Murdo Ferguson, Tory MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife and deputy leader of his party in the Scottish Parliament, has launched a campaign to have the Stone of Destiny transferred home to Scone from its present location in Edinburgh Castle (see No 2). He hoped (he said) that the election of an SNP government would lead to official backing for his initiative. But instead Linda Fabiani, Europe and Culture Minister, told him that the location of the Stone was a matter for the Queen, advised by the Commissioners for the Safekeeping of the Regalia (who of course include the First Minister). As a man apparently interested in Scotland’s medieval past, Mr Ferguson will doubtless take heart from the story of Robert the Bruce and the spider, and soldier on. A favourable wind may be blowing behind him: a Hollywood film about the taking of the Stone from Westminster Abbey in 1950-51 is in the making, with location shooting having taken place at Arbroath Abbey in June, while the outlines of the Stone’s original home, Scone Abbey, were revealed by scans conducted by Glasgow University archaeologists (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/tayside_and_central/6908145.stm).
The Stone’s return to the headlines led inevitably to renewal of the hoary old debate about whether or not it was the real one that went to Westminster in 1296 and that came back to Scotland in 1950-51 and 1996. The answer seems to be pretty conclusively that it was: see R Welander, D J Breeze and T O Clancy (eds), The Stone of Destiny: Artefact and Icon (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 2003), especially the contribution of Professor Geoffrey Barrow, whose most telling point is the repeated efforts of the Scots to recover the Stone from 1321 on, behaviour hardly consistent with the notion that the real one had been hidden away in 1296 and a fake passed off on Edward I.
The Office of Fair Trading in Scotland published a report on 31 July 2007 calling for an end to restrictive rules preventing solicitors from practising in partnership or other forms of joint activity with non-solicitors, hindering businesses from offering legal services along with other products, and limiting non-solicitors from instructing advocates directly. If implemented, the report would open up the prospect of supermarkets such as Tesco and banks moving into the legal services market, as well as the introduction of multi-disciplinary professional partnerships (MDPs). The OFT noted that another implication of such deregulation would be a question-mark over the self-regulation of the legal profession by the Law Society of Scotland and, presumably, the Faculty of Advocates. For the full text of the report see http://www.oft.gov.uk/shared_oft/super-complaints/oft946.pdf. Reactions varied: big Scottish law firms welcomed the report, but worries were expressed by others about the future of smaller and out-of-town ones. Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, who has three months to respond formally, indicated that while the status quo was not an option, he wanted distinctively Scottish solutions” to the issues identified in the report; a lifeline which the Law Society and the Faculty of Advocates appeared likely to seize.
Normally the Scottish Courts website simply publishes the texts of court judgements without comment or further material to assist the reader in knowing quickly what a case was about and what it decided. The only exception Scots Law News had noted before 31 July 2007 was the McTear case in 2005, on the liability of cigarette manufacturers to smokers (see No 466). But the judicial review of a decision by the committee of the Nairn Golf Club at the behest of Mr Lindsay Smith () CSOH 136, Lord Macphail) now provides another example. The text of the summary which precedes Lord Macphail’s opinion is presumably to make it clear to the media and the public generally that the judge was not making a decision on the merits of the basic dispute between the parties – a question of whether Mr Smith had cheated playing golf – but on whether the way in which the club had decided the dispute was fair and met the requirements of what lawyers call natural justice (not at all the same thing that non-lawyers might understand by that phrase). Lord Macphail holds that the club’s proceedings were indeed fair, whether or not their decision that Mr Smith had cheated was also. For the summary and Lord Macphail’s opinion see http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/opinions/2007CSOH136.html. The decision leaves Mr Smith, an official with the Royal Bank of Scotland, in a difficult position on where to go next if indeed he did not cheat. From a legal point of view, the case is also interesting as an example of the public law remedy of judicial review in the context of the essentially private law, contractual relationship between the members of a voluntary association. But it is of course not the first such case; and Lord Macphail cites at least three other recent ones from golf clubs, namely Irvine v Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh 2004 SCLR 386, Crocket v Tantallon Golf Club 2005 SLT 663 and Wiles v Bothwell Golf Club 2005 SLT 785. Two thoughts occur to the editor of Scots Law News, himself an irregularl hacker of small white balls around various parts of the Scottish countryside, with occasional conversions of heritable to moveable property all part of the fun. One is his wife’s advice, admittedly not always readily taken, that it’s only a game; and the other is Mark Twain’s perceptive definition of the said game as a good walk spoiled.
Following the appearance of an old juristic star in Glasgow Sheriff Court earlier in the month (see above, No 656), on Friday 27 July 2007 erstwhile Led Zeppelin guitarist and producer Jimmy Page (63) stepped into the witness box in Glasgow Sheriff Court to give evidence in the trial of Robert Langley on charges of trade mark and copyright infringement offences. Langley had been arrested in possession of counterfeit or bootlegged music recordings which included a substantial body of Led Zeppelin material but pleaded not guilty to the charges. Page provided evidence about the sources for the bootleg copies, as well as commenting adversely on the quality of the counterfeits and describing the damage they did to the legitimate product in terms of goodwill and sales. On Monday 30 July a clearly overwhelmed Langley changed his plea to one of guilty. He will be sentenced later as well as facing hearings under the Proceeds of Crime Act. For those too young (or too old) to have heard (or heard of) Led Zeppelin, one of the great hard rock bands of the 1960s/1970s, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Led_Zeppelin and also the band’s official website, http://www.led-zeppelin.com/. The successful tactic of using a celebrity witness perhaps recognisable by the judge may suggest to Glasgow fiscals the way to get a guilty verdict at last in prosecuting street traders selling unlicensed Rangers favours (see for lack of success to date, Nos 221, 538, and 638): bring in former Ibrox favourites such as John Greig and Wee Willie Henderson to testify to the damage these people are causing to Rangers Football Club (for Greig, Henderson and other Rangers legends, see http://www.rangers.premiumtv.co.uk/page/HallOfFame/). That would be bound to have an effect on sheriffs’ perception of what is right and what is wrong, save perhaps where they are Celtic supporters.