“Loyal and Wise” Advocates have a long history of promoting access to justice – Neil Mackenzie
In England, the Magna Carta was signed by King John at Runnymede on June 15, 1215 and included: “To no one we will sell, to no one will we deny or delay the right to justice”.
In 1424 the Scottish Parliament passed an Act which allowed poor people who needed legal advice and representation to “obtain a leill and a wise advocate”. This provision was followed and developed both north and south of the border and in 1742 in Scotland six poor lawyers were appointed each year, their names being written in the sederunt book so that Bench and Bar would know who had been appointed. year. Until the introduction of legal aid in the mid-20th century, however, representation of the poor continued to be provided by lawyers and agents at the expense of higher paying employment.
In the summer of 1774, James Boswell, a barrister, had his heaviest tenure yet: within months he had earned 120 guineas (about £11,000) – through civil cases. He also represented John Reid before the High Court of Justiciary at the trial on Monday August 1, 1774.
Mr Reid was a man of meager means: he was ‘never worth £10 and never much in debt, so he was always an equal in the world’. Mr Reid was charged with being a known sheep thief and stealing or resetting “approximately 19 sheep” – a capital crime.
The prosecution was represented by the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor General, William Nairne and Robert Sinclair. Boswell represented Mr. Reid alone.
Mr. Reid was found guilty and sentenced to death, despite Boswell’s best efforts. Boswell repeatedly visited Mr. Reid in the Tolbooth, wrote a petition to the king, and tried to persuade others in powerful positions to stay the execution; all he could do was get 14 days.
What happened next might have been “leill” (loyal) but was of dubious wisdom. When it became clear that Mr. Reid was to be executed, Boswell not only arranged for Mr. Reid’s portrait to be taken, but also planned to recover Mr. Reid’s body and take it to a surgeon for dissection. ; he even organized the means to transport and hide the body. In the end, Mr. Reid (still claiming his innocence) was hanged but his body was left too long to be of use to the dissector and Boswell abandoned his plan.
Pro bono work is, thankfully, much less colorful in 2022. The Faculty’s Free Legal Services Unit (FLSU) helps provide advice and representation as a complement to, not a replacement for, an appropriate system of legal services. state-funded legal aid. Accredited agencies provide new cases on behalf of people with unmet legal needs. We have a panel of King’s Counsel who volunteer to review cases and refer them to appropriate volunteers. These volunteers, who may be practicing lawyers (including king’s attorneys) or devils (trainee lawyers), provide the necessary advice and/or representation.
One of our volunteers, John Moir, lawyer, represented an elderly lady who had suffered years of abuse and coercive control by her ex-husband. They had also been partners on a farm. In the divorce settlement, the ex-husband had demanded that the sums owed to him be reduced by tens of thousands of pounds to reflect the (disputed) claim that she had got rid of the farming equipment. He also sued her for tens of thousands of pounds over another (disputed) claim that she got rid of other farm equipment. He obtained court orders to “seize” his bank accounts and prevent him from selling his property. The lady, naturally distressed, could not find a lawyer. She turned to Scottish Women’s Aid (an accredited agency), which contacted FLSU. Mr. Moir brought the claim to fruition – the lady did not have to pay her ex-husband’s legal costs, her bank account was freed and she was once again free to dispose of her property. Mr. Moir, a loyal and wise lawyer, is to be commended for avoiding an injustice.
The FLSU will participate in two events, one of which is hosted by the Scottish Young Lawyers Association, during Pro Bono Week, November 7-11, 2022.
Neil Mackenzie KC, is the Custodian of the Faculty of Advocates Library