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Chamber and committees

Justice Committee

Meeting date: Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Agenda: Secure Care and Mental Health Services for Young People, Petition



Judiciary (Register of Interests) (PE1458)

The Convener

Our final item is consideration of petition PE1458. The petition is from Mr Peter Cherbi and asks the committee to consider the merits of establishing a register of interests for members of the judiciary. I refer members to paper 4. Since we considered the petition last time, we have received additional information from Mr Cherbi and also from Moi Ali. We have also received a letter from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. I invite members to comment on the correspondence and say whether they wish to make any recommendations or suggest further action.

John Finnie

It is very helpful to have all this information here. There are a number of suggestions. I, for one, cannot understand what the problem with having a register would be. The more people tell me that there is no issue, the more I am convinced that there is a need for a register. The submission from Moi Ali is very helpful. She refers to a letter of 23 April 2014, which is now a bit old.

We have also been provided with extracts from news coverage. I do not agree with the idea that anyone connected with the Scottish judiciary could have any role whatsoever in the United Arab Emirates. I looked yesterday at the Human Rights Watch world report, which does a country by country breakdown. The United Arab Emirates is a country that is intolerant of criticism, which has played a leading role in unlawful acts in Yemen, and whose treatment of migrant workers’ rights and women’s rights is shocking. It is a country that permits domestic violence. I do not think that any reasonable examination of the role of a public official—and I get the point about the separation of the judiciary—would say that involvement in such a country is acceptable. I believe that we need to do something and I am not content with the cabinet secretary’s response, which is just playing out the same line as before—that there is nothing to see here and we should move on. I do not think that this issue will move on until we have the openness and transparency that people rightly expect of public office.

Daniel Johnson

I would like to speak in support of what my colleague John Finnie has just said.

The Nolan principles are 25 years old this year. They are principles that have guided public life very well, in particular integrity, whereby

“holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties”;

openness, which I think is self-explanatory; and honesty, whereby

“holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest”.

That is pretty clear. Although the cabinet secretary may well not view that there is a problem, that is not to say that this is not a positive step towards ensuring that we have a judiciary that is open and transparent and whose integrity is beyond question. I absolutely believe in the independence of the judiciary, but I think that in order to maintain that integrity and independence, this step has merit in terms of transparency. The committee should think about taking some further evidence, certainly from Moi Ali, which is the suggestion from the petitioner. This is something that we should progress and seek to move forward.

Liam McArthur

I echo what Daniel Johnson has said and much of what John Finnie has said. In reference to the United Arab Emirates, although I might share many of his concerns, I think that the point is that a register would be illuminating and, if there is a justification in engaging in order to improve the way in which judicial procedures operate in a third country, at least we would all know what the purpose of that engagement is.

I very much concur with what has been said about the need for transparency and the underpinnings of the Nolan principles. I see from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service the details of the accountability report. I am not sure that that is a massive leap away from what the petition is seeking, and therefore this may be a bit of a journey that it is on, but I certainly agree that it would be worth the committee continuing to pursue this, and to take further evidence from Moi Ali. That would seem to be a logical next step, as John Finnie suggested. The earlier evidence was in written form. It was a number of weeks ago. I believe that it would probably benefit us all to hear what she has to say and cross-examine that a little further. I would be very keen to keep the petition open.

Liam Kerr

I am pretty much in the same place on this. I can see the argument for why we would take this further and hear more. I have looked at the response from the cabinet secretary and the reference to the previous cabinet secretary, whose view has been that there is nothing particularly to examine here. Having considered the force of the argument in favour of exploring it further, I am not convinced that it is good enough to say, “There is nothing here. Don’t worry about it.” For that reason, I think that we should look at this in more detail.

Fulton MacGregor

I echo what others have said. John Finnie in particular made a very compelling argument for doing something further on this. Some people have commented on the cabinet secretary’s response. It is not my take on it that he is saying that there is nothing to see here, but I think that we should take more evidence and information in order to work out where to go from here. I agree with what has been said.

The Convener

If there are no other views, I will summarise. The committee is keen to hear from Moi Ali. Her letter was dated in 2014, but she has said that it is still relevant. It would be good to get an update. The Nolan principles are 25 years old, so perhaps it is time to take some evidence from Lord Carloway, if he is prepared to give a view, and certainly from the petitioner, and to give the cabinet secretary an opportunity to respond more fully than he did in his letter. If there are any other witnesses, we will be looking to do this in September. Are we agreed that that is how we will move forward?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener

That brings the meeting to a close. Our next meeting will be on 4 June, when we will begin our consideration of the statutory instrument setting out the Scottish Government’s plans on a presumption against short sentences.

Meeting closed at 12:36.