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Devil's Advocate

The passing of dear old Lionel Daiches give us the excuse to resurrect at least one story that typified the man. It was recounted by Lawrence Nisbet, many a time and oft Lionel's junior in High Court trials, and, like the great man himself, also no longer with us.

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Once, on his way home to his Edinburgh New Town flat, Lionel enjoyed a particularly fine glass of port or three chez Nisbet who was then a near-neighbour. Later that evening, just as Lawrence was getting ready for bed, the doorbell rang and he was beguiled by the sight of Lionel splendidly attired in dressing gown, slippers, and pyjamas. He had decided to pop back for just one more nightcap and a cigar before finally retiring for the evening. When Lionel returned to his own abode, his aged mother inquired as to where he had been. ''I've been out robbing a bank,'' came the tart rejoinder.

A long time ago Lawrence also asked how he managed to remain full of the joys of life at the advanced age of 68. The simple answer was that the old chap enjoyed his kip, but Lionel preferred to explain in true Daiches fashion by informing Lawrence: ''My dear boy, to quote Shakespeare, 'Sleep knits up the ravell'd sleave of care.'''

You've got to get up early in the morning to get one over on Star Trek-loving sheriff Hugh Matthews QC. Defence solicitor Gerry Brown appeared before the Glasgow sheriff to advise that he was representing Mr McTumshie senior, while a learned colleague was representing the junior branch of the family. How can I tell which is which? pondered the learned sheriff. ''I think your lordship will find that Mr McTumshie senior is the older accused and Mr McTumshie junior is the younger one,'' Mr Brown replied.

While researching a recent law page article, we came across a strange but fascinating book, Alex Young's the Encyclopedia of Scottish Executions from 1750 to 1963. Under the heading ''The Place of Execution'', we glean the following: ''Standing at the head of the present Errol Street, Gallow Hill was in use from early times until 1776. Overlooking Pittodrie stadium, its use by impecunious supporters of Aberdeen Football Club earned it the name 'Miser's Hillie'.'' Given the current fortunes of Aberdeen FC, we doubt if anyone would take advantage of this generous vantage point, even if it were still available. The blurb for the book states that it will be of major interest to genealogy groups and those tracing ancestors. Presumably it all depends on how fussy you are about your ancestors, some of whom went to the gibbet for pretty unsavoury and ignoble acts. Like Alexander Geddes, a farmer from Kinnermoney in Banffshire executed in 1751 for repeated acts of the monstrous crime of bestiality with a mare from 1736 onwards. Is that what we might call a stable relationship?

The Diary takes its hat off to the Linlithgow legal trio of Kevin Dougan, Jim Keegan, and Neil Robertson whose appeal led to the ''outlawing'' of Scotland's 129 temporary sheriffs. The Diary finds outrageous the suggestion that the challenge was only dreamed up in pique because one of them was left sitting in court with a temp on the bench while the fiscal was droning on elsewhere. What it does demonstrate is that a basic legal truism still appertains: the highest heid yins are never above the law and painstaking attention to detail and a bit of imagination can still yield dividends.

Not that the shrieval shortcomings are the only human haemorrhage problem. Scottish legal firms have by far the highest turnover in support staff anywhere in the UK, according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Lawyer magazine. Sounds like another case of too many temps.

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