Lord Gill’s Valedictory Addresses, 26 May 2015

Your faithful SLLG correspondent was fortunate to be in attendance at the Scottish Legal Profession’s official send-off to the retiring Lord President, the Rt. Hon. Lord Gill, held in Court 1 of the Court of Session this week.

A large attendance representing almost certainly every facet of the administration of law in Scotland listened to speeches in celebration of Lord Gill’s legal career. An extensive career, Lord Carloway stated as one of both record and “legend”.

Lord Gill sat in the middle of a full Bench, flanking him in all their red robed and white wigged finery. The Office Bearers of the Faculty of Advocates sat opposite in full battle dress in the front row of the court, the Faculty Treasure’s ceremonial purse and Dean’s staff of office symbolically at their sides. Behind them were the presidents and officers of law societies. The court clerks stood attentive to their roles but unobtrusively so, in the periphery. Advocates, solicitors, trainees, school children and all and sundry fitted into the public gallery.

There was, then, an unmistakable air of solemnity about the occasion. The speeches offered nothing in the way of the ‘elbow-jab-to-the-ribs’ joviality expected at many office retirement parties; however, measured, they came across as genuine and heartfelt. It made you wonder if this is the same practiced tone used toward the accused when it gets to the brass tacks of the sentencing bit.

Lord Carloway lamented the imminent loss of Lord Gill’s clarity of vision, inclusivity and compassion within the legal fraternity but stated his belief that the court reforms Lord Gill created and has overseen will stand as a working monument of his character for decades to come.

Your correspondent was equally lucky to witness Lord Gill’s installation to the position Lord President in what seems like no time ago. And indeed, relatively in Lord Gill’s career, it is the case.

Lord Gill was admitted into the Faculty of Advocates in 1967 and leaves Parliament House from the senior position of Lord President, which he has held since 2012. Between these two markers, Lord Gill was Keeper of the Advocates Library from 1987 to 1994; something which was well noted in the speech presented by the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

Mr. Wolffe, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, offered up the examples of three books, taken directly from the Advocates Library shelves that very morning, as pillars of Lord Gill’s contribution to Scots Law.

First was Grotius’ De jure belli ac pacis libri tres (published 1642). A volume Lord Gill himself authorised the Advocates Library to purchase in 1991, while Keeper. Second, the Dean held up Lord Gill’s own work, The Law of Agricultural Holdings in Scotland (now entering its 4th edition). Third, the Dean admitted inevitably, was Lord Gill’s report reviewing the administration of the civil court.

Finally, the Dean laid out one more item held by the Advocates Library: Lord Gill’s handwritten musical score of Populus Sion, an anthem he composed and which was performed in St Peter’s Basilica in 2006 under his direction. With this, the Dean closed, he hoped to represent Lord Gill’s continued passion outside the law’s hold for him.

The President of the Law Society of Scotland praised Lord Gill’s judgement, Glasgow-born wit and pragmatism in the role of Lord President.

Lord Gill replied to these speeches with his own retiring speech, in his own easy low-key, and yes, retiring delivery. Reflective, he thanked those who worked with him during his years in Parliament House, taking purposeful time to highlight and thank the staff, on which the Scottish legal system relies, for their professionalism and commitment – sometimes to their personal sacrifice – to aid the lawyers, Advocates and Judges. Fortunate to be able to say he did a job in a profession he always found stimulating and still loves, and leaving with happy memories, Lord Gill finally wished everyone well and adjourned the court.

Although the Court of Session is well open to criticism for being a rather starched environment, there was something still to be admired about this ceremony. The traditional formality, the eulogising and the politeness seemed fitting for such an occasion. While Lord Gill leaves a raft of modern innovations which will affect those in Scotland who have dealings with the process of law for many years to come, it was appropriate in this brief moment to see those involved in highest processes of it maintain a sobriety in upholding a respect of the system they work in for the wider society.

Lord Gill retires on 31st May. To learn more about the Senators of the College of Justice, you might like to visit the Scottish Judicial website’s information page about their work.

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