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.

Lawyers Uber-alles

TODAY THE HIGH COURT delivered a shattering blow to the UK government by ruling that Parliament must vote on triggering Article 50 to begin the process of the UK leaving the European Union. The ruling that the Crown's prerogative powers do extend to giving the notice is a devastating blow to Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to give the notice by March. The court has come down firmly on the side of the UK's fundamental constitutional principle of the supremacy of Parliament. The government says it will appeal to the Supreme Court. Game on.

TUESDAY EVENING at the Signet Library saw 28 new members in all categories join the WS Society, including 11 lawyers from leading firms taking the oath de fideli as Writers to the Signet before the Keeper of HM Signet Lord Mackay of Clashfern KT. The new Writers to the Signet were invited up to sign the "current" Register dating from 1772 and taken out of the safe at the Signet Library for the occasion. Deputy Keeper of the Signet Caroline Docherty WS gave a welcome address on the values and meaning of being a “WS” and of the power of those two initials as a legal brand like no other for hundreds of years. One of those admitted, employment lawyer Jennifer Skeoch WS of Burness Paull, tweeted after the formalities: “Awe inspiring design everywhere you look at the WS Society. A real privilege to be part of such an historic and special society”. Among the new jointers were 12 law student members from the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Napier, and Aberdeen. 

EMPLOYMENT JUDGE Antony Snelson was also looking to history last Friday, quoting Shakespeare in the Uber Technologies Inc. lawsuit in London. Uber lost a case over pay and holidays for UK drivers with the three tribunal judges turning to Hamlet as they criticized the San Francisco-based company for the “ridiculous” argument that it is an application provider rather than a taxi service: “We cannot help but be reminded of Queen Gertrude’s most celebrated line: ‘The lady doth protest too much’”, Judge Snelson said in the ruling in reference to one executive’s evidence. Uber plan to appeal the London decision which could have a wide-ranging impact for the group of technology companies that connect freelancers with customers in the so-called “gig economy”. Uber faces a wave of litigation around the world centring on the status of its drivers. Meanwhile, US comedian Conan O’Brien quipped: “Uber has announced a new service where you car share with strangers. It’s a cutting-edge new technology called “taking the bus”.

ONE AMERICAN who is no stranger to lawsuits is GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, with USA Today discovering earlier this year that “the Donald” and his businesses have been involved in over 3,500 state and federal actions over the decades. The paper reported “Donald Trump is a fighter, famous for legal skirmishes over everything from his golf courses to his tax bills to Trump University”. One such golf courses is the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, and with Trump taking a narrow lead in the polls for the first time this week, it is unlikely he will be spending much time thinking about legal problems this side of the Atlantic. These include an accusation of breach of privacy and a claim for damages by rambler Rohan Beyts. Her lawyer, Mike Dailly has accused Trump’s staff of illegally filming and retaining footage of her after the resort had previously admitted breaching the UK’s strict data protection and privacy laws. Where all this might end under a Trump presidency is anyone’s guess.

AS WELL AS KEEPING LAWYERS busy, commentators, pundits and comedians have not been short changed by Trump throughout this campaign. The British broadcaster John Oliver has won five Emmy awards for his US show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Oliver’s commentary has been credited with helping influence US legislation, regulations and court rulings, an influence dubbed “The John Oliver Effect”. A segment on net neutrality was watched over 12 million times on YouTube and generally acknowledged to have changed the debate; a ninth circuit court judge cited a Last Week Tonight segment in a ruling. Oliver has founded and legally incorporated a church, “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption”, to demonstrate how easy it is to qualify as a church and receive tax exempt status in the US. Oliver also proved that if every Trump lawsuit was an episode of a US legal drama, his legal actions could have sustained – and here he took a deep breath – all 456 episodes of Law and Order, all 389 of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, all 195 of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, all 22 of Law and Order: Los Angeles, as well as every episode of The Practice (168), Ally McBeal (112), LA Law (171), Boston Legal (101), Night Court (193), The Good Wife (156), Matlock (195), J.A.G. (227), Perry Mason (271), Judging Amy (138), The Guardian (67), The Public Defender (69), Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law (69), Harry’s Law (34), Courthouse (9), Suits (76),  Family Law (68), Sweet Justice (22), 1971’s The DA (15), 2004’s The DA (4), Reasonable Doubts (44), Damages (59), Shark (38), The Defenders (18), The Paper Chase (58), Head Cases (2), Judd for the Defence (50), all three episodes of First Years and “you’re still missing one lawsuit”. As Oliver put it: “Meaning Trump’s lawsuits exhaust the whole ****ing genre”. Proof that the legal drama is an (almost) inexhaustible genre, if nothing else.

— “Writer”

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

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.

Debate, discord and denouement

LAWYERS ARE PLAYING a large part in the week’s two biggest debates: the presidential campaign in America and questions of Brexit and parliamentary sovereignty. Many commentators noted Hilary Clinton was every inch the well-prepared courtroom veteran in the first debate with republican nominee Donald Trump, a contest pollsters agreed she won comfortably. Quite how anyone, lawyer or non-lawyer, could prep for this week’s encounter, was open to question, following the leak of the “Trump tape” over the weekend, an 11 year old recording of the GOP candidate making lewd and obscene remarks about women. “Look up,” Daily Show presenter John Oliver urged his audience, “way up, way up there, no… higher… high beyond the clouds. Do you see that? That’s rock bottom. And we’re down here”. The second meeting between Trump and Clinton began without a handshake – still less a kiss – and quickly deteriorated from there as “The Donald” claimed he would put Clinton “in jail” once he was president. Tax lawyers might also want to reach out to Trump, since, after finally admitting he hasn’t paid federal income tax for years, he explained it was because, “I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world”. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stated this financial manoeuvre made Trump “a genius” – an opinion Trump would undoubtedly agree with, as “Nineteen things Donald Trump knows better than anyone else, according to Donald Trump” in the Washington Post reveals. Sample: “I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth”). The report doesn’t even have space for his boldest claim, “I know words. I have the best words.” This week it emerged that Trump’s lawyers always met with him in pairs, so he couldn’t backtrack on what was said “because Donald says certain things and then has a lack of memory”, according to attorney Patrick McGann in a diplomatic deposition. It should be noted Trump has previously claimed he has “the world’s best memory”.

EQUALLY PERSONAL EXCHANGES in Westminster on Monday, where Sir Keir Starmer QC, the newly appointed Shadow Brexit Minister was dismissed by conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith as “a second rate lawyer”. Parliamentary sketch writer John Crace observed in The Guardian this was an example of Duncan Smith’s “customary diversionary tactic of proving he is one of the most unpleasant men in Westminster”. Appearing on Channel 4 News later the same day, Duncan Smith denied he had said it, perhaps having been reminded over the course of the afternoon that Starmer was DPP for five years and a former “QC of the Year”. 

YESTERDAY’S PLANNING LAW CONFERENCE at the Signet Library attracted a first rate, engaged audience of lawyers, planners, developers and others engaged in Scotland’s planning and environmental protection system. A new event in the WS Society’s highly rated CPD programme, this is set to become the authoritative annual industry event. Where better than the Signet Library, the neo-classical design of which was the subject of planning controversy in the late 18th century when plans for the redevelopment complex around Parliament Hall were first revealed? Planning is seldom far from the headlines. “The Donald” himself might claim to know more on the subject “in the history of the world” after his well-documented jousts with the planning authorities in Scotland. Reports this week suggest he’s losing millions on this golf development at the Menie Estate and Turnberry.

THURSDAY WAS the start of the legal challenge to Brexit in the High Court and, according to BBC News, “as constitutional battles go, it is box-office stuff”. Top QC’s Lord Pannick (“Superstar of the bar” leading the challenge) and James Eadie (for the government) will go head to head, with the government’s legal adviser Jeremy Wright QC also expected to play a prominent role. He has said: “We do not believe this case has legal merit”. Duncan Smith’s appraisal of the respective ratings of the lawyers involved has yet to be recorded.

THE PREMISE OF Billy Bob Thornton as disgraced alcoholic LA lawyer William McBride taking on the monolithic corporate law firm he helped create is the enticing pitch behind Amazon’s new drama Goliath (available to stream this week). Described in an early review by Variety as a “detailed and enthralling work… a combination of two stalwart TV forms-the law drama and the anti-hero serial” and produced by courtroom series veteran David E Kelley (“The Practice” and “Boston Legal”) the gritty drama boasts a stellar cast, including Oscar winner William Hurt and Tony winner Nina Arianda. Previewers commented Thornton “clearly conveys the doubts McBride has about using the full array of despicable tactics he has learned while building up his legal career”. As he warns one character: “Don’t make me stoop to what I’m capable of.” The biblical reference in the title suggests battles – and perhaps redemptive encounters – will ensue.

TUESDAY SAW the denouement of highly praised Channel 4 drama National Treasure as the trial of comedian Paul Finchley (Robbie Coltrane) for historic sexual offences reached its verdict. Despite some doubts surrounding the accuracy of depictions of both police and legal procedure, thanks to superb performances by Coltrane, Julie Walters, and Andrea Riseborough (as respectively Finchley’s wife and daughter) National Treasure has retained an enigmatic unease over questions of guilt, memory, changing mores and public collusion in a post-Savile environment.

— “Writer”

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

Conferences and alliances

LONDON-BASED FRENCH WRITER and broadcaster Phillipe Auclair, best known as a football journalist covering British and European leagues for newspaper and media outlets, is to be the guest speaker at the WS Society’s annual dinner at the Signet Library on 11 November. An all round renaissance man, Auclair is an urbane, wry and cultured observer of human affairs. The historic bonds between Scotland and Europe, particularly the “Auld Alliance”, are a strong theme of the dinner this year.

ON THURSDAY the WS/STEP Private Client Conference at the Signet Library featured a panel of the UK’s leading private client lawyers. The programme included a focus on international and cross border issues of succession. 

ELSEWHERE IN THE UK a conference of different kind was also all about succession as new prime minister Theresa May addressed the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. Conspicuous by their absence were the former Chancellor George Osborne and the former PM David Cameron.

THE CAMERON NAME was not out of the news, however, with the unwelcome headline this week “Law firm (sic) run by Cameron’s brother hit by £150,000 scam”. Alexander Cameron QC, older brother of the former prime minister has headed barristers’ chambers Three Raymond Buildings since 2010. It is understood that m’ learned friends unwittingly made three payments to fraudsters in a “false billing” scam, which would be embarrassing enough but the chambers “specialises in large-value fraud cases”. Quite. Perhaps a particularly immersive CPD session went wrong – something on “understanding the client perspective”?

PLUMBING HAS BEEN GOOD to Charlie Mullins, the “colourful” head of Pimlico Plumbers, who was also at the Tory conference this week. The former Tory donor is one of a number of businesspeople funding a high court case – expected to begin in the next week or so – questioning HM government’s legal advice that article 50 can be invoked without parliamentary approval. In her conference speech the PM confirmed that the attorney general Jeremy Wright QC would be resisting the legal challenge in the high court, prompting Mark Elliott, professor of public law at the University of Cambridge to tweet that May appeared to have “weaponised” the attorney general “in the service of democracy”. It also prompted a presumably unintentionally entertaining live appearance by Mullins on the Andrew Neil programme The Daily Politics on Tuesday. Mullins – who will be represented in the case by Mishon de Reya – was happy to post his appearance on Pimlico Plumbers tv channel and, if nothing else, he gave Neil a run for his money on the hairstyle front.

AUDIENCE APPETITE for true-crime documentaries shows no sign of declining. Rough Justice, broadcast on BBC 1 between 1982-2007 was a ground-breaking series which investigated alleged miscarriages of justice, ultimately securing the release of 18 wrongfully imprisoned people.  Following the controversial cancellation of the programme in 2007 producer Louise Shorter established Inside Justice, a charity that harnesses the skills of lawyers, former police detectives and independent forensic experts to re-examine convictions they suspect could be unsound. Conviction: Murder at the Station (BBC iPlayer) followed Shorter and the Inside Justice team as they considered the case of Southampton postal worker Roger Kearney, currently serving a life sentence for the 2008 murder of Paula Poolton, a woman with whom he was having an affair. As the reviewer in The Daily Telegraph commented “it made for edge-of-your-seat television, pulling us in with all the twists and turns of a story that might yet turn out to be stranger than fiction”.


Italian defence lawyer Walter Biscotti

THE HORRIFIC MURDER of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy in November 2007 quickly became one of the most sensational crime stories of the 21st century. New to Netflix this week is Amanda Knox where the American Knox, twice convicted and twice acquitted of the crime, appears with other key protagonists (including co-accused Raffaelle Solleccito), in Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn’s unsettling film about the case. Inevitably, the behaviour of Italian lawyers – especially prosecutor Giuliano Mignini – has attracted much criticism. “The Italian police and judiciary were guilty of grotesque incompetence, panic, misogyny and misplaced national pride” – The Guardian. Reaction in America at the time was apoplectic and Donald Trump, inevitably, was sure there was a simple solution (boycott Italy).  None of this criticism then or now, however, has shaken Solleccito’s defence lawyer Walter Biscotti’s faith in the ultimate supremacy of Italian justice: “It bothered me that the American media lectured us about the law. This courthouse, in 1308, housed the first faculty of law in Europe. In America, in 1308, they were drawing buffalos in caves.”

— “Writer”

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


TIMELESS RITUAL in the modern world at Parliament House this week, with the opening of the legal year marked in the Court of Session on Tuesday. Writers to the Signet were well represented in court alongside other members of the College of Justice to hear the Lord President Lord Carloway announce a major change to the Court of Session timetable. The traditional three court terms of the legal year will be effectively abolished from the start of the legal year 2017-18, the summer recess eliminated and two vacation periods of two weeks being observed at Christmas and Easter. The move will "allow greater flexibility in programming the works of the courts over the legal year”. Reflecting on the change, the Lord President remarked how change is often unseen, incremental, and only measured in retrospect. Sudden, wholesale change, he said, often doesn’t last. Twelve new silks were presented before the court adjourned to be followed by the customary procession of the judiciary and legal profession to St Giles’ Cathedral for the traditional service. Following the court administration reforms a few years back, the order of precedence for the procession was a source of some controversy, even a boycott on one occasion. At issue was the delicate question of who should and shouldn’t take precedence over the Faculty of Advocates. Happily the protocol appears settled again, at least to outward appearances, save, that is, for one thwarted manoeuvre spotted by the sharper eyed observer as the congregation left the service in order of precedence.

THE LEGAL CALENDAR was a great influence on fashionable Edinburgh society in Georgian times, as the BBC’s documentary New Town revealed. Socialites followed the great and the good in returning to the city for the resumption of legal business in the autumn. Marking the 250th anniversary of the competition launched by the city of Edinburgh to solve the overcrowding and squalor of the Old Town, the programme explained how Edinburgh became “the most perfect Georgian city on earth”. Edinburgh at the time was the intellectual capital of Europe thanks to the collection of scientists, philosophers, economists, academics and artists responsible for the Enlightenment. Ironically, many academics believe it was the nature of the overcrowded Old Town that did much to foster this explosion of ideas and creativity. The Signet Library and Courts complex are of course an anomaly in this project, being masterpieces of Georgian architecture within the Old Towns’ towering closes.

THURSDAY’S EMPLOYMENT LAW conference at the Signet Library was well attended. Chaired by Innes Clark WS of Morton Fraser, the event provided a round-up of what’s new in the sector. Shona Simon, President of the Employment Tribunals Scotland, explained the controversial reforms of the employment tribunal structure. Sean Jones QC tweeted his impression of the conference: “If I ever set up Talkadvisor.com I'll be giving the WS Society top marks”.

#REIMAGINEREGULATION is the down-with-the kids branding of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission's consultation calling for urgent reform of the system for regulating and handling complaints against solicitors. SLCC's chief executive Neil Stevenson, formerly a lieutenant at the Law Society of Scotland, gave the campaign another push at the weekend, telling The Sunday Times that the existing system is costly, complex and slow”. Arrangements are certainly labyrinthine, a product of inelegant compromise over the years, most notably the problematic distinction between service and conduct complaints. Insisting upon this distinction could be seen as inconsistent with enlightened thinking that in order to satisfy clients solicitors need to synthesise material and take an holistic approach. The best CPD develops the skills required to do this. An excessively legalistic attitude is likely to alienate a lay consumer, whether it comes from a lawyer, regulator or complaint assessor. No wonder that a study for Strathclyde University’s Centre for Professional Legal Studies in 2013 concluded that legalistic complaints handling would not serve the interests of consumers or command #CONSUMERCONFIDENCE 

TO THE WORLD OF insolvency and corporate turnarounds and more bad press this week as a criminal trial at Southwark Crown Court revealed a world of dodgy bank transfers, dishonesty and fraud involving employees of Halifax Bank of Scotland (now part of Lloyds) and a turnaround consultancy. A “director of impaired assets” (and of impaired ethics, it appears) allegedly received kick-backs in the form of lavish hospitality, foreign travel and even sexual encounters with “high class escorts” in exchange for giving business to a consultancy who then fleeced customers for fees. The court heard Brian O’Neil QC describe how the employee “embarked on a deliberate, systematic and sustained campaign of unauthorised lending of bank money to those business customers within his portfolio which were effectively forced through his influence to engage in the services of [X]”. HBOS is reported to have written off £240 million as consequence.

WHAT PRICE the England national team’s football manager Sam Allardyce? The answer is £400,000 for four trips to the Far East to give 15 minute “keynotes” and a bit of chat in the bar afterwards. Once again the English Football Association finds itself signing a compromise agreement to dispose of another failed, and this time disgraced, manager. A sting by The Daily Telegraph recorded Allardyce telling undercover reporters masquerading as Far East investors how to circumvent rules forbidding third party ownership of football players, and making a number of ill-advised, off the cuff remarks for good measure. "Big Sam" left the FA with no choice other than to terminate his tenure after just one game. Still, he left for his Spanish villa this week with his 100% win record intact.  

— “Writer”

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

Planning wars

PLANNING LAW is always a good source of copy and this week has been no exception. One lawyer, Neil Collar, describing another lawyer, Colin Innes, as a legal “attack dog” certainly livened up the planning inquiry into tennis coach Judy Murray’s £37.4m Park of Keir scheme proposed for the outskirts of Dunblane in Perthshire. The revelation that one of the objectors, the enigmatic Arnbathie Developments, is a company with only one director, none other than Ann Gloag, one of the most wealthy people in Scotland, was made for the headline writers: “Judy Murray and Ann Gloag engaged in furious battle”, “It’s Murray v. Gloag”, etc. It is fair to say Innes did not appreciate the canine comparison, calling Collar’s questioning “completely, utterly outrageous and unprofessional”. Arnbathie Developments’ ambitions to build 129 “self-contained and discrete” houses on land nearby, were, according to Stewart MacGarvie, a town planner representing Gloag, nothing to do with her objection: “Our concern is the extent of this development on the green belt”. The inquiry has now ended and a decision is expected in the next few months.

KELPIES is the Scots name given to a shape-shifting water spirit that, according to legend, appears out of pools and lochs, most often in the form of a horse. Another apparition, however, mysteriously appeared beside the two famous Kelpie steel sculptures in Falkirk, described by Andy Scott, the artist who created the much loved work, as “a monstrous carbuncle masquerading as a fast food outlet”. The “Artisan Grill”, a recently arrived German-style fast food cabin, was finally refused retrospective planning permission by Falkirk Council on Monday and will now be removed. “Burger Off”, as the leader in The Times succinctly put it. Scott’s argument that the commercial value of the burger bar should not be allowed to interfere with the aesthetics of his creation is a debate that can be transferred to many developments, not least the proposed “walnut whip” hotel at the edge of the historic New Town in Edinburgh. Or indeed...

TAKE LOCH LOMOND and the Trossachs National Park which are also the centre of debate on the proper balance between business and the environment. Theme park operator Flamingo Leisure is the “preferred” (by Scottish Enterprise, that is) developer for a 49 acre site at Balloch for an “iconic”, “family-orientated” mixed use leisure development, including a “boutique” hotel, “glamping” pods and restaurants. News reports read like a glossary of developer-speak. Flamingo Land CEO Gordon Gibb was quick to reassure everyone that his company’s proposal would be a “different type of venture” from the company’s existing theme park and “zoo” in North Yorkshire. He claims that attractions would be suitable for a beautiful National Park setting, giving as an example unspecified “outdoor adrenaline pursuits”. Not everyone shares Mr Gibb’s enthusiasm for the project. An online petition against the planning proposal has been created and campaigners' question whether the proposal measures up against the sstatutory aims of the National Park: conservation, enjoyment of the special qualities of the locality, “sustainable” use of natural resources, and “sustainable” economic development. The proposal comes after a “Charente” – a community consultation – earlier this year. A planning battle looms.

NEXT WEEK’S Employment Law Conference at the Signet Library might come just in time for footballer and self-styled “borderline kamikaze pilot” Joey Barton. Barton was suspended by his employer, Glasgow Rangers, for three weeks following his alleged verbal assault on manager Mark Warburton and team mates during a de-brief in the wake of defeat by city rivals Celtic. Press comment suggests Barton’s four month career at Rangers may be over and that the enforced cooling off period will be used to negotiate an “amicable” parting of the ways. Employment law specialist Michael Briggs claims that Rangers will have to cut a deal to avoid embarrassing litigation. Barton’s career has been marked by controversy and a number of unsavoury incidents on and off the pitch. Arguably his signing itself was an accident waiting to happen. Some wonder if the new regime at Biro has learned any lessons from the high risk, high spending, tax avoiding era of David Murray when the club signed another serial delinquent, Paul Gascoigne. That strategy ultimately brought about Rangers’ insolvency and liquidation. Still, the latest publicity will do harm to sales of Barton’s autobiography published this week. The title? “No nonsense”. 

THE BBC’s ROLE in Scottish national life is never far from the news just now. With that in mind, the Scottish setting for a four-part murder mystery, “One of Us”, proved particularly problematic. First, as one reviewer noted, it appeared to be set in a part of Scotland “where the accent hadn’t caught on”. Secondly, it featured possibly the world’s most unconvincing farmer (Jon Lynch), a man with no livestock, tractors, machinery or crops. Thirdly, in the course of the murder investigation, whole families were arrested, charged and released without the intervention of a single lawyer – even when they specifically asked for one. The BBC’s own magazine, Radio Times, acknowledged the drama “didn’t work. Or ring true. Or pass the credibility test”. All in all, only those subscribing to the “so-bad-it’s-good” view would regard this crime drama as anything but a waste of quality actors like Juliet Stevenson and Kate Dickie and stunning Highland scenery.

— “Writer”

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

Crown, crime and cake

THE TALKING POINT around Parliament House this week is the “open letter” from the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Gordon Jackson QC, to his predecessor as Dean, the recently appointed Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC. After brief congratulations, Jackson wastes no time getting to the point: “Please allow others to make decisions. There is a perception...”

The party’s over

THE ROYAL MILE returns to a semblance of normality this week after the fireworks on Monday to mark the close of the Edinburgh Festival. Walter took refuge on a tartan rug in the cellar for the fireworks. The Festival Fringe fills Parliament Square with people and a performance area right outside the Signet Library. The scene is awash with colour and clamour, thrilling for visitors, less so for those making their way daily to and from work. Walter is not a fan of jugglers shouting their life story. Now it is as if a particularly disorganised invading army has just departed the city, with a few stragglers and an early autumn wind whipping up the detritus. The legal scene around Parliament Square is still muted pending the ceremonial of the Opening of the Winter Session later in September. That will truly bring down the curtain on the summer. 

TIME WAS CALLED on a different kind of party this week. Tech giant Apple was told to pay Ireland euros 13 billion (£11 billion) of back tax that would have been due but for a special tax deal adjudged by the EU to constitute unlawful state aid. Anyone who thought a “Double Irish” was an alcoholic drink now knows that, in fact, it is an exotic tax structure favoured by certain multinationals who seem to regard their economic impact per se as more than enough benefit for any country lucky enough to have them without the demeaning imposition of being taxed at the same rate as lesser beings. The Double Irish is an Apple tax cocktail, mixed with the connivance of the Irish government. The recipe goes like this: (1) mix up and stir all your sales across the EU and elsewhere and decant into a taxable Irish company; (2) reduce the mixture by siphoning off a hefty measure of royalties and fees into a second company deemed to be “stateless” (or, if you prefer, an offshore company in an ever more favourable tax haven); et voila (3) only a shot of taxable concentrate is left in the first company. According to the EU, Apple paid a maximum tax rate of 1% - in 2014 just 0.005% - compared to Ireland’s "normal" corporation tax rate of 12.5%. It is step (2) of the recipe that EU competition commissioner Margarete Vestager says does not correspond to any version of economic reality and that amounts to state aid. Step (1) is untouched by the ruling although many will find its relationship with reality just as unconvincing. 

APPLE CEO TIM COOK is predictably outraged and has instructed City law firm Freshfields on the appeal. In a succession of outbursts Cook disingenously portrays the ruling as retrospective law and an affront to national sovereignty. It is neither. Less predictably, the Irish government is appalled at the prospect of being compelled to receive a sum equal to the entire annual cost of its national health service. In what would be an act of unprecedented national self-denial, the government may appeal the ruling, much to the outrage of Irish tax payers. As if one of the lowest corporation tax rates in the developed world was not incentive enough for inward investment. In a further twist, the US government says the ruling unfairly targets Apple despite its own frustration at Apple hoarding over $200 billion in cash reserves offshore in order to avoid paying US tax. What is genuinely perplexing, and disturbing, is why Apple felt it necessary and legitimate to adopt such an aggressive tax structure in the first place. If a “traditional” manufacturer and retailer had been exposed for doing so, consumers would have deserted it in droves. Apple’s share price hasn’t so much as quivered and it can easily afford the tax. Does the company not want to pay its way in the social orders in which it operates? Or are they so blinded by their own genius and the faux beneficence of their "cool" tech? What Apple sees as legitimate corporate strategy looks to many members of the public like greedy corporate hoarding. This cannot be good for the brand. Nor is their CEO's PR strategy playing well. The EU have followed due process and assess that Apple's tax liability should be more that the corporation (or its advisers) may have thought. Due process has been followed and there's a right of appeal. No corporation should be above the law. The EU's message to the Irish government and other member states is that state-sponsored financial doping is inimical to fair competition. Whichever way the appeal goes, surely the party is over for flagrant and excessive tax avoidance by global brands that depend upon consumer goodwill for success. 

THE PARTY’S ONLY JUST BEGUN on Brexit with the news that EU personnel are up in arms at the news that former EU commissioner Manuel Barroso is to join the US investment bank Goldman Sachs to assist advising clients on Brexit. An online petition, organised by a group of EU officials, denounces Barosso for “irresponsible” and “morally reprehensible” behaviour by taking up the role shortly after the expiry of his gardening leave. They point to Goldman Sach’s involvement in sub-prime mortgage instruments and lending money to Greece before that country’s financial meltdown. The former Portuguese prime minister has certainly been on quite a “journey” ideologically, having allegedly been a Maoist as a student, he has ended up as an ex-EU commissioner advising on Brexit.

CLOSER TO HOME law firms have flirted over the years in the field of lobbying and public affairs. In Edinburgh, where once it was the formation of the Scottish Parliament that provided the spur, now it’s Brexit. That’s certainly the view of Pinsent Masons who this week announced the expansion of its public policy practice by appointing a former head of public affairs within the RBS banking group. Apparently clients are anxious to understand the implications of Brexit. They are not alone. Her Majesty's Government would like to know.

WITH SOME EXCEPTIONS lawyers prefer to stay out of the news and to avoid appointments to the board of their clients’ trading companies. Mike Ashley's trade mark lawyer, formerly head of brands at Sports Direct, is the subject of media attention over his role in the company that makes a profit from organising all Sports Direct’s international deliveries. The company is owned by Ashley’s brother which has raised eyebrows because Sports Direct had not disclosed its contract with the company as a related party transaction. The company says it receive advice that the appointment didn't have to be disclosed. Reports claim that the lawyer was the sole director of the company for six months after its incorporation until the appointment as a director of Ashley's brother, formerly Sports Directs’ head of IT. The latest story has fed into reports of shareholder unease about corporate governance at Sports Direct in the wake of allegations about the treatment of agency employees at its warehouse and retail operations. Those allegations resulted in Ashley’s memorable appearance before the House of Commons’ business and innovation select committee. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by anyone.

AS THE US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS election moves towards the first debates between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump later this month, events surrounding an earlier race for the White House are the subject of the film Truth (available now on streaming services).  Starring Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes, a CBS 60 Minutes producer, and Robert Redford as legendary anchorman Dan Rather, the true-life drama focuses on an event that, whilst notorious in the US, is less well known in the UK.  With President George W Bush seeking re-election in 2004 many American news outlets were investigating the question of how the president avoided the draft in Vietnam. Documents made available to CBS appeared to provide a smoking gun: when the veracity of these military papers is called into question, the journalists are left examining fonts, kerning and typewriter evolution in an attempt to salvage their careers and reputations. Needless to say, lawyers are soon involved.

ANOTHER REAL-LIFE STORY is the subject of Serial the podcast which, as of June 2016, has been downloaded more than 100 million times. Journalist and presenter of the radio program This American Life, Sarah Koenig, investigated the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18 year old high school student in Baltimore, and the conviction of Adnan Syed, her former boyfriend, who was found guilty of the crime and given a life sentence. Syed had always protested his innocence and there were questions about the performance of his lawyer, Christina Gutierrez, who was subsequently disbarred (with consent) in 2001 partly due to health complaints related to the effects of multiple sclerosis, the disease which eventually killed her in 2004. With the case now back in the news as a direct result of the Serial podcast, the programme is a riveting look at the US justice system.

YESTERDAY EVENING at the Signet Library a gathering of writers and football followers joined well known faces Stuart Cosgrove, Ian Rankin and others for the launch of Nutmeg, a quarterly periodical devoted to Scottish football. The venture is a celebration of the printed word and good writing. The first edition is stylishly designed and produced and a pleasure to hold and turn the pages. It was a terrific event, much enjoyed the company as evident from activity on Twitter. The WS Society is pleased to support Nutmeg and wishes editor Ally Palmer and the editorial team every success.

— “Writer”

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