Politicians and legal literacy

THE SIGNET LIBRARY WAS AT THE HEART OF SCOTTISH LIFE this week, as it so often is, with the Kirking of the Scottish Parliament at St Giles Cathedral on Wednesday. HRH the Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles, met the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Opposition leaders in the Lower Library but only after he had been introduced to Deputy Keeper of the Signet Caroline Docherty WS (Morton Fraser), Treasurer Roddy Bruce WS (Dickson Minto WS),  Fiscal Mandy Laurie WS (Burness Paull) and Collector Simon Mackintosh WS (Turcan Connell). HRH and the First Minister spoke appreciatively of the restoration of the building and the opening of Colonnades.

TWO OF THE SCOTTISH POLITICAL LEADERS – Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale – are legally qualified and the newly elected London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, was a human rights lawyer before he entered politics. The lawyer turned politician is a well-trodden path – 10 British prime ministers have been lawyers, and 24 of the 44 US Presidents have been lawyers. Donald Trump would not be a 25th. In recent times Cherie and Tony Blair were both lawyers, as were Hillary and Bill Clinton and Michelle and Barack Obama. In a campaign that was criticised by many for its unpleasant and personal nature, Khan, son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver, found himself being attacked as untrustworthy by challenger Zac Goldsmith, scion of a billionaire tycoon and part-time environmentalist, because Khan has represented clients in actions against the police and accused of extremist views. The fact that a lawyer should be attacked for his clients was an example of a creeping legal illiteracy in parts of political life. Before his election as Mayor, Khan was the Shadow Lord Chancellor. Many lawyers have been disquieted that the last two appointments to the office of Lord Chancellor – Chris Grayling, and the incumbent Michael Gove – have absolutely no legal background. After all, this is an office held by some of the country's greatest legal figures.  In any event, Khan’s career as a human right lawyer seems to have done him no harm with the voters of London. A victory for liberal democracy and human rights under the rule of law.

AN EQUALLY BITTER MAYORAL RACE is the subject of the new Netflix drama Marseille. This being France, however, it is an altogether steamier affair, with old incumbent Gérard Depardieu fighting off a personal challenge from his former protégé turned rival. The series kicks off with the murder of a judge in the run up to an election and just gets murkier from there. Parisian reviewers savaged it; Marseilles press loved it. Its most lasting legacy however, is as Netflix’s first 100% European production made available simultaneously to over 80 million viewers worldwide.

ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL US LEGAL DRAMAS of recent times, The Good Wife, ended this week in America. The multi award winning show followed the story of wronged political wife Alicia Florrick as she returned to work as a lawyer. Over seven seasons it interspersed timely legal stories (such as the Bitcoin or Monsanto sagas) with political, business and personal intrigue in considerable style – and the titular character’s wardrobe, (designer suits and Louboutins in all circumstances) wasn’t bad either. ICYMI the first six seasons are available now on All4.

THE BHS PENSION SHOW AT WESTMINSTER began this week with the chief executive of the Pensions Regulator, Lesley Titcomb, as the warm up act before the work and pensions and business, innovation and skills committees’ inquiry. Admitting that the first she knew of the sale of BHS was “when we read it in the papers” was something of a gift to the committees’ members and the media.  This was not a command performance.  Sir Phillip Green was quick to dispute this version of events and says the Regulator was notified. Cue a degree of backtracking from the Regulator: they knew a sale was in prospect but weren't informed of "the actual sale". Meanwhile Alan Rubenstein, chief executive of the Pension Protection Fund, the industry-wide lifeboat for failing pension funds, told the inquiry that he had passed on “intelligence” to the Pensions Regulator in 2012 concerning certain goings-on in Sir Phillip’s Arcadia group of companies. This show will run and run.

INSIDER TRADING is a dirty secret in London's Square Mile and does anyone seriously believe that the conviction this week of a Deutsche Bank chief is anything more than the tip of an iceberg?

SOME READERS MAY HAVE SEEN the feature A word about Walter this week. Walter the Scottie, the Signet Library’s resident dog, is, as the feature explained, reserved, and seemed rather nonplussed by VisitScotland’s unveiling this week of its “Ambassadog”. Everything in Walter’s disposition suggests he views the role of the dog as very much that of supporting player rather than starring actor. The fact that the winner out of 200 entries was a golden retriever may also explain Walter’s demeanour. It is probably not overstating matters to suggest that Walter gives every indication of viewing the retriever as among the less cerebral, more impressionable, of canines. That is not to say he does not appreciate their friendly and amenable manner. But still. It is likely that the tartan bandana so eagerly sported by the Ambassadog in the publicity shots would not play well with Walter’s way of thinking.  

— “Writer”

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