SCOTLAND'S best known criminal defence lawyer, Joe Beltrami, has

retired as the senior partner of the Glasgow legal firm he founded 38

years ago.

However, last night the 63-year-old solicitor advocate said that he

would continue to work for Beltrami & Co. as a full-time consultant.

The lawyer, whose name has been synonymous with every major criminal

case for decades and has become a Scottish legal institution, said the

move was merely to allow him to spend more time on court work rather

than on the day to day running of the firm he founded, two years after

qualifying, in 1958.

Speaking from his home in Bothwell, Mr Beltrami stressed he was not

stepping out of the limelight.

''It is not as if I am disappearing from the scene, I am as busy as

ever. It is just that I have retired from the partnership, in that I am

now working full-time as a consultant with the same firm.

''At my age, I think having run the firm for 38 years is long enough.

I think it is time for my younger partners to take over. I am not

throwing in the towel. I don't think I ever will. I am enjoying it as

much as I have always done.''

Famous as the hard man's choice, Mr Beltrami's career in criminal law

began more by accident than design when, after graduating from Glasgow

University, the Roman Catholic law student was unable to find a practice

to take him on as an apprentice. He qualified in 1956 and two years

later set up on his own in an office in Buchanan Street. Reportedly his

first fee was #5, the amount of cash his client could afford.

Since then he has instructed in more than 500 murder trials, the names

of his clients reading like a roll call of Scotland's underworld. His

clients have ranged from loyalist and republican terrorists to infamous

Glasgow criminals such as the late Arthur Thompson.

Asked to recall some of the more outstanding cases, Mr Beltrami said

there had been too many to single out one. However, he said the toughest

had been winning a Royal pardon in 1976 for Paddy Meehan, who had been

jailed for life in 1969 for the murder of pensioner Rachel Ross during a

break-in at her home in Ayr.

Mr Beltrami's decision to retire as a partner surprised the legal


Mr Donald Findlay, QC, said: ''I always imagined that, someday,

someone would have to take him outside and shoot him, but since he is

going to be carrying on as full-time consultant no doubt he will still

be around the courts as large as life and as full of being Joe as ever.

''His track record is second to none in terms of criminal cases.

''I think it is also worth noting that, in all the years he has been

in practice, Joe has never opened branch offices. Clients always came to

him, he didn't have to go looking for clients.''

Lawyer Ross Harper, who started his own practice two years after Mr

Beltrami, added: ''Joe Beltrami is an institution, not only in Glasgow,

but in Scotland.''