CONFLICT OF INTEREST

RAPTOR RECUSAL: Sheriff with RSPB bird charity link steps down in Bird of Prey poisoning Wildlife Crime case – marks first published ‘detailed’ recusal of Scottish judge

Bird charity link Sheriff stands down in wildlife crime case IN what is the first detailed recusal of a Scottish judge published by the Judiciary of Scotland, a Sheriff has recused herself and stood down from a wildlife crime court case involving a man accused of killing birds of prey – after the sheriff disclosed she is a member of the charity the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
During a pre-trial hearing, Sheriff Annella Cowan mentioned she was a member of the RSPB – an interest which would have to be publicly disclosed in proposals being considered by the Scottish Parliament to create a register of judges interests – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.
Details of the case, heard at Aberdeen Sheriff Court last week reveal George Mutch, of Kildrummy, was due to stand trial accused of recklessly killing or injuring two goshawks and a buzzard by using traps. The 48-year-old who denies the offences faces four charges and is claimed to have carried out the offences at Kildrummy Estate, near Alford in Aberdeenshire, between August 6 and September 13 in 2012. The trial was adjourned until later this year.
Representing the accused, Defence counsel Mark Moir argued that Sheriff Annella Cowan should recuse herself from the case because she had mentioned during a pre-trial hearing that she was a member of the RSPB bird charity.
Mr Moir argued that the sheriff should stand down from presiding over the trial because the RSPB had been involved in the criminal investigation against his client.
He said: “Your Ladyship in this specific trial will require to determine whether or not investigators who are members of the RSPB are credible or reliable and you will also have to decide whether Mr Mutch is credible or reliable.”
He added that if it was the case that the sheriff had paid membership fees to the charity the money could have been used to fund criminal investigations of this type.
Mr Moir stressed that he was not suggesting that the sheriff would be biased but said there could be an appearance of bias now that her RSPB membership had been mentioned and the fact was in the public domain.
Sheriff Cowan considered the lawyer’s arguments for her to recuse herself from the case and decided she would stand down. The sheriff said she had taken no offence, insisting that it was more important that justice was seen to be done.
The public petition calling for a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary, under consideration by msps since early 2013, has brought about a significant change in the justice system where Scotland’s top judge, Lord President & Lord Justice General Brian Gill reached a deal with msps and undertook to publish a list of recusals of Scottish judges as they occurred.
The current publication of recusals can be found on the Judiciary of Scotland’s website here: Judicial Recusals
Sheriff Cowan’s recusal has been published by the Judiciary of Scotland in the following terms: 22 October 2014 Aberdeen Sheriff Court Sheriff Cowan (Criminal) Evidence and witnesses from RSPB, of which Sheriff is a member 
Since the publication of recusals began in April of this year, court users and legal agents have became more aware of the significant interests of Scotland’s judges which could conflict with cases heard in courts. Publication of the recusal data has strengthened both litigants and legal representatives resolve to put recusal issues to Scottish judges, who are still left to decide on their own whether they should recuse or not.
Petition PE1458 envisages the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, 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.
What has not been disclosed so far by Scotland’s judges is their copious involvement with the hunting, shooting & fishing fraternity – an issue which will be of significant interest to those campaigning to conserve wildlife, and ensure wildlife crime cases are correctly taken forward in the courts.
Many members of the Scottish judiciary have memberships of, financial interests in, or other links to local shooting syndicates, shooting estates, fishing rights etc – all issues which would be required to be disclosed in a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary.
It is also a well known fact others in the justice system frequent estates and stretches of fishing rights such as areas where in one recent case, a family of otters were found dead in a trap, reported by BBC News here Otters found dead in illegal net in River Tyne. While the net in which the otters became trapped is alleged to be designed to catch crayfish, the proximity of salmon rivers and suggestions the otters were eating away at the profits of fishing rights owners cannot be ignored.
Those with an interest in wildlife crime cases involving Birds of Prey can find out more from Raptor Persecution Scotland. Anyone who witnesses incidents of wildlife crime or has knowledge of those involved in it should report the matter to Police Scotland, and the media.
Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice into the undeclared interests of Scottish judges 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

22 comments:

Anonymous said…

I bet the judges only published it because the press are onto the story.

As you say we need a full register of interests because if this were already disclosed there would not be delays in the case and a judge could have been found who has no wildlife type interests.

Good work for you!

Anonymous said…

As you say we need this register now and everything declared on it

Anonymous said…

I wonder if the sheriff would have recused herself had the issue not been raised by Counsel – itself a break with previous practice – somehow I doubt it.

Anonymous said…

This case alone seems to prove your point about the interests although I suspect none of us need convincing now.

I wonder how many cases have gone before where judges have failed to declare.

Would the sheriff have mentioned her interest if it had not been for your petition and publicity about it..

Anonymous said…

Just been looking through this list of recusals on the judiciary website.

Rings alarm bells as all previous to Sheriff Cowan are vague and unspecific.

Lord President caught out again.Very poor detail from a top judge hoping to appease your petition.

Anonymous said…

Landowners strike back

http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/landowners-hit-out-at-wildlife-group-claims-on-raptor-killing.25691557

Landowners hit out at wildlife group claims on raptor killing

Iain Smith
Monday 27 October 2014

LANDOWNERS and conservation charities are involved in a war of words over speculation about the recent deaths of birds of prey in the Highlands.

The body which represents Scottish estate owners has accused conservation groups of driving internet rumours that landowners may have poisoned around 20 raptors, including buzzards and red kites, which were found dead in Conon Bridge.

In a letter to today’s Herald, Scottish Land and Estates (SLaE) say the claims have wrongly sullied the reputation of their members. It pointed to the RSPB and Scottish Wildlife Trust’s public comments in the aftermath of the birds’ discovery in March.

The RSPB and the Scottish Wildlife Trust called for landowners to face jail terms if illegally killed birds of prey were found on their property.

Last week, Police Scotland said the raptors, whose deaths are the latest in a series, were not deliberately targeted. Officers investigation the incident believe they were accidently killed by pest control measures.

Now the landowners’ association has issued a staunch defence of its members. Tim Baynes, ­director of the Moorland Group at SLaE, claimed the conjecture surrounding the incident has fuelled negative sentiment towards landowners in Scotland.

In the letter, Mr Baynes called on the RSPB and other groups to avoid making public accusations without proof and before official investigations are completed.

Mr Baynes said: “Despite the trend of crimes against birds of prey having gone down in the last three to five years, particularly by poisoning, the speculation around each case has become more hysterical.

“The RSPB even tried to link the Conon Bridge incident to grouse-moor management.

“There are now websites and bloggers and organisations involved in police investigations who are not slow to feed ­information to the media and promote speculation.

“This speculation is having a corrosive knock-on effect on many other aspects of land management, severely straining the relationship between land managers and conservation bodies.”

Mr Baynes said any deliberate killing of a bird of prey was illegal and should be condemned, but added it was not in “anyone’s interests that various activists and organisations can leap to conclusions without any evidence to support their point of view, which in turn is afforded political and media credence.”

He added: “It would be a major step forward if government and other interested organisations were to take a lead in ensuring that reckless speculation should be discouraged.”

However, Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, hit back at the claims, pointing to a year-on-year increase in the number of raptors being killed.

He said: “Contrary to the assertions of Tim Baynes, the 2013 ­wildlife crime statistics show an increase in the number of reported crimes against birds of prey in comparison to 2012.

“These despicable crimes included the poisoning of a golden eagle, and the killing of red kites and hen harriers, and pre-date the Conon Bridge incident.”

Jonny Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said:”The criminal investigation is still ongoing and it is important that all evidence is considered carefully. Raptor persecution is a serious crime which can carry a prison sentence and the Scottish Wildlife Trust would urge people to remain vigilant and report any incidents to the police.”

Police inquiries into the incident are continuing.

Anonymous said…

oh dear the wheels are coming off the courts now all this is coming out about what the judges are doing

Note she did not declare this rspb link until now and why exactly did the case proceed in front of her after a pre trial hearing where she is supposed to have mentioned it before.

Why did it take the solicitor to raise it and then for her to step down when she should have stepped down before.

Proves judges in their own cause does not work and is not fair no matter who is in front of them on whatever charge.

Anonymous said…

says the falconer!

I dont dispute what you say about the judges and I do support your register of interests for them but watch those rspb chaps there are plenty who believe some charities are in it for themselves much like the judges

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-vampire-squid-rspb-attacked-by-other-conservationists-for-misusing-funds-9814685.html

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2009/nov/09/city-pay-culture-charities-union

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2305197/RSPB-makes-killing–windfarm-giants-turbines-accused-destroying-rare-birds.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2805710/RSPB-spends-quarter-cash-saving-birds-Sir-Ian-Botham-leads-landowners-blast-charity.html

Anonymous said…

Something odd about this if you dont mind me saying so.

If the sheriff already mentioned she was in the RSPB why did she hang around for the case to begin and why did the solicitor not say something earlier?

Were the judiciary waiting to see what happened to your petition before the sheriff made up her mind to recuse and why is this the first time a proper set of details has been entered in the recusal information?

and why this comment about the sheriff not taking it personal because she was asked to recuse?

What the hell has this got to do with anything?

If there is a rule to recuse then recuse and why bother with the not taking it personal banter

We are being played about with by the judges and from what I see the recusal and how it eventually happens leaves more questions than it answers.

Anonymous said…

As I read through your blog I begin to sense a lot of cases in Scotland’s courts are rigged one way or another in favour of vested interests including those of the judiciary themselves

Anonymous said…

Many members of the Scottish judiciary have memberships of, financial interests in, or other links to local shooting syndicates, shooting estates, fishing rights etc – all issues which would be required to be disclosed in a register of interests for Scotland’s judiciary.

Oops!
M’luds wont like this one getting out!

Anonymous said…

More vindication if any were needed for your petition to become law.

Keep up the good work mate!

Anonymous said…

“suggestions the otters were eating away at the profits of fishing rights owners cannot be ignored”

Some greedy bastard on that river is guilty of killing those otters just as you said because they were probably taking the fish.

Hope the papers take them apart.Anyone who finds out please do as Peter suggests and tell the media about it too not just the cops or it will all be done on the quiet.

Anonymous said…

I never heard of this word ”recusal/recused” until today so thanks for the lesson on judges!

Anonymous said…

Anonymous said…
Just been looking through this list of recusals on the judiciary website.

Rings alarm bells as all previous to Sheriff Cowan are vague and unspecific.

Lord President caught out again.Very poor detail from a top judge hoping to appease your petition.

27 October 2014 17:24
£££££££££&&&&&&&&&&&

I heard it was something to do with the new packaging on the cigar packet, which is hard to wright on with a ball point pen…

Anonymous said…

Needless to say this latest episode with their interests shows just how deep this goes,even to charities.

Little wonder Lord Gill refused to go to parliament and the Scottish Govt tried to block your petition presumably on the judiciary’s orders.

Anonymous said…

Anonymous said…
Something odd about this if you dont mind me saying so.

If the sheriff already mentioned she was in the RSPB why did she hang around for the case to begin and why did the solicitor not say something earlier?

Were the judiciary waiting to see what happened to your petition before the sheriff made up her mind to recuse and why is this the first time a proper set of details has been entered in the recusal information?

and why this comment about the sheriff not taking it personal because she was asked to recuse?

What the hell has this got to do with anything?

If there is a rule to recuse then recuse and why bother with the not taking it personal banter

We are being played about with by the judges and from what I see the recusal and how it eventually happens leaves more questions than it answers.

27 October 2014 19:49
Bvbfhfbfhfnfjdkdifjrnrgddgdy

This could not be any clearer.

This is but another example of media manipulation gone wrong, such is their horrendous lack of judgement?

The inference in this planted piece was designed to engender support for Scottish Judges in general and the Lord President in particular, as it sought to highlight how easy it could become for a Scottish lawyer to cause a Scottish Judge to recuse if the lawyer is allowed to know what the Judges Interests are?

But of course the opposite is true?

The Elephant In The Room is that the problem is that the Judge should not have outside Interests that could interfere with their ability to do their job and when they know themselves that their Interests do materially cause a Conflict of Interest, then it is incumbent on the Scottish Judge to declare that Interest immediately and recuse themselves before another forces them to recuse (which is far worse)?

So, this non story has done the opposite of what they intended and has back-fired on the Scottish Judiciary as has already been said. The Judge arguably should not have had this outside Interest (precisely because she is a Judge) but she failed to recuse herself, when she knew that she should have done so as she knew her RSPB membership was a clear Conflict of Interest when she took on the case but she failed to recuse herself, which confirms one thing, that her Judgement is suspect and ergo her ability to be a Scottish Judge is fatally flawed.

Massive back-fire?

What is the follow-up to this news article?

Has this Judge been reprimanded or sacked?

Has she been given training?

Has she been asked to repay to the Tax Payer all of the money lost for her deliberate error?

After all, she cannot use the excuse that she did not know the Rules and anyway ignorance of the law is not a valid defence?

Anonymous said…

Anonymous said…
As I read through your blog I begin to sense a lot of cases in Scotland’s courts are rigged one way or another in favour of vested interests including those of the judiciary themselves

27 October 2014 20:35
———————————-

During a BBC Scotland interview an eminent Scottish QC remarked that he had absolutely no guilt, embarrassment or conscience about defending his client, even though he knew full well that his client was guilty as hell because he was aware that there are miscarriages of justice in every court every week in Scotland, where people were jailed unlawfully?

This tells you all you need to know. Cue the music…

‘always look on the briiiight side of life de dum de dumpty dumpty dum…..always look on the br……

Anonymous said…

What happened proves there is a need for a register because the sheriff’s rspb membership will be included however the way it all happened and reading some of the comments I now wonder if it was staged as a pr stunt by the judiciary.

There are just too many questions and inconsistencies in the time line as the earlier comment @19:49 refers to.

Why did the lawyer wait until another heading to plead his client’s case for recusal and why did the judge not step aside herself without being asked.

Come on folks there is something not right here otherwise we could not point out these kinds of holes in the judiciary’s line.

You are also correct about the list of recusals – almost laughable there is not a case with any detail in it not even one mentioning property or assets of any kind.

Diary of Injustice said…

@ 27 October 2014 19:49

Good points regarding how this recusal occurred and its eventual reporting by the Judiciary of Scotland …

@ 28 October 2014 09:33

Again, good points … and given the lack of detail in recusals prior to this and cases previously/currently heard in the courts does lend weight to this recusal being a rather reluctant one at the least … possibly more.

Anonymous said…

oh dear another bad play by Lord Gill and the judges

Dear Brian you cant pull the wool over our eyes any more about these interests because Peter has educated us too much!

Anonymous said…

This is just getting ridiculous.

The judiciary cannot be trusted to publish their own recusals or be fit to judge themselves if they recuse or not.The list you have already published in previous stories and at the judiciary link is proof enough of this.

Remember we are dealing with a top judge who said he will not bring in a register of interests and not force other judges to declare their interests so how can we expect any of these judges to properly declare interests or what they are doing when their boss refuses to make them.

And now in the comments to this story it reads as if the recusal is not what it appears to be and does leave a lot more questions on how this came out.

There needs to be an independent way free of lawyers and the judge’s fans for this recusal list and any register of interests to come into force otherwise no trust in figures and facts created by judges to suit themselves.

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