An article in the Scottish Legal News of 29th June 2015 caught my eye. It refers to a case found by Alan McLean QC in a footnote of a law book, which case dates way back to 1647. It is about a child who had been “bought” from her mother and forced to work by a travelling showman. She performed as a gymnast , a stage attraction, known as “the tumbling lassie”.
The girl had to dance “in all shapes” and “Physicians attested the employment of tumbling would kill her”. At that point the girl was taken in and cared for by a kindly couple.
The showman was furious and raised an action for damages against the couple saying that he had paid for the girl and she belonged to him.
The case is known as Reid v the Scots of Harden and there are handwritten notes on the case in the National Library of Scotland. The claim was dismissed by the judges at the Court of Session who reported “But we have no slaves in Scotland, and mothers cannot sell their bairns.”
Mr McLean was struck by this early upholding of human rights. He said “More than 325 years after Reid v Scot of Harden and his Lady, the “tumbling lassie” case, was decided in the Court of Session, it is astonishing, but true, that some people still live in Scotland as effective slaves, trafficked here on false pretences, threatened, trapped in menial work or worse, with their earnings withheld and their passports taken away. In other parts of the world, people languish in slavery because getting access to trained lawyers to uphold their rights- without which “the tumbling lassie” could not have been declared free-can be almost impossible.”
Arising from this Mr McLean and some of his colleagues have decided to raise funds to help fight modern-day slavery and have plans to organise a “Tumbling Lassie Ball.”
As Mr McLean concludes “ Lawyers , including judges, are among the “heroes of the piece…at the end of the day, people need lawyers to make their rights real.” I would agree.