It’s plane daft as judge costs taxpayers £2175 more than sheriff who flew on same flight to conference

A judge ran up a £4000 taxpayers’ bill flying business class to a conference – while a sheriff who accompanied him sat in economy.

Judge Lord Matthews and Sheriff Norman McFadyen were travelling to the same legal seminar in Canada.

But Matthews claimed £4017 costs for the trip, compared with McFadyen’s £1842 bill to the public purse.

High Court judge Lord Matthews also filed £201 in expenses for the excursion to Halifax, Nova Scotia, last year.

Sheriff McFadyen, who sits at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, claimed no cash back.

The trip also appeared to breach judiciary guidelines issued in 2014 which said, as a “general rule”, only one judge or sheriff need attend each conference.

Claire Baker MSP
(Photo: Handout)

Another trip saw five High Court judges – Lords Brodie, Glennie, Doherty, Pentland and Lady Scott – attend a Strasbourg conference at a total cost of £4378.

It also cost £1408 to send four sheriffs – Corke, Reith, Mackie and Stewart – to a conference in Dublin.

The taxpayer coughed up £43,354 for foreign travel by the judiciary office last year. The figure was double the total of £22,605 in 2015.

Labour’s justice spokeswoman Claire Baker MSP said: “Questions should be asked about why one person is travelling at twice the cost of another.

“There will be legitimate reasons why the judiciary require to attend international events.

“However, this is an overall significant increase on the previous year and they need to be mindful that this is public money. All trips need to be proportionate.”

Scottish Tory justice spokesman Douglas Ross MSP said: “This is a huge increase in travel costs and needs to be explained.

“When guidelines state that one judicial member should be sufficient for each event, it’s questionable why so many have been travelling together.

“This is taxpayers’ money and shouldn’t be splashed out on needless flights.”

The judge and sheriff were attending the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law seminar between July 24 and 28 last year.

In 2014, the then Lord President, Lord Gill, issued guidance on overseas travel in which he stated “it should only be necessary for one judicial office holder to attend a conference overseas”.

Lord Gill said it would only “be in exceptional cases that I am likely to consider it necessary for more than one person to attend”. He added: “In all cases where funding is being sought, I will require a business case to be produced.

“I will need a clear justification for any overseas travel.”

Figures for judicial travel for the 12 months to March 31 showed a total of 38 trips were made overseas.

The biggest single claim was for a £6188 trip to Australia by Lady Dorrian to attend the Commonwealth Law conference in Melbourne.

The least expensive was when Lord Tyre managed an Academy of European Law trip to Frankfurt at a cost of just £84. The High Court judge did claim a further £57 in expenses for the trip last April.

Lord Tyre also attended events in Brussels, The Hague, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Warsaw, Madrid and Rome.

One of the most widely travelled of the judiciary last year was Edinburgh Sheriff Gordon Liddle.

He attended the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association in Georgetown, Guyana, at a cost of £3637 and a European Network of Councils for Justiciary event in Warsaw, Poland, costing £607.

Sheriff Liddle also attended events in Ljubljana, Slovenia, costing £383 and in Bratislava, Slovakia, costing £285.

A spokesman for the Judicial Office for Scotland said last week: “There will be occasions where it is appropriate to send more than one member of the judiciary to important legal conferences.

“Attendance at overseas conferences is only authorised by the Lord President where there is a clear justification.”

He added: “Lord Matthews flew business class, while Sheriff McFadyen flew premium economy/economy, which goes some way to explaining the difference in cost.

“Furthermore, Lord Matthews’ flights required to be booked closer to the date of departure as he was presiding over a trial.”

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