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

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7 Scottish judges

Just as Donoghue has had a significant impact on the development of the law on delict (negligence) globally, Scottish judges have also had a significant impact on the development of other areas of the law. Scotland appointed the first female law lord in 1996 (Lady Hazel Cosgrove to the Supreme Court in Edinburgh). In 1992 Lord Hope of Craighead (first Deputy President of the UK Supreme Court) permitted an experiment in televising trials in Scottish courts for documentary purposes.

Figure 8 From top left to right; Lord Reid, Lord Mansfield, Lord Hope, Lord MacKay, Lord Jauncey, Lord Brian Gill, Lady Cosgrove, Lord Hodge and Lady Stacey

There are many Scottish judges who have made significant contributions to the Scottish legal system and Scots law and more widely. Figure 8 includes a few examples. Lady Cosgrove has been mentioned previously. She was the first female law lord and received an OBE in 2004 for services to the criminal justice system in Scotland.

Having been educated both in Scotland and England Lord Mansfield was called to the English Bar in 1730. Regarded as the most outstanding British jurist of his time he advanced commercial law, modernised the court system, reformed the way in which judgments were given and generally worked to make the system of justice more effective and less costly. Following the Acts of Union he became known for his work in the House of Lords. He held several key legal positions and his decision in Somersett’s case is probably his best known. In that case held that slavery had no basis in common law, a decision which helped pave the way for the abolition of slavery. Whilst his achievements are well known in legal and political circles in the 21st century he was portrayed in the 2013 film Belle.

Ian Robertson contributed greatly to Scottish law. James Mackay, Baron Mackay of Clashfern said: ‘He was a meticulous, courteous and diligent judge and a great believer in the reputation of Scots Law. He was sensitive to any interference by the Executive in the work of the Courts.’ He was the first Scottish judge to be a member of the International Union of Judges.

Lord Gill was Scotland’s longest serving judge having been appointed in 1994. On his retirement the Judicial Office for Scotland said: ‘In the course of a distinguished legal career Lord Gill has presided over some of the most significant changes to the Scottish legal system in over a century, in particular the implementation of the proposals of the Scottish Civil Courts Review, which he led, as well as some major changes to criminal appeal procedure which are in the process of being implemented.’

Supreme Court Justice, Lord Neuberger, described Lord Gill’s judicial opinions (judgments) as ‘models of authority, conciseness and lucidity from which many other judges, including me, would benefit’ and thanked Lord Gill for his ‘enormous and long-lasting contribution to the development of the law and the rule of law in Scotland and the UK generally.’

Eliot Jauncey joined the Faculty of Advocates in 1949 and succeeded Lord Mackay of Clashfern as the Scottish representative among the law lords in the House of Lords. In 1983 he presided over what was then the longest-ever action heard at the Court of Session, which took 203 days and 1434 pages of evidence. Supporting Ian Fraser QC (later Lord Fraser of Tullybelton), he was junior counsel to Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, from 1959 to 1963 in the divorce action brought by her husband, the 11th Duke of Argyll, alleging her adultery, which broke new ground in the law of confidentiality.

Lord MacKay is the Editor-in-Chief of Halsbury’s Laws of England, the major legal work which states the law of England, first published in 1907. In 1987 the then UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, appointed Lord Mackay as Lord Chancellor. He was one of the longest serving Lord Chancellor’s in British History, holding the position for 10 years. In 1987 he caused surprise when, as Lord Chancellor he abolished the Kilmur rules which set out the principle that as a general rule undesirable for judges to take part in radio or television broadcasts. He believed that ‘judges should be allowed to decide for themselves what they should do. However, judges must avoid public statements either on general issues or on a particular case which may cast any doubt on their complete impartiality, and that judges should avoid issues which were or might become politically controversial’.

Lord Hope of Craighead was appointed as Lord President of the Court of Session in 1989 and became one of the founding justices of the UK Supreme Court on 1 October 2009. As Lord President, he controversially permitted an experiment in televising trials in Scottish courts. This was done for documentary purposes, and whilst it did not result in regular broadcasts taking place it was seen as creative and radical and generated a review as to whether court proceedings should be televised. Some 17 years later the UK Supreme Court has now decided to televise its hearings as part of an attempt to become more transparent.

Lady Stacey was the first woman to be elected Vice Dean of the Faculty of Advocates andwas appointed a Judge of the Supreme Courts in January 2009. She has appeared in a number of high profile cases, including the outbreak of e-coli in Wishaw.

Lord Reid is seen as one of the most outstanding judges of second half of the 20th century. In 1948 he was appointed as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (one of few individuals to be appointed a Law Lord straight from the Bar and without judicial experience). He sat as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary for 27 years hearing a number of leading cases.

Lord Hodge joined Lord Reed as one of the two Scottish members of the UK Supreme Court in 2013 (continuing the long-standing convention that the at least two of the Court's Justices should have comprehensive experience of the Scottish legal system). Lord Hodge also sits on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC). That Committee serves as the court of final appeal for the UK overseas territories, Crown dependencies and for certain Commonwealth countries.

Now watch the following video in which Sir David Edward explores the role of judges in the courtroom.

Download this video clip.Video player: The role of judges: Sir David Edward
The role of judges: Sir David Edward
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