HE was a pioneering 18th-century Scots advocate whose calls for political reform saw him struck off, banished from his homeland and sentenced to exile in an Australian penal colony.

Now, after more than 200 years, Thomas Muir of Huntershill has been re-admitted to the roll of the Faculty of Advocates.

The move comes following a successful plea by Ross Macfarlane, QC, whose research led to the discovery of a key court document proving the historic expulsion from the body was void.

Muir was an advocate and political reformer in late 18th century Scotland who, during an age of revolution, promoted democratic ideas, including support for universal suffrage; ideas that were seen by some of his peers as subversive.

Born in Glasgow in 1765, he practised as an advocate from 1787, until being struck off in 1793 following his indictment by Lord Braxfield of the High Court of Justiciary on the charge of sedition.

Under increasing pressure and intimidation from the authorities, Muir was arrested in January 1793, and while on bail, travelled to revolutionary France to try and prevent the execution of King Louis XVI, but war broke out between Britain and France and, with naval blockades, he was unable to return to his trial.

In his absence, he was declared a fugitive and it was then the Faculty expelled him from membership.

Muir was ultimately brought to trial, convicted and sentenced to transportation, before escaping in 1796 to America and revolutionary France in pursuit of his political campaigns.

He died just three years later in Paris, at the age of 33.

Despite the passing of the years, his sentencing sparked controversy that has persisted until the present day.

Soon after his trial, concerns were being expressed the political climate of the times had resulted in an unacceptable erosion of civil liberties, and in the 1840s a monument was erected in Calton Cemetery, Glasgow, in memory of Muir and the other political martyrs of the time.

He has since become known as the “father of Scottish democracy” for his exploits.

Mr Macfarlane’s key submission to the former Dean of Faculty, Gordon Jackson, QC, centred on his discovery of key documents that proved a decree of fugitation lodged against Muir had never held legal effect and so voided the grounds for his expulsion from Faculty.

Mr Macfarlane showed the decree against Muir had been “reponed” by an interlocutor of the Court of Session six months after being issued due to Muir’s inability to make the trial by the High Court, during which he was sentenced as a fugitive. 

As the only reason for Muir’s expulsion from Faculty, Macfarlane moved that the granting of this appeal should now enable his restoration.

In his letter reinstating Muir to Faculty, Mr Jackson said: “On any view of it, the trial and conviction of Muir fell far short of any notions of fairness and the due processes of Scots Law.”

He described Mr Macfarlane’s work as being “in the proud traditions of the Faculty of Advocates in their quest for justice, their dogged and meticulous research methods and the persuasive quality of their argument.”

Professor Sir Tom Devine, emeritus professor of history at University of Edinburgh, told the Scotland on Sunday the decision by the Faculty was “extraordinarily good news,” adding that Muir belonged in “the pantheon of Scotland’s heroes”.

He added there was no reason for the Scottish Parliament not to now seek to secure a posthumous pardon for Muir as well.

Meanwhile, Mr Macfarlane said: “Muir was passionate, eloquent and charismatic, albeit perceived as anti-establishment in his own time.

“And on the matter of his reinstatement to Faculty, I can’t do better than leave the last word to Muir himself: ‘I have dedicated myself to the cause of the people. It is a good cause. It shall ultimately prevail. It shall finally triumph’.”