Commerce, crime and cake

TODAY, THURSDAY saw the fifteenth and final WS conference of the year, with the flagship Property Conference chaired by Bruce Beveridge WS. This year’s programme designed by Anna Bennett WS has been the most ambitious and highly acclaimed ever undertaken by the Society with a number of new subjects established in the conference calendar. This week’s event took a commercial focus and featured case studies by property experts from around the UK.

THE NEXT EVENT in the WS Society's series on popular culture was launched this week. “An Evening with The Cycling Podcast” on Thursday 1 December sold one ticket every five minutes when bookings opened. Immediate booking is recommended.

ALSO THIS EVENING the Keeper of the Signet Lord Mackay of Clashfern KT gives the Eldon Lecture at Northumbria University’s Law School, Newcastle. Entitled “Criminal Trial on Indictment in England and Scotland: A comparative view from Hadrian’s Wall”, the Keeper’s lecture compares and contrasts outstanding features of cases brought on indictment in the two jurisdictions, with Lord Mackay concentrating on present law and practice and a topical approach. It was noted by the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Northumbria Law School, Lucy Winskell OBE, “It is perhaps fitting for this Eldon lecture that Lord Mackay was the longest continuously serving Lord Chancellor of Great Britain in the 20th century – just as was Lord Chancellor Eldon in the 19th century”. The engagement was initiated by Michael P.G. Smith WS, course director at the University, and the WS Society’s chief executive Robert Pirrie WS accompanies Lord Mackay on the two day visit to what is the largest Bar law school in the north of England.

A CRIME OF DIFFERENT KIND is involved is how some people feel about the sudden announcement this week that the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is closing Inverleith House art gallery with immediate effect. The news caused dismay across the city and far beyond. As owners of another neo-classical Georgian masterpiece in the city, the WS Society knows something of the challenges and opportunities of running historic properties. The Signet Library is self-financing although in recent years it has established Signet Library Heritage as a registered charity to raise funds to help support the maintenance and development of the building and its contents. The RBGE controversy arises partly from reports that RBGE received funding from Creative Scotland directed at maintaining the art gallery rather than closing it (reportedly £80 000 last year for exhibitions and a strategic report plus a capital award of £148 453). Added to the mix, the closure came with only five days notice and no public consultation. A press statement claimed the much-loved venue is too costly to run and cited the “core” function as the Botanics as horticultural. Critics might point out that botanical gardens sit firmly in the domain of aesthetics and cultural expression and that an art gallery might reasonably be regarded as integral to a public botanical complex. Critics also question the wisdom of RBGE’s investment in the modern building that now so dominates the main entrance at the expense of plants and greenery. The lack of public consultation was particularly criticised, with Laura Cumming’s article in the Guardian expressing a typical assessment: “Five days notice against 56 years of art is an outrage in itself… Inverleith House was hearth and home to the Botanics, simply the place where everyone gravitated”. Cumming was sceptical about the finance rationale since, she reports, the gallery has a grand total of two employees. The RBGE can expect its plans – or lack of them – for this jewel in Edinburgh’s crown to be closely monitored.

THE WEEK’S BIG LEGAL STORY – in terms of press coverage – was surely the Belfast bakery controversy. The “Gay Cake Case”, as it was universally labelled, saw Asher’s Bakery in Northern Ireland appealing a judgement last year finding they had discriminated against a customer on the grounds of sexual orientation. The court of appeal in Belfast on Monday upheld the original decision and also ordered the family run firm to pay £500 compensation to local gay rights activist Gareth Lee. The case received international attention after Lee tried to order a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” and the McArthur family, owners of the bakery and, like many in the local community, evangelical Christians, refused to supply the cake. Asher's had its legal fees for the appeal paid by the Christian Institute. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay marriage is not recognised in law and the McArthur family have won the support of Northern Ireland’s attorney general, John Larkin QC. There may yet be an appeal to the Supreme Court, where more judges can discuss the legality of the icing on the cake.

— “Writer”

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