Lawyering up!

A MEMORABLE EVENT in the Signet Library on Tuesday this week when best-selling author Val McDermid hosted the launch of Daniel Gray’s new book, Scribbles in the Margin. Publisher Bloomsbury Book’s Charlotte Atyeo tweeted, “Oh my, the Signet Library is stunning” which was a pretty representative response. Introducing the evening, Val McDermid said “it certainly means something that some people decided to build such a place dedicated to books”. Everyone at the WS Society is delighted when a new audience is able to appreciate and enjoy this amazing place, and hopes to welcome them and others to similar cultural events in the very near future. Daniel Gray will certainly be back very soon.

ON THE SAME evening the WS Council met for the second quarterly meeting of the year. In May, seven council members stand down, and seven new members are appointed at the AGM in June. With so many new Writers to the Signet being admitted in recent years the Council is an important vehicle for lawyers in practice to engage with the Society. WS governance ensures, through a set of criteria, that the Council is representative of the WS body as a whole, and the Society is always pleased that so many WS are eager to be involved in investing their time to promote the Society. Increasing diversity and widening participation are key themes of the Society’s strategy. The Council meeting heard on Tuesday that 20 Writers to the Signet and 10 Associate Writers to the Signet will be admitted next month, continuing the high number of new admissions. The admission ceremony will be combined with the Society’s AGM on 30 May when the Keeper of the Signet, Lord Mackay of Clashfern will give an address.

IT IS DIFFICULT to ignore the endless “Breaking News” in America just now. It is also not hard to see that lawyers are all over everything in the US, whether it is Jim Comey, sacked FBI director, Sally Yates, sacked Acting Attorney General, or even breakfast TV presenters, like President Trump’s bête noire, Joe Scarborough, resurrecting his legal career on Wednesday this week to examine the case against Trump for obstruction of justice. All things considered, then, this was probably not the week President Donald Trump wanted to remind people that his lawyers were Chambers 2016 “Russian Law Firm of the Year”. However, it was Trump’s insistence this week that Morgan Lewis, his tax attorneys, release a certified letter stating “with a few exceptions… your tax returns do not reflect any income of any type from Russian sources” which turned the media spotlight onto the firm.

EMPLOYING OVER 3000 lawyers in 30 cities around the world, Morgan Lewis happily paraded the accolade on their website, hailing the “prestigious honour” which recognised the firm’s work in Russia’s energy and finance sectors. The tell-tale phrase “with a few exceptions” did not go unnoticed: Saturday Night Live’s spoof newscasters on Weekend Update commented “’With a few exceptions’ is not a comforting phrase. That’s like hearing ‘don’t worry. All the kids made it back from the fieldtrip with a few exceptions.’” The same show saw the return of Melissa McCarthy’s legendary impression of hapless Press Secretary Sean Spicer, with “Spicey” telling the press, “Trump is innocent. How do we know? Because he told us so. Period. Then he hired lawyers to agree with him. And they’re going to prove it with a certified letter which you know is the truth because it costs an extra $2 to have it certified.”

THURSDAY MORNING SAW yet more lawyers enter the frame, with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing former FBI director Robert Mueller as Special Prosecutor to investigate the Trump team’s ties to Russia. On accepting the role, Mueller immediately resigned from Boston law firm WilmerHale to avoid any conflict of interest questions – other WilmerHale partners represent the President’s daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband, Special Adviser Jared Kushner, as well as the highly controversial Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman, (already the subject of a federal criminal investigation into ties with Vladimir Putin). As Fred Rodell “the bad boy of legal academia” wrote in 1939’s Woe Unto You, Lawyers, “it is lawyers who run our civilization for us… most Presidents, Governors, Commissioners, along with their advisers… are lawyers”. The current President, of course, is a notable exception.

ON THURSDAY EVENING, psychologist, author and magician Richard Wiseman advertised his new show The Walter Scott Seance opening at the Signet Library in June. All of the tickets for the 4 preview shows sold out in exactly 10 minutes.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Play the game

STOP PRESS! don’t miss the chance to attend An Evening with Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court, 5 pm on Monday 12 June. A special event for Writers to the Signet. Early booking recommended – no charge for the event.

A HAPPY START to the week in the Signet Library with the Colonnades team celebrating not one, but two awards from The Scottish Food Awards 2017. Fresh from the ceremony the previous evening maître d Glenn D’Costa arrived Monday morning bearing two certificates for Afternoon Tea Destination of the Year and Highly Recommended Afternoon Tea of the Year, and also a winner’s medal. It is evident from social media that Colonnades is growing a large and loyal following (as well as providing some truly stunning Instagram shots). At the regular weekly meeting everyone at the WS Society joined in congratulating the Colonnades team on this well-deserved accolade.

THE SECOND BLIZZARD EVENT will be kicking off on Thursday 25 May at the Signet Library and tickets are going even faster than last year’s fixture. On the same day the WS Football Law Conference features high level speakers – Omar Ongaro, FIFA’s regulatory director, Stewart Regan and Andrew McKinlay of the SFA and Tony Higgins of the PFA Scotland and, of course, Associate Writer to the Signet Paolo Lombardi – and is attracting lots of fans. 

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME never fails to provide talking points both on and off the pitch as the sorry trail of evidence at the Craig Whyte trial in Glasgow continues to demonstrate. On Tuesday the court heard that former Rangers Chief Executive Martin Bain was paid £360,000 as a bonus for his role in the sale of the club. Defence QC Donald Findlay asked chartered accountant and former Rangers director Michael McGill what this money was for. Mr McGill replied, “He had a long standing arrangement with the Murray Group”. It was also heard during the case that Mr Bain had been given a new contract with a 39-month notice period. Perhaps some talking points here for the Football Law Conference?

SOMEWHAT LOST DURING coverage of the French and UK elections is the ongoing and long-running saga of Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to take over Sky through an £11.7 billion bid by Fox. On Tuesday American lawyer Lisa Bloom and her client Wendy Wlash met with Ofcom in the UK to call on the telecoms regulator to block the sale. Walsh is one of a number of women Bloom is representing in an ongoing sexual harassment suit in the US against former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly who finally left the network after years of claims of large pay-outs to former employees over claims of sexual harassment. Bloom told the assembled media “the Murdoch media hacks, harasses and hides it with hush money”. There are also questions regarding how the “hush money” payments were presented in the Fox News accounts. Elsewhere another Murdoch favourite bit the dust, with long-standing controversy generator Kelvin Mackenzie finally being forced to leave The Sun following a column in which he described footballer Ross Barkley, who is mixed-race, as having eyes that reminded him of “a gorilla at the zoo”. Mackenzie was suspended following the article, with some questioning why lawyers for the newspaper had allowed the piece to be printed.

MEANWHILE IN THE US, the continuing tension between politicians and lawyers is back on the front pages, and that most public of stages, a Senate hearing in Washington. Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates – fired by President Trump in the early days of his administration – had the daunting task of handling three hours of questioning in the uniquely intimidating set-up of such an iconic occasion, so familiar from the grainy newsreels of mid-twentieth century history. Her appearance proved to be an exemplary performance by a highly qualified lawyer totally on top of her brief, despite frequently hostile questioning by some Republican members of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee. “Ted Cruz tried to corner Sally Yates on the Law. He failed.” The Huffington Post’s widely shared article was representative of the assessments afterwards. Yates however was overshadowed Wednesday with the stunning “termination” of FBI director James Comey, who found out he was fired by seeing it on TV. Cue a series on tweets from the President whilst everyone else in Washington apparently reeled in shock. It would be a brave analyst who would try to predict the repercussions of all this, but it is safe to say House of Cards has some serious competition for must-watch political drama right now.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Deal or no deal

THE BIG COURT story this week was not in Edinburgh but at the High Court in Glasgow, as the case against Craig Whyte continues. Mr Whyte is accused of fraudulently acquiring a controlling interest in Rangers football club, a charge he denies. Since the case began last week, the courtroom has seen a parade of well-known faces from the club’s history, including former manager Walter Smith, former player and manager Ally McCoist and former owner Sir David Murray. In the last few days Murray’s sale of the club to Whyte – for £1 – has been under particular scrutiny. Cross examined by Craig Whyte’s QC, Donald Finlay, Ian Shanks, a relationship director with Lloyd’s Banking Group PLC agreed that in 2010 the bank had given Sir David a year to sell off Rangers and pay of its debts, including an £18m overdraft. “That’s an incentive, surely, to get the deal done”, Mr Findlay asked Mr Shanks during his second day of evidence on Wednesday. “I agree”, Mr Shanks replied. The Crown alleges Mr Whyte had only £4m available from two sources at the time but took out a £24m loan from Ticketus against three years of future season ticket sales. It is just one of a number of cases taken in relation to Rangers since the club went into liquidation. As evidence of this, take, for example, @rangerstaxcase Twitter account (24.9 thousand followers, member since 2011) and other online presences, many of them specialising in that particular mixture of gallows humour and apocalyptic outrage so popular with the Scottish football fan. The case continues.

THURSDAY SAW THE FIRST of a number of elections that are set to arrive in quick succession in the following days and weeks, with the local council elections taking place in Scotland, England and Wales. Around the Signet Library there was a degree of ceremony, not over these elections but rather the Queen’s parliamentary proclamation for the general election. This event marks the traditional official announcement in the Royal Mile of the upcoming general election. Crowds gathered behind barriers to watch the military band and other officials in the ceremonial procession. As ever, the Signet Library had its part to play in this, with the party changing into their magnificent ceremonial robes in the Lower Library before processing out into Parliament Square.

THERE WAS a slightly lower-key procession through Parliament Hall on Tuesday with another swearing in of a new judge in the Court of Session, Paul Andrew Arthurson QC, now Lord Arthurson. As usual all the leading members of the College of Justice were in place in court to witness the ceremony, and, unlike the previous week, the pen used to sign the parchment was checked before it came time to sign to ensure there were no hitches this time. (It worked perfectly.)

ON THURSDAY REPORTS reports from the US that the controversial Attorney General Jeff Sessions had successfully prosecuted a woman for laughing at him seemed too extraordinary to be true... but, what do you know? It is true. The case dates back to the senate hearings confirming Sessions’ appointment as Attorney General when a 61 year old female activist named Desiree Fairooz was escorted from the committee room for laughing when Session was described as “treating all Americans fairly under the law”. (Sessions was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 due to his long history of racially charged remarks.) Convicted this week by a jury of “disorderly and disruptive conduct” Ms. Fairooz could face a year in prison. President Trump meanwhile is currently facing multiple lawsuits accusing him of inciting violence against protestors at his rallies during last year’s elections. It remains to be seen what the long term legal repercussions of all these cases will have on the long standing right to protest in America.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Flying right

AS the long Easter weekend approaches, the Court of Session car park was eerily quiet without the usual traffic of those working in the courts. The Signet Library and Colonnades, in contrast, were busier than ever, and elsewhere in the Royal Mile, the detritus of a Hollywood blockbuster was detectable in the form of burned out lorries dotting the cobbled streets.

IN the business world, some well-known names were having a rather trying week. Leading the way in how-not-to-do-PR was undoubtedly United Airlines and its CEO Oscar Munoz. For a corporation that should have already been on high alert following the controversy when it refused to allow two 10 year old girls to board a flight because they were wearing leggings, this was a further spectacular public relations disaster. Following the forced ejection of a passenger due to an overbooked flight, Munoz first response was to praise UA staff with an inadvertently appropriate piece of corporate-speak: “I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right”. “Flying right” in this case, as mobile phone footage of the incident made graphically clear, involved giving the passenger a split lip, and dragging him along the aisle to “re-accomodate” him back to the airport. Eventually, by Wednesday this week, Munoz was touring US television stations to issue a grovelling apology, with a strong sense of UA’s lawyers sitting off camera close by.

AN equally legendary bit of “leadership” from Barclay’s boss Jes Staley, whose actions in the last few months led the FT this week to call him “a very bad chief executive”. For a bank whose legal tangles are second-to-none in the city, the decision to bring in US law enforcement to investigate one of their own whistleblowers was, well, unfortunate to say the least – as was the fact that said whistleblowing concerned the appointment of one of Staley’s former colleague and friend to a job at Barclays. However, the board decided that what had all the appearance of a concerted witch-hunt by the CEO was in fact “an honest mistake”. Corporate lawyers take note… As the FT concludes, support for whistleblowers amounts to very little “and that is likely to be much worse for investors in the long run”.

MEANWHILE, in America, Donald Trump finally succeeded in appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, leaving behind a legacy that will last far longer that his Presidency - however long that might be. In a delicious irony, this week also saw CNN report that US courts can expect a great deal of litigation from bitter Trump voters living along the southern border. These citizens have just begun to realise the government will be seeking compulsory purchase orders to buy their houses, farms, ranches and even (in at least one case) golf courses in order to build – yes, you guessed it – the Big Beautiful Wall.

WALTER and Writer will be away next week for a rejuvenating Easter break in the Scottish countryside, so Writer’s Week will return on 28 April. Fortunately for everyone, no air travel will be involved, as any airline attempting to forcibly “re-accomodate” a Scottish terrier would surely live to regret it.

Happy Easter!

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Rough justice

BY MONDAY in Parliament Square, there was no sign of last week’s media excitement surrounding the Colin Montgomerie divorce proceedings in the Court of Session. Lord Doherty would no longer have to rule who should pay what to whom for what with the Scottish golfer and his wife Gaynor reaching an out-of-court settlement at the weekend. Presumably this was in an effort to avoid more embarrassing details emerging during the court proceeding, although it could be argued it could hardly have got more excruciating for “Monty”. By then, his financial adviser had already acknowledged to the former Ryder cup Captain’s QC Kenneth McBrearty that Montgomerie was naïve in financial matters and that the family house at the centre of the dispute is now worth less than the amount the couple had spent renovating it – complete with cellar and “trophy” room. Montgomerie is now apparently living with his father in Troon. At least the meter on the legal bills has stopped running.

IN THE WEEK that saw Theresa May visit Scotland before triggering Article 50 on Wednesday, the Daily Mail excelled themselves with a headline discussing the respective merits of the Prime Minister’s legs versus the legs of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. “Who won ‘Legs-it’?” roared the front page, over a photo taken during a brief meeting between the two in Glasgow. (Never mind issues like, say, Brexit, the Union, potential second Independence referendum, or the limits of devolution.) Media lawyers will be aware that without a complaint from one of the parties (no such complaint was forthcoming) no action can be taken against the newspaper, but that did not stop a general outcry and much mockery on social media. SNP MP (and WS) Tasminah Ahmed-Sheikh appeared alongside Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale on BBC news, illustrating that one of the few issues that can unite the two parties is a shared opinion of the Daily Mail. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson also tweeted a picture of her feet in her hot tub in an ironic show of solidarity.

A SPECIAL LUNCH party takes place on Thursday at the Signet Library. Former DKS Peter Millar celebrates a particular milestone in 2017 and current DKS Caroline Docherty hosted a get-together of former DKS and spouses to mark the occasion. Also attending was the Keeper of the Signet, Lord Mackay of Clashfern KT, and Lady Mackay. Peter Millar will be presented with a special gift and the occasion captured by photographer Albie Clark.

THE STORYVILLE strand on the BBC iPlayer is providing a particularly rich seam of legal documentaries just now. Killing for Love tells the incredible story of a notorious Virginia murder trial in the US in the early 90s. Hard to top for sheer entertainment is Client 9, the story of the downfall of Eliot Spitzer, New York attorney general and scourge of Wall Street in the early 2000’s. The supporting cast of financial masters of the universe, “escorts” and hard-nosed politicians is a 21st century collection of Boardwalk Empire characters straight out of a Martin Scorsese casting call. Also on the iPlayer the series American Justice continues, an eye-watering glimpse into the justice system in Florida as hardline Republican State Attorney AngelaCorey seeks re-election in the “murder capital” of America. If all that fly-on-the –wall drama hasn’t satisfied viewers’ appetites for courtroom drama, The Good Fight begins this week on More4, a spin-off from the Emmy award winning legal drama The Good Wife.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Shock and solidarity

THIS WEEK has been overshadowed by the terrorist attack at Westminster. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed the “sense of solidarity” felt in Scotland for the people of London. The referendum debate at Holyrood was temporarily suspended on Wednesday, and will not be resumed until Tuesday next week. On Thursday morning the first minister joined MSPs for a minutes silence at the Edinburgh parliament to remember the victims of the attack.

ELSEWHERE in Edinburgh, much excitement and some disruption has been caused by the filming of a certain Hollywood blockbuster. Waverley Station, Cockburn Street and the Royal Mile have been just some of the locations affected, with mobile phone footage capturing stunt-doubles flying through the air on wires amongst the buildings of Edinburgh’s old town.

WALTER THE SCOTTIE does not appreciate such commotion, and took the opportunity this week to make his annual spring trip to the beautiful Borders home of his famous namesake. He always appreciates this visit as a reminder to his WS masters that the great poet, author, historian and critic should inspire all lawyers to pursue a rich and varied life beyond the law. Equally importantly in a Scottie’s eyes, of course, Sir Walter Scott took very good care of his much-loved dogs, immortalising them in text, oil and stone. Walter always seems to pause a moment at the statue to the deerhound Maida, beside Abbotsford’s entrance hall, with its Latin inscription, “Maidae marmoreal dormis sub imagine Maida/Ante fores domini sit tibi terrs levis” (“Beneath the sculptured form which late you wore/Sleep soundly Maida at your Master’s door”).

ELSEWHERE in the world of the law, the relationship between politicians and judges shows no sign of improving any time soon. The lord chief justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd criticised Liz Truss, the justice secretary, this week, for her failure to defend the judges branded “enemies of the people” in the press. Giving evidence to the House of Lords constitution select committee, the lord chief justice told peers “The circuit judges were very concerned. They wrote to the lord chancellor because litigants in person were coming and saying “you’re an enemy of the people”. Lord Thomas acknowledged the strength of his language, explaining, “I regret to have to criticise her as severely as I have…but she has taken a position that is constitutionally absolutely wrong.”

ALTHOUGH it may have escaped the attention of many, the inquiry into the Edinburgh trams project rolls on. Led by former Lord Advocate Lord Hardie, the hearings were back in the news this week with the sort of headlines law firms definitely do not pursue in their marketing initiatives. Any Evening News headline incorporating the words “lawyer”, “secret”, “£50, 000 bonus” and “trams” is bad enough, never mind a story with phrases like “paid into his personal account without his firm’s knowledge” or “the contract was defective… which may or may not be as a result of such incentivisation”. The inquiry continues.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

The dog that caught the car

WEDNESDAY and another court reversal for President Trump when a federal judge in Hawaii issued a temporary restraining order against the new travel ban just hours before it was due to come into effect. Judge Derrick Watson said “the illogic of the government’s contentions is palpable”. The judge quoted the words of Trump and some of his key advisors in making the ruling: this did not deter the President from immediately further hindering his cause by denouncing the judge at a rally in Nashville, calling the ruling “an unprecedented judicial overreach”. Not content with that, Trump claimed the revised travel ban was just “a watered-down version” of the original and told the crowd “we’re going to fight this terrible ruling. We’re going to take this as far as we need to, right up to the Supreme Court”.

THIS LATEST SET-BACK is another example of ‘the dog that finally caught the car’, a phrase that has been much-used by commentators in the US in relation to the new Republican administration. This refers to the story of the old dog who for years chased after cars in the street where he lived, only to be at a loss over what to do when he finally caught up with one. The most prominent legal example of this is the attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) which has been a subject of loathing for the GOP for 8 years. Judging by the rowdy town hall meetings Republican senators have been facing across the country, this might be one car they wish they hadn’t chased quite so hard.

CLOSER TO HOME the Brexit dog has certainly caught the car and the Prime Minister is the harassed owner trying unsuccessfully to bring the hound under control.

ANOTHER CANINE pursuer set off this week with the Scottish Government’s announcement of its intention to hold a second independence referendum. Here at the Signet Library, Walter has never been a car chaser. Walter favours quiet reflection and an evidence-based approach, inspired by the Enlightenment spirit of his daytime abode.  

SCOTS LAWYERS will have been bemused by the UK Supreme Court’s ruling this week, in an English case, upholding the right of a parent to disinherit their children. The case was taken by three animal charities ‘largely on principle’ to prevent an estranged daughter from sharing more than the £50,000 awarded at first instance from her mother’s £500,000 estate. Mrs Melita Jackson died aged 70 in 2004, cutting her daughter out of any inheritance and leaving her whole estate to the three charities. Mrs Jackson specifically instructed her solicitors to contest any claim by her daughter from whom she was estranged after her daughter eloped aged 17 in 1978 with the man to whom she is still married with five children. The ruling reflects the English law tradition of protecting the absolute right of an owner to dispose of their property as they see fit. In contrast, Scots law traditionally recognises community of property within the family. In Scotland, Mrs Jackson’s daughter would have been entitled to half her moveable estate regardless of the terms of her mother’s will.

THEY SAY you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but Muirfield Golf Club has finally voted to admit women members, following last year’s much derided decision to continue to refuse this right. Cynics would suggest the decision was governed more by the loss of the status of being an Open Championship course rather than some late-flowering #HeForShe activism within the ranks of the current membership.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Taking rights seriously

LAST WEEK’s WS Charities Conference was another successful event at the Signet Library, attended by leading lawyers in the charity sector, including legal advisers from OSCR. The event was chaired by Alastair Keatinge WS of law firm Lindsays and sponsored by Standard Life Wealth and included discussions of cross-border issues by Gavin McEwan and trading for charities by Jandy Sevenson of accountants Henderson Loggie. As ever, the “beautiful” Signet Library was much admired by delegates on Twitter, with those new to the building including lawyers from fast-growing Irish firm Mason Hughes & Curran.

THIS WEEK began with more success for Colonnades, with The Scotsman naming the Signet Library’s restaurant one of the top five in Edinburgh. “A book lover’s (and foodie’s) dream” the review found, in “one of the city’s most beautiful restaurant settings”.

THE KEEPER of the Signet Lord Mackay and WS Fellow Lord Hope are two of the many legal figures currently figuring in events in the House of Lords, as the Brexit Bill makes its way through the Upper House. On Tuesday the House of Lords voted against the government in an amendment stating parliament should be allowed a “meaningful” final judgement on the Brexit deal negotiated by PM Theresa May and her ministers. Tory grandee Lord Heseltine was sacked Wednesday morning from his role as a government advisor for leading the rebellion. In an entertaining exchange on Channel 4 news Baronness Hayter (who supported the amendment) winced her way through an explanation by Lord Finkelstein (who opposed it) as to what the Supreme Court judgement had meant for Brexit in parliament, before delivering a fairly effective smack-down: “Lord Hope does not take the same view as Lord Finkelstein and I think that Lord Hope is actually a rather better lawyer”.

THE BBC documentary Meet the Lords, which continued this week, could hardly have asked for better advance publicity than the events of the last few days. The programme has been accused of “sexing-up” the Lords by House of Lords Speaker Lord Fowler, although to most viewers this seems to be a relative term. The fly-on-the wall format reveals both the controversial aspects of an unelected house, (hereditary peers as represented by the “incredibly stupid” Lord Palmer – his words, by the way) and unsung heroes such as Lord Dubs working on an amendment to bring a small number of child refugees to Britain. Whilst senior legal and academic brains conscientiously wrestle with how to improve sloppily written legislation from the House of Commons, Lord Palmer is exercised by the loss of “the television room” where he had a “comfortable” chair to enjoy “important sporting events”. Whether the programme improves the public’s view of the Lords and the laws they produce remains to be seen.

THERE ARE many reasons to run for political office but avoiding criminal prosecution is not usually one of them. Scandal-hit French presidential candidate François Fillon has survived a bid by his party to oust him over allegations of taxpayer-funded “fake jobs” for his wife and children over 15 years.  Fillon denies wrongdoing and alleges he’s being unfairly targeted by judges and the media. Interestingly, the French constitution confers immunity from criminal charges on the office of president. Fillon is down in the polls, behind the far right Front National’s Marine Le Pen and the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. The final election runoff takes place on 7 May.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

What price human rights?

THIS WEEK began with a letter signed by more than 50 highly respected lawyers and legal academics sent to The Observer newspaper, warning that Brexit could trigger a human rights crisis across the UK. Amongst the prominent members of the profession who signed the letter were Baroness Helena Kennedy (a Fellow of the WS Society), Sir Paul Jenkins and Lord Lester. The document suggested that the UK’s departure from the European Union may see the removal of fundamental rights from UK law leaving its citizens with a similar level of legal protection to those in the dictatorship of Belarus. The letter’s signatories claimed: “We face the very real threat of a human rights crisis with the UK trading away protections for grubby trade deals with foreign tyrants. We are calling for the EU to make Britain’s membership of the European Court of Human Rights a legally binding requirement for any future free trade deal with the UK”.

MONDAY SAW a packed House of Lords debate the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. 187 members of the House applied to speak in the two-day debate. In a move that surprised many, PM Theresa May made an appearance in the chamber to listen to the contributions. Many lawyers spoke, including the Keeper of the Signet, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who noted that being number 40 on the list of speakers reminded him that “I was some 45 years outside the European Union and I remember well… some of the service that was done in bringing us into the European Union.” Lord Mackay commented on the Supreme Court ruling that the government could not rely on the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50. He also referred to the criticism in some places that those who sit in the House of Lords are unelected: “I am not the only unelected person in the British Constitution…I want to vote for the Bill not because I am unelected but because the decision is right”.

VOTERS ARE reminded on a weekly basis of the impact of the Supreme Court on UK life. This week saw another newsworthy decision, with Wednesday’s unanimous ruling in favour of the government’s minimum income rule for UK citizens bringing non-EU spouses to Britain. The £18600 minimum income threshold for such British citizens was introduced by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary in 2012 as part of a drive to reduce net migration. Lord Carnwath and his fellow judges held “that the minimum income threshold is accepted in principle”. However the justices also ruled that the current rules are defective and unlawful in relation to the interests of the children involved. The four families who brought the case can still not bring their spouses to Britain and the court agreed the rule had “a particularly harsh effect” on those who had lived or worked abroad and can now not return to the UK with a foreign spouse.

MEANWHILE this evening at the Signet Library the WS Society hosted a unique event: “The Law According to Star Trek”, a conference led by Professor Fabrice Defferrard, author of the book Le droit selon Star Trek.

AN UNUSUAL week in the US, in that President Trump went seven days without criticising the legal profession. Trump did manage to start a minor diplomatic incident with Sweden, after claiming the country had suffered an attack at the weekend. It transpires this was untrue, and based on something the President had seen on the Fox News cable channel. It is an open secret that Mr Trump prefers to get his information from television. Another favourite show is MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’, presented by Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman. A lawyer by profession, Scarborough is often vexed enough by Trump’s statements to provide ad hoc legal tutorials on the American constitution on-air. (A particularly trying time for ‘Morning Joe’ was the day after Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior White House advisor, argued “the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions that the powers of the president… will not be questioned.”) Other broadcasters are also onto television as a presidential educational tool: ‘Last Week Tonight’ host John Oliver revealed that his show is paying for advert slots in the Washington area during the breaks on Trump’s favourite early morning networks like MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. The commercials imitate catheter ads, and are presented by an elderly, folksy cowboy, who slips in crucial information, like what the Geneva Convention is, the fact that unemployment rates have fallen, or “not all blacks live in the inner cities.”

THANK YOU to John Wightman WS for his generous donation of an edition of Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. Originally published in 1765 as a record of ancient ballads, songs poetry, this work was an inspiration to the literary career of Sir Walter Scott. As a younger man, Scott was inspired by the Reliques to research and publish his three volume The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border in 1802 and 1803. The edition of the Reliques gifted by Mr Wightman is the same edition that appears in the Signet Library’s catalogue of 1805 and must have been one of the first works of poetry in the collection. Alas, this copy was sold in the Society’s great book sales of the later 20th century and, happily, Mr Wightman’s generosity has restored to the library a work that so inspired Scotland’s greatest ever literary figure.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Ties that bind

THE RELATIONSHIP between lawyers and politicians continues to dominate the news on both sides of the Atlantic. The most senior judge in the UK, Lord Neuberger, spoke today, Thursday, in an unusual intervention during an interview with the BBC’s Today programme on Radio 4. Politicians ‘could have been quicker and clearer’ in their defence of the judiciary following the Brexit court challenge, the president of the supreme court said. The vitriolic criticism from certain sections of the media – most infamously the Daily Mail’s headline ‘Enemies of the people’ – led Neuberger to argue ‘I think some of what was said was undermining the rule of law. The rule of law together with democracy is one of the two pillars on which our society is based.’ 

THIS FOLLOWED Wednesday’s letter from 250 UK legal academics to Prime Minister Theresa May, urging her to cancel Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain later this year. The letter expressed ‘collective dismay’ regarding May’s strategy of a close relationship with Trump given his disregard for the law. Dr Rose Parfitt of Kent Law School said: “We are in the process of teaching law students about the importance of legal process and deliberation in an open and democratic society. President Trump’s behaviour and the behaviour of his administration constantly undermines this.’

MEANWHILE, in a widely shared op-ed piece in The New York Times, Stanford Law School Professor Richard Thomson Ford was discussing other ties that bind – namely the comically long ones often around the President’s neck. ‘Could a misbegotten (and far too shiny) necktie reflect weightier issues of self-discipline, competence and integrity?’ Ford asked. Refreshingly for those disquieted by frequent discussion regarding the dress sense of high-profile women, Ford’s article temporarily at least drew attention away from Theresa May’s shoes: ‘Mr Trump’s tie symbolises one of the central questions of his presidency. Is his seeming ineptness genuine? Or is it part of a contrived performance designed to deploy the symbols of power while rejecting the conventions of civility that have traditionally defined and constrained them? Mr Trump’s… overlong tie stands out like a rehearsed macho boast, crass and overcompensating.’ 

AT THE SIGNET LIBRARY on Wednesday evening, the semi-final of the Sir Alexander Stone Mooting Competition was held in the Commissioners’ Room. Contested between students from Edinburgh and Glasgow Caledonian Universities, the standard was very high, resulting in a narrow win for Edinburgh. The competition is contested by all the law schools in Scotland. Mooting is described by the Oxford Law Faulty as ‘a specialised application of the art of persuasive advocacy’. The WS Society is always delighted to host such events and welcome the lawyers of the future.

THIS EVENING brings another audience to the Signet Library, this time to enjoy ‘Taking the Case on a Pro Bordeaux basis’, a wine tasting hosted by the WS Society’s Fife-based supplier, L’Art Du Vin. Salut!

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

‘So-called judges’

BY TODAY Colonnades was back in the Lower Library and life at the WS Society had returned to normal. The incredible profusion and variety of vehicles in Parliament Square at the beginning of the week were the only visible signs of the activity inside the Signet Library over the last ten days. 

IN OTHER High Street news, it was confirmed that the WS Society will have new neighbours, with the announcement that the Lothian Chambers building is to become Edinburgh’s French “embassy”. This perfect illustration of the “Auld Alliance” – celebrated at the WS annual dinner last November – was timed to mark the 70th anniversaries of both the French Consulate in Edinburgh and the Edinburgh International Festival. The “Embassy” proposes to redesign some of the interior to form a 100 seat auditorium, a 20,000 book and multimedia library, an art gallery, a language school and a support centre for French and European citizens. Everyone at the WS society looks forward to welcoming their new neighbours and working together in the future.

LAWYERS have been in the news for many reasons this week. Two of the UK’s most high profile lawyers were finally struck off, with Cameron Fyfe losing his appeal before Lady Dorian at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, and Phil Shiner, who was disqualified in his absence after a two day hearing at the solicitor’s disciplinary tribunal in London. Fyfe, a former partner of Ross Harper Solicitors was barred for breaching accounts rules. Shiner, an award winning campaigning human rights lawyer, was found guilty of multiple professional misconduct charges relating to the pursuit of legal claims against British troops over their conduct in the 2003 Iraq war. Shiner, who in 2007 was named the Law Society’s solicitor of the year, claimed to be too ill to attend the hearing and unable to afford a defence lawyer, in what the Guardian called “a vertiginous fall from grace”.

MEANWHILE, events in the US continue to develop at a dizzying speed. The week began with President Trump tweeting his disdain for the justice system: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” The object of Trump’s ire was District Judge James Robart, a George W Bush appointee who was derided by the new president as a “so-called judge”. It is safe to say the legal community on all sides of the political debate was disquieted by the language used about a highly respected jurist. Constitutional experts in the USA look to be in for a long and vexing four years. Ironically, it was the president Trump supposedly most admires, Andrew Jackson – a lawyer no less – who said in 1829 “all the rights secured to the citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing, except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous judiciary”. 

SINCE A NUMBER of states are appealing the so-called “Muslim ban” executive order, the dispute is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Trump seemed just as infuriated by a New York Times report giving a disturbing account of White House life, featuring a darkened and half-empty West Wing and a president who spends considerable time “watching television in his bathrobe”. Sean Spicer, the president’s embattled press secretary took particular issue with the last detail, telling the press “I don’t think the president owns a bathrobe. He definitely doesn’t wear one.” Within minutes, twitter was flooded with pictures stretching back to the 1980’s of Trump in bathrobes. Elsewhere on social media some wondered about the basis for Spicer’s remark: “I pray I go for the rest of my life not knowing how Sean Spicer became aware of Trump not owning a bathrobe.” At least this issue – surely? – shouldn’t go all the way to the Supreme Court.

IN OTHER NEWS Trump’s nominee as attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has been confirmed by the US senate.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.


ANYONE passing Parliament Square this week cannot have failed to notice a great deal of activity around the Signet Library, and the fact that Colonnades is closed for the week. Otherwise, normal WS service is being maintained amid the unusual commotion. Walter has taken refuge in the New Town due to the disruption. Rumours as to what might have been happening can be neither confirmed nor denied, meaning Writer’s Week is necessarily shorter as February begins. If events inside the Signet Library cannot be discussed (yet) – confidentiality clauses and all that – there’s plenty affecting the legal world attracting huge amounts of discussion. These included President Trump sacking his Attorney General, the second week of mass protests against the so-called “travel-ban”(resulting in many lawyers offering free legal advice to those stranded at US airports), the Brexit debate beginning in Westminster and the conviction of a number of former HBOS bankers after a long and complicated corruption trial. Oh, and the fact that MPs will now debate a State Visit by President Trump as a petition against that visit attracted close to 2 million signatures on the UK government’s website.

LAST THURSDAY was a reminder that swearing an oath (and when you do it) matters. Adding to the confusion of ‘Penelopegate’ (allegations that his expenses-paid wife’s job was ‘fake’), French presidential candidate François Fillon stated that his daughter, Marie, and son, Charles, “who were lawyers”, were hired as his parliamentary aides when he was a French senator in 2005-2007. They earned 57,084 euros over 15 months and 26,651 euros over 6 months, respectively. It now appears they were 23 years-old law students at the time, and due to swear their serment davocat (Je jure, comme Avocat, dexercer mes fonctions avec dignité, conscience, indépendance, probité et humanité”) just a few months later, for Marie, and 3 years later, for Charles. Oaths matter as Writers to the Signet, who take an oath de fideli before the Keeper of the Signet on admission, will tell you.

AMONG the week’s more surreal moments was SNP MP’s Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh’s complaint to the speaker about Conservative MP Nicholas Soames’ behaviour during the Article 50 debate. Soames admitted he had made “barking” noises at Ms Sheikh, a former lawyer, as she spoke, but only as “a friendly canine salute”. Nevertheless he apologised, “if she was offended”. What planet do some male MPs inhabit that this kind of behaviour still goes on at Westminster? Shame on Soames and his ilk.  

WITH WORLD EVENTS moving at breakneck speed, the role of lawyers in both written and unwritten constitutions looks set to be more prominent than ever. A New Yorker cartoon this week featured two suited men contemplating the view from their office window, with one saying to the other: “Part of me is going to miss liberal democracy”.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Alternative fact

THERE WAS really only one legal story this week, the Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday that saw the 11 judges find against the government by a majority of 8-3. The widely predicted decision means that Prime Minister Theresa May cannot trigger article 50 without a vote in parliament. The government seemed so relaxed about losing this historic case that many observers wondered why they had ever contested the original high court ruling 83 days before. The Scottish government, represented by Lord Advocate James Wolffe, did not succeed in convincing the court of equal rights for the Holyrood legislature. The Supreme Court ruled the devolved parliaments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales had no role in law in triggering the Brexit process.

ONCE AGAIN demand was high amongst journalists and television studios for legal expertise on tap. The BBC’s Hugh Edwards seemed absolutely fascinated by his interview with Lord Hope, former Supreme Court Judge, (and fellow of the WS Society) who gave an insight into both the legal intricacies of the case and life on the Supreme Court bench. Michael Crick, Channel 4 News’ peerlessly mischievous political correspondent, went onto the streets of Edinburgh to seek public views in the capital on the ramifications for Scotland. One classic representative of the Scottish “workie” responded to the question, “What do you think about Brexit?” with a wry shrug, “Oh, a dinnae ken anythin aboot it pal”.

CORPORATE GOVERNANCE didn’t have such a good week in the press. First there was the catastrophic fall in the share price of BT (20% in a day) thanks to an accounting scandal in Italy – “accounting scandal in Italy” being one of the phrases the board of an international company never wants to hear. Even more coverage was generated by Sainsbury’s chairman David Tyler when it was discovered that he had used the supermarket giant’s staff and suppliers to revamp his £1.5 million country retreat. A Sainsbury’s spokesman said “The chairman was given a warning but the board concluded his failure to comply with policy was unintentional”.

THE “POST-TRUTH” ERA is already over, according to President Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway. Trump’s chosen appointee for the US Supreme Court will be announced this week, one of the world’s most talked about legal appointments. Many of the millions who marched on the “Women’s march” on Saturday did so with civil rights and abortion laws at the front of their minds. However it was best not to point out that more attended the Washington march than the inauguration the previous day. When challenged on an American news network on the claim made by Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer – that Trump had the largest inauguration crowd ever – Conway claimed that this was not a lie but rather an “alternative fact”. This interesting legal concept looks set to enter the American lexicon, along with another of Trump’s favourites, “bigly”. Despite the fact that “bigly” is a real word, (honestly) Trump’s team insist their Boss is actually saying “big league”. Ironically “Big league” is not a recognised term, at least, not yet.

OTHER BIG NEWS – certainly in Edinburgh - was this week’s star-studded Trainspotting premiere. Twenty years after the original classic hit cinema screens, Renton, Spud, Sick-Boy and Begbie returned to roam the capital’s streets – including in a trademark chase right past the Signet Library. Scottish actress Kelly McDonald, who went onto Hollywood stardom following her scene-stealing turn as precociously confident schoolgirl Diane, also reprises her original role. Perhaps viewers will not be surprised to see that Diane, now in her late 30’s, has become – what else? – a lawyer.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

‘Not funny’

THE WEEK BEGAN with some debate from news organisations as to whether this Monday or last Monday was “officially” the most depressing day of the year, and The Times newspaper chose to run an exclusive interview with President Elect Donald Trump on its front page. Erstwhile Prime Ministerial contender turned Times columnist Michael Gove received considerable criticism for his interviewing style – not least his decision to strike a “thumbs-up” pose with Trump in his gilded office (or “man-cave”, as the Daily Mail’s helpful guide had it). Gove’s transition from ideologue would-be prime minister to gushing media hack was painfully obvious. Trump’s inauguration is less than one week away and his lawyers are as busy as ever. One of that number, tax lawyer Sherri Dillon, who appeared alongside the President Elect at last week’s infamous press conference, now has the dubious honour of being parodied on America’s leading sketch show, ‘Saturday Night Live’. Whether she will take to Twitter, as Trump does late every Saturday night to lambast the programme’s portrayal of him – “Saturday Night Live is the worst… Not funny, cast is terrible. Really bad television!” – remains to be seen.

THE SUPREME COURT, taking a break from Brexit related cases for the moment, delivered another landmark ruling on Wednesday morning. Inevitably dubbed the “Wheelchair vs Buggy” case, disabled man Doug Paulley first brought a case against FirstGroup bus company in 2012 when he was refused access to a bus because a mother with a buggy would not vacate the wheelchair space on the bus. Wednesday’s ruling fell short of finding that those refusing to give up space for a wheelchair can be forced to leave the bus, but made clear drivers must do more than “request” the passenger move. As the BBC’s legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman highlighted, “This places a lot of responsibility on the driver”. Mr Paulley’s solicitor, Chris Fry, welcomed the partial victory but said overall the ruling had fallen short: “The judgement should have gone further – there’s no right as things currently stand to force someone off a bus”. Disability charity Scope said the ruling was “an important milestone”. Bus companies will not be the only service providers with wheelchair spaces or facilities who will be affected by the judgement – the case will also have implications for the railways, supermarkets and others.

MUCH INTEREST on Twitter and elsewhere this week in the WS Society’s conference, “The Law According to Star Trek”, to be staged in the Upper Library on 23 February. “BRILLIANT EVENT” and “This looks BRILLIANT” were representative of ‘learned friends’ responses. Other more regular features of the WS Society’s conference programme were also welcomed this week, including the flagship Charities Conference.

MEANTIME the Signet Library welcomes a new Head of Hospitality Marion Danyach. Marion comes with events experience in Paris and London and has moved to Edinburgh to work at developing the hospitality experience at the Signet Library. Marion will work closely with fellow French national, Vincent Guérin, developing exciting experiences for guests and visitors. Bienvenue Marion!

FINALLY, nothing can separate golf and the law its seems, this time colliding in Scotland, with the opinion of Lord Uist in the Court of Session, in the case of Colin Taylor against Des Quigley and Others. Mr Taylor had been a member of Colville Park Golf Club North Lanarkshire for a number of years when he injured himself on a loose manhole cover located on the golf course. Mr Taylor raised an action against the club’s board members as individuals, rather than as representatives of the club, in an attempt to establish that under particular circumstances board members had a duty to take care of other persons at the golf club. His Lordship did not agree, finding that whilst a duty of care might exist for third parties or outsiders, it was not owed to members. Golf club members, it appears, deserve one another.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

When in Rome

THE NEW YEAR began at the Signet Library with a stunning Hogmanay Ball where guests enjoyed dinner and a ceilidh in the Upper Library, as well as access to the street party outside in Parliament Square. The exterior of the Signet Library featured projections from the Unique Events’ Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, and the WS Society was pleased to share in the huge success of the city’s New Year party which once again saw tens of thousands of people enjoy a safe and spectacular event. 

WALTER, LIKE MANY canines, is not a huge fan of fireworks, but sharp-eyed visitors may have spotted him at the next WS event of the year, just a few hours later on January 1 in the Upper Library. As part of “Scot:Lands”, Edinburgh’s popular cultural event on New Year’s day, the WS Society was a host to Wig:Land, a taste of Scotland’s National Book Town through words and music curated by the Wigtown Book Festival. Visitors enjoyed performances from Robyn Stapleton, the 2014 BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year, the Bookshop Band and a dozen writers and artists. The reaction of Douglas Dodds, senior curator at the V&A, was representative: commenting alongside a picture posted on his twitter page, Dodds wrote “Rome? No it’s the fab Signet Library ceiling at the equally fab Scot:Lands extravaganza”.

Rome? No it’s the fab Signet Library ceiling at the equally fab Scot:Lands extravaganza
— Douglas Dodds

WITH MANY RETURNING to work this Monday, a wine tasting would seem to be an attractive prospect in the new year’s diary. The WS announced, “Taking the case on a pro Bordeaux basis” a second event in partnership with L’Art du Vin wine merchants, to take place on February 16 at 6.30pm. Continuing the French theme, the Cycling Podcast event at the Signet Library, recorded at the end of last year, also became available online this week.

IT WOULD APPEAR that a drafting lacuna on of heroic proportion, enough to induce palpitations for most lawyers, and head in hands for indemnity insurers, has resulted in the collapse of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. Tuesday’s announcement by Martin McGuinness that he was resigning as NI Deputy First Minister over the “cash-for-ash” scandal automatically means First Minister Arlene Foster loses her post and will most likely ensure a snap election. The botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has so far cost the NI taxpayer almost half a billion Euros. Set up in 2012 to encourage production of heat from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels, a failure to cap a subsidy rate in the RHI left it open to massive claims from individuals and businesses who were effectively being paid by the executive to burn renewable heat systems such as biomass boilers. In 2016, a whistle-blower exposed countless examples of abuse, including, most egregiously, a farmer who was aiming to collect almost one million euros by installing a boiler in an empty shed. The resignation of McGuiness this week follows countless calls from his Sinn Fein party for Foster to stand down whilst the enquiry into the scandal took place. Foster has failed to do so, citing the fact that McGuiness did not stand down during the enquiry into his actions during Bloody Sunday. The news reports from Northern Ireland this week suggest there is little hope of any improving relations during what will be a crucial few months for the UK as a whole, with the timetable for the triggering of Article 50 in March.

NO NEW YEAR RESOLUTION from Donald Trump to show more decorum in the circus of the President Elect. The week began with a string of insults from Trump directed at Meryl Streep, (“Overrated”, “Hilary flunky who lost big”) and got worse from there following a release of unsubstantiated and, if true, highly damaging material on CNN’s website on Wednesday. Certain of the allegations are too distasteful to repeat here. Media lawyers will be very, very busy in the next four years, is this is anything to go by. Trump's first press conference as President Elect this week, ostensibly to publicise how he'd addressed any conflict on interest issues by assigning over his business interests to his sons (yes, really), turned into an undignified spectacle that veered between farce and menace as he harangued various members of the press corps. The elaborate stunt he'd laid on by way of verification, with all the low cunning of the lowest form of property developer - a lawyer or two and a table full of (real or imaginary) legal folders and documents - was lost in the chaos held in hotel which earlier footage revealed concealed the view of a busy Starbucks in the background concealed by a blue curtain and row of stars n' stripes. The production values were decidedly bargain basement. 

THE PRESIDENT ELECT is very fond of golf and golf courses and perhaps now we know why. Researchers in psychology in Arizona claim that golfers perform better the less they think. This new insight into the secret of a low handicap is revealed by MRI scans that show the ideal state of cognitive repose required to get the best out of the game. The implications of this ground breaking research could explain a great deal. Such as why Trump looks so at home on a golf course.  

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Hard cases

MONDAY and lawyers have a chance to review the judgement of the High Court of Appeal refusing private prosecutions of two drivers involved in fatal accidents, one being the driver of the bin lorry that killed six and injured 15 in Glasgow city centre just before Christmas 2014. The Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian’s judgement reads like any other, matter-of-fact, weighing the legal arguments and reaching a reasoned conclusion. It will hardly satisfy grieving relatives seeking a finding of personal culpability for their grievous loss. The court passed no comment on the speed with which the Lord Advocate renounced prosecution, nor on whether all the background facts were known at that time. It’s easy for legal commentators like Andrew Tickell in The Times to pronounce that ‘outrage and sympathy must not sway justice’. Commenting on the old adage, ‘Hard make bad law’, American jurist Arthur Corbin wrote in 1923 that when legal precedent would lead to a decision contrary to 'the settled convictions of the community’, the court can distinguish the case and reverse the adage to become ‘Hard cases make good law’. The bin lorry tragedy was a ‘hard case’ alright. 

SEASONAL GOODWILL is not much in evidence between the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission with the news that the former has commenced litigation against the latter for, allegedly, unlawfully reviewing 200 complaints against solicitors and classifying some of them as service complaints, thus putting them beyond the jurisdiction of the Law Society. SLCC took this action following the opinion of Lord Malcolm in a Court of Session ruling that the same ground of complaint against a solicitor must be classified as either service (to be investigated by the SLCC) or conduct (to be investigated by the Law Society) but not both. This struck at SLCC’s previous practice of classifying some grounds of complaint as ‘hybrid’, i.e., meaning both bodies would investigate the same complaint and, possibly, reach different conclusions. The public must be baffled by the whole business which does nothing to improve the reputation of lawyers for obscuring and complicating issues. In mirror image press releases, both sides in the dispute claim to be acting in the public interest and to have offered the other a ‘collaborative’ approach to the problem. Perhaps the two warring overseers should heed Abraham Lincoln’s advice: ‘Discourage litigation. Never stir up litigation’. 

WALTER'S FINAL week in the Signet library before Christmas, and with huge crowds in the Royal Mile and Princes Street Christmas market in full swing, he is ready to head home for Christmas. He certainly seemed happy to see the rave reviews that Colonnades’ Christmas menu has been receiving from Tripadvisor contributors, although he is as shy as ever about appearing in front of guests.

THURSDAY was the final swearing in ceremony of 2016 at the Court of Session with Frank Mulholland QC, former Lord Advocate, being appointed a Senator of the College of Justice. Caroline Docherty, Alistair Morris, Mandy Laurie and Robert Pirrie, all Writers to the Signet, represented WS as members of the College of Justice.

LA COUR DE JUSTICE de la République is a special court in France set up to judge cases against government ministers and public ministers. It is made up of four judges and 12 politicians from the French houses of parliament – so much for the separation of powers! The court convened this week for only the fifth time to hear the case of negligence against Christine Lagarde, former French finance minister and corporate lawyer and current head of the IMF. Lagarde is accused of negligence in approving a payment of a 400 million euros to settle a lengthy legal battle to compensate French tycoon Bernard Tapie (one time actor, singer, TV host and owner of Marseilles football club, once convicted and jailed for match fixing and tax fraud). The payment was to settle years of litigation and arbitration to compensate Tapie, France’s answer to Donald Trump, for the enforced sale of his then shares in Adidas when he was appointed as a government minister in 1992. Lagarde was then serving as finance minister in president Nikolas Sarkozy’s government. Sarkozy is known to have been friends with Tapie since the 1980s. Lagarde is accused of negligently waving the payment through against the advice of officials and, in theory, could face a year in jail. Lagarde strenuously denies the charges. 

JUDGING FROM the TV schedules, nothing quite says “Christmas TV” like a good murder mystery. Granchester, Maigret and Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution represent the flagship programmes of the terrestrial broadcasters on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Buried deep in the Storyville collection on BBC iPlayer is documentary Death on the Staircase, a real-life puzzler just as intriguing and gripping as these fictional counterparts. The eight part series follows the murder trial of wealthy American author Michael Petersen, accused in 2001 of the murder of his second wife Kathleen Petersen, after she was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their North Carolina home. The case is back in the news this year; the reason for this can’t be disclosed here due to risk of spoilers. Every bit as binge-worthy as Netflix’s Making a Murderer it also features a fascinating insight into the work of defence attorney David Rudolf. The scene where he loses the plot with a slightly useless IT assistant whilst rehearsing his opening arguments in court is an unexpected piece of comedy gold, albeit one most hard-working lawyers will relate to.

SCOTTISH LAWYERS will recall from second year law school criminal law and procedure the High Court Appeal case Manuel v Lord Advocate as an authority on corroboration and ‘special knowledgeconfessions. In Plain Sight, ITV’s drama about the case continued this week, with Martin Compston as Peter Manuel, Scotland’s most notorious serial killer, and Douglass Henshall as police detective William Muncie, the man who finally brought him to justice. The series charts the string of murders Manuel committed in Lanarkshire in the 40’s and 50’s, and Muncie’s efforts to convict him. This week’s episode depicts just how close Scottish police came to a terrible miscarriage of justice in one of the murder cases. Manuel, when eventually arrested, delighted in defending himself in court. The Scottish justice system has seldom experienced anything like it.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Pannick attack

MONDAY and many enthusiastic comments following the WS Cycling Podcast event. Celebrated cycling journalist William Fotheringham tweeted, “Went to the Signet Library with my Dad in (gulp) 1978 when he was cataloguing books. Glorious building”. Publisher and author Lionel Birnie wrote, “Blown away by the response at our event at the Signet Library. Great audience, great questions, beautiful venue.” The podcast will be posted here. Judging by the comments on Twitter, any similar events would be in great demand.

THIS WEEK has been dominated by the UK Supreme Court’s hearing of HM government’s ‘article 50’ appeal, a case of unprecedented constitutional significance and public interest. It’s the ultimate legal cup-tie with the court putting out its strongest eleven in 4-3-3-1 formation. 

DAY ONE – A stern warning from the court’s president, Lord Neuberger, first to the media not to name or identify the litigants and their families, and second to the public that ‘threatening and abusing people because they are exercising their fundamental right to go to court undermines the rule of law’. The warm-up act was attorney general Jeremy Wright who then handed over to ‘Treasury Devil’ James Eadie QC to do the heavy lifting. So quick to attack judges for alleged Europhile tendencies, The Daily Mail must surely have missed that Eadie’s website claim to a ‘working knowledge’ of French. Eadie opened with a misguided attempt at bluff Rumpole-of-the-Bailey humour which badly misjudged the occasion. More bluff and bluster followed as Eadie endured more than a few sticky moments under judicial questioning. These exchanges dripped in legal metaphor with much talk of ‘side winds’ and of ‘water coursing through conduits’. It sounded as if Eadie’s advocacy had been infected by the attorney general’s reputation as (according to one unkind Tory MP) a “third rate conveyancing lawyer’. 

DAY TWO – On Tuesday morning Eadie laboured on under more sceptical questioning from the bench. Eadie made much – perhaps rather too much – of ministers’ prerogative power ‘on the foreign treaty plane’. The bench seemed uneasy. Eadie amiably conceded it was a ‘complex’ issue, possibly lacking a ‘complete answer’. 

NEXT UP a cameo performance from government attorney general for Scotland, Lord Elie QC (the Fife seaside connotation of his title belying his reputation.

LORD PANNICK QC appeared for the main respondents, arguing that the prerogative power cannot be used to frustrate or annul rights under a statutory scheme. The sovereignty of parliament is paramount. The power is limited by other principles of constitutional law, particularly the sovereignty of parliament. Pannick asserted that authorities on the point are scarce because, generally, ministers recognise basic constitutional law. Pannick said the onus is on government to show that parliament has authorised a minister to amend or appeal primary legislation and, in cases of doubt, a restrictive approach has to be taken. A ‘new legal order’ was created in 1972 act which requires legislation by parliament to dismantle. It would be ‘inherently implausible’ that parliament intended that this new legal order could be wiped away by prerogative powers.

DAY THREE – Wednesday morning and Lord Pannick at last runs into some choppy waters, Lord Neuberger, musing, “It would be a bit surprising if the referendum act and the referendum had no effect in law”. Pannick held the line with his characteristically intense discourse. Dominic Chambers QC followed. Things took an ominous turn from the government’s point of view as the judges seemed to be agreeing that a referendum result is an instruction to parliament for political and legislative action and no more than that. Chambers summed up before handing over to counsel for the government of Northern Ireland David Scoffield QC – the first lawyer to speak with a regional accent, Scoffield accused the government of being cavalier with both small ‘c’ and capital ‘C’. He developed his argument on the basis that the Northern Irish devolution settlement and the Good Friday Agreement are both predicated on EU membership and that, accordingly, legislation is required to adjust the constitutional structure. Ronan Lavery QC, also from Northern Ireland, went further by saying that sovereignty on constitutional matters had been passed to the people of Northern Ireland.

LORD ADVOCATE James Wolffe QC appeared for the Scottish government, finding common cause with the Northern Irish argument based on the devolutionary settlement. Wolffe went back to basics, citing the Scottish claim of right and English bill of rights of the 17th century as limiting prerogative powers and to the act of union of 1707 which gave only to the UK parliament to legislate in Scotland. The Scottish parliament could not veto the UK leaving the EU, but that its consent is required to leaving as this would impact on devolved responsibility. Wolffe’s argument ran into some flak from Lord Hodge who questioned how the Sewell convention had become a constitutional principle given that there are now four legislative bodies in the UK.

DAY FOUR – Wolffe wound up this morning, arguing that the Sewell convention requires legislation from parliament because of the impact on Scots law on devolved matters. Lord Neuberger suggests says that interpretation depends upon the court deciding that legislation is required in order to trigger article 50.

NEXT UP today was Richard Gordon QC for the Welsh devolved government who did not mince his words in condemning the government’s view. Gordon certainly livened things up with an infusion of rhetoric into the dry legal arguments. ‘A child of six’ (presumably Oxbridge educated), he said, would respect that you can’t abrogate a prerogative power that does not exist. He went on to nail his colours to the mast: ‘We are looking at a situation in which prerogative power is being used to drive through the most major constitutional change in our system at least since 1972’. The first advocate to point out that the number of authorities quoted could mislead people that the issues are complex, whereas, he said, the issue was quite simple. The government’s confusion should not obscure the simplicity of the legal issue. Helen Mountfield QC appeared for crowd-funded litigants – the first women advocate to appear – and said her clients were simply asking the court to rule on whether the use of the prerogative to trigger article 50 would be lawful, not asking the court to rule on Brexit. The Daily Mail is unlikely to report this point. Mountfield tore into James Eadie QC’s arguments on Monday.

BY THIS STAGE a fin de siècle mood seemed to have taken over. Still to come, however, were the government lawyers’ replies. It began with Richard Keen QC giving his response to the Lord Advocate’s case. Then, DÉJÀ VU, James Eadie QC hove into view like a ragged Spanish galleon, already shattered from several broadsides, turning about to come back for more. So, inevitably, the bench began to pepper Eadie with grape shot. And yet he sailed on, torn sheets flapping, timbers splintered, listing to starboard, taking on water, owning up ‘for good or ill’ to his argument or, as he put it, ‘my two-legged stool’, or, as one judge put, his ‘empty conduit pipe’. Seldom has the phrase ‘on the international plane’ appeared more frequently or with such desperation. Will it be enough to salvage the government case? Time will tell with the judgement expected in the New Year.

A COURT in France of a different kind today sentenced to jail former France finance minister Jérôme Cahuzac for fraud. Cahuzac resigned in 2013 after it emerged he had held an undeclared Swiss bank account and then lied about it. The affair has embarrassed president Hollande and outraged public opinion.

NEWLY ELECTED UKIP leader Paul Nuttall suggests the time is right for a referendum on the return of capital punishment “for child killers”. BBC three-part drama Rillington Place could hardly be timelier. The second episode this week, “Tim”, dealt with events leading up to one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice in modern history, the 1950 execution of Timothy Evans for the murder of his infant daughter Geraldine. The body of Evans’ pregnant wife Beryl was found alongside that of her daughter in the washhouse of their property, and although not charged formally with this Evans was convicted on a number of false confessions linking the crimes. It was later alleged these “confessions” were fabricated by police and signed by the accused under duress. By the time of his trial he was plaintively stating, “Christie done it” – referring to his downstairs neighbour at 10 Rilllington Place, John “Reg” Christie, the principal witness for the prosecution. Since Christie was a former special police officer and respectable member of the community, with no apparent motive, Evans’ accusations were ignored by the judge and jury. He was convicted in less than an hour and sentenced to hang. The trial received little attention in the press. On the day of Evans’ execution, Christie told a next-door neighbour, “He got what he deserved”.

THREE YEARS LATER, however, Reg Christie was himself arrested after the bodies of three women were found behind a kitchen alcove in his ground floor flat at 10 Rillington Place. Upon investigation by the police further human remains of at least eight women were found in the garden and other rooms of the flat, including the body of Christie’s own wife. Christie, revealed as one of the UKs worst serial killers, was convicted of the murder of his wife and executed in 1953. Commentators immediately questioned the safety of Evans’ earlier conviction, recalling his last words to hangman Albert Pierrepoint: “Christie done it”. Scottish journalist Ludovic Kennedy began a celebrated examination of the case, 10 Rillington Place, arguing that Christie was responsible for all the murders at Rillington Place and that Evans should be posthumously pardoned. However, two subsequent Home Office appeals upheld Evans’ conviction, findings which were met with much public scepticism and did a great deal to undermine the case for capital punishment in Britain. It was not until Roy Jenkins became Home Secretary in 1966 that the government granted Evans a Royal Pardon and acknowledged an innocent man had been hanged. The BBC has created a truly terrifying drama from the events, which commendably avoids enactments of any of Christie’s killings and benefits from chilling performances by Samantha Morton and Tim Roth as Ethel and Reg Christie. According to legend, Ludovic Kennedy (who lived in Edinburgh’s New Town) was blackballed from a number of local golf clubs for his work on highlighting this and other failures of the legal establishment. Capital punishment was finally abolished in Great Britain in 1965. Rillington Place concludes with the trial of Evans next week and the first two episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

'I'm not a lawyer but...'

NOVEMBER COMES TO a close and the Signet Library approaches the end of one of the busiest months in the WS Society calendar. Following the admissions ceremony and the Annual Dinner, the WS Council met on Tuesday this week for the final meeting of the year. DKS Caroline Docherty, Treasurer Roddy Bruce and CEO Robert Pirrie took the Council through the quarter’s reports and accounts before leading a break-out group session. This session discussed possible topics for the programme of events next year, including ideas for a series of public debates. Council members had many interesting ideas for possible topics, of interest to both WS and members of the public. Next year’s events programme promises to be the busiest and most diverse yet.

THE WEEK BEGAN with yet more pundits on yet more news programmes beginning sentences with “I’m not a lawyer, but…” With constitutional law dominating matters in Scotland, the UK, Europe, and the USA, and “post-truth” declared Oxford Dictionaries international word of the year, those in possession of a legal degree are being forced to listen to considerable amounts of post post-truth “truths”. Scotland’s law officers can look forward to the scrutiny of the national press when the Supreme Court appeal is heard in December. 

MEANWHILE, TESCO IN Edinburgh might want to consider legal advice on whether entrance to a supermarket is a basic human right, after it was claimed that staff at the Tesco local in Bruntsfield were forcing pupils from the local state school, Boroughmuir, to queue behind barriers whilst pupils from local private school, George Watsons, were allowed to enter unchallenged. Tesco denies the practice, although ample photographic evidence would seem to suggest the claims are not exactly unsupported.

IN “POST-TRUTH” AMERICA President Elect Donald Trump followed his own unique set of priorities, ignoring legal woes this week to demand – via his Twitter account - that the cast of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” apologise to Vice-President Elect Mike Pence. Cynics suggested Trump stoked this Twitter war to detract attention from the fact that he had agreed that same morning to pay $25 million to settle the long-running Trump University lawsuit. His tweet certainly had that effect, with Trump’s claim that the cast member at the end of the show pleading with Pence to be tolerant and protect the constitutional rights of all American citizens was “very rude” going on to dominate US news broadcasts for the rest of the day. However, the musical theme really got Twitter trending with the hashtag #NameAPenceMusical: “Oklahomaphobia”, “Fiddler with the Truth”, “Deporting Miss Saigon”, “The KKKing and I”, “Joseph Isn’t Allowed to Wear his Technicoloured Dreamcoat anymore”, and “Thoroughly Modern Misogyny” being just some of the hundreds of suggestions. 

FINALLY, US COMEDIAN Stephen Colbert suggested that Trump’s claim that he had paid a “small fraction” of what the claimants had been seeking in the litigation ($25million instead of $40million) would only be defined as a “small fraction” if you had studied Math at Trump University. 

IN OTHER STATESIDE legal news, don’t expect that Special Prosecutor to “lock up” Hillary Clinton any time soon. Or Nigel Farage to be appointed UK ambassador in Washington.

AS EVERYONE DIGESTS the momentous events of the last few months, life at the Signet Library continues to provide the comfort of timeless ceremony. Colonnades prepares to welcome guests with seasonal afternoon teas and festive and Christmas decorations will soon be appearing. Walter and Writer, after all the activity of the last month, are taking a restorative week in the Highlands next week. Walter will return in December for one of his favourite months at the Signet Library – he particularly enjoys a snooze in front of the coal fires at the west end of the Lower Library, which are lit on especially cold days. Rumour has it he has also been known to enjoy the odd mince pie.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Auld Alliance

MONDAY BROUGHT SATISFACTION to everyone at the WS Society reflecting on a memorable Annual Dinner last Friday, evident from these photographs. Long after 1 am in the lower library, Writers to the Signet and senior legal figures were still socialising with friends and guests from business, journalism, academia, cultural and charity sectors. This year’s event had special resonance, with a focus on the “Auld Alliance” to mark the one year anniversary of the tragic attacks in Paris. With the tricolour of France flying for the first time ever above the Signet Library, guests stood for a minute’s silence to remember the victims of conflict. The silence was broken by the lone voice of Robert Marshall WS singing La Marseillaise with many guests joining in the anthem. Guest speaker was French journalist Philippe Auclair who spoke of the bonds between Scotland and France:

“This is a precious relationship indeed, which has survived the passage of centuries; that has survived political and religious upheaval. We can poke fun at each other, but without malice. We Scots and French share some intellectual reflexes – one of them being how we instinctively, and throughout our societies, regardless of class, favour reason over prejudice – enough for reason to prevail in the end. How we value education. How we both are and remain children of the Enlightenment; in fact, we may be the two nations which embraced it with the most enthusiasm in Europe, and contributed to it the most in all fields of human knowledge and activity. Heaven knows how we need to hang on to the values of that age, more than ever. The Auld Alliance shows us the way. And if we keep to that path, we shall not go wrong.”

FRENCH CONSUL GENERAL Emmanuel Cocher thanked the WS Society for its gesture of friendship. Several of the international guests commented they had been moved to tears on a number of occasions. Lord Mackay wound up the formalities in peerless fashion, noting the fate of the Scots gene that is part of the makeup of President Elect Donald Trump.

NO SIGN OF GUESTS nodding off during proceedings – unlike at the Mansion House dinner, where, if the Daily Mail is to be believed, several struggled to keep their eyes open during Prime Minister Theresa May’s address. 

ON TUESDAY GOVERNOR OF THE BANK OF ENGLAND Mark Carney seemed wide awake when questioned by the Treasury Select Committee on rumours of a deteriorating relationship with the PM. “It’s very important to distinguish between the stance of monetary policy and the reasons why global interest rates are low, the reasons why inequality has increased across major economies,” Carney said in evidence. “Those are caused by much more fundamental factors. And an excessive focus on monetary policy in many respects is a massive blame deflection exercise.” 

TUESDAY ALSO brought the leak of a consultant’s report that caused annoyance in government when its contents were leaked to newspapers: “Whitehall struggling to cope and no single plan” The Guardian reported. According to government sources, the report, rumoured to come from one of the big four accountants was “unsolicited” and unlikely to improve the view of some in the current administration on the contribution of “experts”. 

CRITICISM OF JUDICIAL EXPERTS continued this week after it was reported that Lady Hale, one of the 11 supreme court judges who will rule on the governments appeal on triggering article 50, had mused on the case to a gathering of legal students in Kuala Lumpur. Amongst the questions she raised was the issue of whether PM Theresa May would have to repeal all 1972 legislation before she could launch the Brexit process. Pro-leave MPs were furious that the case was being discussed in this manner before the Supreme Court hearing. Douglas Carswell, Ukip's only MP, told The Telegraph: "If their lordships have decided their verdict already they might let us know in the supreme court in Britain, not in Malaysia.” The real-life legal drama of Brexit would seem to still have many episodes to come.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.

Hang in there

SOME OF THE WORLD’S LAWYERS aren’t having such a great week. Wednesday morning saw a “billionaire” reality TV star and businessman elected President of the USA, defeating the Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State and lawyer Hillary Clinton. Not content with their astonishing victory, Trump’s supporters wanted more, with the campaign chant “Lock her up!” ringing out around the hall. Whether President Trump will indeed put Clinton “in jail” as promised during the second presidential debate is just one of the sub-plots yet to play out of this extraordinary result. Elections for the Supreme Court, put on hold during the campaign, will doubtless provide interesting viewing. The lawyer-president model has been rejected in favour of a candidate who has never held public office. Twitter users pointed out The Simpsons had predicted a President Trump back in 2000, whilst others suggested the 2020 President will be Kayne West, following the rapper’s earlier announcement at the MTV awards show that, “I’ve decided to run for President”. The New York Times editorial argued “he has shown himself to be temperamentally unfit to lead a diverse nation of 320 million people”, whilst Vanity Fair had some sage advice for its readers: “Hang in there today”.

MANY US JOURNALISTS likened the result to a “US Brexit”. The week in the UK began with criticism of the UK press for headlines such as “Enemy of the People” following the High Court’s decision that Theresa May must secure parliamentary approval before invoking Article 50. Three senior judges were criticised by several newspapers as “out of touch” and accused of pursuing personal agendas in relation to the decision. The legal profession heavily criticised both the press coverage and the failure of the Lord Chancellor Liz Truss to make any form of statement in support of the judges. 

ON TUESDAY NICOLA STURGEON announced that Scotland’s Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC is to lodge a formal application at the Supreme Court to intervene against the UK government as it seeks to overturn the original ruling. On Wednesday Wolffe wrote it was “vital” the UK remains a member of the European criminal justice agencies after Brexit, ahead of his meeting with senior lawyers in Brussels.

NO JUDGE HAS HAD SUCH A ROCKY RIDE with the press and politicians in recent times as Dame Lowell Goddard, former head of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales. This week represented a new low, with Goddard branded a “disgrace” by Yvette Cooper, chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, after the New Zealand former high court judge’s refusal to answer questions (even by video link) about her resignation. Instead, Goddard accused the government of failing to defend her after accusations she had a troubling record of making racist and derogatory remarks. MPs are now considering whether they can compel Goddard to give evidence to the committee if she ever returns to the UK.

ON FRIDAY at 11am everyone at the Signet Library will gather around the round table in the Lower Library, overlooked by the war memorial, to pay their respects for Remembrance Day.

THAT SAME DAY in the evening the WS Society’s Annual Dinner will take place, with guests from the legal, business political, cultural and charitable sectors enjoying the flagship occasion. This year’s event has a special focus on the “Auld Alliance”. The dinner in 2015 took place just as news of the Paris terrorist attack broke, and the society is marking that one year anniversary with a theme of the rich history of friendship between Scotland and France. Amongst the society’s guests will be the French Consul General and the guest speaker will be Phillipe Auclair, the French journalist. Deputy Keeper of the Signet Caroline Docherty and Keeper of the Signet Lord Mackay of Clashfern will both speak about the shared history between the two nations and the place of institutions like the WS Society. Both Writers to the Signet and guests will doubtless appreciate the chance to reflect on a momentous week in modern life surrounded by the timeless splendour of the Upper Library at the Signet Library. The tricolour will fly above the building to mark the occasion.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.