A JUDGE has slammed the conduct of Scotland’s largest local authority after being forced to postpone a case involving Glasgow bin lorry driver Harry Clarke.

Judge Lord Ericht called Glasgow City Council's behaviour “extremely unsatisfactory” as he ordered the authority to pay "punitive" legal costs to bus company First Glasgow (No.1) Ltd on Tuesday following proceedings at the Court of Session.

Student Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, all from Dumbarton, died in the incident on December 22, 2014.

The other people who died were 29-year-old Stephanie Tait and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow, and 52-year-old Gillian Ewing, from Edinburgh.

Lawyers for the council have gone to Scotland’s highest civil court in a bid to recover a total of £446,012 from the firm.

The council’s legal team claim the company acted negligently in failing to provide the local authority’s HR team with an accurate reference for Mr Clarke.

Lawyers claim First Glasgow failed to disclose that Mr Clarke lost consciousness at the wheel of a bus in 2010.

Mr Clarke then went onto drive a bin lorry which he lost control of moments before it struck and killed six people.

A four-day hearing was due to begin at the Court of Session on Tuesday.

However, lawyers for Glasgow City Council attempted to lodge a document with officials which they believed would support their case.

The move was opposed by lawyers acting for First Glasgow, who stated that the move breached court rules to lodge all relevant documents at least a week before proceedings begin.

Glasgow City Council’s advocate Andrew Smith QC said he was unaware of the document until Monday night.

However, the court heard that council officials knew about the document in June last year – but didn’t pass the information on to their legal team because of “pressures of work".

Mr Smith then asked for the case to be postponed because the document was essential and was needed to support their action.

Lord Ericht agreed to the motion, but criticised Glasgow City Council for their actions and ordered the local authority to pay the expenses incurred for preparing for Tuesday's hearing on an enhanced basis.

He said: “The pursuers this morning sought to lodge a spreadsheet which is taken from the council’s computer system.

“One page of that spreadsheet had previously been lodged; the other two pages had not. The two new pages contain information which is very pertinent to the question of whether a reference had been given.

“Mr Smith has drawn my attention to an entry which would appear to suggest that a reference was received.

“The Dean of Faculty has drawn my attention to an entry which would appear to suggest that a reference was still outstanding.

“The whole position is extremely unsatisfactory. It appears from what I have just heard that a council employee has been aware of the full spreadsheet since July and it is simply not acceptable not to prepare for a Court of Session proof properly on the basis of pressure of other work.

“It is also extremely unsatisfactory that the council has not produced this document before now, particularly in circumstances whether they only produced part of it and not the whole document, and therefore did not put before the court either the part which the pursuers now found upon, or the part which the defenders now found upon.

“I turn now to the question of expenses. I shall award the expenses of the preparation of the diet in favour of the defenders.

“The court will express its disapproval of the conduct of the council by awarding expenses on a scale not the normal scale.”

Crown Office lawyers decided not to prosecute Clarke on the basis that he had a medical condition and there was no evidence to show he broke the law.

The families of those who lost their lives after the incident tried to raise a private prosecution against Clarke.

They argued that Clarke had made “misrepresentations” about his medical history to the DVLA and to his employers.

However, senior judges didn’t allow the prosecution to proceed.

Five years later, Mr Clarke said he was sorry for the part he played in the tragedy.

On Tuesday, Mr Smith told the court that the document was so important for his client’s case that he had no other option but to ask for a postponement.

He said this would allow his legal team to be properly prepared. He said he accepted Lord Ericht’s observations and that the local authority were willing to pay enhanced expenses.

He said that council officials hadn’t been able to hand over the document because the local authority’s HR department had been “stretched” due the pressures created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Smith added: “The only reasonable course in the interests of justice is to discharge, provided of course the expenses of the discharge are paid.

“My lord, can I say this: it is very regrettable that we are in this position and I wish to make it clear that this is not something anyone can suggest other than a very unfortunate situation.

“Your lordship’s observations are noted that there are a number of matters which could have been undoubtedly far better - I accept that.

“But at the end of the day, the penalty we are paying if my lord is with me is the penalty of expenses.

“In my submission that’s a serious and severe penalty and I invite your lordship to grant my motion.”

Roddy Dunlop QC, for First Glasgow, opposed the motion to postpone the case saying that it breached Court of Session rules to lodge documents in sufficient time.

He added: “My learned friend is very clear - the reason why he is making the motion is that there are various things which could have been done and should have been done but weren’t done.

“The discharge is being used - and let’s be clear about this - is being used a mechanism to subvert the point of rule 47.14.

“That is not something your lordship should find attractive. One queries how can it be so important to award a discharge when as my learned friend tells us he didn’t know about this document until 7pm last night.

“So at 6.59pm last night, he was ready, I was ready. Our respective juniors were ready. Our respective agents were ready to run this proof without this document.

“But then all of a sudden this has become of such crushing importance that the proof - which has been in diaries for a substantial period of time needs to go off.

“In my submission that is again not satisfactory and not sufficient to turn your lordship’s head.”

Lord Ericht postponed the case. A procedural hearing will now be heard at the court on February 18 2021.