NOT TRANSPARENT


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2014

Qatar junket top judge Lord Gill should give transparency & ethics speech in Scotland: John Wilson MSP on Scottish Parliament register of judicial interests debate

Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 – in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.
The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 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.
In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.
This article focuses on the speech given by John Wilson MSP (Central Scotland) (Independent). John Wilson is a member of the Public Petitions Committee, and is the Deputy Convener of the Local Government & Regeneration Committee. Mr Wilson is also a member of a number of Cross Party Groups in the Scottish Parliament.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jHx3rU1vq0?rel=0]
John Wilson (Central Scotland) (Ind): The petition and today’s debate highlight the important role that the Public Petitions Committee plays in this Parliament.
The issue under discussion is an easy and relatively straightforward subject, as many members have said. The resistance to having a general register of judicial interests seems, to my mind and to many others, to come from ingrained conservative forces, and I am clearly not talking about Mr Carlaw in this instance. However, his impersonation of one of his colleagues may highlight the conservative nature of the legal profession.
The Public Petitions Committee has attempted to engage in a positive manner with all those identified by the petition. The same cannot be said of all those who have had an input on the public record. The Lord President, Lord Gill, declined to accept the committee’s invitation to give evidence in respect of the petition on the ground of “constitutional principle”, with particular reference to section 23(7) of the Scotland Act 1998. Although that might be considered by some to be a reasonable response, it is undermined by the fact that Lord Gill has appeared before other committees of this Parliament.
In principle, there is good practice taking place in Scotland. Elected members such as councillors and members of this Parliament have to make undertakings in their own registers of interests, so why there is a lack of positive engagement is essentially a mystery to me, especially as the then Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Ms Moi Ali, supported the petition both in correspondence and in excellent oral evidence to the Public Petitions Committee.
We already know, because it has been reported widely, that arrangements to publish details of the shareholdings of those on the Scottish Court Service board are in place, and I welcome the information that was discussed earlier relating to recusal by sheriffs and judges in cases on which they have decided that they cannot sit in judgment.
Lord Justice Neuberger, president of the UK Supreme Court, said in a speech on 26 August 2014 to the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club:
“The rule of law also requires the honest, fair, efficient and open dispensation of justice. And therefore there is no hope for the rule of law unless we have judges who are independent, honest, fair, and competent, and who are seen to be independent, honest, fair, and competent.”
Clearly, we must ask why we cannot have a register. No doubt the associated media coverage of Lord Gill’s non-appearance at the Public Petitions Committee has led to him being given the title of Lord No-No. That is not something that I particularly welcome, although, quite frankly, it seems to have a degree of merit for an individual who spent six days in Qatar to give a speech about transparency and judicial regulation that lasted one hour, but who could not find the courtesy to accept an invitation from a mandatory committee of this Parliament.
I welcome the opportunity to raise awareness of the petition and of the petitioner’s work in relation to it, which could be dismissed by some unkind types as a boring constitutional matter. However, as others have said in today’s debate, linking it to registers of interest in other areas clearly highlights the work that the Parliament must do to ensure that everyone, no matter who the public are dealing with, is held in high regard. A register of interests for judges is an area in which we could move forward and build more confidence in the system that we have in place.
In the final paragraph of the speech that Lord Gill gave in Qatar, he said:
“One drawback of a jurisdiction steeped in tradition is its slow reaction to change and to modernise.”
Lord Gill should reread his own words and reflect on that speech, and maybe he could give the same speech in Scotland and bring the judicial system up to a standard that we would all like it to hold.
The petition clearly highlights the work of the Public Petitions Committee, and I look forward to more challenging petitions being heard by the committee and debated in the chamber.
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

‘Judiciary should move with the times to retain public confidence’ – Joan McAlpine MSP on Scottish Parliament register of judicial interests debate

Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 – in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.
The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 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.
In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.
This article focuses on the speech given by Joan McAlpine MSP (South Scotland) (SNP). Joan McAlpine is a member of the Economy, Energy & Tourism Committee and the Education & Culture Committee, she also sits on a number of Cross Party Groups in the Scottish Parliament.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWNV6vmtrk8?rel=0]
Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP): The subject is exactly the sort of matter that the Parliament should debate, and it is testament to the Public Petitions Committee that it has brought the issue to the chamber.
I am naturally inclined to support a register of judges’ interests. I understand the need to enshrine the independence of the judiciary and I understand Lord Gill’s decision to decline the committee’s invitation because, although that decision understandably drew criticism, one could argue that the judiciary should not be subject to political pressure. However, I tend to agree with Jackson Carlaw that, in this instance, Lord Gill should have come to the committee to argue his case and to show that the judiciary is not a law unto itself.
David Stewart:
Does the member share my view that, on one level, there is nothing new about the proposal because, prior to 2009, law lords had to declare an interest, as they were members of the House of Lords? In some senses, we are asking for a reintroduction of something that was well established in Scots law.
Joan McAlpine:
Yes, I agree—that is a fair point.
Perhaps it is because I am a former journalist that I naturally lean towards increased transparency in all areas of public life. The committee convener outlined the need for that in his opening remarks. I take great pride in the fact that there is more transparency in the Scottish Parliament, for example, than there is at Westminster.
Neil Findlay:
Will the member take an intervention?
Joan McAlpine:
No, thank you.
However, I have considered the safeguards that ministers have outlined today, in particular the judicial oath, which I am sure all our judges take very seriously indeed. I do not think that many members of the public know about the judicial oath or what it entails. I am interested in knowing more about the process that kicks in if someone is suspected of breaking the judicial oath. Has that ever happened and what are the consequences?
I read with great interest the Lord President’s letter to David Stewart MSP. I was not particularly convinced by the passage on practical considerations, in which the Lord President suggests that it would not be possible to identify all the interests. The subtext seems to be that it is a bit of a hassle. Well, yes, it is a bit of a hassle. It is probably a bit of a hassle for MSPs, too, but it has to be done. I was more swayed by the passage on unintended consequences in which the Lord President says:
“Consideration requires to be given to judges’ privacy and freedom from harassment by aggressive media or hostile individuals, including dissatisfied litigants. It is possible that the information held on such a register could be abused. These are significant concerns. If publicly criticised or attacked, the judicial office holder cannot publicly defend himself or herself, unlike a politician.”
I thought that that was a fair comment.
I do not think that the matter of a register of judges’ interests will disappear. We have seen the progress that is being made here and in New Zealand as a result of the debate being opened up, even though that is short of establishing a register. It is important that all national institutions continue to revise their procedures so that they retain public confidence. It is easy to see how public confidence can be lost if that is not done. The Westminster Parliament expenses scandal blew up precisely because of a lack of transparency in the system. I recall that there was a belief that, if MPs were completely transparent about what they claimed, that would somehow open them up to too much scrutiny, which would be a bad thing. In the end, MPs really came a cropper because of that.
Similarly, the claims of historical child abuse by powerful establishment figures at Westminster and how they may or may not have been dealt with by the authorities at the time surely demonstrate that the way that things were done 30 years ago is not the way that we should do things now. Therefore, I very much hope that the Lord President is paying attention to the debate.
We have to move with the times. It is a recurring feature of tabloid newspapers to draw attention to judges who do not move with the times. One particularly famous incident was in a court case down south when the footballer Paul Gascoigne was taking to court someone who had written an unauthorised biography. The judge clearly had no idea who Paul Gascoigne was, as his lawyer had to explain that he was a famous footballer, to which the judge replied, “Rugby or association?”
I gently suggest to the Lord President, in whose gift it is to set up a register, as we cannot legislate for it in the Parliament, that he should be mindful of the need for the judiciary to move with the times, along with every other public institution, in order to retain the confidence of the public.
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

‘Is it not an outrage Lord Gill had such contempt for this Parliament that he refused to attend’ – Neil Findlay MSP on Holyrood register of judicial interests debate

Scottish Parliament debate on register of judicial interests. ON Thursday 09 October 2014, the Scottish Parliament’s main chamber held a detailed ninety minute debate on calls to require judges to declare their significant financial and other interests, as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary. On conclusion of the debate, MSPs overwhelmingly supported motion S4M-11078 – in the name of Public Petitions Convener David Stewart MSP on petition PE1458 and urged the Scottish Government to give further consideration to a register of interests for judges.
The public petition, submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee in late 2012 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.
In a move aimed at widening public awareness of the undisclosed interests of Scotland’s judiciary and details contained in the recent debate by MSPs at Holyrood, each day this week, Diary of Injustice is publishing the official record of the speeches given by individual MSPs who participated in the debate along with video footage.
This article focuses on the speech given by Neil Findlay MSP (Lothians) (Scottish Labour). Neil Findlay is a member of a number of Cross Party Groups in the Scottish Parliament.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXaFbv5eBdc?rel=0] 
Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab): The referendum campaign that we have just had has developed in people a new and healthy interest in all things political, which has to be warmly welcomed. However, with that comes increased scrutiny of politicians, political institutions, the decision-making process and those who make decisions on behalf of the people. The public have every right to know what is going on in their name and to hold institutions and people to account for their actions.
This particular institution, which claims to be open and accessible and transparent in all that it does and to operate with the values of accountability, openness, power sharing and equal opportunities, has a long way to go until it and the society and institutions that we legislate over can claim to live up to those values. According to the mace in the well of the chamber, we are supposed to operate with wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity, and the proposal that we are discussing is part of a wide range of changes that we need to make if we are to live up to those supportable aims.
I fully support the proposal for a register of interests for members of the judiciary. After all, we have the right to know whether those who are involved in determining whether a man or woman loses their freedom have any financial, business, social, political or other relationship that could influence any decision they might make. Currently there is no compulsion to declare such an interest and we rely on what is known as the fair-minded observer test. That, to me, is wholly inadequate. Through history, we have heard allegations of religious, class, financial and political bias or of members of certain organisations being helpful to each other during trials. I can think of many industrial and other disputes that have gone to court where claims of bias and collusion have been made—and, I believe, with justification.
That situation has to end, and we should have a register with clear rules that leave no one in any doubt about who and what should be registered. Is it really a surprise to people that the legal establishment does not want such a register, and is it not an outrage that Lord Gill had such contempt for this Parliament that he refused to attend a particular meeting? Does that not make people even more suspicious of his motives?
Let me give the chamber some more examples of how our politics maintains its secrecy. When I recently asked a cabinet minister a question about who had advised him on certain key areas of policy, I was told that that information could not be revealed because information about a third party would be provided. We cannot find out, for example, whether people with links to the fracking industry advise the Government on energy or whether people with financial interests in the drugs industry advise the Government on new treatments. Those are very important issues. I am not saying those people are advising the Government but we simply do not know and cannot find out, and I believe that that is fundamentally wrong.
What about when the Government appoints people to conduct inquiries or to write reports that are paid for by the public purse? Why are those people picked? Is it because they are experts or particularly knowledgeable in their field, or are there other influencing factors? How are contracts secured and why are they won? Who influences changes in Government policy, and why? The public should, if they wish, have the right to know what is being done in their name.
What about the workings of this Parliament? Why do our committees discuss so many issues in private session when there is no reason to? For example, why can we not find out why the Health and Sport Committee refused to invite the former Auditor General for Scotland to give evidence on the budget? Who stopped him coming? Why can we not find out these things? Surely the public have a right to know.
As Anne McTaggart pointed out in her speech, 16 months ago the Government said that it was minded to legislate on my proposed lobbying transparency bill. To date, however, no legislation has come forward. Why not? I say to the Government that if that legislation is not in the legislative programme, I will bring my bill back to Parliament and then we will see this Parliament’s commitment to openness and accountability.
We need to do much more to make our society less secretive and less closed, and I think that the register that we are discussing is just one step towards that end. I, for one, give it my full support and urge other MSPs to do the same.
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

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