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University of Aberdeen law professors
uncover 300 years of North-east legal tradition

Date: January 29,  2001
Our ref: 792

An important and fascinating 300-year-old legal stylebook, which was rescued from a skip by a late Aberdeen Sheriff, has been edited by two Aberdeen University law professors.

Professors Michael Meston and Angelo Forte identified the collection of manuscripts after the late Sheriff David Bogie found them amongst refuse outside Aberdeen Sheriff Court in 1992. They have spent the past six years transcribing and editing the stylebook and will present a new edition of the collection to the Society of Advocates in Aberdeen on Tuesday, January 30.

The Aberdeen Stylebook was written, perhaps rather hastily, in the closing months of 1721, after a fire broke out on October 31, 1721, in the office of the Clerk to the Commissary Court in Aberdeen, destroying all of the Court’s records prior to that date.

Its history post-1722 is unclear, but at some point the collection was lost or misplaced. In 1992, however, during the course of renovations to the Sheriff Court buildings, an item that was about to be removed with debris in a skip caught the eye of the late Sheriff David Bogie. He climbed into the skip and retrieved the papers, which turned out to be The Aberdeen Stylebook, which Sheriff Bogie generously presented to the University Library, where Professors Meston and Angelo Forte identified it as the collection of styles from January 25, 1722.

Professor Forte said the style or form in which a legal document is presented is very important and, if incorrect, the document may not have the force of law, which is why stylebooks remain of importance to modern lawyers.

“When we come to study the law of an earlier age in Scotland, however, surviving stylebooks are invaluable in ascertaining not simply the form, but also the types of action and procedures followed in the courts. The discovery of a lost stylebook, therefore, is a matter of some interest and the discovery of a new stylebook associated particularly with Aberdeen is of real importance,” he said.

“We owe a great debt to Sheriff Bogie without whose intervention this invaluable source of information about legal life in Aberdeen would quite simply have been lost forever.”

The presentation of the Aberdeen Stylebook will take place at the Society of Advocates Library, Concert Lane (directly behind the Sheriff Court) tomorrow evening (Tuesday, January 30) at 6.15pm. The President of the Society, David Burnside will officiate and Professor Hector MacQueen, Literary Director of the Stair Society, who published the book, will also say a few words. Members of the Society will also be in attendance.


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