Rethink urged on freemasons issue
Wednesday, 30 October, 2002
Scotland's justice minister will be asked to review guidelines requiring judges to declare membership of the freemasons.
A majority of MSPs on Holyrood's Justice 2 Committee said they were not satisfied that the existing oath of office or new appointment procedures for judges would provide sufficient transparency.
They were considering a petition calling for new and existing members of the judiciary to declare whether or not they were members of the freemasons.
Justice Minister Jim Wallace insisted there was no indication that freemasonry membership has ever influenced judges in carrying out their duties.
However, committee convener Pauline McNeill said she found Mr Wallace's reply unsatisfactory.
The committee backed Labour MSP Scott Barrie's proposal to write again to Mr Wallace "urging him to reconsider the issue".
MSPs are in the process of changing their code of conduct to ensure that masonic membership is declared.
That measure has come under fire from MSPs who are freemasons. Tory Phil Gallie described the plan as "nonsense" as his membership did not "impact in any way" on his parliamentary duties.
Speaking on Wednesday, Liberal Democrat MSP George Lyon said: "It has been required of parliamentary members now to make this declaration, and I think we should pursue that with the minister and say that we need to see that being spread to the judiciary as well."
SNP Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson said declaration would add "transparency and confidence in the system".
Tory Bill Aitken said the judicial appointments system was now much more transparent and this, coupled with the judicial oath, would provide "sufficient safeguards".
He said: "I have no particularly strong views on the matter, but I just wonder when this would cease ... should I declare my membership of the Partick Thistle supporters' club?"
Ms McNeill said that while there was "no suggestion" the judicial oath was "not enough", public perceptions were important.
She said: "I don't think there's been a strong enough argument as to why, in the interests of transparency in relation to the judiciary, that we shouldn't have at least a declaration from judges."