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Law and change: Scottish legal heroes
Law and change: Scottish legal heroes

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3.2 Legal education

The development of university courses in law has been inextricably linked to the admission requirements to the professions set by the Faculty of Advocates. During the seventeenth century, a recognition of the need for professional law teaching had begun to grow. By the start of the eighteenth century, it was possible to be admitted to the Faculty of Advocates by examination (until 1750 entrants could choose to be examined on either civil law or on Scots law).

Professional law teaching began in universities and in private colleges run by advocates. Chairs in teaching Scots Law were founded in Glasgow (1714) and Edinburgh (1722). The institutional writings of both Stair and Mackenzie were widely used as textbooks during those early years. Erskine taught by lecturing on the Institutions and in 1759 he published his own Principles of the Law of Scotland.

The works of the institutional writers were used in teaching for much of the following century. Mackenzie (published in 1678) also became Dean and an examiner of entrants to the Faculty of Advocates. His work and political influence as Lord Advocate is regarded as having paved the way for law as a university subject in Scotland. In his work he gave statutes absolute precedence. This was influenced by his political and constitutional beliefs, in particular his belief in the royal prerogative. This belief led to his exile during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Royal prerogative meant that only the monarch could make law, and it was no longer a ‘fashionable’ political belief. Society was changing rapidly as beliefs in democracy, freedom and liberty came to the fore. The old order was being challenged and the legal system and constitutional arrangements were beginning to reflect this. Today, it would be difficult to imagine someone going into exile from Scotland because of their constitutional beliefs.

Legal education today retains some of the features developed in those early years and the training within the profession states that law degrees should:

Foster the culture and values of the Scottish legal tradition – recognising the fundamentally distinct nature of Scots law and the Scottish legal system, and its adherence to high ethical standards – whilst teaching this comparatively in its practical UK, EU and International law context.

(The Law Society of Scotland, 2017)