Tag Archives: Patrick Krause

Crofting Law Group Conference 2017

Crofting Law Group Conference 2017

The Crofting Law Group are holding their annual conference this year at Lews Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis on 9th June 2017.

Chaired by Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw, Bt. QC, the conference will look at the Scottish Government’s proposals for Crofting Law Reform, where things are at and what happens next. Michael O’Neill from the Crofting Bill Team of the Scottish Government will guide delegates through that. There will be views from Patrick Krause Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation.

Bill Barron, Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission will provide a Crofting Commission Update.

The Conference will look at the question of Common Grazings, what went wrong last year (a recurring theme on this blog!) and what does the future hold with reference to the Crofting Commission’s proposed new Common Grazing Regulations Template.  There will be contributions and discussion on this topic from the Crofting Commission’s Solicitor, David Findlay, Solicitor Brian Inkster, Crofters and Landlords.  Relevant excerpts of the film ‘Grazing on the Edge’ will be shown and introduced by Janette Sutherland of the Scottish Agricultural College.

Duncan MacPhee, Solicitor, will look at Mortgages for Croft Houses.

There will also be the usual case law update provided this year by Robert Sutherland, Advocate.

Representatives from Registers of Scotland will be on hand to answer any queries concerning the Crofting Register.

For full details and to book your place see Crofting Law Conference 2017 on the Crofting Law Group website.

Crofting Law whilst in Milan

Crofting Law whilst in Milan

The dome in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, Italy

It is over a week since my last blog post. Not because it has been quiet in the world of crofting law but because I’ve been away in Milan. I didn’t quite escape crofting law whilst there as I had a meeting where a translator turned my crofting law advice into Italian. I hope nothing was lost in translation. Not sure what the Italian is for souming!

Last time I was away from the UK I commented that there was ‘no let up on the common grazings crisis whilst on holiday‘. Much the same this time around. Especially due to the fact that the ‘twa Colins’ (as they have become known in the comments section of this blog) are, somewhat incredulously, still in post.

Colin Souter, the Grazings ‘Constable‘ of Upper Coll, still seems to hold that ‘position’ despite the Crofting Commission announcing over three weeks ago that he would be stepping down “as soon as possible“. Why has he not stepped down or been stepped down?

Colin Souter has been uncharacteristically quiet during that period. Whereas Colin Kennedy, Convener of the Crofting Commission, has been uncharacteristically vocal. My last blog post looked at his  crofting ‘crusade‘ as revealed in The Scottish Farmer. A week later and The Scottish Farmer have published a letter from Colin Kennedy which starts with an attack on the Scottish Crofting Federation, rambles on a bit and is cryptic in places but seems to be blaming the  former Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, for everything that everyone else has been blaming him for. I will look at that, and the further breaches of the code of conduct by Mr Kennedy arising therefrom, in a future blog post.

Kennedy is the renegade commissioner who is breaking almost all, if not every, ethical standard expected of public office holders. The Editor of the West Highland Free Press wondered a couple of weeks ago how Kennedy had still not received his P45. Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, writing in the Press & Journal around the same time expected this “Ozymandias with delusions of grandeur” to have been toppled by now.

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, referred to Kennedy’s behaviour as “disappointing” and hinted at the powers the Scottish Ministers had to remove him. Since then he has gone on a personal tirade against those very ministers, his commissioner colleagues and commission staff. How has he been allowed to go on like this? Who is in control? What message does this send out to crofters and the general electorate? Where and how will it all end?

I referred earlier to “former” Chief Executive, Catriona Maclean, because her replacement on an interim basis, Bill Barron, started work at Great Glen House on Monday. I will also look at that in more detail in a future blog post.

However, how can this new interim Chief Executive be expected to effectively operate an organisation where the Convener has gone renegade? Where that convener does not have the support of the other commissioners, the Scottish Ministers, any of the crofting representative bodies or the vast majority of crofters? Could the role be any more of a poisoned chalice?

What else happened over the past week? Well:-

  • The closing date came and went for applications for the two appointed Crofting Commissioner posts.
  • Top search terms leading people to this blog were “Colin Kennedy Crofting Commission” and “the Marquis & Marchioness of Stafford”. I have previously drawn comparisons.
  • Comments on the blog took on a Star Trek theme making a change from Star Wars analogies. The Dark Side have become the Klingons it would appear 😉
  • Revelations of baboon-a-grams being advertised on the Isle of Coll emerged. We are searching the News of the World archives for more on this story which just might eclipse the Convener’s Throne for amusement value.
  • It would appear that back issues of the News of the World, Press & Journal and Oban Times also hold other interesting stories about the Isle of Coll. We will see what our research turns up.
  • Crofting road shows will be taking place to inform crofters about the Crofting Commission  elections and other crofting issues.
  • The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has launched a call for written evidence to help inform its short, focussed review of priorities for crofting law reform.
  • Crofting Election Regulations have been put before the Scottish Parliament but these make no changes, as previously mooted, to the six constituency boundaries.

A week is clearly a long time in crofting law!

More detail on some of these stories  will appear in future blog posts. Do subscribe to this blog by inserting your e-mail address in the box in the top right of this page and press ‘Subscribe’. You will then receive the latest blog posts directly into your mail box as soon as they are published. You don’t want to miss that baboon-a-gram story 😉

Brian Inkster

An elective despotism is not the Crofting Commission we fought for

An elective depotisim is not the Crofting Commission we fought forThomas Jefferson said:

An elective despotism is not the government we fought for.

This week the Scottish Crofting Federation called the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, a deluded despot. Perhaps they are now thinking that an elective despotism is not the Crofting Commission they fought for.

An elected Crofting Commission (6 out of the 9 commissioners – with the other 3 being appointed) was introduced by the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010. The Scottish Crofting Federation supported this move. Before that all commissioners of the Crofters Commission were appointed.

At the time the then environment minister, Stewart Stevenson, said:-

The Scottish government wants to give crofters a voice to determine their own future and these first ever Crofting Commission elections is a solid step down that road.

The Scottish government believes crofts that are occupied and worked can be the biggest contribution to the sustainable economic growth and development of our crofting communities. Having an effective regulator is a vital part of achieving that aim.

The first Convener of the new Crofting Commission was Susan Walker who was appointed by the Scottish Government. At the time some thought that process should have been delegated to the commissioners themselves.

Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, said:-

Clearly the minister doesn’t have enough confidence in the commission to allow them to choose their own convener.

Elsewhere we have heard of the spread of democracy through the Arab Spring.

Is it not time to allow democracy to apply in crofting and to have a Crofting Spring where the commission can be allowed to make its own decisions?

Tavish Scott, Shetland Liberal Democrat MSP, said:-

This is a terrible decision and is consistent with the command and control being exercised by the SNP government on a whole range of issues.

They won’t make an appointment unless they are sure the person passes the Saltire underpants test.

Why do they not trust the people who have been elected by the crofters to make the decision?

Mary Scanlon, Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP, said:-

Given that this was the first time that commissioners were chosen with a mandate from their own communities, it seems high-handed of the minister to appoint the convener himself.

If the nine commissioners were allowed to choose from among their own number the convener would have the confidence and respect of the others. That might not be the case if the appointment is made by the minister.

Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, said:-

To choose the convener in this way, weights the process towards the three commissioners already chosen through the public appointments system.

The minister should allow the commission to choose its own convener.

Alasdair Allan, Western Isles SNP MSP, said:-

There must be a tie between the commission and the minister because it is a public body.

The minister has a choice among all the members.

If the six members chosen by the crofters are unhappy with what the government or the commission is doing they will not be slow to say that.

There is a majority of crofters’ representatives so it is not true to say that this is an attempt to control the commission.

Some commissioners were not too slow to show that they were unhappy and organised a coup against the incumbent convener. They then insisted that they should elect the new one. The minister responsible for crofting at the time, Aileen McLeod, allowed them to do so and Colin Kennedy was duly elected.

The result has been clear for all to see. It could not have been foreseen by the representative bodies and MSPs who called for this democratic process at the outset. In light of what has happened a future crofting minister might think twice about allowing commissioners to choose a convener themselves.

Fergus Ewing MSP, cabinet secretary responsible for crofting, has instituted a governance review of the Crofting Commission. Whatever the outcome of that review it should at least attempt to avoid despotism ever appearing again within the Crofting Commission.

Brian Inkster

Lewis and Harris Crofters’ Meeting

SCF Crofters Meeting Lewis and Harris - 3 August 2016The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has organised a meeting in Lewis this Wednesday, 3 August 2016.

It is at the Stornoway Town Hall at 7.00pm and will involve presentations and discussions on Common Grazings, the role of the Crofting Commission and current policy issues affecting crofting.

You don’t have to be a SCF member to attend and all are welcome.

The panellists are:-

  • Russell Smith – SCF Vice-Chair
  • Brendan O’Hanrahan – SCF director
  • Lucy Carmichael – Scottish Government Crofting Policy
  • Brian Inkster – Crofting Lawyer, Inksters Solicitors
  • Patrick Krause – SCF Chief Executive

The meeting will be chaired by Donald Macsween – Lewis crofter, SCF member and activist.

A lively discussion is expected given the recent controversy surrounding alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission arising from what this blog has dubbed ‘The Common Clearances‘. Recent revelations have shown that the Crofting Commission knowingly acted contrary to their own policies, procedures and legal advice. All this and more will be up for debate on Wednesday night in Stornoway.

Crofting Commission flouts the will of Parliament

Hansard and Crofting Law

Clearly no copies of Hansard in Great Glen House!

The Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Patrick Krause, previously highlighted the fact that the Crofting Commission were not delivering “the express will of Parliament”. I indicated that this was something I would return to in detail in a later blog post with a clear analysis of what the will of Parliament actually is on this issue. This I indicated would, actually, help to spell out the letter of the law on the matter.

It must be remembered that to date, despite being called upon to do so, the Crofting Commission has not given any explanation with reference to the law as to why they are taking the stance or actions that they are and have been taking on the issue of ‘The Common Clearances‘.

So here goes. We are concerned, for current purposes, with crofting law enacted by the Houses of Parliament in London prior to the creation of the Scottish Parliament. The will of the Houses of Parliament in London can be found in Hansard, the official report of all Parliamentary debates. Hansard can, in certain circumstances, be used by courts to aid the interpretation of statutory provisions and does, of course, give a flavour of the intention and will of Parliament.

When debating the provisions of the bill that became the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 1976, Parliament looked at the question of resumption monies being payable to shareholders in Common Grazings.

An Amendment was tabled by Lord Campbell of Croy to the effect that, as an alternative to apportioning resumption monies amongst the shareholders in a common grazing according to their rights therein, “a lump sum should be made available to the grazings committee who decide on improvements for the benefit of all”. This alternative was suggested by the Stornoway Trust as it was a practice “generally acceptable in their area of Lewis”.

Lord Kirkhill, on behalf of the Government of the day, indicated that there was no good reason to legislate in this way as “there would seem to be  nothing to prevent a voluntary arrangement being made whereby any crofter’s share would be diverted to the grazings committee”.

On this assurance Lord Campbell of Croy withdrew his amendment as being unnecessary.

In a subsequent debate Lord Kirkhill re-emphasised the position stating that:-

This leaves the apportionment to be carried out on the initiative of the landlord with the agreement of the individual crofters. It will not prevent a landlord, such as the Stornoway Trust, agreeing with shareholders in a common grazing that the money should be paid to the common grazing fund.

Indeed Lord Kirkhill goes to pains to spell this sentiment out several times in that debate.

Lord Campbell of Croy said in response:-

We are glad to hear what the noble Lord said at the end of his speech, which was that the system practised by the Stornoway Trust can be continued.

The House of Commons agreed with the House of Lords.

Little did Lord Kirkhill or Lord Campbell of Croy know of what the Crofting Commission had in mind 40 years later. That was to completely ignore the will of Parliament and impose their own will on the crofters of Lewis removing any and all who might argue with them from office.

The Crofting Commission has insisted that the Grazings Committees of Upper Coll and Mangersta, both on the Isle of Lewis, must pay resumption monies to shareholders even where those shareholders want the monies in question retained within the common grazing fund for township improvements.

There is absolutely no basis in law for this and it is clear that the Crofting Commission are flouting the will of Parliament.

If I were an MSP I would not take kindly to that.

Brian Inkster

Common Grazings and the Spirit of the Law

Patrick Krause

Patrick Krause

I continue to catch up with news of ‘The Common Clearances‘ since I returned from holiday. With the amount of new news on this topic being generated daily this week that is a difficult task!

On 25 May 2016 Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, published a piece on the Federation’s website. I now reproduce it here in its entirety with a small comment at the end from myself on the question of the will of Parliament.

 

The Spirit of the Law
The inexplicable case of a public body confusing legal dogma with good sense 

The Crofting Commission website says “The Crofting Commission regulates and promotes the
interests of crofting in Scotland to secure the future of crofting.” Following the summary
dismissal of two (or more) grazings committees; the foisting of grazings constables upon the
dismembered grazings; the demolition of crofters’ characters; the contradiction and confusion,
it is no wonder that crofters and those with crofting interests are standing agog and are asking
“What is going on in the Crofting Commission?” It is not for me to make any judgement on the
legalities of the fracas that has been taking place over the past month – crofting lawyers are
willingly giving opinion – but I will attempt to explain the essence. Common grazings are the
epitome of communal working, yet this is a spectacularly detrimental exercise in public
relations by the Commission that threatens the very core of crofting communities. I wonder
what the motive is.

One committee was summarily dismissed for not presenting fully audited accounts. Previously
the Commission had issued official guidance that ‘audited’ did not mean fully audited in the
legal (and expensive) sense, but could be taken to mean an independent examination – the
Commission were taking a “light-touch approach”. At the demand by the Commission for five
years annual accounts, the committee presented an independent examination of its accounts,
as is usual for small businesses and social enterprises and is perfectly acceptable to HMRC,
Companies House and the Charities Regulator. They were summarily dismissed for failing the
demand. This subsequent heavy-handed bombshell has naturally caused fear throughout
regulated grazings that they also are in breach for not having fully audited accounts.

A second committee was also summarily dismissed (both grazings then had a constable foisted
upon them by the Commission, which a leading crofting lawyer claims is not legal in these
circumstances), in this case for not distributing income from resumption. Though the only
shareholder asking for his tiny share of the resumption money was an absentee, legally he had
the right to it, we are told by the Commission.

It is hard to understand why this committee was unexpectedly sacked when it had attempted
to pay the absentee, under guidance of the Commission (and the other was also instantly
sacked even though it had seemed to have complied with all the demands of the Commission).
But let’s leave the detail and look at the principle.

The law says that money due as part value of resumption may be paid by the landlord to the
clerk of the committee for distribution by the clerk among the crofters concerned. The law is
not prescriptive in saying when or how the distribution is to take place. The Commission has
added in its regulations the word “immediate”.

For years grazings committees have managed finance in a workable, business-like fashion.
Income generated from anything, such as resumption of land, schemes for development or
through managing agri-environment schemes, is put in the bank. As in any business,
expenditure on carrying out maintenance or improvements is deducted before any profit is
disbursed to shareholders. If a grazings committee was expected to take all income and pay it
out as dividends to shareholders before deducting expenditure, only to then have to recover
from all shareholders their share of the expenditure, it would be a complete nonsense.

Hobbling grazings by making them produce fully audited accounts, when other similar
businesses or voluntary groups don’t, and making them run an unworkable cash-flow, that no
business would, could not have been the intention of the law, but this is what it seems the
Crofting Commission is trying to enforce, presumably at considerable public cost.

The Commission argue that it is only carrying out its interpretation of the law; but why now
and so destructively? If the Crofting Act is wrong (as much of it has proven to be) it could be
put in ‘The Crofting Law Sump’ for future rectification and the Commission could quietly
resolve the issues, rather than turning this into a public, highly-charged stand-off. If it is
enforced, grazings committees cannot comply so will resign (or be dismissed) and the grazings
will leave regulation – unless the Commission then imposes constables on all grazings.

The Commission clearly knows a lot more about regulation than I, and knows what the
consequences of this will be, but are keeping quiet about its objective. How does this fit with
the Crofting Commission Policy Plan in which it says “The Commission regards the shared
management and productive use of the common grazing to be essential for the sustainability
of crofting. To that end it will … work with crofting communities to promote the establishment
of effective grazing committees and will actively support established committees”?

The Convener of the Crofting Commission is implicated in the fracas perhaps more than a
convener ought to be, having had complaints raised against him for behaviour at one of the
grazings meetings and having turned up unannounced at the other. He came to ‘observe’
apparently. The chair would not allow him to participate as he had a conflict of interest, and it
was surely odd that he was allowed to stay at all, this being the case, and it being against the
wishes of crofters present.

The convener has been widely quoted as saying the Commission is to deliver “the express will
of Parliament”. He would do well to go back and look at the passage of the Bill that became the
2010 Act to see what the will of Parliament was. The will of Parliament is not necessarily the
letter of the law, or in this case, the Crofting Commission interpretation of it, if it is bringing
about the demise of regulated common grazings.

Patrick Krause (Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation)

Comment on the Will of Parliament

Patrick is correct to highlight the fact that the Commission are certainly not delivering “the express will of Parliament”. This is something I will return to in detail in a later blog post with a clear analysis of what the will of Parliament actually is on this issue. This should also, actually, help to spell out the letter of the law on the matter. It should be noted that to date the Crofting Commission has not given any explanation with reference to the law as to why they are taking the stance or actions that they are and have been taking.

Brian Inkster

Update – 20 June 2016: Crofting Commission flouts the will of Parliament

No let up on the Common Clearances crisis whilst on holiday!

No let up in the Common Clearances whilst in Morocco

Could I really escape the presence of the Crofting Commission in Morocco?

I have been in Morocco on holiday for the past couple of weeks. The run up to getting away and being away has meant a lull in reporting by me on The Common Clearances.

The last time I was in Morocco coincided exactly with the Scottish Government’s one week consultation period on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. A bill that arose from the Decrofting Debacle unnecessarily and unjustifiably created by the Crofting Commission. Notice a theme?

I spent that week writing detailed submissions and drafting a better (in my view) bill for the Scottish Government and submitting it to them from Marrakech. A civil servant was to later tell me that my intervention was unhelpful. No doubt the same view is taken in the corridors of Saughton House and Great Glen House over my comments on The Common Clearances.

But it has been said that we provide a clear and understandable source of information at the Crofting Law Blog, something that you cannot get from the Crofting Commission (see ‘A Happy Crofter‘).

I decided, this holiday in Morocco, to actually have a holiday. Now I am back a quick look at the internet tells me there has been no let up in the Common Clearances crisis. As far as I can glean, so far, since I last blogged:-

  • The Crofting Commission held a meeting in Lewis with shareholders of the Mangersta Common Grazings which was chaired by Commissioner William Swann but “marred by a menacing presence” in that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, turned up unexpectedly to observe proceedings despite having declared a conflict of interest.
  • Members of the ousted Upper Coll Grazings Committee applied for an interim interdict against the appointment of the Grazings Constable at Inverness Sheriff Court and that was refused.
  • John Finnie MSP has asked questions about the situation in the Scottish Parliament which have been answered in a fairly neutral manner by Cabinet Minister Fergus Ewing MSP.
  • Further parliamentary questions have been asked by John Finnie MSP and Rhoda Grant MSP about the issue with answers anticipated to be given by Fergus Ewing MSP on 23 June 2016.
  • Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting federation, has written about ‘The Spirit of the Law – The inexplicable case of a public body confusing legal dogma with good sense’.
  • It was reported on Radio nan Gàidheal that another grazings committee has been put out of office by the Crofting Commission, this time on the Scottish mainland.
  • It was also reported by Radio nan Gàidheal that a grazings committee in South Uist has put themselves out of office to avoid any difficulties that may be encountered with being regulated by the Crofting Commission.
  • Commissioner William Swann has resigned from the Crofting Commission.
  • Propaganda about ‘the role of grazings committees in representing shareholders’ has been published by the Crofting Commission.
  • The former and ousted Convener of the Crofting Commission, Susan Walker, has written in the West Highland Free Press about the situation.
  • The Upper Coll Grazing Constable (illegally appointed in my view) has issued a letter to the press.

I will try to catch up on all of these developments on this blog in some detail, and share my thoughts on each, over the coming weeks. Do let me know if I have missed anything.

I also have to tell you on this blog about Inksters’ new and enhanced crofting law team (you may have read about that elsewhere before now).

So keep an eye on the Crofting Law Blog over the next few weeks for, as the ‘Happy Crofter‘ put it, an “invaluable source of information that [is] virtually impossible to find anywhere else”.

Brian Inkster

Update – 13 June 2016: The Crofting Law A-Team

Update – 14 June 2016: ‘A Menacing Presence’

Update – 15 June 2016: Common Grazings and the Spirit of the Law

Update – 16 June 2016: Crofting Commissioner Resigns over situation the Scottish Government and Crofting Commission need to sort out

Crofting Federation hold meeting on Common Grazings Calamity

Crofting Federation hold Common Grazings meeting in Ullapool to decide what next regarding the Crofting Commission

Ullapool

The Scottish Crofting Federation are holding a meeting for representatives of common grazings affected by Crofting Commission decisions in Ullapool this coming Friday morning to exchange information and plan what can be done next.

It was reported in Hebrides Today that the Scottish Crofting Federation has expressed bafflement at the recent behaviour of the Crofting Commission in which it “seems set to antagonise crofters and put grazings at risk”.

We have, of course, reported on this bizarre behaviour:-

Abuse of power within the Crofting Commission?

The Common Clearances

Crofting Commission’s appointment of Grazings Constable is illegal

And there are even more baffling details behind some of this which will be revealed on this blog in future posts.

Hebrides Today summarised the position to date:-

The Crofting Commission recently removed two grazings committees from their offices on grounds that they did not fulfil their statutory obligations. This is vigorously denied by those removed, with claims that the commission made it impossible to comply by contradiction, vagueness and antagonism. The commission’s decision to impose a constable on one of the grazings is being questioned by a leading lawyer as to its legitimacy.

Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Patrick Krause, said:-

The commission is apparently behaving extremely high-handedly and their diplomacy skills are very low. Grazings shareholders need a word of comfort urgently to restore confidence in the regulator.

A public statement giving the assurance that grazings committees will not continue to be sacked, that grazings constables, legal or otherwise, will not be imposed on them and that the issue of enforcement of fatally impractical demands will be addressed, is overdue and essential to halt this calamity.

Crofters are completely perplexed at this extraordinary behaviour

Those wishing to attend the meeting being organised by the Scottish Crofting Federation in Ullapool on the morning of Friday 6th May should contact their head office:-

E-mail: HQ@crofting.org

Tel: 01599 530 005

Photo credit: Paul Hart from Glasgow, Scotland – Ullapool, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Common Clearances

Crofting Clearances

Who wields the axe at the Crofting Commission?

Following the revelations of the Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee being removed from office by the Crofting Commission in a “dictatorial, vindictive and unjustified“ manner there came news that this was not an isolated incident. The Mangersta Common Grazings Committee has also been removed from office by the Crofting Commission. Members of the now defunct Grazings Committee have referred to the Crofting Commission’s behaviour as “erratic, overbearing and contradictory”. They have called on an inquiry into this “appalling” situation.

The facts surrounding the Mangersta ‘sackings’ related to payment of monies to an absentee crofting tenant who had returned cheques sent to him. On any reading of the situation, as disclosed in the press this past week, the actings of the Commission and their Convener appear almost beyond belief.

The only cheep so far on any of this from the Crofting Commission is a blog post which they state to be a reminder on the ‘The Rights of Crofters and the Duties of Grazings Committees and their Grazings Clerks‘. This ‘reminder’ is unfortunately misleading and inaccurate. It is recommended that crofters don’t follow it but seek independent specialist advice.

Donald Macsween (a crofter in Ness on the Isle of Lewis) has blogged on the “nonsensical” and “totally impractical” stance by the Crofting Commission on the financial management of grazing funds. He makes some very astute and sensible points. Ones that appear to be lost on the powers that be in the crofting regulator’s HQ at Great Glen House in Inverness. I am likely to return to this topic on a future dedicated blog post covering it in some detail from a legal point of view.

Scottish Labour’s candidate for Na h-Eileanan an Iar/Western Isles, Rhoda Grant, has backed calls for a full inquiry into the workings of the Crofting Commission and the reinstatement of  Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee.

Mrs Grant has issued a letter to the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, in which she refers to the removal of the Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee as a “sorry episode”. She states that this is:-

symptomatic of a much wider problem with the Crofting Commission which has gained an unwelcome reputation for its high-handed, overbearing attitude towards good people doing their best to hold crofting together.

Mrs Grant goes on to say:-

The whole system of crofting tenure is in a very parlous state and it needs the support of a regulatory body which acts firmly and fairly in the crofting interest.  Instead, we have a bull-in-the-china shop approach which is undermining the work of well-run crofting villages, for reasons that seem to be random rather than for any consistent, coherent reason.

The Crofting Commission is a creature of statute and nobody is empowered to behave as a law unto himself.  There must be an urgent inquiry, relating to Upper Coll and also more generally, to find if the Commission has acted beyond its powers and whether its recent behaviour is consistent with the interests of the crofting community.

The Editorial in this week’s West Highland Free Press brands the Crofting Commission’s actions at Upper Coll as “high-handed, insulting and wrong”. It states:-

Every single one of the eight commissioners should be aware that this crisis is now their responsibility. They must take it upon themselves to resolve a serious situation before suffering the ignominy of ministerial or even legal intervention.

Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, has asked:-

What on earth is going on? How many others are there who have been intimidated and bullied into submission under threat of removal?

He has gone on to state:-

It is clear that there has to be a review by the Scottish Government of how the commission works and what its objective is.

The Scottish Crofting Federation yesterday issued open letters to the Crofting Commissioners and to the Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. They call upon the Crofting Commission to make a public statement on what is behind their actions. They request the Scottish Government to carry out “a full review of the situation as soon as possible before the damage is irreversible”.

It has been stated that “crofters are so intimidated by the Crofting Commission that they will not speak out publicly“. Now that some crofters are actually beginning to do so hopefully more will tell their stories. From what I can see this is the crofting worlds equivalent of the ‘Panama Papers‘. There is likely to be many more revelations on the actings of the Crofting Commission surrounding ‘Common Clearances’ and other crofting issues.

In 1883 a Royal Commission (The Napier Commission) was set up by Gladstone’s Liberal Government. Its purpose was ‘to inquire into the conditions of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland’ and everything concerning them. This came on the back of The Highland Clearances and ‘The Battle of the Braes’ where the Braes crofters stood up against the 50 policemen brought in from Glasgow following the loss of their hill pasture on Ben Lee and a rent strike in protest. The Report by the Napier Commission resulted in the first Crofters Act in 1886 providing security of tenure for crofters.

130 years after security of tenure was given to crofters a new form of clearance is happening in the Highlands and Islands: The clearance of common grazings committees by the Crofting Commission. They are wielding power in an unjustified and brutal manner reminiscent of landlords from the nineteenth century. We are about to see I believe ‘The Battle of Great Glen House’ (this time perhaps fought with paper and ink rather than stones) and the Scottish Government must now institute an inquiry into the actings of the Crofting Commission and everything concerning them.

Brian Inkster

Abuse of power within the Crofting Commission?

Abuse of Power within the Crofting Commission

Is there an abuse of power within the Crofting Commission?

The publicity last week surrounding a Common Grazings Committee being summarily removed from office by the Crofting Commission highlights a worrying trend concerning alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission. It is not the first time that I have heard actions taken by the Crofting Commission referred to as being “dictatorial, vindictive and unjustified“.

The facts appear to be that two shareholders in the Upper Coll Common Grazings lodged complaints with the Crofting Commission to the effect that the Grazings Committee were not conducting its duties in a proper manner. This resulted in the Crofting Commission calling a meeting of shareholders on 10 November 2015 where the Crofting Commission were represented by Colin Kennedy (Convener), I. G. MacDonald (Vice-Convener) and Linda Gourlay (Staff Member).

Following that meeting formal complaints were lodged with the Crofting Commission by a number of those attending accusing the Convener of “unfair and biased conduct” while chairing the meeting. It is unclear whether the complaints procedure involved was finalised/exhausted before the Crofting Commission removed the Grazings Committee from office.

The Crofting Commission gave the Grazings Committee three months to implement five main action points and a further month to get the last five years accounts externally audited.

All points requested of the Committee were dealt with including lodging timeously accounts prepared by external accountants. However, the issue appears to be the definition of “audited”. The grazings regulations of  Upper Coll Common Grazings state that the Clerk shall arrange to have the accounts “audited” annually. In normal parlance that might mean simply having financial statements prepared by an external accountant as indeed most businesses do. A detailed and forensic audit would arguably be completely out of proportion for any Grazings Committee to be expected to carry out given the time and expense of such procedure. Furthermore, you are perhaps unlikely to find a firm of accountants in Stornoway able or willing to undertake such a  task especially in the short time frame dictated by the Crofting Commission.

It is very interesting to note that in the Crofting Commission’s own Common Grazings Regulations Guidance [PDF] it is stated:-

A grazing committee shall undertake an annual independent scrutiny of their financial accounts. The committee should satisfy themselves that the level of scrutiny is proportionate to the value of monetary transactions.

Surely that means the preparation of external financial statements and not an expensive forensic audit? Furthermore the onus is on the committee to satisfy themselves not for the Crofting Commission to dictate.

However, the Common Grazings Regulations Template [PDF] provided by the Crofting Commission does not appear to even state the need therein for such an annual independent scrutiny.

The said Guidance on Common Grazings Regulations do make reference to the question of an audit. They state:-

Historically, the term ‘audit’ has been used loosely to describe any external scrutiny of accounts, however if the term ‘audit’ is used in the Grazings Regulations, the accounts must be audited by a registered auditor.

This appears to recognise the fact that ‘audit’ can mean “any external scrutiny of accounts” but then perhaps bizarrely states that “if the term ‘audit’ is used in the Grazings Regulations, the accounts must be audited by a registered auditor”. From what authority and on what basis can the Crofting Commission make such an assertion when at the same time recognising that ‘audit’ can mean “any external scrutiny of accounts”? Furthermore, why would they seek to insist upon this for historical Grazings Regulations using this term when their preferred template does not?

It is understood that the accountants acting for Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee sought guidance from the Crofting Commission as to what they wanted with regard to audited accounts. They were apparently advised that this was a matter between them and the Grazings Committee! With no guidance given as to what was expected how could they know what to produce to pass the muster of the Crofting Commission?

The Crofting Commission should perhaps have, at least, directed the accountants to their own Guidance on Common Grazings Regulations which state:-

… an auditor is required to build up a body of evidence and express an opinion on the accounts. The opinion given in an audit depends on the nature of the accounts that have been prepared.

• If receipts and payments accounts have been prepared, the opinion will state whether or not the accounts ‘properly present’ the receipts and payments for the common grazings for the financial year.

• If fully accrued accounts have been prepared, the opinion will state whether the accounts provide a ‘true and fair view’ of the financial affairs of the common grazings.

Surely, if Financial Statements prepared by accountants were produced that did not meet whatever requirements the Crofting Commission actually had with regard to an ‘audit’ they should have sought further information/detail as necessary rather than summarily removing the Grazings Committee from office?

It should also be noted that the said Guidance on Common Grazings Regulations states:-

The Commission will not get involved in any matter relating to alleged financial impropriety. This is potentially a civil and/or criminal matter and should be dealt with by the relevant authorities.

Thus if there is any question of alleged financial impropriety (and it is not clear that there even is) then it would be for any aggrieved shareholders to take civil and/or criminal action and perhaps only on the conclusion thereof, and depending upon the outcome, for the Crofting Commission to consider the removal of some or all of the committee and/or clerk.

On any view, therefore, the actions of the Crofting Commission in this instance are extraordinary.

Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, has stated [PDF]:-

The press made us all aware of the grievance raised by the Lewis Upper Coll grazings committee against the convener of the commission, Colin Kennedy, a few weeks ago. On the face of it, this looks like an appalling attempt by the commission to nullify the complaint. Whatever is actually behind their decision, it is a staggeringly clumsy exercise in public relations. We are struggling to maintain, and to form new, grazings committees as it is.

Hopefully, this is not the reason behind the decision to remove the Grazings Committee from office. If it is then it is very worrying indeed. Whatever the thinking involved it does however remain worrying and should be of grave concern to all crofters and to the Scottish Government that the Crofting Regulator is behaving in this way.

The Crofting Commission’s ability under the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 to remove a grazings committee involves “making such inquiry, if any, as they may deem necessary”. Not much process potentially involved there then! However, they must be “satisfied” that the members of the grazings committee “are not properly carrying out the duties imposed upon them”.

On any reading of the situation it would appear that, at least without further inquiry to satisfy themselves, the Crofting Commission in coming to the decision to remove the Upper Coll Common Grazings Committee from office arguably took a decision so unreasonable that no reasonable person acting reasonably could have made it. This is the Wednesbury test (Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation (1948) 1 KB 223) and that decision could therefore be open for judicial review.

If this decision was a correct and proper one to make there must be countless other grazings committees in breach of their own regulations whom the Crofting Commission should also now be seeking to remove from office.

I would strongly suggest therefore that the Crofting Commission should, in all the circumstances, review this extraordinary decision. If they fail to do so the Scottish Government should maybe question the behaviour involved and perhaps even consider removing the commissioners responsible as “unsuitable to continue” as members. A power that the Scottish Ministers have at their disposal under the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993. That may be seen by many as a more reasonable and justified use of power than that employed by the Crofting Commission.

Brian Inkster