Joe Beltrami, famed criminal lawyer, dies aged 83

Legendary lawyer Joe Beltrami, who has passed away at the age of 83. Picture: TSPL
Legendary lawyer Joe Beltrami, who has passed away at the age of 83. Picture: TSPL
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TRIBUTES have been paid to Joe Beltrami, one of Scotland’s most high-profile defence lawyers, who has died at the age of 83.

Over a 50-year career he was involved in many famous criminal trials in Glasgow, defending clients who faced the death ­penalty in 12 cases.

The eponymous firm he founded in 1958 said he was regarded by his peers as an “institution, not only in ­Glasgow, but in Scotland”.

Mr Beltrami helped secure the only two Royal Pardons granted in Scotland in the 20th century.

One was issued for Paddy Meehan, who was released in 1976 after serving seven years for wrongful conviction for the murder of a pensioner in a house break-in in Ayr in 1969.

The other was for Maurice Swanson in 1975, when his conviction for a bank robbery was overturned.

Mr Beltrami defended more than 350 people accused of murder, and appeared in every court in Scotland, from Shetland to Duns.

His successes in capital ­trials led to the headline: “Beltrami 12, Hangman 0.”

Beltrami 12, Hangman 0

He said in 2009: “They were a mixture of not guilty, culpable homicides and not ­provens.

“Not proven is a great verdict. There are regular campaigns to get rid of it, but I think it’s a perfectly valid verdict. The prosecution did not prove its case.”

Mr Beltrami was also the first solicitor-advocate to plead in the Court of Criminal Appeal, in 1993. He was recognised with a lifetime achievement award at the Law Awards of Scotland in 2008.

Mr Beltrami was also made an honorary life member of the Law Society of Scotland, the highest honour the society can bestow upon a Scottish solicitor.

His death was announced in a statement from Beltrami & Co.

It read: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our founder, the legendary Mr Joseph Beltrami. Sincere condolences to his family.”

The Glasgow Bar Association said: “The Glasgow Bar ­Association joins with other colleagues in the legal profession in mourning the death of Joe Beltrami.

“We offer sincere condolences to Joe’s family.

“Joe was well-known to all who practised at the Glasgow Bar.”

Thomas Ross, president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, said it was “extremely sad to learn of the passing of Joseph Beltrami. Perhaps the first lawyer in Scotland to specialise in criminal law, he laid the path for all of us to follow.

“No counsel instructed by him failed to learn from his guidance. Known fondly as ‘Big Joe’, he will never be forgotten.”

A profile of Mr Beltrami on his firm’s website said his many high-profile clients had included Arthur Thompson, “whom he managed to acquit of various criminal charges on many occasions throughout the 1980s”.

It said: “Such successful defences led to the coining of the phrase ‘get me Beltrami’ as a plea for legal assistance and representation in desperate circumstances amongst Glaswegians during the time”.

Mr Beltrami, who was born in Rutherglen and brought up in Glasgow, reportedly set up on his own after failing to find a practice to take him on as an apprentice after qualifying in 1956.

Born to a Swiss father who ran a fish and chip shop at Glasgow Cross, and a Scottish mother who worked across the street in the C&A clothing store, he originally wanted to be an engine driver, then planned to become a teacher.

He said his switch to law followed a chance meeting on a Glasgow tram with a former schoolmate, who said he was joining the legal profession.

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