HISTORIC TIMES - Glasgow's Courts

A MAGISTRATE in the Gorbals in the 18th century once imposed a fine of half a guinea on a man accused of a serious assault.

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When informed by a court official that the case had yet to be tried, the bailie thought for a moment. "In that case," he pronounced, "we'll just make it five shillings."

In the early days of court-based trials, the jury was rewarded with half a guinea apiece if they found for the prosecution.

During one Glasgow trial, counsel for the Crown reminded the jury of this, at which point the accused, a wealthy merchant, shouted from the dock that he would double the fee if they found him not guilty.

Such were the scenes before proper reforms were put in place.

In 1593, George Smollett, an accredited merchant of Dumbarton, used a dodgy royal warrant to illegally impound goods and animals coming to markets in Glasgow and Renfrew. He also had the traders imprisoned so that they could not reclaim their property.

It was reported that the traders had "conceived a deadly hatred of the burghs of Glasgow and Renfrew" and were planning reprisal.

Prominent Glaswegian citizens went to have a word with Smollett, only to find that he had skipped town.

High-profile court cases have long been a source of fascination to Glaswegians.

Flamboyant defence lawyer Joseph Beltrami, pictured left in 1976, is a veteran of more than 500 murder trials and a number of headline-making cases.

He gained the first Royal Pardon granted in Scotland when he had Maurice Swanson's conviction for bank robbery overturned.

To quote from today's Beltrami & Co website: "Beltrami defended successfully in 12 capital murder cases. As The Herald put it, 'Beltrami 12, Hangman 0'."

The cry "Get me Beltrami!' was said to have been uttered by many Glaswegians facing an awkward legal situation.

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