In Scotland’s best interests, a register of interests for judges. A PUBLIC PETITION calling on the Scottish Parliament to implement a Register of Judicial Interests for Scotland's judiciary will be looked at by MSPs in the New Year. The petition, authored by law journalist Peter Cherbi has its origins in New Zealand, where the Government are going ahead in bringing into legislation a register of pecuniary interests of the country’s judiciary via a bill from New Zealand MP Dr Kennedy Graham. Unlike what would happen in Scotland, the Law Commission of New Zealand is apparently supporting the move and has published a report on its views HERE
Petition PE01458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland's judiciary is now open for signatures from the public, calls for the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to create a Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill (as is currently being considered in New Zealand's Parliament) or amend present legislation to require all members of the Judiciary in Scotland to submit their interests & hospitality received to a publicly available Register of Interests.
From Diary of Injustice : The idea for a register of interests of judges comes to Scotland after investigations by law journalists revealed several members of the judiciary have criminal records, with one judge being convicted of benefits fraud and suggestions of financial irregularities including participation in offshore tax avoidance schemes. More on the investigation into the judiciary can be read on Diary of Injustice HERE & HERE.
The petition goes on to report how the Parliament of New Zealand is debating legislation to create a register of interests for the judiciary. Mr Cherbi says he believes 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 & decisions.
The full details of the New Zealand Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill, should be looked at for a model of similar legislation in Scotland, can be viewed online here Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill.
New Zealand MP, Dr Kennedy Graham’s bill on judicial interests states : It is a time-honoured principle of Western democracy that public servants of every kind must be beyond reproach, and suspicion thereof. Public confidence in the standard of behaviour and conduct observed by leading servants of the people is a cornerstone of social harmony and political stability. A threshold of confidence to that end should ideally be enshrined in constitutional and legislative form. Little scope should be available for individual discretion or subjective perception.
The principle of transparency in this respect pertains in particular to issues of financial (pecuniary) interest. Nothing undermines public confidence in a nation’s institutions and procedures more than suspicion that a public servant may have, and especially proof that one has, suffered a conflict of interest arising from a pecuniary interest in a particular dealing in which he or she was professionally involved.
The correct balance in this respect appears to have been achieved over the years–the public interest in such annual statements is significant without appearing prurient, and few complaints have been voiced by those on whom the obligations are placed. There seems to be a general acceptance that such exercises are in the public interest and are neither unduly onerous nor revealing.
No such practice, however, has been observed in the case of the judiciary. Recent developments within New Zealand’s judicial conduct processes suggest that application of the same practice observed by the other two branches of government might assist in the protection of the judiciary in future.
Being obliged under law to declare pecuniary interests that might be relevant to the conduct of a future case in which one is involved would relieve a judge from a repetitive weight of responsibility to make discretionary judgements about his or her personal affairs as each case arises. Having declared one’s pecuniary interests once, in a generic manner independent of any particular trial, a judge may freely proceed in the knowledge that, if he or she is appointed to adjudicate, public confidence for participation has already been met. Yet care is to be exercised to ensure that the final decision is left to the individual judge whether to accept a case. There should be no intention of external interference into the self-regulation of the judiciary by the judiciary.
This is the reasoning behind this draft legislation–the Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill. The purpose of the Bill, as stated, is to promote the due administration of justice by requiring judges to make returns of pecuniary interests to provide greater transparency within the judicial system, and to avoid any conflict of interest in the judicial role.”
Mr Cherbi said in his petition : “I believe the same aims of the New Zealand legislation as quoted above, are compatible with the public interest in Scotland and to promote the due administration of justice by providing the public with greater transparency within the judicial system.”
The Register of Pecuniary Interests of Judges Bill is an example of similar legislation for a register of judicial interests in New Zealand, bought to the New Zealand Parliament by Dr Kennedy Graham.When asked whether a register of interests existed for Scottish judges, the Judicial Office for Scotland said “The Judicial Office for Scotland does not hold a register of hospitality for members of the judiciary and there are no plans to do so. The Lord President has set out formal guidelines to the judiciary in the STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES OF JUDICIAL ETHICS Para 4.9 and 7.2 address this particular point.”
However in an age of transparency where the decisions of Scottish judges affect all our lives, whether the case be criminal or civil, there must be a requirement for all public servants particularly those in positions of such importance as the judiciary to submit their interests to a publicly available register of interests.
New Zealand’s Law Commission issued paper supporting a register for judges interests. In New Zealand, the New Zealand Law Commission has argued for a wider remit to include all officials whose positions given them potential to influence a case to be included in such a register of interests. The Law Commission stated : “If there is to be legislation, should it apply to all judges, or only to judges of some levels, or to all judicial employees and officials such as prosecutors and registrars? An argument can be made that if there is to be financial disclosure it should be required of all officials whose positions give them sufficient potential to influence the outcome of a case, whether as a result of a bribe or other improper influence.” The New Zealand Law Commission’s discussion paper on a register of judicial interests can be downloaded here : NZLC IP21 - Towards a New Courts Act: A Register of Judges pecuniary interests? (pdf)
The Sunday Mail newspaper has reported on the petition for the register of Judicial Interests, here :
by Russell Findlay
Sunday Mail November 04 2012
A legal campaigner has urged MSPs to create a register of interests for Scotland’s judges.
Peter Cherbi has secured a Scottish Parliament petition calling for all sheriffs and judges to declare financial interests and hospitality.
The legal blogger from Edinburgh, said: “Like those in other areas of public life, members of the judiciary should be required to disclose their interests, financial or otherwise.
“This would increase transparency and help to ensure public confidence in their actions and decisions.
“It has been suggested to me some judges have offshore investments for the purpose of tax avoidance while others may have shares or other connections to businesses.”
Cherbi was inspired by a similar proposed law which is being debated in New Zealand.
The closing date for the online petition is December 7.
Judges were issued with ethical guidelines which were drawn up by senior judges headed by Lord Osborne two years ago.
The Judicial Office for Scotland: “We do hold a register of hospitality for members of the judiciary and there are no plans to do so.”