Lord Carloway called on to give evidence over register of judicial interests

Lord Carloway

The Lord President has been called on to give evidence to a Holyrood committee on whether judges should disclose their financial interests in a judicial register.

MSPs on the Public Petitions Committee want to hear from Lord Carloway on why he thinks it is “inappropriate” for judges to reveal information on shareholdings and other interests.

The proposal, made by campaigner Peter Cherbi, has been under consideration by the committee for four years. It would see judges and sheriffs required to publish details of their financial interests as well as any hospitality received.

Lord Carloway’s predecessor, Lord Gill, opposed the plans, saying that judges’ privacy would be adversely affected by “aggressive media or hostile individuals”.

Under s.23(7)(a) of the Scotland Act 1998, judges are not required to appear before the Parliament and Lord Gill chose not to do so until he had retired.

In a letter to MSPs in February, Lord Carloway said: “The proposal for a public register of the judiciary’s interests, gifts and hospitality is both unnecessary and undesirable.

“It is inappropriate for judges to make public comment beyond their judicial opinions in relation to individual cases. Therefore, unlike an elected representative or a member of the Government, a judge enjoys no right of reply.”

SNP MSP Angus MacDonald, the committee deputy convener, said last week: “I would be interested to ask if he would be keen to come in and give oral evidence to back up his earlier submission.”

Conservative MSP Brian Whittle added: “I think the petition is not unreasonable. I would be quite keen.”

Mr Cherbi said: “It cannot be right that such a highly-salaried group of all-powerful judges with significant assets, who can themselves alter the course of public life with their decisions, can exempt themselves from the same expectations of transparency which apply to the rest of us, including other public servants and even the Prime Minister.”

The committee has agreed to ask the Lord President if he would be prepared to give oral evidence.

A register of recusals was introduced by the Judicial Office for Scotland (JOFS) to increase transparency. Fourteen recusals have been declared so far this year.

The introduction of a similar register is currently being debated in Ireland and is also due to be raised in Northern Ireland with Stormont’s Justice Committee, The Irish News reported today.