City of Enlightenment

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BRIGHT AND EARLY on Wednesday morning at the Signet Library, an audience of over 200 attended The Times breakfast discussion, “Future of Scotland: Cities Facing Forward”, one of a programme of similar events the newspaper is holding around the country. Hosted by columnist and senior Times writer Kenny Farquharson, the panel of speakers were Gordon Dewar, CEO Edinburgh Airport, Shona Macarthy, CEO Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, and Louise Smith, head of digitisation, RBS. Magnus Llewellyn, editor of The Times, Scotland, welcomed everyone to such a beautiful location, reminding them that George IV on his 1822 visit to Edinburgh had referred to it as “the most beautiful drawing room in Europe”. In his introductory remarks, Kenny Farquharson reminded the audience of Edinburgh’s status as a cultural capital in world terms. His theme was taken up by Gordon Dewar who spoke of the critical importance of global ambition for any city looking to compete with destinations like Venice or Paris, rather than other UK cities. Shona Macarthy commented that Edinburgh already has what other cities want, a reputation as a global capital for cultural activities. The panel agreed that the Signet Library was the perfect venue in which to discuss such aspirations, since it is a model of the modernity and innovation that made Edinburgh the great city of the late enlightenment period. Today the building is as vibrant and full of ideas as at any time in its history, another essential ingredient in ensuring a historical city continues to evolve as it endures.

A SUPPLEMENT associated with the event appeared with that day’s edition of the Times. Elsewhere in the paper, as in all sections of the media, repercussions from the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment complaints continue to dominate in news, editorial and comment pieces. In what is increasingly being seen as a watershed moment, the issue has moved beyond the entertainment industry to a broader discussion of the problem in other workplaces, including the political, legal and corporate environments. In a final ironic twist, it was revealed that disgraced former US Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had paid out the staggering sum of $32 million to Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl, after she threatened to sue him for sexual harassment. This brought to twelve the number of multi-million dollar lawsuits O’Reilly has settled over similar accusations. A regular contributor to his show, Wiehl appeared to give her expertise as a lawyer during a feature called “Is It Legal?”. Turns out it would have been much better for everyone involved if O’Reilly had asked himself that question.

ON THURSDAY evening, the WS Society introduced a new CPD event, the WS Property Law Panel. A focused seminar featuring expert panellists, the event built on the Society’s 225 years of expertise in delivering conveyancing training, beginning in 1793 with Robert Bell’s celebrated series of lectures. Hosted by Paul Quinn WS, Head of Property at Dickson Minto, the panellists addressed the most recent developments in law reform and policy, conveyancing practice and case law. The other panellists were Caroline Drummond of the Scottish Law Commission, Rachel Oliphant of Pinsent Masons and the Property Standardisation Group and Gavin MacColl QC. 

FINALLY, the WS Society is delighted that Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury will be the guest speaker at the Society’s splendid Annual Dinner on 10 November. A sell-out as always it promises to be a magnificent and memorable evening.

— “Writer”

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

Legal significance

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OCTOBER break already, so a shorter than usual Writer’s week. Holidays notwithstanding the Brexit countdown stops for no-one, a reality recognised by the upcoming Times event “The Future of Scotland”, to be held in the Signet Library next Wednesday, 25th October from 8.15am to 11.15am. The breakfast seminar will be chaired by Times columnist Kenny Farquharson for a discussion on “the challenges and opportunities for Edinburgh in the face of disruptive economic, social and political forces”. 

MEANWHILE, this week the WS Society announced the speaker for the annual dinner on 10 November, Lord Neuberger, former President of the Supreme Court. As ever, tickets for the dinner are selling fast and this year’s event promises to be another memorable evening for all Writers to the Signet and their guests.

ON THURSDAY, the Scottish government became the first in the UK to introduce an outright ban on the physical punishment of children. The children’s commissioners of the four home nations immediately called for a UK wide change in the law to give children in the rest of Britain the same rights as children in Scotland.

MEANWHILE, in the United States, President Trump is routinely referred to as an out of control toddler, beyond the reach of any disciplinary reform. This week saw the unbelievable spectacle of the President attacking former Presidents for their response to the deaths of American servicemen and women in war zones. Although this quickly became a PR disaster for the White House, it did serve to detract all attention from what would otherwise have been the lead story: this was another unbelievable spectacle, with the country’s most senior legal officer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions enduring another difficult appearance in front of the Senate judiciary committee. Sessions’ story has changed with each appearance in front of said committee, and this week his blanket denials of meeting with Russians were abandoned with the concession that substantive issues might indeed have been discussed. What has not changed in all these months of questions and probing is Sessions fondness for the phrase “I do not recall”. “You’re our nation’s top lawyer” Senator Patrick Leahy told Sessions during the hearing, “Is there a difference between responding ‘no’ and ‘I do not recall? Is that legally significant?” Sessions agreed there was... a... well, difference.

— “Writer”

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

In with the new

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WRITER AND WALTER generally return to Parliament Square with the opening of the legal year, however this autumn saw a marginally longer hiatus. Sightings of a Scottie dog with a great deal of attitude have been reported in recent days, which has been reassuring for everyone at the Signet Library. October and November are always busy months for the WS Society, and Tuesday this week saw a lunch to welcome the Society’s newest office bearer, Reema Mannah WS. DKS Caroline Docherty WS, Fiscal Mandy Laurie WS, Treasurer Roddy Bruce WS, Clerk James Rust WS, Rachel Wood WS and CEO Robert Pirrie WS all attended to welcome the newest member of the Office Bearer group.

WEDNESDAY was just one of many occasions throughout any working week when Principal Researcher James Hamilton introduces visitors to the Signet Library. In this case, the library welcomed a group of postgraduate students from Edinburgh University’s Centre for the History of the Book. As always for such visits, treasures from the WS archives were displayed in the West Library, chosen for their particular interest, in this case some sixteenth century texts, and the first bible printed in Scots.

NOBODY visiting the West Library can fail to appreciate the infinite number of treasures the WS Society owns and protects for future generations. Each week sees new engagement with third parties from the worlds of academia, business, literature, heritage, film and television. 

EQUALLY, with the tumultuous events both at home and abroad, the place of the law and lawyers in society is increasingly at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Whether it is the declaration – or not – of independence in Catalonia, the tortuous Brexit saga, or the increasingly surreal presidency of Donald Trump in the US, legal experts are being called upon both behind the scenes and in the television studios and media to interpret what is becoming the “new normal”.

THE ROLE of the Supreme Court in the US is inevitably more high profile than the equivalent body in the UK. A number of reports in the media this week delighted in a rare case of a stinging judicial put-down going viral. New SC appointee Neil Gorsuch, has, according to the New Yorker, been irritating colleagues with his behaviour, whether it is making speeches at the Trump hotel in Washington, or dominating the oral arguments of the court. This week in a gerrymandering case, Gorsuch, an originalist and textualist, took another opportunity to criticize the court for creating rights that are not in the original constitution. Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, aged 84, can – misleadingly – appear disengaged, and didn’t even raise her head as she delivered the zinger, “Where did ‘one person one vote’ come from?” As the New Yorker reported, “There might have been an audible woo that echoed through the courtroom”. Gorsuch was silent for the rest of the arguments. 

FINALLY, the latest Signet magazine is out so look out for your copy arriving soon.

— “Writer”

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

The state we’re in

THE SIGNET LIBRARY, like the rest of Parliament Square, is used to the grandeur of royal and state occasions. On Wednesday this week, the UK’s other Parliament Square – in London – saw what the media called a “dressed-down” Queen’s speech, with Parliament returning after the general election to slightly less pomp and circumstance than usual. Although the atmosphere was more febrile than is normal for such a traditional ritual, veteran Labour MP and staunch republican Dennis Skinner didn’t miss his chance to insult Black Rod on arrival to summon members of the House of Commons to the House of Lords. “Get yer skates on, first race is at half past two” (a reference to the Queen’s other engagement of the day at Royal Ascot), was heard in the silent chamber as MPs prepared to depart. The grin on Black Rod’s face suggested he took it all with good humour, perhaps reflecting he himself got off lightly this year: on a previous occasion Skinner had greeted his arrival amongst MP’s by scoffing, “Here comes Puss in Boots”.

AS INSULTS GO Skinner’s brings to mind the story of the Edinburgh bus driver and the Archer – or, to be more precise, one of The Royal Company of Archers, The Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland. Some years ago, one member of this ancient body was making his way to the annual parade outside the Signet Library, which takes place before the Knights of the Thistle ceremony in St Giles. Resplendent in the uniform of the ceremonial unit – including Highland cap with thistle ornament and eagle feathers, sword, bow and arrow – said gentleman, worried he was running late, attempted to board a rapidly overcrowding Lothian Bus alongside crowds of tourists. The irate driver left his seat to clear the surplus passengers off his vehicle – “That means you too, Robin Hood”. 

NINE YEARS after the financial crisis, the beginning of this week saw the first arrests in the UK of any senior financial executives for their role in the crash. Ironically, in this case the bank in question was Barclays, one of the few to not accept a government bailout. Several senior figures, including Chief Executive John Varley, and the bank, have been charged with fraud by the Serious Fruad Office. Amongst the charges is one of criminal financial assistance. The SFO said the charges related to the two fundraisings the bank embarked on in June and October 2008 with two investment vehicles related to Qatar, including one used by the prime minister at the time, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, and a $3bn (£2.3bn) loan advanced to Qatar in November 2008.

THE INDIVIDALS AND a bank representative are scheduled to appear at Westminster magistrates’ court on 3 July. At least two have already said they will contest the charges. The charging decision has been postponed on a number of occasions, initially to the end of March, then the end of May and then to mid-June, and comes as the SFO faces abolition under plans set out in the Conservative election manifesto. Legal experts will be watching closely, not least the Crown Office in Scotland who lost a high profile case against Craig Whyte when a jury acquitted Whyte on all charges, including unlawful financial assistance under the Companies Act. Whyte had allegedly used money from the sale of season tickets to Ticketus to purchase Rangers. The Barclays case will potentially raise the profile financial assistance as an issue. The offence is there to prevent the assets of a public company being used to enrich third parties at the expense of shareholders, creditors, employees and other stakeholders.

— “Writer”

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

‘A splendour all of its own’

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WITH ANOTHER WEEK dominated by tragic news events, this time the horrific fire in a London tower block in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, around Parliament Square, discussions concerning the shock general election result at the end of last week came to an abrupt end. Even as the ruined building still smouldered, all the talk was of the unavoidable legal and regulatory repercussions of the disaster that unfolded in the early hours of Wednesday morning. More than one expert commented to the media on the difference between building regulations in Scotland and the rest of the UK, as multiple eye-witness accounts claimed major health and safety failings led to a fire in a single flat engulfing an entire multi-storey block in less than an hour. An independent inquiry will surely follow, and there may yet be political implications for the new minority government.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK at the Signet Library was Monday’s lecture by Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The highest court in the country sat outside London for the first time in its eight year history, temporarily moving to the City Chambers in Edinburgh. The WS Society and Property Litigation Association in Scotland held the event in the Upper Library, which was attended by over 120 Writers to the Signet and other legal professionals. Lord Neuberger remarked at the start of his address what a pleasure it was to see “so many Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet, a title that has a splendour all of its own”. 

LORD NEUBERGER began by acknowledging the presence in the audience of the Keeper of the Signet, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the holder of high legal and judicial office in Scotland and England. Lord Neuberger described Lord Mackay as a towering legal figure to whom the legal systems of both Scotland and England owed a great deal. Lord Neuberger then spoke on a number of major themes, employing the acute forensic skills for which he is justifiably renowned. He gave a trenchant defence of the role of an independent and unelected judiciary as a guard against the potential for oppression of individual rights and liberties by the democratically elected legislature and executive. The rule of law, he said, is of fundamental importance, not least in the absence of a written constitution. He went on to discuss human rights and the reminded the audience that the courts in the UK only have the power to declare a statutory provision a breach of human rights and it is a matter for parliament alone whether to change the law. Lord Neuberger said that in every case save one parliament had changed the law but they are not obliged to do so and had not done so in the case of the right of prisoners to vote.

AFTER LORD NEUBERGER the Keeper of the Signet, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, former Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, gave the vote of thanks, recalling his pride in having had the privilege of appointing Lord Neuberger to the bench (as a High Court judge) in 1996. Picking up on Lord Neuberger closing remarks, Lord Mackay pointed out what he considered to be the importance of a supra-national court in enforcing human rights.  

PERHAPS THE MOST powerful lawyer in the world is the United States Attorney General, who provided a welcome distraction for many this week, with his testimony to the Senate intelligence committee. Attorney General Jeff Session’s testimony was a marked contrast to that of former FBI director James Comey, a contrast rather sharply summed up by late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert: “Jeff Sessions can’t recall what he forgot to remember”. Investigating the Trump team’s alleged ties to Russia, the committee found some of Session’s answers slightly, well, puzzling, such as his response when asked what his reasons were for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, “Well, uh, why don’t you tell me?”

ON THURSDAY the WS Society held its highly regarded Corporate Law Conference. This year the event, held in association with Dickson Minto WS and chaired by Roddy Bruce, the Society’s treasurer, featured a case-study of one of the year’s highest profile deals, the £1.4 billion acquisition of Skyscanner by Ctrip. This was presented by Skyscanner’s Chief Legal Officer, Carolyn Jameson. Other speakers included Michael Howlin QC, Deloitte’s Head of restructuring Michael Magnay and Director, Corporate Finance, Michelle Elliot. The event has become one of the flagships of the WS conference calendar, and was as well attended as ever. 

— “Writer”

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

(Sic) in more ways than one

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TYPOS – a nightmare for anyone, especially lawyers, (and just to be clear, if any appear in the following paragraphs they have been inserted deliberately for purely ironic purposes). Few legal typos have ever attracted such instant world-wide attention as those of the personal lawyer to US President Donald Trump who released a statement to the press Thursday morning that began with the sentence “I am Marc Kasowitz, Predisent Trump’s personal lawyer” (sic) and just deteriorated from there. Kasowitz appeared before the press to read this statement shortly after former FBI director James Comey’s appearance in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, an event so anticipated by the US press it was nicknamed “Washington’s Super Bowl”. Amongst some of the more remarkable claims in the document were equally eye-catching errors of punctuation, spelling and grammar. Predictably, Twitter reaction was swift and gleeful, “Thank God the PREDISENT got that first class lawyer to defend him #unpredisented”. The statement concluded “it is now established that there the President was not being investigated for colluding with or attempting to obstruct that (sic)”. Sic indeed.

IF THAT EXAMPLE is not enough to induce nightmares for anyone in the legal profession, this week also witnessed a horror-show for the Crown Office in Scotland as the high-profile Craig Whyte trial concluded on Tuesday with an acquittal on all charges. Leaving the court in Glasgow a free man, the worst a grinning Whyte had to endure were a few shouts of “scumbag” from a small group of Rangers supporters in the street outside. Newspaper reports of the case leave the reader in little doubt that it was defence QC Donald Findlay who had all the best lines. Equally, the defence’s tactic of calling no witnesses appears to have made quite an impression on the jury, who despite a long and complex trial reached their verdict in just two hours.

THE FAMILIAR face of a different form of business infamy made a brief reappearance this week, when The Times managed to track down Fred Goodwin, snapped grimly playing golf in Edinburgh as news broke that RBS have settled the long running dispute over the rights issue to shareholders in the run up to the 2008 financial crisis. As The Guardian noted, this means Goodwin escapes a court appearance in “a potentially explosive case”. The bank’s former Chief Executive had been scheduled to appear on Thursday – General Election day – but the RBS shareholder action group accepted a settlement on Tuesday. However, one group of diehard investors continue to hold-out against the deal, principally because some were determined to see Goodwin in court.

AS THE WEEK concludes at the WS Society, Parliament Square once again absorbs the results of a general election. Judging by the prime minister’s speech in Downing Street earlier in the day, it’s not clear if Theresa May has heard the results. 

VISITOR NUMBERS in the Royal Mile are growing as summer truly begins, and anyone stepping out of the Signet Library is instantly aware of the many different nationalities happily mixing in Edinburgh’s Old Town, as indeed has been the case through the centuries, although perhaps not in quite the numbers of today. The WS Society is at the heart of this now more than ever, and in the coming weeks looks forward to welcoming many visitors from both home and abroad. Even Walter, not a dog who generally gives the impression of being at home in a crowd, enjoys the buzz of early summer. Of course, he knows all too well the amazing – and apparently infinite – ability of the Signet Library to provide anyone who seeks it, be they lawyer, tourist or small Scottie dog, a cool, calm and quiet corner in which to work, study or relax.

— “Writer”

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

The Keeper(s)

FOLLOWING THE BANK holiday on Monday, the WS Society hit the ground running on Tuesday with an Admissions Ceremony and the Society’s AGM in the evening. Family and friends of the new Writers to the Signet assembled in the Upper Library to see 20 new Writers to the Signet and 10 associate WS sworn in by the Keeper of the Signet, Lord Mackay of Clashfern KT. Following the ceremony, Lord Mackay gave a short address where he spoke about the history of the WS Society, the meaning of the office of Writer to the Signet, the incredible resources and collections of the Signet Library and the sense of optimism for the future. Opening the lower library to the public, Lord Mackay said, signals the Society’s desire to engage and share the beauty and treasures of the Signet Library with wider audiences. He went on to say that the Signet Library is associated with the values of the Enlightenment such as tolerance of opposing opinions and the rule of law.

LORD MACKAY AND guests then left the Upper Library, for a drinks reception in the Lower Library, whilst the new Writers to the Signet remained with their fellow WS for the Annual General Meeting. The meeting was well attended and fully supportive of the continuing progress reported by Deputy Keeper with the Society’s vision and strategy. Caroline Docherty said this had laid the foundations for the Society’s New Enlightenment project to raise statutory and third party funding to complete the transformation of the Signet Library to become an inspiring destination of law, literature. The Deputy Keeper said that, certainly since the Enlightenment, if not before, the Writers to the Signet are lawyers who appreciate the importance within society of culture, literature, rationality, tolerance and diversity under the rule of law. This is our very own Enlightenment legacy and we’re reconnecting with it.

THE AGM THEN elected seven new members to the Society’s Council, re-elected office bearers. After the formalities, everyone then moved downstairs to join Lord Mackay and guests at the drinks reception, giving new and old WS a chance to get to know each other. It was evident to all that this was a successful occasion and one that captured the mood of optimism and possibility that pervades the Society at this point in its history. It goes without saying that the chance to hear Lord Mackay, one of the most inspiring and engaging legal figures in Britain, was the highlight of the evening.

A MORE RECENT annual tradition will be observed on Friday, with the 20th anniversary of the Agricultural Law Conference, the leading event of its type in the country. Around 100 of the country’s leading lawyers, land surveyors and other will assemble to hear a panel of experts discuss current issues. The WS is delighted, in association with the UK-wide Agricultural Law Association, to have established such a well regarded event an looks forward to continuing for many years to come.

IT WAS A Writer to the Signet, William Roughead (1870-1952) who is generally regarded as having introduced the “true-crime” genre to the world. Undoubtedly, he would have whole-heartedly approved of the current crop of true-crime documentaries that are dominating so much of the new programming on streaming platforms like Amazon and Netflix. Last week saw a new Netflix sensation The Keepers, a seven part American series delving into an unsolved murder in Baltimore in 1969. The victim, Sister Catherine Cesnick, was a 26 year old nun and teacher at the Catholic girls school Archbishop Keough and to this day, both the identity of her murderer and the motive for her death are a mystery. The radiant and kind young teacher was much loved by her pupils, and two former students, Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, now grandmothers in their late 60s, have embarked upon the daunting task of trying to solve the case. The story that unfolds seems almost too horrific to believe, yet amongst the dreadful crimes that the women uncover is a truly inspiring subplot of victims uniting against unspeakable establishment corruption. Along the way, many unsung heroes finally receive a little of the recognition they deserve.

SINCE THE SERIES appeared just over a week ago the Facebook page set up by the two amateur detectives has been unable to cope with traffic generated and Netflix has stepped in to help. As with Making a Murderer, the case has a new momentum thanks to a huge public outcry over a lack of justice from both the police and the legal establishment. Undoubtedly there are still some twists and turns to come. From a legal point of view, the impression made by former state’s attorney Sharon May lives long in the memory, though for all the wrong reasons. The Keepers is available on Netflix now.

— “Writer”

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

We will not be divided

THE TRAGIC EVENTS in Manchester this week dominated everyone’s thoughts. Flags flew at half-mast from the buildings in Parliament Square and the Royal Mile, including above the Signet Library. A minute’s silence was held at the General Assembly and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed the solidarity of the people of Scotland with the people of Manchester and all those affected by the horrific attack saying “we will not be divided by those who seek to destroy our way of life”.

ANOTHER BUSY WEEK at the Signet Library and with this being General Assembly week, the annual service was held in St Giles’ Cathedral on Sunday. Writers to the Signet were, as always, represented at the occasion, with Deputy Keeper of the Signet Caroline Docherty and others attending. Each year HM the Queen appoints a Lord High Commissioner as her representative to the assembly, unless she attends in person. This year HRH the Princess Royal carried out the role. On Thursday the Princess Royal hosted a drinks reception in the Lower Library at the Signet Library before a light lunch in the Minto Room.

THURSDAY WAS a particularly full day for the WS Society, with the Royal visit, a conference and a cultural event all taking place within a few hours. Over 50 attended the football law conference in the the upper library during the working day, with a good number of those staying on for the highly anticipated Blizzard event in the evening. In a full upper library Daniel Gray introduced the event and a minute’s silence was held for the victims of the Manchester bombing. As ever with a Blizzard event, there were some great questions from the floor to the panel of football writers. These included “What was the weirdest press conference you’ve ever attended?”, “Which stadium always gives you the ‘wow’ factor?”, ”What relatively minor thing in football annoys you a disproportionally large amount?” amongst many others.

DEMAND FOR BLIZZARD tickets is always high, but even football, it turns out, cannot compete with the lure of the mysterious. Preview tickets for The Walter Scott Seance sold out in exactly 10 minutes, an unprecedented response to any event held at the Signet Library. Later shows will be announced on WS twitter and website. The aim is to provide a unique, high quality experience that will become one of the Royal Mile’s must-see attractions for both Edinburgh natives and visitors from all around the world. Several previews have already been held to great acclaim, with many leaders in the heritage field commenting it was one of the best events of its type they had seen.

MEANWHILE PRESIDENT TRUMP’S circus embarked on its brief world-wide tour. Lawyers continue to trail in the wake of everything to do with the Trump administration, with the President confirming on Tuesday that he was personally retaining his long-standing attorney Marc Kasowitz to represent him in the federal investigation into his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Kasowtiz and Trump have an association lasting over 15 years. Known primarily as a litigator, he represented the President in a number of high profile cases, including the Trump University fraud claims, eventually settled with a $25 million payout just before the inauguration. In a the-jokes-will-write-themselves development, it transpires Kasowitz is currently engaged by OJSC Sberbank in an action brought by a US federal court, where OJS Sberbank is accused of conspiracy to raid the assets of a competitor. OJSC Sberbank is Russia’s largest bank. Who better to defend the President against charges of ties to Russia than a lawyer with, well, ties to Russia? Evidently, Trump is not concerned with what the American media calls the “optics” of this particular situation.

— “Writer”

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

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.

Shhhhhh

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.