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Scots judges facing pressure to declare their interests

Top judge Lord Carloway is to be questioned by MSPs over demands for a public register.

By Russell Findlay

Scotland's top judge is to be questioned by MSPs over growing demands for a judicial register of interests.

Cross-party politicians on Holyrood's justice committee believe that increased transparency is vital to maintain public trust in the judiciary.

The Lord President Lord Carloway opposes any public register which may include details of outside professional, financial and personal links.

The committee will call Moi Ali, the former Judicial Complaints Reviewer and current Independent Assessor of Complaints at the Crown Prosecution Service, to give evidence.

https://stv.tv/news/politics/1438215-judging-for-ourselves-if-court-rulers-have-conflict-of-interest/ | default

She told STV News: "This is the 21st century and people have quite high expectations of openness and transparency.

"I don't really understand why one small but very powerful section of society should be allowed not to have to do that. It really doesn't make sense."

Committee member and Green MSP John Finnie said he could not understand "what the problem with having a register would be".

Moi Ali will give evidence.
Moi Ali will give evidence. STV

He added: "The more people tell me that there is no issue, the more I am convinced that there is a need for a register."

It is also opposed by SNP justice secretary Humza Yousaf, who said that existing measures are enough.

Labour's Daniel Johnson was critical of Mr Yousaf's opposition, saying: "Although the cabinet secretary may well not view that there is a problem, that is not to say that this is not a positive step towards ensuring that we have a judiciary that is open and transparent and whose integrity is beyond question."

Lord Carloway: Opposes public register of interests.
Lord Carloway: Opposes public register of interests.

Lib Dem Liam McArthur said a register would be "illuminating", while Conservative Liam Kerr said he was "pretty much in the same place on this".

Scotland more than 700 full and part-time judges, led by the Lord President whose salary is £229,592.

Numerous cases of perceived conflicts of interest have fuelled calls for judges to declare their connections.

In a Court of Session case, the losing litigants later discovered the son of a judge who heard the claim at an earlier stage, was one of the winning side's lawyers.

A part-time sheriff was suspended from the bench after it emerged he faced a multi-million writ in connection with a client who was being investigated for fraud.

Humza Yousaf: Believes existing measures are strong enough.
Humza Yousaf: Believes existing measures are strong enough.

One retired judge returned to work in Scotland while also sitting as a judge in the United Arab Emirates, despite the country's poor human rights record.

The call for a register by legal campaigner and blogger Peter Cherbi was first lodged with the public petitions committee in 2012.

After taking evidence for several years, it called on the Lord President or the Scottish Government to take action and passed the petition to the justice committee to discuss.

Mr Cherbi said: "MSPs across the political spectrum understand that this is nothing to do with compromising judicial independence.

'The hostility from the judiciary is revealing but it should be understood that being more open can only increase public faith'
Peter Cherbi

"The hostility from the judiciary is revealing but it should be understood that being more open can only increase public faith."

SNP MSP Alex Neil plans to introduce legislation if a register is not introduced.

But he believes that Mr Yousaf "could be persuaded to change his mind on this subject because he's an open minded kinda guy", adding: "I'm sure he'll understand it's very important for openness and transparency in the judicial system as we have in our political system."

Justice committee MSPs will invite Lord Carloway to give evidence and ask Mr Yousaf for further information.

Lord Carloway and Mr Yousaf were not available for comment.


CORRECTION

An earlier version of this story said the losing litigants in a case later discovered the presiding judge's son was one of the winning side's lawyers. While the son did work on the case, he was involved in early proceedings and was not present when another judge took over the case more than a year later. The story was also amended to point out that the sheriff who was suspended worked on a part-time basis.

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