Trial could force judges to declare they are Masons

The alleged influence of Freemasons in the Scottish judiciary was challenged yesterday in a case that could lead to all Scottish sheriffs having to declare their Masonic links.

The alleged influence of Freemasons in the Scottish judiciary was challenged yesterday in a case that could lead to all Scottish sheriffs having to declare their Masonic links.

Thomas Minogue, from Dunfermline, accused of stealing parts of a bridge, asked Dunfermline Sheriff Court to make it known to him whether the judge hearing his case was a Mason. Mr Minogue said there was a possibility that if the judge was a Mason he would not receive a fair trial.

He claimed that two-thirds of all Scottish judges and sheriffs practised Freemasonry and that because part of their allegiance to the brotherhood included giving "brother Masons the benefit of the doubt" he could be at an unknown disadvantage during his trial. That would be a breach of his human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, which came into force in Scotland last year, he said.

Mr Minogue, 55, who runs his own engineering business, said the fact the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, has asked all judges in England and Wales to declare their membership of the Masons means his question is a valid one. No such requirement has been asked of Scottish judges or sheriffs.

Mr Minogue is also challenging the specific provisions under the Acts of the Scottish Parliament that allow judges to be Masons. Mr Minogue, who denies all the offences he is charged with, is asking the court to determine the issue before the start of his trial. The Dunfermline court is considering his application.

A recent Court of Appeal case in England and Wales made clear that a judge's membership of the Masons could be relevant to an accusation of "conflict of interest".

Britain's most senior Masonic judge, Lord Millett, recently said that Lord Irvine's attempt to get judges to disclose their Masonic membership had encouraged litigants to demand to know whether a judge sitting on their case was a Mason. One of Lord Millet's cases is being taken to the European Court of Human Rights in an effort to challenge the number of Masons sitting as judges.

In the European case a litigant is attempting to "upset a will". Lord Millett refused the litigant's appeal against the decision of a deputy High Court judge, who was also a Freemason. The deceased and the solicitor of the litigant's opponent are also Masons. The Lord Chancellor's Department said it would be defending the case.