Legal watchdog backs register of interests for judges

Judicial complaints reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE
Judicial complaints reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE

MSPs yesterday heard evidence from judicial complaints reviewer Gillian Thompson OBE in support of a register of judicial interests.

Ms Thompson gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, which is currently considering a proposal from campaigner Peter Cherbi to create a register of judges’ financial interests.

The petition text begins: “The Parliament of New Zealand is currently debating legislation to create a register of interests for the judiciary.

“I believe it is time for Scotland to move in the same direction and create a similar register of interests for the judiciary of Scotland and all its members, increasing the transparency of the judiciary and ensuring public confidence in their actions and decisions.”

Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse last year said the idea was “worth further examination”, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has since rejected the idea.

In a letter to the petitions committee, she wrote: “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.”

John Pentland, convenor of the Public Petitions Committee, said: “The question for the committee is this: is it reasonable for the ordinary man and woman to expect transparency from our judges in their dealings and their interests?

“Gillian Thompson, the new judicial complaints reviewer believes it is, and echoed the views of her predecessor when she gave evidence to the Committee.”

Ms Thompson’s predecessor, Moi Ali, was criticised by Lord Gill for giving her backing to a register of judicial interests.

Ms Ali, who was Scotland’s first judicial complaints reviewer, left the role last year while claiming the position gave her “no power to make things different and better”.

Her successor, Ms Thompson, was profiled in the Scottish Legal News Annual Review 2015, which you can download here.

Mr Pentland continued: “The committee will continue to consider what further work could be done to increase transparency.

“It was unfortunate that Lord Gill felt it was inappropriate to give evidence while he was Lord President of the Court of Session.

“But as he has now stepped down from his role, the committee has agreed to extend another invitation to him to discuss his perspective on this important topic.

“We also look forward to inviting the new Lord President to give evidence to the committee, once they are in post.”