Letter: Executive creep on the judiciary
Kevin Drummond was quite properly advising, or even exhorting, sheriffs to be vigilant to ensure that those in the Scottish Court Service (SCS), as it then was, did not attempt to interfere with their judicial function. Sadly, some thought his warnings were “over the top”. Not so. A couple of examples, among many, come to mind.
At one time, SCS would count judicial time based solely on the time the judge or sheriff was actually on the bench. Thus, if a five-day trial or proof did not go ahead, and judge or sheriff was on the bench for only 10 minutes, that would have been recorded as the only “work” that was done that day. Thus, if I then went to my chambers to write a judgment, or write something for the appeal court, that was irrelevant. Likewise, preparing one day for a busy or difficult court the following day was irrelevant. The only reason for doing this was to send out the message that judicial office-holders were an idle bunch.
Another problem was an attempt by SCS to meet their targets, come what may.
How one can have targets in a demand-led service escapes me. Thus, for example, I was allocated a jury room in which to conduct a proof. I made the point that the jury room was not open to the public and so, that was not appropriate. The fatuous response was that members of the public tended not to spectate in civil cases and, further, there was no other accommodation available. Not my problem, and what about students who might want to attend as part of their training? All courts are and must be open to the public, except in well-defined circumstances.
Kevin’s message and stance is as relevant today as it was and perhaps is even more so. Part-time sheriffs, who might wish full-time posts, or summary sheriffs, who might want to be sheriffs, can understandably feel under pressure to ‘toe the line’. You might think that politicians would not interfere in the judicial appointments system. ‘You may think so: I could not possibly comment.’
The notion of “management of the judiciary” is abhorrent. Who ever thought it was necessary? A civil servant, I suspect. Two guys, now deceased, Messrs Hitler and Stalin, controlled their judiciary. “Fair trials, and independence of the judiciary” – the stuff of pious aspirations under these two.