First Minister backs Lord Gill in rejecting calls for register of financial interests

The First Minister has rejected calls for a register of judges’ financial interests, saying the current rules were “sufficient”.

Nicola Sturgeon said the proposal for a register, put forward by campaigner Peter Cherbi, was unnecessary.

The Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee is currently looking into whether judges as well as sheriffs and justices of the peace should be required to register their external financial interests in the way other senior public figures are including MPs, MSPs, board member of public bodies and councillors.

A petition lodged in 2012 at Holyrood called for the judiciary to disclose “pecuniary” interests, meaning directorships, shareholdings and membership of outside bodies.

Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Gill (pictured), opposed the plan and has not appeared before the committee to give oral evidence on the matter.

In written testimony he criticised the idea, saying it could encourage “aggressive media or hostile individuals” and therefore compromise the privacy of the judiciary.

Lord Gill said: “The establishment of such a register therefore may have the unintended consequence of eroding public confidence in the judiciary.”

Ms Sturgeon has lent her support to Lord Gill, stating in a letter to John Pentland MSP, convener of the committee: “The Scottish Government considers that such a register of judicial interests is not necessary and that the existing safeguards - the Judicial Oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and the system for complaints against the judiciary - are sufficient.

“These safeguards, together with the register of judicial recusals, are sufficient to protect individuals from judicial bias.”

Echoing Lord Gill’s fears about an “aggressive media” she said: “The position of the judiciary is different from that of MSPs and others who hold public office. The judiciary cannot publicly defend themselves.”

Mr Cherbi said: “I am surprised Nicola Sturgeon supports a judicial ban on transparency just because judges have been asked to declare their substantial interests.

“We are always told if you have got nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. What are the judges hiding and what do they fear?

“There cannot be one set of rules for judges and another for everyone else. A register of interests will enhance public trust in the justice system, not detract from it.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “The Scottish government considers that a specific register of interests is not needed.

“Existing safeguards, including the Judicial Oath, the Statement of Principles of Judicial Interests and the system of complaints against the judiciary, are sufficient to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary in Scotland.”