Andrew Stevenson: ‘Heraldry is more enduring than stationery’

Andrew Stevenson: 'Heraldry is more enduring than stationery'

Andrew Stevenson

Andrew Stevenson relates a tale of paperclips and confusion.

My first fumbling attempt to raise an action in the Court of Session taught me a little about the law but a great deal more about the importance of paperclips and heraldry. The contents of the document posed no problem at all, despite the fact that the action was brought under a statute from 1672 and was quite unusual and arcane. The hurdles to be crossed, I discovered, were of a far more prosaic nature.

Naively, and accustomed to the ways of the Sheriff Court, the summons that was prepared emulated a standard Initial Writ, with the addition of a backer bearing a blank square for insertion of the case number. However, it was held together by a humble staple and lacked any coat of arms. These two blunders proved fatal; the summons was returned with the comments that the pages of the document must be secured by a clip and that it had to bear the Royal crest.

As regards the staple/clip faux pas, the solution to this problem might, to the uninitiated, appear to be a standard paper clip – the “Gem” clip, invented in the 1800s and anthropomorphised by Microsoft in the character of Clippit or Clippy, the Office Assistant.

However, I soon learnt the Gem/Clippy design of paper clip was not de rigueur. Research indicated that a “Bulldog” clip, treasury tag and split pin butterfly would be met with unhappiness too. The clerks did helpfully advise that the required clip must consist of two parts. Further investigations of stationery websites revealed the solution, the two-piece file strip fastener or prong paper fastener. A box of these was procured. Post-Covid rules now envisage the electronic submission of documents, with paper and its concomitants becoming as redundant as the universally disliked Clippy himself.

The second hurdle concerned lions and unicorns. Litigators in the Sheriff Court will be familiar with the heraldic device appearing in the top left hand corner of Simple Procedure forms. This is the Royal Arms as also used by Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and the First Tier Tribunal. Deploying skill, scissors, glue and a photocopier, this image was emblazoned upon the proposed Court of Session writ. All seemed well. Alas, the document was rejected on the ground that it bore the wrong crest.

To the undiscriminating eye glancing across court writs, the crests seem alike. But closer inspection yields important differences The version used on forms under Small Claims and Summary Cause sheriff court procedure and in the Court of Session differs from that under Simple Procedure. The “rampant guardant” supporters of the former version are accompanied by banners, absent from the latter. So is the motto Nemo Me Impune Lacessit adorning the base as well as the crest, another lion, but this time sejant affronté, brandishing a sword and sceptre below another motto: In Defens.

With the proper clip and the right crest in place, the writ was welcomed. Thereafter, everything went swimmingly. The terms of the document itself were unchallenged, and a decree was duly obtained and registered.

Heraldry is more enduring than stationery. Scotland treats this area of the law with uncommon importance, with the Lyon Court, headed by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, to regulate heraldic matters. This body has civil and criminal jurisdiction; the court has its own procurator fiscal, appointed by Scottish ministers with a view to ensuring Human Rights Act compliance. He or she may prosecute the offence of usurpation of arms, although many offenders go unpunished. These are the legions of spectators at rugby and other games who carry the gold and red “Lion Rampant” flag, the Royal Standard of Scotland and a personal banner of King Charles III.

Heraldry still has the ability to cause consternation. In 2022 the good people of Gourock became so offended by the town’s coat of arms that Inverclyde Council resolved with iconoclastic zeal to banish it where possible. Ire was roused after an official report to the Council’s Education and Communities Committee a year ago drew attention to the presence within the device of what is “likely to be an enslaved black man”. Some commentators have remarked that the figure (unfettered in any way and armed with a dagger) is more akin to the “wild man” of folklore. Either way, his fate in 2023 is precarious.

Andrew Stevenson is secretary of the Scottish Law Agents’ Society

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