Poor judgement?

Public authorities need to be cautious when disclosing performance figures of their staff under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. They need to be even more cautious when disclosing performance figures of third parties.

Imagine if your employer, or, worse, a third party, disclosed under FOI that, of all your peers, you made the most decisions in the exercise of your employment which were subsequently found to be wrong, and which had to be overturned. If in fact those figures turned out to be incorrect, you would probably rightly feel aggrieved, and perhaps question whether the failure of data quality was in fact a breach of your rights under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and of your employment rights.

That is what appears to have happened to certain judges in Scotland, according to a letter in The Scotsman today, from the Chief Executive of the Scottish Court Service. The letter points out that a previous (29 July) article in The Scotsman – “Meet the judge with the highest number of quashed convictions” (now no longer available, for obvious reasons) – was, although published in good faith, based on inaccurate information disclosed to the paper under FOI. The letter contains an apology to

Lord Carloway and Lord Hardie, who featured prominently in 
this article, for misrepresenting their position in relation to 
appeal decisions

because the erroneous disclosed statistics suggested they had had more judgments overturned on appeal than was actually the case.

Of course, the principle of judicial independence means that judges are, strictly, not employed. But as Carswell LCJ said

All judges, at whatever level, share certain common characteristics. They all must enjoy independence of decision without direction from any source, which the respondents quite rightly defended as an essential part of their work. They all need some organisation of their sittings, whether it be prescribed by the president of the industrial tribunals or the Court Service, or more loosely arranged in collegiate fashion between the judges of a particular court. They are all expected to work during defined times and periods, whether they be rigidly laid down or managed by the judges themselves with a greater degree of flexibility. They are not free agents to work as and when they choose, as are self-employed persons. Their office accordingly partakes of some of the characteristics of employment . .. [Perceval-Price v Department of Economic Development [2000] IRLR 380]

and the Supreme Court took this further in O’Brien v Ministry of Justice [2010] UKSC 34 by saying “Indeed judicial office partakes of most of the characteristics of employment” (emphasis added).

Whatever their employment status, judges’ performance figures are clearly an important matter to them, and the Scottish Court Service has a duty to maintain accurate figures (particularly when disclosing them publicly). As Wodehouse said, “it has never been difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine”. I imagine that the office of Mr McQueen, the day after the first article, was not filled with sunshine.

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Filed under Data Protection, employment, FOISA, Freedom of Information, Uncategorized

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