Lord Gill goes to Holyrood, willing to talk about court closures, not judge’s hidden wealth & vested interests. UNDERPREFORMING Scottish courts need to be closed as part of a process to make savings of 20% in the Scottish Court Service budget by 2015, Scotland's top judge Lord President Lord Brian Gill and representatives of the Scottish Court Service told MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee earlier this week on Tuesday. The closures, already approved by the Scottish Government last year will see ten sheriff courts and seven justice of the peace courts shut down in an effort to streamline Scotland’s Victorian justice system.
Lord Gill’s attendance at the Justice Committee on Tuesday can be viewed on BBC Democracy Live, HERE. The session passed off without much ado, bar some slight signs of dispute over how the Scottish Courts Service had handled the court closures, after MSPs on the Justice Committee raised questions of why many of Scotland’s local sheriff courts buildings have been left with a £57 million pound repair backlog while Parliament House, home to Scotland’s Court of Session and the top tier of the judiciary, including Lord Gill himself, has seen well over £60 million pounds spent on it in the past five years.
Notably, the Lord President showed little difficulty discussing issues relating to the court closures, an apparently less threatening subject for Scotland’s most senior judge who has now twice refused to attend another Scottish Parliament Committee to give evidence on simple questions of transparency within the judiciary, raised in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary.
Lord NO-NO : Top Judge defies Scottish Parliament on Judiciary’s interests Last week, Scotland’s Sunday Mail newspaper, and Diary of Injustice reported on a letter sent by Lord Gill to MSP David Stewart, Convener of Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee. In the letter the Lord President again refused to accept an invitation from MSPs to discuss the current system of how judges recuse themselves and, inevitably face questions on the hidden wealth, undeclared interests and other vested interests of Scotland's closed door judiciary.
Lord Gill told MSPs the Scotland Act as it currently stands, allows judges to pick & choose what subjects they feel comfortable discussing at the Scottish Parliament, however it does not seem in the public interest that the Scotland Act is now being used by the judiciary to hide their indiscretions, criminal convictions and secret interests which are not being declared in courts as they should be.
Lord Gill’s letter stated : “Judges have from time to time given evidence to committees of the Scottish Parliament on matters that affect the administration of justice in Scotland. I hope that that has been helpful in the legislative process. Judicial participation in the work of the committees must however be kept within prudent limits.
The letter from the Lord President also pointedly reminded MSPs of a now rather Victorian era excuse of protecting the independence of the judiciary from situations which may compromise it. In this case, apparently discussing the secret interests of the judges themselves is curiously seen by the Lord President as an issue which may compromise Scotland’s judiciary over a simple issue of transparency.
Lord Gill went on in his letter to the Petitions Committee, saying : “Section 23(7) of the Scotland Act provides inter alia that the Parliament may not require a judge to attend its proceedings for the purposes of giving evidence. This is not a loophole. It is a necessary part of the constitutional settlement by which the Parliament is established. Its purpose is to protect the independence of the judiciary, a vital constitutional principle that is declared in section 1 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008. When a committee invites a judge to give evidence before it, I have to decide whether the subject matter might infringe the principle of judicial independence; and whether the evidence required could be satisfactorily given in writing.”
Lord Gill has already refused to attend the Petitions Committee earlier in April 2013 to discuss issues raised in Petition PE1458, reported here : Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill refuses to attend Scottish Parliament to face questions over opposition to register of judicial interests
Previous articles from Diary of Injustice including video footage of the Petitions Committee meetings and further information on the drive to create a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary can be viewed here : A Register of Interests for Scotland's Judiciary