Former Conservative Cabinet member Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who served as Lord Chancellor under Margaret Thatcher and John Major as well as holding the post of Scotland’s Lord Advocate, is fronting a campaign which will see bibles sent to every court in the land.
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Mackay, who is also the current Lord Clerk Register, the oldest surviving “Great Office of State” in Scotland, now acts as honorary president of the Scottish Bible Society (SBS), and has invited sheriffs and judges to refamiliarise themselves with biblical principles and act accordingly when presiding over court cases.
Critics have labelled the campaign as an attempt to drag the legal system back to the “dark ages” and likened it to a plea for a fundamentalist Christian version of Middle Eastern Sharia law.
The SBS, whose official patron is the Queen, is currently distributing bibles to Sheriff Courts, the High Court, the Court of Session, the Faculty of Advocates, the Crown Office and offices of the Procurator Fiscal service.
The books are accompanied by a pamphlet entitled The Bible in Scots Law: A Guide for Legal Practitioners, which features an introduction from 83-year- old Mackay. It states: “I believe the teaching of the Bible is vitally important for guidance in daily living for all of us.
“The words and phrases of the 1611 King James version have permeated modern English and this makes it a valuable book of reference, but the modern version is especially useful in dealing with our day-to-day challenges.
“If we use it in this way we will soon learn that what it says about human beings is as true today as it was when it was originally written all these years ago.
“I have found it immensely important in my life and I trust it will be the same with many who have access to it through this initiative now.”
Mackay is a former elder of the hardline Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland but also acted as Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2005 and 2006.
He formally launched the initiative by presenting inscribed bibles to the Lord President, Lord Hamilton – the head of the judiciary in Scotland – and the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Gill, the second most senior judge in Scotland.
The booklet continues: “The Bible is a unique resource as the foundational source book for Scotland’s legal system. The SBS is pleased to have the opportunity to donate a Bible to courts so that it is readily available for reference in any case which may arise in future.”
It points to the Queen’s procedural acceptance of the Bible as the “Royal Law” during her coronation and argues that legal professionals should be bound by this, saying: “Since the prosecution of crime in Scotland is at the instance of the Crown, the words taken from the coronation oath also serve as a reminder that the vital elements of justice and mercy are to be uppermost in the mind of a Crown prosecutor as well as in the mind of the judge.”
However, the National Secular Society (NSS) claimed that inviting Scotland’s justiciary to implement literal biblical values in the 21st century was “beyond absurd”. Terry Sanderson, the rationalist organisation’s president, said: “What Lord Mackay is proposing could put the Sharia laws of the Middle East to shame.
“He and the SBS make absolutely no concessions to the progress of legal thought over the past two millenia. Killing witches and homosexuals and stoning adulterers are all clearly stated legal requirements in the Christian holy book. Are they seriously suggesting that Scottish sheriffs and judges should follow the Bible to the letter?”
Sanderson acknowledged the historical influence of Christianity in shaping Scots law, but argued that modern justice could not be served by following biblical pronouncements.
“How would the Scottish seafood industry fare if the biblical ban on shellfish were to be enforced?” he asked. “Would Shetland’s knitwear industry flourish if there was a ban on garments made from two kinds of material, as required in the Bible?
“Thankfully, I’m sure the Scottish legal establishment is aware that the Enlightenment has occurred and will continue to dispense justice with mercy unconstrained.”
Mackay read the Cabinet’s tribute to Thatcher at her last Cabinet meeting on her resignation as prime minister in 1990 and continued in his role under her successor until 1997. In 1999, he was appointed a Knight of the Thistle by the Queen. Mackay was unavailable for comment last night.