Probus speaker lays down the law!

MONTROSE and District Probus Club met last Tuesday when the speaker was a member, Sandy Jessop.

Born and bred in Montrose, Sandy had been out of the town for many years following his legal profession, as Procurator Fiscal Depute in Perth, then later as Procurator Fiscal in Glasgow. He was latterly appointed a local Sheriff in Aberdeen.

Members learned a lot from him. For example, it is Her Majesty The Queen who appoints Sheriffs, on the recommendation of the First Minister. Those chosen must have had at least 10 years’ previous experience as advocates or solicitors before being considered for elevation.

Glasgow has a terrifically high number of court cases, often in excess of 80,000 a year. Some European countries have nine times as many judges per head of population as we have.

In Scotland there are no Coroner’s Courts and the office of the Procurator Fiscal is a distinctly Scottish tradition. He decides whether or not a case should go to court, and in which kind of court.

Sandy detailed various examples of criminal cases; civil cases and coroner’s cases over which he had presided. Some cases proved humorous. A streaker was unable to be identified by a witness, whose evidence seemed to be very reliable, as she confessed: “I wisnae looking at his face!”. Or the divorced couples who wrangled over the destiny of a Celtic season ticket, or a set of bowls.

There were times when justice had to be tempered with humanity and clemency. Sandy pointed out that custodial sentences are usually only meted out to criminals after they have re-offended, and fines and other punishments like community service have been already tried. Much is made of the statistical fact that 40 per cent of those with a custodial sentence will re-offend. But this means that a far larger majority do not. Prison can be effective.

Fatal Accident Inquiries are also dealt with by Sheriffs and many salutary lessons can be learned from past tragedies.

Past president David Murray proposed thanks.