‘Tumbling Lassies’ to highlight plight of slavery

Advocate Maryam Labaki. Picture: Contributed

Advocate Maryam Labaki. Picture: Contributed

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A NAMELESS girl from 17th century Scotland is to be the spearhead of a fundraising event to aid victims of modern slavery.

Known only as ‘the tumbling lassie’, the girl was ‘bought’ from her mother and used by a travelling showman as a performing gymnast until she fled and was given refuge by a couple.

The showman went to court and demanded damages from the couple, but the judges dismissed his claim, and the official report of the case stated: “But we have no slaves in Scotland, and mothers cannot sell their bairns.”

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A group of advocates raised about £14,000 last year at a Tumbling Lassie Ball and donated the money to two charities which work at home and abroad with victims of human trafficking.

Now, on Anti-Slavery Day, the group, the Tumbling Lassie Committee, has announced plans for another Ball.

Supported by the Faculty of Advocates, it will be held in St Paul’s and St George’s Church, York Place, Edinburgh, on Saturday, 28 January next year – marking the 330th anniversary of the decision of the Court of Session in the Tumbling Lassie case, Reid v Scot of Harden, which was delivered on 27 January, 1687.

Maryam Labaki, who serves on the committee with fellow members of the Faculty of Advocates, Alan McLean, QC, Patricia Comiskey, Eric Robertson, Janys Scott, QC, Iain Mitchell, QC, and Isla Davie, said: “Trafficking in persons is a worldwide problem.

“It affects men, women and children, who are trafficked for a range of exploitative purposes.

“Modern slavery is a growing issue and the Tumbling Lassie Committee aims to raise awareness and funds to help support work done in Scotland by Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance (TARA) and globally by the International Justice Mission (IJM) which provides support and aid to the victims of trafficking.”

On the morning of the ball, a seminar looking at the impact of recent changes in anti-

trafficking legislation north and south of the Border will be held in the Faculty’s Mackenzie Building.

One of the speakers at the seminar on the morning of the ball has been confirmed as Parosha Chandran, a human rights barrister.

She is an expert on human trafficking for the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe and represents adult and child victims of human trafficking. She has contributed to international legal guidance, provides judicial training on trafficking and has advised on legislation including the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

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She received the Trafficking in Persons Hero Award 2015 from John Kerry in Washington DC for developing the rule of law on trafficking in the UK and abroad.

The ‘Tumbling Lassie’ had been ‘bought’ from her mother and used by a travelling showman, Reid, as a performing gymnast until, physically worn out, she was taken in and given refuge by a warm-hearted couple, the Scots of Harden. The enraged showman demanded damages from the couple and produced a written contract to show he had paid for the girl and that she belonged to him.

The original handwritten notes of the case in the National Library of Scotland narrate that Reid sued the Scots of Harden, to whom Sir Walter Scott was proud to be related, for ‘stealing away from him a little girl, called the tumbling-lassie, that danced upon his stage’. The report added: “Physicians attested the employment of tumbling would kill her.”

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