Scotland's top judge hits out at "Register of Interest" for bench

Scotland's top judge has warned that the prospect of introducing a "register of interests" for the profession  would drive away the country's top legal minds from joining the bench.

Lord Carloway is concerned about Register of Interests plan

Lord Carloway told MSPs today that the move would be "detrimental" to justice in Scotland with the top courts already facing problems recruiting judges to serve.

Lord Carloway is Scotland's Lord President, the head of the judiciary, which means he presides over the court system, as well as ruling in some of the country's biggest High Court cases.

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He set out his opposition to the prospect of a register which would see judges declaring their financial and other interests as he appeared before Holyrood's Public Petitions committee today. Supporters say it would improve transparency in the system and guard against suspicions of any conflict of interests for judges in cases they preside over.

But Lord Carloway said today: "We have a relatively small pool of lawyers of excellence who are capable of taking on the job of being a member of our senior judiciary.

"There are certain problems at the moment in relation to the recruitment particularly of the senior judiciary because of certain steps which are being taken relative to pay and pensions generally.

"Therefore we have particular difficulties with recruitment at the moment. If I were to say to senior members of the profession - which they are before they are recruited into the judiciary - `By the way if you wish to become a judge you will have to declare all your pecuniary interests and open them to public scrutiny.'

"I have no doubt whatsoever that would act as a powerful dis-incentive from lawyers of experience and skill becoming members of judiciary.

"I can assure the committee that we need them more than they need us."

Scotland does not have a "career judiciary" with prospective judges instead generally identified from the cream of the country's legal profession lawyers and invited to join the bench, usually in their 40s and 50s from private practice.

The register has been proposed in a petition by Scots law blogger and legal rights campaigner Peter Cherbi.