Judges’ register to avoid ‘conflict of interest’

Proposals will be presented to new legal affairs minister Paul Wheelhouse. Picture: JP
Proposals will be presented to new legal affairs minister Paul Wheelhouse. Picture: JP
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PROPOSALS to create a register of interest for judges will be presented to new legal affairs minister Paul Wheelhouse at Holyrood today.

The Public Petitions Committee will take evidence on a petition by Peter Cherbi which was prompted by media investigations into members of the judiciary which “revealed a number of criminal charges and convictions”.

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Mr Wheelhouse’s predecessor Roseanna Cunningham was not persuaded by the need for a register, insisting “the safeguards currently in place are sufficient to ensure the impartiality of the judiciary”.

He will be quizzed by, among others, former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who was appointed to the committee after being sent to the backbenches in First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s first cabinet reshuffle.

Lord President Brian Gill has declined two invitations to give oral evidence to the committee but has provided a number of written submissions.

His latest submission revealed a list of trials where a judge or sheriff voluntarily stepped down or was asked to leave in the last year when a conflict of interest was disclosed.

They included a sheriff whose membership of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) was seen as an obstacle to presiding over a case involving the RSPB and another who was asked to leave a trial where a report was written by his colleague’s wife.

The Lord President personally recused himself from a civil trial at the Court of Session in June because a relative was acting for the respondent.

Mr Cherbi said the list supports his call for a register of interests, insisting “it is difficult to independently verify if members of the judiciary are properly recusing themselves when any instances of conflict of interest arise”.

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