Lawyer of the Month: Barney Ross
It’s not an insignificant mark of regard of one’s peers for an advocate to be elected Clerk of Faculty as Barney Ross was last month following a six-way contest. It’s also one about which he is typically self-effacing, and he gently points out that his observations are made in a personal capacity and not as representing the Faculty of Advocates.
Mr Ross, who earlier this year had been chosen by The Times as its lawyer of the week is nevertheless keen to stress that he is “very proud” of being a member of the Faculty which, he adds, “plays a hugely important role in the justice system in Scotland and our society in general.
“Its everyday operation depends to a significant extent on members volunteering, to stand for election as office bearers so when my predecessor, Richard Pugh (who did a fantastic job as clerk for three-and-a-half years), stepped down I decided to let my name go forward for the election.”
His new role entails supporting the Dean of Faculty, maintaining the Faculty records, and dealing with matters relating to admission to the Faculty as well as sitting on the Professional Standards Committee, the Training and Admission Committee and the Board of Examiners.
It’s a wide remit but his CV is a broad one: he’s an experienced junior counsel with a practice that encompasses reparation, clinical negligence and criminal law. He has worked as a procurator fiscal depute at Glasgow Sheriff Court and as a tutor on the diploma in professional legal practice at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as contributing to the work of the Faculty Law Reform Group during his membership of the group’s Criminal Law Sub Committee.
This is, he says, a new challenge in what he describes as interesting times for the Faculty, as it engages with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic on that has fundamentally affected the way in which advocates work, especially the shift to remote working, which has had profound consequences on the way members of Faculty conduct their practices.
“Previously they based their working lives around Parliament House in Edinburgh or the Saltmarket in Glasgow which was something that really helped to promote the collegiality of the institution.”
And while there are some advantages to flexible working, there can be stress and loneliness attached to working in isolation. “I hope that as normality returns that the members will use the Advocates Library more often and take the advantages of the benefits that brings.”
‘Collegiality’ is a recurring theme with Mr Ross, who, while recognising the historical traditions and legacy of the Faculty, also looks forward to encouraging aspiring advocates from a diversity of backgrounds to consider a career at the bar.
“I believe passionately that it’s important for us to engage with those entering the solicitors’ profession, plus schools, universities and the wider public, some of whom retain an outdated view of what an advocate is.
“The bar should be a centre for excellence for legal advocacy in Scotland and in order to do that it must engage with and encourage anyone who has the potential to aspire to a career there.”
To help prime the pump, he says the Faculty of Advocates is expanding its mini-devilling programme, set up in 2018 with the University of Strathclyde, which enables diploma students to shadow advocates over several weeks, in and out of court, to see how a career at the bar might suit them and which it now intends to roll out to all Scottish diploma providers.
Mr Ross has benefited from some diverse influences himself: his early childhood was spent in Malawi before later school life at Merchiston Castle school in Edinburgh, then a year of volunteer work in India and a first-class degree in law at the University of Edinburgh, which included a year at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
“I also spent some summers at university working as a door-to-door book salesman,” he adds. “After that, I went travelling round various parts of the world for a year, came back and did my diploma, successfully applied for a traineeship at the Crown Office … and that’s how I commenced my legal career,” he adds, with some understatement.
That career has seen Mr Ross specialising in reparation, regulatory and criminal law. In his civil practice, he acts for both pursuers and defenders in fatal and catastrophic injury actions in the Court of Session, including brain and spinal injury claims in cases that include T v Congregation of Christian Brothers  SCEDIN 13, where he appeared for the pursuer (with Simon Di Rollo KC) at proof in a successful action for damages in respect of serious sexual abuse at a boarding school during the 1980s.
He was also instructed on behalf of the health boards in the recent vaginal mesh “class action” in the Court of Session and other cases include his being instructed (with Simon Bowie KC) for the NHS Scotland health boards in the Infected Blood Inquiry, a UK-wide public inquiry into the use of infected blood and blood products in the NHS since 1970.
These are high-profile, complex cases that involve large quantities of documentary evidence but Mr Ross is used to challenges. He recalls his days at Glasgow Sheriff Court, which was by repute then the busiest criminal court in Europe. “Young lawyers were really thrown in at the deep end,” he says.
“I was undertaking two or three trials in the same day so by the time I’d finished my traineeship I’d probably done about 100. I was there for three years and can honestly say that I’ve never had a happier time in my professional life, working with some fantastic lawyers and mentors and there was a tremendous sense of camaraderie between everyone who worked there – the prosecution and defence lawyers, the fiscals and the court officers.” Again, the collegiality clause is invoked.
An application to complex cases is clearly common cause in Mr Ross’s household, married as he is to Ceit-Anna MacLeod of Arnot Manderson Advocates – though the arrival of their son Angus two-and-a-half years ago has majorly helped in enforcing his personal dictum that work should be abandoned on Friday afternoons and that the weekend should be a strictly law-free zone though he concedes this is something that isn’t always possible.
Being an advocate can, he concludes, be a sometimes somewhat lonely, often challenging, but ultimately extremely rewarding role – one that perhaps uniquely brings the berobed, bewigged traditions of the 18th century to bear in situations that urgently affect and influence the needs of contemporary life.
“One of the most fulfilling things about the job is to achieve something that matters to your clients and to perhaps make a difference to their lives – and I’m very glad to have the opportunity to do that,” he says.
“Even cases that might not seem particularly interesting to most people are compelling and challenging if you are the person instructed to act in them. So, in that sense, being in the profession involves a positive sense of continuous motivation.”