THORNS FROM THE THISTLE; Just a Prawn in the Due Process of Law

Article excerpt


EXPERIENCED actors warn that it is professionally fatal to play opposite children and animals - and the same misgivings may well exist among lawyers.

Veteran Borders sheriff James Paterson probably had a sense of growing doje vu this week as he approached the climax of a bizarre case in which an experienced falconer was accused of exposing a live pigeon to terror by dangling it at the end of a 6ft lure to attract an errant hawk - and then popping it safely back in a bag in the nick of time.

As the evidence unfolded, the sheriff may well have developed a view on the many hours of court time being spent attempting to determine the state of mind of a pigeon. His crisp remarks at the conclusion of the case, in which the falconer was found guilty and admonished, certainly indicated that he thought he had dealt with more serious crimes.

The Sheriff may or may not have included among these the celebrated case of the young woman charged with ill-treating a prawn. This seafood saga achieved international billing after it was brought before Sheriff Paterson as he sat at Duns in 1973. The 16-year-old Eyemouth scampi processor was accused of placing live prawns on a hot plate and watching them jump. But in a defence worthy of George Carman, QC, the girl's lawyer submitted that the prawn was not a fish but an insect and therefore not covered by the 1912 Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act.

Three months and several court appearances later, the procurator fiscal finally conceded defeat and dropped the case, thus saving Sheriff Paterson further Press exposure and natural history overload. …