A former Gatehouse man has been elected as the new leader of the Scottish Faculty of Advocates in the first election of its kind.
James Wolffe QC, 51, was elected by an online voting system - the first in the faculty’s 500-year history - open to 466 practising and around 240 non-practising members.
He said following the election that the right to be represented by a skilled and effective advocate was a basic condition of justice, and he was proud of the way the faculty promoted access to justice.
In a four-way ballot, Mr Wolffe, a former pupil of Gatehouse Primary and Kirkcudbright Academy, saw off the challenge of fellow QCs Gordon Jackson, Andrew Smith and Alan Summers to succeed Richard Keen, QC, and become the faculty’s 20th Dean since the Second World War.
Mr Wolffe said: “The Faculty of Advocates is one of Scotland’s great national institutions. It has not only been central in preserving Scots law as an independent, forward-looking legal system. Our members have also included great figures in Scottish literature – such as Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Our role in the creation of the National Library of Scotland is sometimes forgotten. It was thanks to a donation in 1925 by the Advocates’ library of its collection of non-legal works, around 750,000 books, that the NLS was established. To be elected Dean is both an honour and a responsibility.
“Scotland’s people have been well served by Scotland’s independent bar throughout its long existence. The right to be represented by a skilled and effective advocate is a basic condition of justice – both for people accused of crimes and for people involved in civil disputes. The work of the bar and its members is one of the underpinnings of a free society governed by the rule of law.”
The new dean stressed that it took skill and dedication to practice advocacy effectively, and the starting point was state-of-the-art training.
He continued: “In modern times, the Faculty of Advocates has led the way in specialist advocacy skills training. Its members practice advocacy at the highest level, day in day out, in courts and tribunals throughout Scotland.
“The faculty will continue to work to promote high standards of professional skill and competence. Its members include some of the most skilled legal minds in the country. It is a rich pool of talent, available to be instructed by anyone in Scotland who needs the services of a skilled advocate.
“As leader of the Scottish bar, I want to celebrate its rich diversity.”
Mr Wolffe expressed particular pride in the work which the faculty and its members did to promote access to justice. Individual advocates were willing to act on behalf of litigants on a no-win no-fee basis, which meant ordinary men and women throughout Scotland have been able to secure high quality representation for claims which matter to them.
And he highlighted the work of the faculty’s free legal services unit, saying: “It facilitates pro bono work by advocates on cases which deserve to be fought but where no other source of funding is available.”
Mr Wolffe was a solicitor in Edinburgh, a part-time lecturer at Edinburgh University and served as legal assistant to the Lord President of the Court of Session before joining the Faculty of Advocates in 1992.
He became a QC in 2007, and was a High Court prosecutor for three years, and has extensive experience in civil law, particularly in commercial and public law. He has prepared cases for the European Court of Human Rights and has appeared before the House of Lords, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the UK Supreme Court.
He is head of the UK delegation to the Council of European Bars and Law Societies, and was last year elected Vice-Dean of Faculty.
His interests are his family – he is married with two sons – but he also enjoys reading “anything from crime novels to Central European literature in translation” and playing the piano “not to any great standard but for my own amusement.”