Some thoughts on legal blogging, with reference to raptor persecution, surveillance and access to land

As mentioned on this blog before, I have a role in relation to the School of Law at the University of Aberdeen’s blog. This has been a useful forum for colleagues and for me, with a number of spin-offs in other online fora (for example, this post by Dr Heather Green became a Democratic Audit piece) or in the media (the most surreal example of that being when I appeared on BBC Radio Scotland speaking about Nazis and how two Aberdeen students sat law exams as Prisoners of War).

The content on the Abdn blog is driven in a variety of ways, but the two most common ways are: a) colleagues approaching me with something they wish to air; or b) me approaching colleagues after they have done something (a conference paper, a news appearance, a publication etc.) and asking for a related post for the blog.

A recent post by my colleague Professor Peter Duff was an example of the latter. BBC News quoted him in relation to the (most recent) decision of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) not to bring proceedings in a case of apparent raptor persecution, so I hassled him for a post.

To outline the situation, in Scotland nature conservation laws exist to criminalise conduct designed to affect the population of birds of prey. That being the case, these laws operate within the overall criminal law scheme and crimes must be proven beyond reasonable doubt using evidence that can be put before a court (and possibly a jury) for consideration. The COPFS has a role in deciding what cases to bring before a court.

Pete’s blog post attracted a response from the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog and the readers of it. Pete is a pretty robust chap and has written authoratitatively about some controversial areas of law: for example, relating to criminal evidence reform in general and sexual offences and the system known as the “rape shield” (which prevents certain questioning of a victim of alleged sexual assault) more specifically. As such he probably does not need me to defend him. I did feel a certain smidgen of responsibility though, as the person who encouraged the blog post. I also take some responsibility in advocating a blog post that was accessible to all readers, so whilst some who knew the issue well might have felt Pete was somehow glib in his treatment, I was thinking about someone coming to the issue cold. I still think Pete’s post operates as a useful primer to the issue, despite critique.

Another person who felt a certain responsibility was my colleague Dr Phil Glover. He had suggested another slant for Pete to mention, which Pete duly did in a throwaway conclusion to his blog post. That conclusion, about investigatory powers and the applicability of rules that govern certain public authorities (including Police Scotland) was criticised by some as being clearly wrong, as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is not a relevant public authority in terms of the applicable section of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000. Phil sought absolution by writing a comprehensive post of his own. As that post notes, it might not be as simple as saying the RSPB has a freer hand when acting in situations that might then spin into criminal proceedings. For my part, it is fair to say I was minded for Phil’s blog post to be as technical as it needed to be, so as to stave off any criticism for not considering the matter deeply enough.

This Scots private lawyer cannot meaningfully add to those contributions, save for one observation about access to land which cropped up in the comments on Raptor Persecution Scotland and in related social media discussion. Another insight relates to blogging in general in law blogging in particular, which I will turn to first.

Perceptions of Bloggers

I was struck by the reaction from some quarters (but not, I stress, the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog itself) that Pete could have been holding a torch in relation to the wider issue of raptor persectution.

Anyone writing on the internet or indeed expressing an opinion anywhere knows to beware the ad hominen riposte: play the man, not the ball, and all that. Be that as it may, it is an attack new kids on any block seem to be susceptible to. Those already on the block might, with justifiable scepticism, wonder who any Johnny-come-lately telling them what to think is. That scepticism is fine, up to a point, but dismissing these people outright could be the wrong approach.

Like a terrible social scientist, I will back this up with a data set of one anecdote.

I found myself in a similar blogging quagmire with associated kickback from some quarters in relation to another very different Scottish matter, namely when I wrote about souvenir plots to land. Eventually, this settled down when it became clear I was mainly setting out the law and policy relating to souvenir plotting and did not actually have any particular vested interests. (Well, no vested interests beyond: 1) healthy scepticism; and 2) me kicking back in turn against those who besmirched my reputation in the initial kickback.) I do wonder if this is something law bloggers need to be mindful of though. Sure, we might know the law in the round, but we won’t necessarily know the law as it has actually applied to real people affected by that legal regime. Not that that changes anything, a valid point is a valid point irrespective of who makes it. It just means law bloggers might need to be more braced than others, if that makes sense.

Access to Land

One legal issue I can comment on relates to the analogy Pete drew between video surveillance on an estate and someone setting up a camera to record activity in a domestic garden.

Pete was correct to point out that workers carrying out their day job and landowners do have certain rights to privacy. Those privacy rights, however, are not in the same magnitude as someone might expect when at home or in her garden. (In fact, this point was stressed by George Monbiot recently when he was pushing for more access to the English countryside – privacy should not, he argued, extend to “hundreds of hectares”.)

One way Scots law caters for the expectation of and right to privacy is to exclude the operation of the right of responsible access (in terms of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003) to domestic gardens, per section 6(1)(b)(iv) of that legislation. This provision has been the subject of much litigation and writing, but it basically means that you cannot rely on the right of responsible access to go rambling over or stop for a picnic on a domestic occupier’s lawn whilst in peering distance of her window.

Clearly, setting up a camera in such a setting would also be problematic, but the fact that this exclusion to the right of responsible access does not apply in other areas does not mean that the right of responsible access would allow recording elsewhere in all circumstances.

A first point relates to the legislation itself, and whether it allows recording. Photography and the like might be allowed as a recreational activity or for educational purposes (and perhaps even commercial purposes, this being something Douglas Cusine considers in a recent Scots Law Times (News) article), but that does not extend to a right to leave a camera on someone else’s land. The right of responsible access is for people, not for inanimate objects. *See also the point below about using access rights to investigate and detect crime.

Finally, and most importantly in the context of the present discussion, privacy concerns (and related human rights) do not stop when land is not excluded under the 2003 Act. Just because something is recorded on non-excluded land does not mean it will be admissible evidence in a criminal trial, for reasons people like Pete and Phil can explain better than me.


There is a wider debate as to whether the current Scots law system is correctly positioned to allow for enforcement of conservation laws, specifically in the context of birds of prey. I welcome that debate. Irrespective of what happens with that debate, I also welcome justified analysis of decisions that the COPFS takes within the existing system.

Unsurprisingly, I also welcome the contributions of Pete and Phil to the overall debate, and I hope others better versed in the issue than me (and indeed Pete and Phil) welcome their contributions too. Finally, I hope this post is welcome, in terms of its brief contribution on one legal point and also in terms of some wider thoughts about blogging. It certainly helped me sort out some of my own thoughts.

*UPDATE 22 JUNE AT 19:09

In the context of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, for completeness it is worth recalling what the COPFS said in its recent letter (PDF) to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee of the Scottish Parliament, namely the following:

The statutory access rights granted by section 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 are granted for specific purposes. The purpose of investigating and detecting crime is not one of those purposes. It follows that someone who is on land for such a purpose is not there pursuant to the rights granted under the Act.

In any event, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code states that where people exercising access rights wish to undertake surveys of natural or cultural heritage which require the installation of any equipment or instruments they should “seek the permission of the relevant land managers”: para. 3.64.

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Fine to park here? Private parking schemes in Scotland

A blog signpost, linking to a piece I have contributed to the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland. This piece considers the law surrounding parking your car on someone else’s land, and what that landowner (or an appointed agent) can do in response to (or in anticipation of) such parking.

I will let the piece speak for itself and not say much more about it here. What I will do is address a slightly different point, being a point that one correspondent with the Journal’s editor noted, as did a correspondent on Twitter when I shared the article

This is the point that someone trying to enforce a contract for car parking services will still have to identify the driver, because not being able to do that leaves no-one to pursue in court. In some cases this might not be an issue: it certainly was not a problem in relation to the defender in the Dundee Sheriff Court case that I cover in the article. It might well be more of an issue when there are not so many repeat occurences of uninvited parking. I acknowledge that this could present a hurdle in some circumstances, but that was not really what my note was about. My article covered (I hope) the contractual and land law aspects. If someone else wants to take up the enforcement side of matters, by all means do. Meanwhile, for anyone who would prefer a quick overview of the law and an idea of whether a notice might be successfully challenged, there are online resources available.

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A call to trespass, or harmonising access to land in England & Wales with Scotland

A few days ago, a lively debate cropped up about access to land in England and Wales, primarily as a result of this tweet and related tweets by the campaigning journalist and author George Monbiot.

Monbiot clarified his remarks later, in a way that suddenly thrust the right of responsible access that exists in Scotland (as a result of Part 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003) into the foreground. This then led to BBC Radio 4 getting in touch with me, thanks to a referral from fellow legal academic Antonia Layard. (With her knowledge of access law she absolutely could have done the gig herself, but I am grateful for the referral nonetheless.)

The team at Farming Today were the budding comparative lawyers. They asked for a bit of an explainer about the differences between the law in Scotland, England & Wales, Northern Ireland and indeed in other countries, so I tried my best to explain that. They also asked me to comment on how practical or likely a change to the law in England & Wales might be.

I have analysed the difference between Scotland and England & Wales in this blog post. That focussed on augmented reality gaming, but most of the principles apply to this topic. The majority of England & Wales is not covered by the rights of access conferred by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (which applies to mapped open access land, including mountains, moor, heath and down, and registered commons, covering just over 850,000 acres) or the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. This means those seeking access to areas not covered by the legislation either need to stay on the path (assuming that is a public right of way) or rely on a landowner’s permission for access. Monbiot started a debate about whether this state of affairs is appropriate in the modern era.

You can listen to the short programme here (for the next four weeks). Monbiot is interviewed towards the end, and I am interviewed after him.

As always, you listen back to these things and ponder if you could have expressed yourself a bit better. I am pretty happy with what I said and the way it was edited (thanks to the BBC team for that).

The two things that maybe did not quite come across as I intended (owing to radio excitement and/or editing) were as follows:

  1. When I spoke about the fact England & Wales has about 850,000 acres accessible via the CROW Act, I then mentioned that Scotland has approximately 20,000,000 acres. What I was trying to lead on to say was the Scottish regime chips away at that total (i.e. it excludes where access can be taken), whereas in England & Wales the starting position is that you can only statutory access rights when statute provides for it. In other words, in Scotland you can access, unless [X], whereas in England & Wales you cannot access, unless [Y].
  2. When I was asked how big a change it would be for England & Wales, I noted that in legal terms it would be quite a big leap, but I also stressed it was not for me as a Scotsman to comment on whether or not it would be a big cultural shift for those south of the Anglo-Scottish border. Alas, that caveat got lost on the cutting room floor.

Finally, I explained a little bit about access in Northern Ireland (pretty strict when you are not on public rights of way, and they don’t have the CROW Act to help), the situation in continental Europe (where effectively nationalised hunting can allow access without permission), and the Nordic countries. The Nordic countries are an especially fine example when it comes to access law, owing to the “open air life” (Norway) and “every man’s right” (Sweden). (I wrote a bit about this in a 2014 article in the Juridical Review.) This further comparative law was also edited out from the programme, but so it goes.

For purely academic reasons, I will be listening to the ongoing debate in England & Wales with great interest.

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A Gaelic train of thought

I have an Opinion piece in The Scotsman today, about Scots Gaelic and signage, available here. This is a (sign)post directing to it and offering a bit more background.

In terms of tags for this blog post, I have filed it under “Gaelic” and “FFS WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE ME STILL NEED TO WRITE ABOUT THIS SHITE”.

The article was written in response to an Opinion piece by a gentleman I have never met and, until last week, had never heard of. He was irked by a bilingual sign that he saw from a train whilst passing through Fife.

My mind has also been known to wander whilst gazing out of a train window, although normally I leave those thoughts when I disembark without writing about them. Wilson decided to channel his thoughts into an Opinion piece. With respect, his article demonstrates the nuance of someone who thought about a topic on a train for five minutes. Perhaps he should have left those thoughts on the train. It is difficult to know where to begin with a critique of it, but I gave it a try.

The Scotsman actually toned down my response, which they were entitled to do. Something like that preceding paragraph was in my first draft. I also wrote that his analogy with Northern Ireland demonstrated a loose understanding of the language issues in two jurisdictions, and noted that his attempt to make an argument out of there being no Gaelic monoglots was “so simplistic, culturally imperialist and ignorant of minority rights it does not even deserve engaging with.” (Only “simplistic” remains in the final version, and I cut the NI point owing to the word limit.)

For background, this is not the first time I have dabbled in the Gaelic signage issue, with all the related law and policy matters that so many people do not event begin to understand before wading into the topic. This is illustrated by way of a Storify story here and another blog post here.

Anyway, that is enough from me. I actually have other things to do, and (as noted at the end of my Storify story) for some people this is not so much about actually wanting to analyse the issue sensibly, rather it is about lobbing a cat amongst the pigeons then smirking as someone else tries to restore some order to the doocot. I really am tired of writing about this cac.

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SULCN Conference 2017: Beyond the Campus

On Wednesday 7 June 2017, the sixth annual conference of the Scottish University Law Clinic Network will take place at Glasgow Caledonian University.

This is a short blog (sign)post to direct you to other resources about the conference, namely the information page hosted at the GCU Law blog (with speaker biographies here) and the free booking resource available via EventBrite here.

As a reminder, SULCN is an organisation that brings together the various pro bono activities at the Scottish universities, as detailed here. This year’s event is about whether and (if so) how law clinics can move “beyond the campus”.

It would be great to see you there, both to hear about any ideas interested parties might have for Scottish law clinics, and also to showcase what some of our law clinics are up to. For those that cannot make it, I will be undertaking my usual tweeting on the day (from the @SULCN Twitter account) and thereafter will try to capture my tweets and the tweets of other delegates in a Storify story.

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National Parks in South Africa – a Scotsman’s perspective

Just under four years ago, I posted on this blog about National Parks in Australia and Scotland. My trip to South Africa on research leave and a short trip within my bigger trip has opened up the possibility of another wee post about national parks there, so here goes. Hopefully this will be of interest to people in the UK and South Africa. Before going any further though, I should reiterate my thanks to the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for providing funding for my travel to South Africa and (in case anyone is wondering) please note I took a few days annual leave to facilitate a long weekend in Johannesburg then the trip to Kruger National Park that I refer to below, and I financed the sojourn myself.

Not much has changed as regards Scottish national parks since I wrote my post about Australia and Scotland. There are still only two national parks, the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. (The Borders and Harris have been mooted as potential park locations: work is ongoing about the former, but the latter seems to have stalled.) The law relating to national parks remains largely the same as it was, although mention might be made of the change in regulation of wild camping in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, where the Park Authority has passed byelaws to police this. This means that the right of responsible access under Part 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 will not allow for campers to simply pitch up and camp without a permit in these areas.

That reform was controversial in Scotland. Meanwhile, in South Africa, I needed a permit just to get into Kruger Park, South Africa’s oldest national park, never mind camp.

Kruger Permit

Perhaps I should have taken a photo of the gate I entered through to give you an idea of how well-staffed and secure the park entrance was, but then again the staff at the well-staffed gate looked very official and not desirous of being photographed. So here’s a substitute photo of a sign.

Phabeni Gate sign

As for wild camping even when furnished with a permit… not so much. Human accommodation (in static, caravan, or pitched form) was restricted to designated rest areas (in my case, Skukuza – more about that name and its meaning later).

Skukuza Rest Camp Entrance

Mind you, camping is also regulated in another national park area which I visited (without a permit) at the opposite end of the country.

Glencoe Quarry

Seriously, Glencoe Quarry. There are Scottish connections aplenty in South Africa. As for the Glencoe thing, I did not enquire as to whether it was possible to buy a rock and become a Laird of Glencoe as a result.

That brief comparison shows Scotland’s slight concession to camping regulation in national parks is really nothing compared to the regime in the spots I visited in South Africa. I should probably not make too much of that though, for highly practical reasons: restricting recreational humans to rest areas at Kruger is somewhat sensible, because lions and leopards and armed poachers; whereas camping in and around Cape Town is not exactly recommended for tourists in the Lonely Planet.

Enough about where I happened to go. What about the regime as a whole, as opposed to at Kruger or the Cape Peninsula?

There are 19 national parks in South Africa (compared to Scotland’s two), operated by South African National Parks (SANParks, compared to two boards in Scotland). SANParks draws its existence and powers from the Protected Areas Act 57 of 2003 (which superseded the National Parks Act 57 of 1976). Other older legislation dealt with specific national parks, with Kruger National Park being worthy of comment here. The Sabie Game Reserve – a predecessor to Kruger – was proclaimed by the then president of the Transvaal Republic in 1898 (Paul Kruger), James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed the first warden of the Sabie Game Reserve in 1902, then the National Parks Act 56 of 1926 merged the Sabie and Shingwedzi Game Reserves to form Kruger National Park. (More on James Stevenson-Hamilton – who came to be known as Skukuza – below.) There are also public nature reserves, managed below central government level, which I will skim over in this post.

The overall function of SANParks is nicely summarised in this document as being to “protect, conserve and control the national parks and other protected areas assigned to it and to manage those areas in accordance with [section 57 of the 2003 Act]”. (The document is also available here in Afrikaans and Northern Sotho.) This broadly chimes with the Scottish approach, although apparently with more joined-up-ness. Another intriguing contrast is that the legislation providing for SANParks requires a 2/3 majority in parliament to get rid of the body.

In terms of other differences with Scotland, some of the practical points (predators and poaching) have already been highlighted. Before anyone asks, poaching activity (particularly of the rhino) in South Africa is of a different scale to any criminal activity relating to wildlife that is going on in Scotland. Can you imagine the Cairngorms authority putting out a press release like this? As for other differences, South African national parks are much older, and there are more of them, although not as many as Australia. Then there is the size of (some of) the parks. Kruger weighs in at 7,580 square miles (19,633 km²). This is almost but not quite as big as Wales, to use the standard measurement of the British press.

So there are clear differences, but there are commonalities in terms of what the national parks are for in both jurisdictions. This was evidenced in one of the displays in this museum in Skukuza Rest Camp.

Kruger National Park Museum

It highlighted the benefits the park brings (or at least claims to bring), including via environmental education, economic empowerment, and cultural heritage management. And whilst I am no brand consultant, it seems fair to say the shop on-site was doing a decent trade and Kruger Park has a certain attraction for tourists. SANParks’ website also notes it generates 75% of its operating revenue, a fact it is somewhat bullish about.

That museum also detailed some other interesting trivia, which I will summarise below, and in turn tie it a bit to the land question.

The first display in the museum has a quote from someone from a local township about the importance of the conservation and tourism aspects of the park, which seems a good sign. Then the inevitable land issues that pervade South Africa come into play, as Voortrekkers then the South African (Anglo-Boer) War arrive. We also discover a bit more about James “Skukuza” Stevenson-Hamilton, whose Shangaan or Swazi name means “to sweep away like a flooding river” or “he who sweeps clean”, a name bestowed for his early efforts to control poaching, and (more tellingly) his steps to move people living inside the park to elsewhere. The last removals from Kruger National Park took place as recently as 1969 (during the apartheid-era). Perfunctory eviction letters are on display in the museum, telling inhabitants to leave and making no provision for their alternative accommodation. (By way of contrast, the museum also notes there were no forced removals in the Mkhuze Reserve in what is now KwaZulu-Natal.) To say this was a thought-provoking read for someone who was drawn to the area as a tourist for the whole safari thing would be an understatement. [EDIT 9 May – I have since discovered a successful land reform claim was made in relation to part of Kruger National Park by the Makuleke community. See below.]  The display then concluded with some possibilities for the future, including transfrontier work with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. That takes matters somewhat away from my national park focus, so I will not say anything more about that.

As for Stevenson-Hamilton, I read a bit more about him in the “WAC Campbell Museum Hut”. (Incidentally, Campbell was a founder member of the National Parks Board, along with a bunch of other white men.)

Campbell Museum Hut

In that museum hut, I learnt that Stevenson-Hamilton was born in Dublin in 1867, and that there is a Scottish connection. His mother was heiress to the estates of Fairholm and Kirkton in Lanarkshire, apparently. The museum also made reference to a couple of Scottish farmers that were in the area. So there you go.

Anyway, that is enough about national parks. Here’s a nice picture of a zebra crossing… [EDIT but please note I have added some more text below about that actual land claim involving Kruger National Park.]


UPDATE: When I was doing some reading in the library at the University of Stellenbosch today, I stumbled upon a reference to a land claim involving Kruger National Park in the book Re-conceiving property rights in the new millenium: towards a new sustainable relations policy edited by Ben Chigara in a chapter by Munyaradzi Saruchera and Sibongile Manzana. I was intrigued and after a quick internet search I can confirm that, yes, a successful land claim for approximately 24,000 hectares was made under the Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994 in relation to a removal that happened in 1969. A judgment handed down on 15 December 1998 essentially gave effect to an agreement that the interested parties had come to regarding this (those interested parties being the Makuleke Community, SANParks, and various state and government entities). That agreement had been entered into by those parties in the knowledge of the direction of travel in South African land reform. An online story about this can be found here and the event is noted in the relevant timeline on the SANParks website.

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Ten signs it’s time to stop and ask for help: guest post by Lucy Reed

This is a guest post from Lucy Reed, a barrister with who blogs at Pink Tape and tweets as @familoo. Anyone a) vaguely legal or b) generally interested in life should really be following her anyway, but just in case you do not this is how she describes herself on Twitter.

Family lawyer & blogger . Ovaries of steel, abs of jelly. Author Chair .

I am delighted she has shared this post with me and I don’t want to get in the way of it with a long introduction. I will quickly note how this blog post came about though.

A few weeks ago there was some publicity in England & Wales about McKenzie friends – legally unqualified buddies who provide support but not legal advice to people in court – and specifically student and remunerated McKenzies. The blogs Nearly Legal (by Giles Peaker) and Lawyer Watch (normally by Professor Richard Moorhead, but in this case a guest post by Dr Leanne Smith) posted about this topic. Lucy posted about it too. I recommend all those posts. I watched this unfold from a safe Scottish distance, although I did wonder if there might be a slight amount of collateral damage to some student pro bono activity, a topic and a cause I have an interest in. I also wondered if there might be some good that could come out of this, namely an opportunity to remind students, junior practitioners, McKenzies, or whoever that there can be times when you have bitten off more than you can chew. It is important both to minimise those situations and know how to react to them when they arise. I asked Lucy if she might offer her wisdom on the topic and she agreed. Over to Lucy to explain.

(For Scottish readers, I have added a couple of footnotes to give the Scots law equivalents when English examples are given.)

Ten signs it’s time to stop and ask for help

To survive as a law student or newly qualified lawyer you have to project confidence even if you don’t feel confident all of the time. But it’s important never to forget the value of humility. Humility protects you against career ending errors.

Being a cocky little wotsit may be a good short term coping strategy, but not if it leads you into making some daft mistake which will have ripple effects for your career and your client’s life. It’s far better to ask a colleague, your supervisor or senior for help when it turns out you didn’t really need it than to wing it and have to go to them after it’s all gone pear shaped.

I’m assuming here that you are a law student doing pro bono / clinic work or a newly qualified lawyer being let loose on stuff you may have seen but haven’t done before.

So. When do I need to pause and ask for help?

  1. When you’re starting out, pretty much everything will be unfamiliar territory. Those things that are almost like the scenario in the text book but not quite – those are gonna trip you up. ASK.
  2. When your client asks you a question you don’t know the answer to. It’s ok to say “I need to check the answer to that”. Have your phone a friend on speed dial. DO NOT WING IT.
  3. When the judge asks you a question you don’t know the answer to. It’s ok to say “I need to check the answer to that – may I have five minutes?” or “May I come back to you after the luncheon adjournment?”. Have your phone a friend on speed dial. DO NOT WING IT. (Hint – the judge knows you are inexperienced. The judge was in your shoes once. Most judges will cut you some slack.)
  4. When there is something you really didn’t get in law school and you glossed over it and fortunately it didn’t come up in the exam and… all of a sudden you’re confronted with it – NOW you gotta confess all and ASK. (Mine was the difference between tenants in common and joint tenants*. And basically the whole of the law of equity. Don’t tell anyone.)
  5. When you’ve flip flopped more than once on the right answer to something. TALK IT THROUGH WITH A COLLEAGUE.
  6. If it’s outside your usual field – ASK.
  7. Student / pro bono schemes: if it’s outside the parameters of the scheme you are operating under. It’s not just okay to say, “this is not within the scheme.” It’s a must. You are probably running under someone else’s insurance. If it’s not within the scope of the scheme that is for a reason. Don’t be an idiot. CHECK WITH YOUR SUPERVISOR.
  8. When you find yourself thinking “this would be an amazing case to have on my CV! I could take it all the way to the Court of Appeal**”… STOP. Talk it through with someone who has been doing it for more than five minutes. You don’t get any glory for crashing and burning in the Court of Appeal. The exciting prospect of a “big case” can wreck your objectivity.
  9. If your case depends on overturning a Court of Appeal or Supreme Court / House of Lords authority – you might be right. But check with someone more experienced.
  10. If you have a nasty sicky feeling in the pit of your stomach that you are out of your depth – you might be right. Or you might just be a really fantastic young lawyer with a smidge of imposter syndrome. But you don’t know until you check. SO CHECK.

Here’s the thing. I’m fifteen years call. They call me a senior junior. I still get that sick feeling in my stomach sometimes. I ask for help or a double check from colleagues all the time. Sometimes from contemporaries, and sometimes from those more senior than me. A good lawyer is open to the idea that they might be missing something, that there might be another way to approach a problem, and can see the value of a fresh pair of eyes. Phone a friend saved me from many scrapes as a junior barrister – use it. And never be ashamed to be smart enough to ask others what they think.

If you’re reading this and think it’s rubbish and it doesn’t apply to you: it does. Come back and read it again in 5, 10 years time and consider this: I told you so.

Lucy Reed


*Tenancies and common and joint tenancies roughly equate to the Scots law categorisations of common property and joint property. As for equity in general, good luck with that…

** For Court of Appeal, that would equate to the Scottish Court of Session.]

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