colinbrown

Over the past few months I have been assisting a constituent to resist a Notice to Quit served on him to evict him from his home. I have set a Crowdfunder up to raise funds to pursue a legal case on human rights grounds to halt the eviction of 67 year-old Colin Brown from his home of 27 years in Leith, Edinburgh.

We are raising funds via Crowdjustice here https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/colinbrown/

Colin’s landlord is a company called Express Investment Company Ltd. The company owned 29 residential properties as at March 2018 and is disposing of all of them. In the case of eleven tenants who have secure tenancies, their homes have been sold with the sitting tenants remaining in their homes. Notices to Quit on the remaining properties have been served and the tenants have left. Colin Brown is the last remaining tenant. He is challenging his eviction in the First Tier Tribunal at a hearing on 17 January 2020.

This crowdfunder is not concerned with this tribunal hearing but with a wider planned challenge to the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988 on the grounds that in the circumstances of this case, the legislation violates Colin Brown’s human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 8 Right to Respect for Private and Family Life and Article 1 of Protocol 1 Protection of Property).

We believe that it may not be proportionate under Article 8 to evict a tenant who is 67 years old and has lived in his home for over 27 years. We believe that it may violate Colin’s rights under Article 1 of Protocol 1 as it may be disproportionate to remove his property rights (the 27 year tenancy) in favour of a corporate landlord who by definition cannot e.g. live in the property.

Why does this matter?
This case clearly matters for Colin Brown but it could also be of wider significance to the 15% of the Scottish population who live in the private rented sector. We believe that there are elements of private tenancy law that do not adequately uphold the human right to a home, to a private and family life and to possessions because it is too easy in too many cases to evict a tenant at short notice.

What do we propose to do?
We propose to obtain an Urgent Opinion by a leading Advocate as to the likely grounds and chances of success of this action. We have already secured pro bono advice from a leading academic authority in the field of ECHR.

How much we are raising and why?
We propose to raise £10,000 to secure this Opinion and to review the options open to use once it has been given. if we then decide to proceed to litigation, we will launch a new and separate crowdfunder.

This is about the worst time of year to ask anyone to donate money but Colin faces eviction and too many other private tenants live insecure lives. Thank you for whatever support you are able to provide.

Crowdfunder here https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/colinbrown/

Over the past few months I have been assisting a constituent to resist a Notice to Quit served on him to evict him from his home. I have set a Crowdfunder up to raise funds to pursue a legal case on human rights grounds to halt the eviction of 67 year-old Colin Brown from his home of 27 years in Leith, Edinburgh.

We are raising funds via Crowdjustice here https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/colinbrown/

Colin’s landlord is a company called Express Investment Company Ltd. The company owned 29 residential properties as at March 2018 and is disposing of all of them. In the case of eleven tenants who have secure tenancies, their homes have been sold with the sitting tenants remaining in their homes. Notices to Quit on the remaining properties have been served and the tenants have left. Colin Brown is the last remaining tenant. He is challenging his eviction in the First Tier Tribunal at a hearing on 17 January 2020.

This crowdfunder is not concerned with this tribunal hearing but with a wider planned challenge to the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988 on the grounds that in the circumstances of this case, the legislation violates Colin Brown’s human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 8 Right to Respect for Private and Family Life and Article 1 of Protocol 1 Protection of Property).

We believe that it may not be proportionate under Article 8 to evict a tenant who is 67 years old and has lived in his home for over 27 years. We believe that it may violate Colin’s rights under Article 1 of Protocol 1 as it may be disproportionate to remove his property rights (the 27 year tenancy) in favour of a corporate landlord who by definition cannot e.g. live in the property.

Why does this matter?
This case clearly matters for Colin Brown but it could also be of wider significance to the 15% of the Scottish population who live in the private rented sector. We believe that there are elements of private tenancy law that do not adequately uphold the human right to a home, to a private and family life and to possessions because it is too easy in too many cases to evict a tenant at short notice.

What do we propose to do?
We propose to obtain an Urgent Opinion by a leading Advocate as to the likely grounds and chances of success of this action. We have already secured pro bono advice from a leading academic authority in the field of ECHR.

How much we are raising and why?
We propose to raise £10,000 to secure this Opinion and to review the options open to use once it has been given. if we then decide to proceed to litigation, we will launch a new and separate crowdfunder.

This is about the worst time of year to ask anyone to donate money but Colin faces eviction and too many other private tenants live insecure lives. Thank you for whatever support you are able to provide.

Crowdfunder here https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/colinbrown/

30. October 2019 · Comments Off on Defamation 8 · Categories: Announcements, Defamation, Legal affairs

The case of Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC vs Andy Wightman has been running in Court 6 at the Court of Session before Lord Clark, presiding.The case opened on Tuesday 29 October.

As a defender I am unable to comment on proceedings thus far. The BBC carried a brief report on the first day’s proceedings.

The Times has carried a report on Day 1 and on Day 2.

For those interested, I am now able to publish the Closed Record (the pleadings of pursuer and answers from defender) as it is now a court document and in the public domain.

Download a copy here (2Mb pdf)

I will likely be examined on Friday 1 November. The Court is open to the public. All welcome. The Court normally sits 1000 – 1600 with a break for lunch.

Image by Howard Lake via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/3411932734

Today, I have published a consultation that that will help inform the Scottish Greens’ scrutiny of the Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill

This Bill is the first ever primary legislation in the history of devolution dealing with the non-domestic rating system – a system responsible for raising the second largest total revenue of all devolved taxes. So this is an important opportunity to present your thoughts on we can reform this taxation system.

Although the preceding Barclay Review explored and made recommendations on the non-domestic rates system, its remit was narrowly focussed and the resulting Bill presents a selection of rather disparate provisions.

As such, we propose tabling a number of amendments at Stage 2 of the Bill, which will seek to enhance transparency, provide greater accountability and augment the current system with a robust form of taxation that will strengthen local government.

You can read the consultation here and send comments to me by 20 September 2019 via here

16. May 2019 · Comments Off on Defamation 7 Crowdfunder · Categories: Announcements, Defamation, Legal affairs

On 21 March 2017 I was served with a summons by Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC. It is a defamation action in which the pursuer is claiming £750,000 damages (plus 8% annual interest). The action relates to two blogs I wrote In September 2015 and February 2016.

The case will be heard in the Court of Session over 8 days commencing 29 October 2019. The judicial costs (the time spent in court) have been estimated by a Judicial Accountant at £120,000. In addition, there are other legal costs incurred in preparing the case. These are estimated to be in the region of a further £60,000. I raised £54,000 of these in a previous crowdfunder. Further costs that I am meeting personally include research and travel costs associated with gathering evidence across the UK and in the Channel Islands.

I am thus launching what I hope will be a final crowdfunder to cover my judicial costs of £120,000.

Unlike other defamation actions where the content of the alleged defamatory material is well publicised, I need to conceal the blogs in question and cannot publish the detailed allegations until they are entered in court proceedings.

Please therefore note the following before deciding whether to donate.

1. Neither you nor I can know what the result of this case will be. I am confident that I have not defamed the pursuer but the Court has been asked to determine that. Before you donate therefore, be aware that you cannot form an informed view on the likelihood of success.

2. If I am successful in defending this case, I should be able to secure the recovery of most of my legal expenses. The pursuer has deposited £120,000 in the Court to cover this eventuality. In this event, I will reimburse all those who have contributed to my defence fund in proportion to what each party (including myself) has contributed. Thus, if I am successful, you can be assured that you will receive some of your donation back. I have appointed a Chartered Accountant to conduct an independent audit of my costs. An audited statement to 13 May 2018 is available here.

3. Funds raised in this crowdfunder shall be used solely for my legal expenses in the case. If I lose the case and damages are awarded to my pursuer, I shall be personally liable for those. If those damages are substantial, I may have no option but to declare myself bankrupt and be disqualified from serving as an MSP.

Finally, there are a lot of very deserving causes out there. I am launching this crowdfunder because some people have offered to help and for that I am very grateful. So please do consider carefully whether you wish to support this appeal or not.

Thank you to everyone who has provided generous support over the past two years.

If you are willing to donate, please proceed to the crowdfunder page.

02. July 2018 · Comments Off on Defamation 6 · Categories: Announcements, Defamation, Legal affairs

On 20 March 2017, I was served with a summons by Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC claiming that I had defamed them and seeking damages of £750,000 (now £810,000 with 8% interest). The allegations relate to two blogs I published in September 2015 and February 2016. See previous blogs for further details. I deny all the allegations made against me.

I am extremely grateful to all those who donated to the crowdfunder I launched in April 2017. I have now had the income and expenditure audited and a Statement is available here (with signature redacted). Of a total of £59,153.71 raised, I incurred costs to 13 May 2018 of £30,871.62 leaving a current surplus of £28,282.09.

An 8 day trial has been scheduled for 15-18 October and 22-25 October 2019. Estimated costs to defend myself are in the region of £100,000 – £150,000 and I plan to launch a further crowdfunder in Spring 2019.

 

20. March 2018 · Comments Off on Defamation 5 · Categories: Announcements, Defamation, Legal affairs

One year ago, on 20 March 2017, I was served with a summons by Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC claiming that I had defamed them and seeking damages of £750,000 (now £810,000 with 8% interest) . The allegations relate to two blogs I published in September 2015 and February 2016.

For the past year, the pursuer and myself have been adjusting the pleadings and the defence. This process is now complete and a date for a hearing will hopefully be agreed by the Court of Session soon though the date itself may well be a year or more away.

Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC claims that statements that I made in the two blogs are defamatory. I do not accept that they are. I cannot divulge the nature of those statements or the specific complaint being made since, to do so, would be to risk repeating the alleged defamation. The contents of the 28 page closed record of pleadings and answers will be available once the proof is underway.

The estimated duration of the hearing is 8 days. I will need around £120,000 to defend myself and will be launching a second crowdfunder at the beginning of May.

I am very grateful indeed to all those who donated to the first crowdfunder launched on 19 April 2017. In early May I will publish an audit of the accounts.

Finally, the Scottish Law Commission has published a Report and Draft Bill on defamation law. Reform is urgently needed and the Scottish Government has the opportunity to commit to bring forward legislation in the Programme for Government to be announced in September 2018. If no such plans are announced, I will consider bringing forward the SLC’s draft bill as a proposed members bill.

Previous updates on the case can be found here.

 

IRS11900106-00001_res

It is an odd state of affairs that it is easier to find out the ownership of land in 1915 than it is in 2018. The Finance Act of 1910 (Lloyd George’s famous People’s Budget”) proposed an increment levy on the increase in value of land. To establish a base-line of values, surveyors mapped out in intricate detail, the ownership, occupation, value and use of virtually all of Great Britain and Ireland, covering 99.7% of the land area of Scotland.

The map above shows the results for the west of Edinburgh around Charlotte Square.

In 2018, with modern technology such as digital mapping, satellite imagery, online technology and smartphones, we have yet to come close to what the Edwardians achieved with paper maps and ink.

Across the world, modern technology and integrated data management has delivered land informations systems that provide comprehensive data on land to citizens. From Scotland, for example, you can find out a wide range of information about land parcels anywhere in the US State of Montana. If you want the same data for Scotland, you will be frustrated at every turn, expend an inordinate amount of time and have to pay for it.

The question of Who Owns Scotland has been perennial one for decades. John McEwen had a go at answering it in 1979 and it was the focus of my first book published in 1996. In the early years of devolution, I tried to persuade the then Scottish Executive to open up land information to the public but there was little appetite. Since then, I made representations to Fergus Ewing and Parliament during the course of the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 to persuade them to increase transparency and access to land information.

In a meeting with Fergus Ewing and the Keeper of the Registers of Scotland in December 2011, I made the case for this but the Minister could barely disguise his contempt for my suggestions and later, in the course of the passage of the Bill flatly rejected the idea that the public should have free access to land information (See col982 8 Feb 2012 Official Report).

He also rejected proposals to reveal the beneficial owners of companies that own land although the Government were eventually persuaded to do so in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, the provisions of which are yet to come into force.

But this blog is not about beneficial ownership. It is about access to information that already exists but is difficult and costly to access. The recent history of attempts to open up access is dismal as the following examples make clear.

PASTMAP

Over the decades I have spent researching landownership, I have developed a range of methods and sources. Although the Register of Sasines and Land Register are the definitive sources, they can be impossible to use in certain circumstances, For example, if you want to know who owns a field at a junction of a country road in Fife, you won’t be able to do so from official sources since you need an address or a name of a person and even the map-based Land Register will often be unhelpful in such circumstances.

Key to success in such cases is to find out some information from other sources to enable interrogation of the Registers. One such source is a very helpful online map called Pastmap [http://pastmap.org.uk] which provides information on various elements of the historic environment. If there is a Scheduled Monument located on or near land whose ownership you wish to establish, then a link is provided to the legal documents that are registered in the Register of Sasines. These provide details of the ownership of the land at the time of scheduling.

In 2012, however, I noticed that Historic Scotland had redacted the ownership information. See the example (second page) of the Bonawe Iron Furnace Schedule before redaction and after redaction.

I wrote to Historic Scotland and asked them why the schedules were now being redacted. They replied that,

Since the publication of the online schedule we have begun to redact the names and the addresses of legal owners from the scheduling documents given the perceived additional risks and sensitivities associated with publication of this information in such a readily and widely accessible format online.”

We are also considering removing legal ownership details from our scheduling certificates completely as part of an overall review of our scheduling documentation.”

These documents are recorded and made available to the public in the Register of Sasines (and made available for public inspection in the National Records of Scotland) with no redactions, so why conceal this information on Pastmap? What exactly are the “sensitivities” over this information? And why is Historic Scotland considering removing these details completely in future? Above all, if the Scottish Government is committed (as it claims it is) to transparency, why is it seeking to conceal this information from the one freely available source to the public?

Such questions remain unanswered.

SCOTLIS

Following a report in July 2015, John Swinney announced in October 2015 the establishment of SCOTLIS (Scottish Land Information Service), an online portal that would enable “citizens, communities, professionals and business to access comprehensive information about any piece of land or property in Scotland” The service was developed by Registers of Scotland and launched in November 2017. Here it is.

It is useless.

There is no map-search facility, there is no comprehensive information (solely landownership) and, as always, any information you do find, you will have to pay for. Contrast it with the online Montana service above. If you are a business, you can sign up as a business user and get access to an enhanced service. But by no stretch of the imagination is this a system allowing easy access to comprehensive information by the citizen. No wonder John Swinney’s successor issued no media release on the day of its launch.

OVERSEAS OWNERSHIP

On 1 March 2018, the Registers of Scotland published an Overseas Company Report and a Statistical Report on the overseas ownership of land in Scotland. Against growing demands for greater transparency in who owns land and property across the world, this is presumably Scotland’s contribution.

The report reveals the companies registered overseas that own land in Scotland. But this is the tip of the iceberg because it only takes account of land in the modern land register and not the older Sasines register. It doesn’t include any information on how much land is owned overseas (my own research shows that 750,000 acres of Scotland is owned in tax havens posing problems for law enforcement and tax authorities).

The Sunday Post published details of the findings on 11 March 2018.

And yet, the public are denied access to this data underlying the Overseas Company report because to obtain the report (see Information Sheet) will cost you an astonishing £1560 (the Statistical report is free to download). Even if you could afford this sum of money, if you wished further details of each of the records, you will need to buy this from Registers of Scotland. It will cost you £30 each and if you wish details of all 1700 companies, that comes to a cool £51,000.

Registers of Scotland claim that the data is being charged out on a cost-recovery basis (i.e. RoS only plans to recoup its costs from sale proceeds). But this merely emphasises why all of this data should be freely available. Were it to have been so over the past decade or so, all sorts of people would have been able to compile all sorts of reports and analysis within their own resources at no cost to the public purse and to the wider public good.

OPEN UP THE REGISTERS

The public deserve access to information about who owns Scotland. It’s time to end the secrecy and the costs and open up all information (environmental, planning, valuation, tenure, ownership) in an accessible manner which is free and easy to use by the citizen.

Over the coming months, I invite those with an interest to join me in campaigning for greater transparency and openness in land information. Contact me at andy.wightman.msp@parliament.scot

29. January 2018 · Comments Off on Declaration of Interests, Income and Tax 2016-17 · Categories: Announcements, Freedom of Information, Governance

Since 2010, I have been (like a couple of my self-employed writer/activist colleagues George Monbiot and Alastair McIntosh) making an annual declaration of interests, income and tax. Previous declarations can be found at the foot of the About page.

Commentators, campaigners and advocacy groups should be open about their interests and income (this story from earlier in 2014 is a good example of why I believe this to be so). I also believe that we have too much secrecy in the UK on matters of income and wealth and that if everyone’s income was openly declared, there would be much less inequality. This is not an especially radical idea. In Norway, details of every citizen’s income, assets and the tax they pay are available to the public and published on this website.

As a member of the Scottish Green Party, I also feel obliged to comply with the policy resolution passed at the 2011 Conference on Tax Evasion and Avoidance which encourages corporations and individuals to not use tax havens and to publish their accounts on a country by country basis.

In 2016 I was elected as an MSP. I will continue to publish information in this format on an annual basis but have also published a transparency page on my MSP website to draw attention to wider transparency issues in relation to my public role.

2016-17 INCOME
I am an MSP. My tax return for 2016-17 also includes earnings from writing, research, consultancy, public speaking, investigation, and subscriptions from the whoownsscotland website. My accounting year is the calendar year and so for my tax return of April 2017, it is 2016. During 2016, I earned income from self-employment principally from January to May and following the election, from work completed prior to May but not invoiced until afterwards.

For 2016-17, my income was as follows.

MSP SALARY (1)                             £ 48,782
BENEFITS & EXPENSES                £   1,979
PROFIT SELF-EMPLOYED (2)        £ 11,744
DIVIDENDS                                      £      404
TOTAL INCOME (3)                          £ 62,909

My total taxable income for the Year Ending 5 April 2017 was £ 62.909 on which I am due to pay tax of £12.906 and Class 4 NI contributions of £331.56 = total of £13,237.56 (see tax HMRC calculation here).

During 2016 all of my self-employed income was generated from within the UK. My main clients were NGOs, private companies, law firms, print & broadcast media and royalty payments on my books.

DECLARATION OF INTERESTS 1 JANUARY 2018
I own no land or property.
I have 483 shares in Standard Life.
I am on the Board of Directors of the Caledonia Centre for Social Development (Company No. 192099 & Scottish Charity No. SC 028485).
I am a member of the Scottish Green Party and a number of charitable bodies.
I do not make use of any tax havens or artificial accounting structures to conceal my income

Also see my Parliamentary Register of Interests

NOTES
(1) MSP Salary is 5 May 2016 – 5 April 2017. The sum is derived from P60 after deduction of pension contributions.
(2) Gross Income less outlays & expenses – computers, travel, stationery, telephone, research fees (for example, search fees paid to Registers of Scotland) and other expenses of employment.