the confidence to support this petition and refer it to the Justice Committee for further action.
This is indeed contrary to the Scottish Government’s position that the judicial oath, the statement of principles of judicial ethics and the various rules made under the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008 operate as a ‘safeguard’ when the overwhelming evidence is – they do not work in terms of increasing transparency, accountability or public confidence in the judiciary.
Indeed, the statistics in the Register of Recusals – created as a result of this petition – now total well over 100 instances of judicial conflicts of interest – and it is important to note we would not have known about previous to this petition and the investigative work of MSPs and the media who followed these events.
It is also worth noting the Recusals Register started out in April 2014 as a very bare reference log, without much detail - notably excluded tribunal members and still does not appear to include over 400 Justices of the Peace.
The Register of Recusals has only been reformed into the slightly more detailed state in which it currently exists, due to requests from the Public Petitions Committee, MSPs and direct discussions between myself and the Judicial Office – which I have previously provided to the Petitions Committee during their work.
Clearly, there is still much work to do on the Register of Recusals – and this may be an issue which the Justice Committee could investigate further.
Given the work by MSPs on this petition to-date, and the cumulative evidence collected by the Public Petitions Committee from witnesses and written submissions – from both sides of the debate, it is clear there is a considerable benefit to both the justice system and public expectation of transparency - to creating a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary, in a form at least as already exists for all other branches of public life, including members of the Scottish Parliament.
SCOTTISH JUDGES SERVING IN THE GULF STATES:
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 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
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.
In recent years, retired UK judges have been increasingly lured with big paycheques to new civil courts in Qatar and the UAE states of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Lord Hope is chief justice of Abu Dhabi Global Market Courts which also employs Lord McGhie and six other male judges from the UK and Commonwealth.
Another former Lord President, Lord Hamilton, sits in a court in Qatar which is accused of backing international terrorism and using migrant slave labour.
SEVEN YEAR TRANSPARENCY PETITION:
The judicial register petition - 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.
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.
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.
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.
The judicial register of interests would contain 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.
TOP SCOTS JUDGES FAIL IN HOLYROOD TRANSPARENCY PROBE:
Both of Scotland’s recent top judges failed to convince MSPs that a register of interests is not required for judges – even after both Lord Presidents attempted to press home the existence of judicial oaths and ethics – which are both written, and approved by – judges.
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.