17 August 2010

Exclusive: That "Bible in Scots Law" pamphlet...

The Herald made a bit of a splash among the skeptical, the secular and the godless with this story, headlined "Law chief urges Scots courts: consult the Bible in judgments". The occasion is the Scottish Bible Society's 2009 bicentenary. To mark both the "important role in public life" played by the text and to belatedly commemorate their long activity, the Society is pressing copies of the Bible into the hands of all of the Senators of the College of Justice (Scotland's high court judges, for the uninitiated), Sheriffs, prosecutors fiscal, advocates, and so on. The high end legal creatures appear to be receiving one each, the humble footsoldiery may have to share. The Society explains that these donations are an attempt to furnish courts with the good book "so that it is readily available for reference in any such case which may arise in future". After all, we've all heard tell of angst-ridden sheriffs coming to judgement, wringing their hands, mumbling "These social enquiry reports are all very well, but what I really need is Saul of Tarsus' Epistle to the Ephesians..."

While some ardent secularists may well find this jurisprudential Gideon-aping sufficiently inflammatory, it is a slimmer text which has really got Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society fulminating. Alongside the books, legal figures will also receive a pamphlet foreworded by former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. This document is entitled The Bible in Scots Law: A Guide for Legal Practitioners. While the Herald article included a few tantalising quotations from this object, this is hardly satisfying for those of us who like to eye such texts for ourselves, sans journalistic sift. However, if you are luckless enough not to hold high office as a judge, sheriff or public prosecutor - no joy. Until now that is. Happily, I've managed to acquire a copy in a suitably accessible format. The document runs across two pages. Click on the images below for a clearer view.

Wonderful, evocative phrase that, the lively oracles of God. Some of you may well be wondering about the case mentioned in the fifth section on the second page. This concerned the applicability of the Incest Act of 1567 to intercourse between a step-father and his step-daughter. The Old Testament book of Leviticus was touched upon in the resolution of the matter. The full judgement in the case of Her Majesty's Advocate v. BL can be read here.

Assuming that most of you aren't versed in your scriptures, I thought it might also be helpful to conjure up the specific chapters and verses cited in the pamphlet. Just what sources are the Scottish Bible Society urging our magistrates and prosecutors to consult, I wondered? Noteably absent is a favourite passage, from Matthew 7:1: "Judge not, lest ye be judged". Like Lord Mackay, my own preference is for the King James version and all references that follow are culled from that most lyrical of editions. Lest I be accused of cherry picking and in the interests of fulsome exegesis, I'll appended all of the Biblical references mentioned. They do go on a bit, but it only seems fair. Where only part of a passage is cited by the pamphlet, I've nevertheless included the whole section. Plenty here, no doubt, to inflame secular opinion. Most of the passages are, predictably enough, from the Pentateuch. To my eye, the selections are sometimes elegant, sometimes obvious but mostly mildly absurd, tendentiously applicable and rather a-historically facile. I particularly appreciated the anachronistic pegging of passages alongside such eccentric categories as strict liability and health and safety law, "racial equality" and "disability rights". Hardly a boon friend and rod for the jobbing sheriff or procurator fiscal, I fancy. The inclusion of adultery prompted a frisson. Time for a revival of fault-based divorce, would you say? And despite the references to executions in the book of Exodus, I also assume that the Scottish Bible Society aren't actually proposing that Scottish judges don their musty black tricorns and pick up where Lord Braxfield left off...

On Access to justice (Deuteronomy 16: 18-20)

18 Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment.
19 Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.
20 That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Accidental death (Deuteronomy 19: 4 -6)

4 And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past;
5 As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbour to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbour, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live:
6 Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the slayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and slay him; whereas he was not worthy of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.

Admonition to Judges/Sheriffs (2 Chronicles 19: 6 - 7)

6 And said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment.
7 Wherefore now let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts

Adultery (Deuteronomy 5:18)

18 Neither shalt thou commit adultery.

Aggravated sentence for leaders (Leviticus 4: 22- 26)

22 When a ruler hath sinned, and done somewhat through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty;
23 Or if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, come to his knowledge; he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a male without blemish:
24 And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before the LORD: it is a sin offering.
25 And the priest shall take of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, and put it upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and shall pour out his blood at the bottom of the altar of burnt offering.
26 And he shall burn all his fat upon the altar, as the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings: and the priest shall make an atonement for him as concerning his sin, and it shall be forgiven him.

Animal welfare (Proverbs 12: 10a)

10 A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. 

Appeal courts (Deuteronomy 17: 8 - 9)

8 If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, being matters of controversy within thy gates: then shalt thou arise, and get thee up into the place which the LORD thy God shall choose;
9 And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment:

Bribes (Exodus 23:8)

8 And thou shalt take no gift: for the gift blindeth the wise, and perverteth the words of the righteous.

Citation of witesses/duty to give evidence (Leviticus 5:1)

1 And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.

Contempt of Court (Deuteronomy 17: 10 - 12)

10 And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the LORD shall choose shall shew thee; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they inform thee:
11 According to the sentence of the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do: thou shalt not decline from the sentence which they shall shew thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.
12 And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel.

Corroboration of evidence for solemn procedure (Deuteronomy 17: 6)

6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.

Culpable and reckless conduct (Leviticus 19:16b)

16 Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; I am the LORD.

Culpable and reckless/accidental death (Numbers 35: 22 - 25)

22 But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him any thing without laying of wait,
23 Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm:
24 Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments:
25 And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil. 

Corroboration of evidence (Numbers 35: 30)

30 Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.

Defamation (Leviticus 19:16a)

16 Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour; I am the LORD.

Defence of disadvantaged (Isaiah 1:16b - 17)

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

Disability rights (Leviticus 19:14)

14 Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.

Diversion from Prosecution[at instance of accused] (Matthew 5:25)

25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

Equality before the law (Leviticus 19:15)

15 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.

Evidence on oath (Deuteronomy 6:13)

13 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.

Fabrication of evidence (Exodus 23:1)

1 Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.

Fraud (Leviticus 19:13)

13 Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.

General principles Legal Aid, equality, purity of process (Deuternomy 10:17 - 20)

17 For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward:
18 He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.
19 Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
20 Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.

Health and Safety (Deuteronomy 22:8)

8 When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.

Incest (Leviticus 18: 6 - 18)
6 None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD.
7 The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
8 The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.
9 The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover.
10 The nakedness of thy son's daughter, or of thy daughter's daughter, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover: for theirs is thine own nakedness.
11 The nakedness of thy father's wife's daughter, begotten of thy father, she is thy sister, thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
12 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister: she is thy father's near kinswoman.
13 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy mother's sister: for she is thy mother's near kinswoman.
14 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's brother, thou shalt not approach to his wife: she is thine aunt.
15 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy daughter in law: she is thy son's wife; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.
16 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's nakedness.
17 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, neither shalt thou take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; for they are her near kinswomen: it is wickedness.
18 Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

Independence of Judiciary (Deuteronomy 1: 16 - 17)

16 And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him.
17 Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God's: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.

Legal aid (Exodus 23:6)

6 Thou shalt not wrest the judgment of thy poor in his cause.

Lesser fines for the poor (Leviticus 5: 5- 7, 11)

5 And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing:
6 And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin.
7 And if he be not able to bring a lamb, then he shall bring for his trespass, which he hath committed, two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, unto the LORD; one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering.
11 But if he be not able to bring two turtledoves, or two young pigeons, then he that sinned shall bring for his offering the tenth part of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering; he shall put no oil upon it, neither shall he put any frankincense thereon: for it is a sin offering.

Malice (Leviticus 19:18)

18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Miscarriage of Justice (Exodus 23:7)

7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.

Murder/culpable homicide (Exodus 21:12 - 14)

12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.
13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.
14 But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die.

Murder (Numbers 35: 16 - 21)

16 And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
17 And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
18 Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.
19 The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him.
20 But if he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait, that he die;
21 Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him.

Perjury (Exodus 23:2)

2 Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:

Perjury (Leviticus 19:12)

12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

Perjury (Deuteronomy 5:20)

20 Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Preparation before trial (Psalm 37: 5-6)

5 Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.

Purity of law (Deuteronomy 4:8) 

8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

Racial equality (Exodus 22:21)

21 Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Racial equality (Leviticus 19: 33 - 24)

33 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Racial equality (Leviticus 24:22) 

22 Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God.

Reparation (Exodus 21: 18 - 19)

18 And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed:
19 If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.

Rule of Law (1 Peter 2: 13 - 17)

13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

Strict liability for statutory crime (Leviticus 4:22)

22 When a ruler hath sinned, and done somewhat through ignorance against any of the commandments of the LORD his God concerning things which should not be done, and is guilty;

Submission to authority (Romans 13: 1-6)

1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

Theft and deception (Leviticus 19:11)

11 Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.

Theft (Deuteronomy 5:19)

19 Neither shalt thou steal.

Weights and Measures (Leviticus 19:35)

35 Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure.


  1. I am not a bible basher but it is interesting that they have not included these:

    "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you."
    Matthew 5:38-42,

    "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."
    Luke 6:27-31.

    Not surprising really - it would be difficult to see how the law could function at all if people followed those teachings!

  2. Indy,

    No doubt that is also the reason why they left out Matthew 7:1. The cognitive dissonance might well split the folk in two. Or at least prompt qualms, the occasional troubled reflection.

    You remind me of a speech I once saw, given by a senior figure in the Crown Office on criminal law and the religious life, or some such. Afterwards, I asked him what I thought was a simple enough question - did he ever experience any doubts about his vocation and or worry about the compatibility of his religious and legal calling? Without a blink, he immediately said "No, no doubts at all. Next question?" I can't say that left me with much respect for this gentleman's faith or for his reason.

  3. If this had come form a bishop or some such, fair enough, but it is not a right (let alone a good idea) for an officer of the state to push a specific religion's view points.

  4. Nate,

    To be fair to Lord Mackay, he is a former Lord Chancellor. To describe his honorary position of Lord Clerk Register as a "legal chief" as the Herald did or to attribute to the position continuing high bigwiggery is rather stretching plausibility, at least in this century.

  5. Has his fatwa from the wee free split peas been lifted yet?

  6. You'll excuse the presumption, for thinking this was the sort of Scots you were talking about...


  7. 22 - 26 'Aggravated sentence for leaders' Mr Blair's nod to penance/tax dodge by bestowing his profits has possibly saved the lives of countless goats?

  8. Mark,

    I will no doubt stun you to learn that I'm no Wee (or Moderately-sized) Free myself, so have the foggiest about Brother Mackay's state of grace.

  9. Clarinda,

    A particularly obscure selection that one, I thought. The passage seems primarily concerned with purgation, not with the imposition of punishment. Indeed, given all of the other offences against man and the Yahweh that invite fair more aggravated bludgeonings, simply handing over a goat seems rather a good deal.

    No doubt when former Labour MSP Mike Watson was up on his wilful fireraising charges, the Court made extensive reference to the passage. Somehow I doubt that they'd cared for spattering the gore about themselves...