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The Community of the College of Justice

The Community of the College of Justice: Edinburgh and the Court of Session, 1687-1808

John Finlay
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Community of the College of Justice
    Book Description:

    A unique institution in a unique jurisdiction: an institutional history of Scotland's eighteenth-century legal community.How important can a court and its members be in influencing the development of a country? In Scotland's case, the answer is surprising.The remarkable metamorphosis of eighteenth-century Edinburgh, from crisis conditions in the 1690s through the Union to the intellectual heights of Enlightenment and the development of the spectacular New Town, owed a great deal to those who spent their professional lives working in the Court of Session as members of the unique institution known as the College of Justice. James Boswell, Lord Kames, Henry Dundas and Walter Scott are just some of those who emerged from the College to influence Scotland's place in Europe. This study investigates the important role of College members in the cultural and economic flowering of Scotland as a whole, and Edinburgh in particular, and argues that a single Law institution had a marked influence on the Scottish cultural landscape to the present day.Key Features* An original study making use of a range of manuscript sources. No existing work has made such extensive use of session papers or has looked at the manuscript town council minutes of Edinburgh in such depth for legal historical purposes.* Reveals the working milieu within which Scots law developed at a key period following the parliamentary Union of 1707 as Scots law consolidated itself as one of the world's few mixed jurisdictions.* Shows the development of Edinburgh's history as an example of community interaction in an urban setting in comparison to courts across Europe and elsewhere.* Readers interested in social history will find out a great deal about the collective working experience of a range of individuals of very different backgrounds and status. Members of the College included the very high and the very low and in

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4578-7
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. v-vi)
    John Finlay
  4. Abbreviations and References
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    The following study aims to identify and examine the lives and activities of those who made up the community of the College of Justice in Edinburgh between 1687 and 1808. Since the College was founded in 1532 as Scotland’s central civil court, and can trace its institutional structure back to the early fifteenth century, it may be asked why those particular start and end dates were selected.² The answer is that they reflect two important events. The first was an act of sederunt in 1687 by which the judges (properly known as lords of council and session or senators of...

  6. 2 The College and the Urban Community
    (pp. 33-61)

    In the eighteenth century it was the custom for judges and advocates to dress at home and then proceed, bearing gowns, cravats and wigs, to Parliament House. Robert Chambers sketches a picture of advocates, their heads through open windows, taking the morning air and discussing with neighbours the legal news of the day.² The presence in Edinburgh of College members, for the half of the year when most of them resided there, was obvious to any casual visitor. Court sittings influenced the capital’s social calendar, so much so that the time taken up with legal business seems to have been...

  7. 3 The College and Urban Administration
    (pp. 62-91)

    As technically landlord and tenant, the relationship between Edinburgh’s councillors and the lords of session was in the mutual interest of both. The capacity of the judges to provide advice on the law, and the requirement that they regularly do so, were obvious benefits to the city and hardly to be found elsewhere. In terms of governance, it ensured that Edinburgh had, by some distance, the most sophisticated local administration in Scotland.

    College members were strictly excluded from membership of the town council which, though mainly consisting of merchants and tradesmen, was dominated by the mercantile interest. The council was...

  8. 4 The Lords of Session
    (pp. 92-120)

    It was largely the lords of council and session –or senators of the College of Justice – who developed Scots law into the distinctive legal system that it remains today. To their role in legal decision-making, every office in the College was subordinate. The lords also supervised the conduct of the lawyers and clerks who acted in their court, ensuring they obeyed the acts of sederunt and respected the obligation (imposed under the oath de fideli administratione) to carry out their roles faithfully.²

    A formal oath swearing, though no longer specifically recorded in the books of sederunt, apparently took place whereby...

  9. 5 Advocates
    (pp. 121-156)

    The Faculty of Advocates did not emerge overnight. By the time the College was endowed in 1532 advocates can be found acting together in their collective interests.² John Shairp was described in 1582 as ‘dene of the advocattis of the sessioun’, although the phrase ‘dene of the Faculty’ does not appear until 1619, when an act of sederunt required all intrants to present a book to be chosen with his advice.³ Why advocates should call the leader of their group ‘dean’, from the Latin decanus, is a matter for conjecture. The link between ‘dean’ and ‘Faculty’ strongly suggests, however, that...

  10. 6 Writers to the Signet
    (pp. 157-187)

    The early history of the Society of Writers to the Signet has been recounted by Hannay.² Writers to the signet were firmly identified with the College of Justice from its foundation in 1532, and their surviving records go back further than those of the Faculty of Advocates.³ The formal head of the Society was the keeper of the signet which, traditionally, had been held by the royal secretary and then by the secretary of state for Scotland until that office was abolished in 1746. Thereafter, separate keepers of the signet were appointed until 1817 when the office was combined with...

  11. 7 The Working Chambers of the College
    (pp. 188-218)

    Behind the scenes in the College were a series of private chambers where summonses were drafted, records copied, deeds registered and men passed their lives often in apparently grim and uninspiring circumstances. These offices brought the kind of steady income to which many local writers could merely aspire, and that made them so attractive, men were sometimes willing to overextend their credit to acquire them. The focus in this chapter is on these office-holders whose work facilitated the judicial activity of the lords of session and many of the functions of the writers to the signet.

    College offices which generated...

  12. 8 Subordinate and Minor Office-holders in the College
    (pp. 219-246)

    Like any court, the College of Justice contained minor office-holders who were essential to the orderly conduct of its business. Many of them would have been better known in Parliament House than most of the advocates. Nor should ‘minor’ be taken pejoratively; they were minor only compared with those considered in the previous chapters. The range of these offices, from agents and clerks to keepers, was considerable and they encompassed a number of administrative tasks, some of which involved considerable application and practical skills. Those who filled them often enjoyed lengthy careers and sometimes flitted from one office to another....

  13. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 247-260)

    The easiest way to become immersed in the community of the College of Justice is to read James Boswell’s journals. A constant round of break - fasting, dining, tea drinking, theatre-going and overindulgence in wine, punctuated a life at the bar marked by personal relationships with fellow advocates, judges, agents, and others about the court. Rich as it is, however, Boswell’s personal record remains but one perspective from thousands.

    The character of the College was shaped not only by its more distinguished lawyers but by the writers, notaries and clerks who came to train within its precincts. In the absence...

  14. Appendix 1
    (pp. 261-263)
  15. Appendix 2
    (pp. 264-266)
  16. Appendix 3
    (pp. 267-272)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-284)
  18. Index of subjects
    (pp. 285-288)
  19. Index of persons
    (pp. 289-295)
  20. Index of judicial titles
    (pp. 296-296)