THE UK Supreme Court will be ordered by the Information Commissioner to reply to question from a Scottish legal rights campaigner, after it refused to say whether it had a register of recusals by court justices.

Recusal is the term used when a judge has to step aside from a case because of a possible conflict of interest. It is thought that various Supreme Court justices have recused themselves from numerous cases, but no such information is made public.

The National can reveal the Information Commissioner has decided to act after the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Justice for England and Wales failed to reply to blogger and campaigner Peter Cherbi’s request for information.

A register of recusals has been in existence for several years in Scotland – it can be viewed online – and Cherbi wants to see the system extended to all the judiciary in the UK.

The National:

The Information Commissioner told Cherbi, above: “As the Supreme Court has failed to respond to your information request within the statutory time limit set out in section 10 (1) of the Freedom of Information Act, the Commissioner can now start the process of ordering a decision notice on this case.

“A decision notice is a legally binding document that will require the public authority to provide a response.”

Sources at the Supreme Court have indicated that the decision notice has not been received by the court, but that it will be acted upon.

Cherbi’s long-term aim is to see the creation of a register of judicial interests similar to that which MPs, MSPs and police officers must complete. His petition calling for that register has been debated by MSPs for nearly six years, and a decision is due next year. He feels the delay is an attempt to stop the register of interests. The National can reveal that lawyers in London support Cherbi’s case, but think judges will oppose it.

One legal source said: “They fear recusals up here in Scotland are inevitably leading to a register of judicial interests and it will lead to the same thing happening in England and Wales.”

The Supreme Court has already decided against a register of interests, stating: “The justices have decided it would not be appropriate, or indeed feasible, for them to have a comprehensive register of interests, as it would be impossible for them to identify all the interests, which might conceivably arise, in any future case that came before them.

“To draw up a register of interests, which people believed to be complete, could potentially be misleading. Instead the justices of the Supreme Court have agreed a formal code of conduct by which they will all be bound, and which is now publicly available on the court’s website.

“In addition, all the justices have taken the judicial oath … which obliges them to ‘do right to all manner of people after the law and usages of this realm without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

“And, as is already the practice with other members of the judiciary, they will continue to declare any interest which arises in the context of a particular case and, if necessary, recuse themselves, whether it is a substantive hearing, or an application for permission to appeal.”

Cherbi said: “Refusing access to information is not accidental. We are looking here at a coordinated attempt to thwart the introduction of Scottish judicial transparency to the rest of the UK.”

The Ministry of Justice referred The National to the Supreme Court where a spokesman confirmed that they were awaiting the Commissioner’s formal decision.