The SLN Spotlight this week falls on Thomas Ross, advocate and president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association.
What has been your best experience as a lawyer?
The positive experiences far outweigh the negative ones. In 2013 I defended a member of the emergency services who was prosecuted for causing death by dangerous driving. He was a polite, intelligent, appreciative gentleman who was engaged to be married. His entire life, professional and personal, was on the line. Towards the end of the trial, the television news took an interest, which had the unexpected result of uncovering the fact that my wife knew his prospective mother-in-law!
By the end of the trial the weight of responsibility was such that I prepared my closing speech until midnight, then rose at 4am and re-wrote it. I can still feel the weight being lifted from my shoulders when the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The advocate depute and I were complimented by the trial judge and I left the courtroom to be thanked in turn by a variety of friends and relatives of the accused. Earlier this year my wife and I accepted his invitation to attend his wedding reception on the banks of Loch Lomond. It was a joyful occasion and none of it would have happened had the prosecution speech been accepted by the jury. Experiences like that don’t come along very often, but they keep you going when things are not going your way.
What has been your worst experience as a lawyer?
In the early 1990s, as a solicitor, I conducted a sheriff and jury trial in the sheriff court at Paisley. I was convinced that there was insufficient evidence to allow the case to go to the jury, but the sheriff disagreed. I was nowhere near as experienced as I thought I was and I failed to persuade the jury to acquit. The accused (‘S’), a first offender, was sent to prison and had a terrible time there because of the nature of the offence. Interim liberation was refused, but S was consoled by the news that the advocate depute had decided not to oppose his appeal against conviction.
Unbelievably, when the case called, the Lord Justice-General insisted upon the appeal being argued, notwithstanding the Crown concession, and proceeded to refuse the appeal. I didn’t give up, and as a result of a supportive case reported some years later, I managed to persuade the Secretary of State for Scotland to refer the case back to the Appeal Court. A different Lord Justice-General agreed that the trial sheriff AND the first appeal court had been wrong and quashed the conviction. By then of course S had served the entire sentence, and his reputation in his local community could never be restored. I still blame myself a little. In 2015 I could do that trial 20 times and not lose it.
Why did you choose the law?
When I was seven years of age, an influential figure in my life had a run-in with two police officers, which resulted in several broken ribs and a sentence of imprisonment. I genuinely have no recollection of considering any other career.
Who or what has been the greatest influence in your life?
In my youth, my father. During qualification for / attendance at university, my sister Alma and family friend Margaret Hunter; I wouldn’t have got through it without them. In my legal career, my wife Alison. In 1998, with a mortgage and two young children, I announced my intention to walk out on a very happy and successful legal partnership, for no better reason than I wanted to go to the bar. Many partners would have urged caution, but she immediately encouraged me to go for it. She has complete faith in me and, throughout my career, could not have been more supportive. I’m very lucky to have had all these great people behind me.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in law?
Firstly, ask yourself how much you are prepared to sacrifice for a legal career. If the answer is not “almost everything”, go and do something else with the consolation that the pay and conditions will probably be better. If you are totally committed, don’t let any set-back put you off. Be yourself, be determined, fear no-one and the you will get to where you want to be.
What would you want to be if you were not a lawyer?
There was no possibility of me not being a lawyer. If it had been necessary for me to do it at the rate of an examination a year I would have done it. If I was banned from doing it any longer – which some people would recommend for the sake of my sanity – I would be a photographer by day and a DJ by night. That would be a lot of fun.
How do you relax after work?
I have two daughters (Victoria and Rachael) and the four of us don’t get together as much as I would like. When we do manage to organize a family lunch or dinner, I look forward to it for weeks. My selfish pleasure is taking a trip down south to see Arsenal FC. I have a membership at the Emirates Stadium and I try to get down a couple of times a season.
What is your favourite holiday destination and why?
For many years as a family we spent every summer in Alvor, a little fishing village in the south of Portugal. I have made many friends there, and I love to go back and catch up with them over great food and wine and beer. My favourite holiday destination has to be New York. I took Alison there for our anniversary and we dined under the Brooklyn Bridge. Within 12 months I was back with my younger daughter Rachael for her birthday. Before I went to New York I had never bought a lottery ticket, now I do it every week. Fees for criminal work don’t stretch to a loft apartment in Greenwich Village!