Am Bratach No. 235
I come from Balblair, Bonar-Bridge, and grew up there. For three generations Campbells had been sheep farmers at Shinness and on the Forest Farm (technically Ross-shire, I think, but you get the idea!).
I now work in the law in Edinburgh, where I have been since the late 60s. With the passage of time, its not as clear now as it was then why I ended up here!
Having long been interested in arbitration, and in finding ways of helping people to solve their own disputes, I decided to have a look at whether or not that means of resolving disputes had ever been used in disagreements about sheep. You will know that such disagreements are common, since north country farmers take such a pride in their stock, and have a very clear view about their value. Their ideas are usually quite different from those of the buyer, grizzled veterans of Macdonald and Frasers ringside.
I discovered that in a disagreement about the sale of some Forest Farm tups, back in the 1950s, arbitration had come into its own. The buyer and my father had not been able to agree on a price, but they knew they wanted to sell and to buy, and had at least agreed that much. Whether that was really a contract, or just an agreement to agree, was a moot point, but they were going to trade. They had many years experience of transacting with one another, and it seemed to them to be a nonsense to spend money on lawyers and advisers if they didnt have to; I mean, where would they find someone who knew more about Blackies than themselves?
The Agreement to Arbitrate was a handwritten letter signed by them both, and sent to the local auctioneer. He was to fix the price. Both men knew him and trusted him; his experience, his knowledge of the breed, and above all his independence. There would have been no other way to resolve the disagreement. And in due course he came to the farm, walked over the sheep, poking here with his stick and touching and testing there with his hand. After a bit he was taken inside, and put in the dining room with a bottle of Morangie (or perhaps a cup of tea, but that seems less likely!) and he wrote his Award, fixing the price of the sheep.
I was sent for a twopenny stamp, and watched as with great solemnity he signed his signature over the stamp (that being a requirement of the Stamp Duty laws of those times). Both farmers were happy, and the Great Man went on his way. His fee was thirty shillings, and the case took three or four hours (allowing time for the craic as well!).
Of course, times have moved on,
and even between friends, business isnt done that way now
we need to be certain that we know what will happen if
it all goes wrong, and we are obsessed, it seems, with the minutiae
of rules. But the intrinsic fairness, and rightness
of imparting your dispute to a man of skill whom you trust has
never left me, and that is what I see at the very heart of the
new Scottish Arbitration (Scotland) Act 2010, so courageously
brought into our law by the outgoing Scottish Government. They
must be heartily congratulated for this. Today, it all probably
needs to be a little more complicated there would no doubt
be a warranty of fertility, a warranty of pedigree, a veterinary
examination to check for all manner of sickness and disease,
a formal agreement to arbitrate, some basic pleadings, legal
what if submissions and all the rest but cutting
it back to the bone the sheep story tells you that all you really
need are a clear idea of what you want to have determined, a
trusted arbitrator, and a clear notion of your own case.
John Campbell was called to
the Bar in 1981, joined the English Bar in 1990, took silk in
1998 and has practised throughout the UK for twenty-eight years.