SCOTLAND’S most senior judge Lord Carloway, the Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General, is to be quizzed in public by MSPs for the first time on the issue of a register of interests for judges.
The head of the Scottish judiciary will appear at a future meeting of the Public Petitions Committee which has been investigating the matter since December 2012 after legal campaigner Peter Cherbi called for a public register of judges’ interests.
Also appearing before the committee will be Alex Neil MSP, the former Scottish Government minister who recently told The National: “I don’t see why judges should be operating to a standard that’s inferior to that which MSPs have to follow.”
Loading article content
Previous Lord President Lord Gill refused to appear in public before the committee, but did give evidence later, arguing against a register.
At the latest committee meeting, deputy convener Angus MacDonald, SNP MSP for Falkirk East, said: “Having followed this petition from day one and having deliberated on it for over four years, it’s encouraging and refreshing to know that the Lord President has offered to provide oral evidence to the committee, given the difficulties that we had with the previous Lord President.”
The National understands the main fear among senior legal figures is that the register would eventually be extended to advocates and possibly even solicitors, and that judges would also have to declare their shareholdings in companies, thereby indicating their personal wealth.
In a letter to the committee, Lord Carloway stated: “One possible inhibitory effect on the administration of justice is that judges may start to decline positions on important public bodies such as these if that requires the disclosure of financial interests.
“In the same way, a register of judicial interests may have a damaging effect on judicial recruitment. You may be aware that, partly because of major changes to pension arrangements, difficulties have arisen in the recruitment of the senior judiciary. Revealing personal financial information is likely to act as a further powerful disincentive.”
He added: “I am concerned that, at a time when online fraud is becoming increasingly sophisticated, a dissatisfied litigant, or a convicted person, may choose to retaliate by these means. A register of judicial interests may provide a starting point for that.”
However, the official Judicial Complaints Reviewer, Gillian Thompson, wrote to the committee saying: “I recognise that every judicial decision leaves a party that is dissatisfied and that a complainant may feel he or she did not get a fair hearing because the decision went against them.
“Although I have no evidence to support my view I do believe that if court users felt that judges were transparent in their publication of interests there might be a drop in such complaints.”
Petitioner Peter Cherbi said: “I am delighted MSPs have taken up Lord Carloway’s offer to give evidence on the widely supported proposal to create a register of judicial interests.
“As the Petitions Committee have also decided to invite Alex Neil MSP to the same meeting, I am hopeful of significant lines of questions being put to the Lord President on failures within the judiciary to recuse themselves and declare interests when it counts in court.
“Perhaps, if Lord Carloway realised the extent of support for the register, and the public’s expectation of transparency within the judiciary as well as all other branches of government, he will do the right thing and create the register of interests using his power as Lord President, giving Scotland a chance to teach the rest of the UK a thing or two in judicial transparency and declarations of interest.”