Victoria Raimes meets the outgoing procurator fiscal for the Court of the Lord Lyon – a newly 'open' post
IT IS not a job that comes about every day, especially in the current employment climate. But those who fancy becoming the one and only protector of Scotland's coats of arms and flags now have the chance.
George Way, the procurator fiscal for the Court of the Lord Lyon, has resigned his position to become a sheriff after six years gatekeeping one of the most important parts of the nation's heritage.
And because Scotland is the only country in the world to run a court solely dedicated to protecting heraldry and coats of arms, it means the prestigious post is one of a kind.
It is only the second time in Scotland's history that the job will be advertised to the public through sources such as newspapers and legal journals, allowing anybody with the relevant legal experience to apply.
Mr Way, 52, who is also a senior litigation partner with Edinburgh firm Beveridge & Kellas, said: "Before 2001, the appointment of the procurator fiscal was an in-house job. It was only advertised internally, so the position would always go to partner at a large law firm in Edinburgh. Because the appointments process wasn't transparent, the job may not have necessarily gone to a person of the best merit."
That changed after an act passed under the New Labour government, the Convention Compliance Act 2001, dictated that a candidate must be appointed under a fair and non-discriminative policy. The only requirement was that the applicant be legally qualified, whether an advocate or solicitor.
Although Mr Way was technically the first person to apply for the post, he added: "Very few people were aware that the post was openly available at the time I got the job, but the system of appointment will be better this time because they cut their teeth on me. There will probably have a lot more people applying this time round."
The day-to-day running of the job includes monitoring all the country's heraldic material, such as coats of arms and flags. These symbols and devices are strictly controlled by an ancient 1672 Scottish law, which dictates that if any business or individual features them without recording the use under the Public Register of Arms, they are liable to legal action.
The Court of the Lord Lyon is dedicated solely to dealing with issues of heraldry because of its unique and important role in Scots culture, particularly in relation to the clan system.
Coats of arms that are registered are required to pay a fee to the Crown and must adhere to specific rules concerning their shape, colour and imagery.
The colourful designs were first used on banners, shields and surcoats worn or carried by knights in battles or tournaments. Miniature pictures of formal arrangements of shield, helmet and crest were also used to identify a person on his seal – and eventually, also on his tomb.
If any of the rules concerning a coat of arms – also known as "an achievement" – is broken, it is the procurator fiscal's job as the independent official prosecutor of the court to initiate criminal proceedings – although "it is not simply case of punishing somebody", points out Mr Way.
He adds: "I have tried to modernise the process by introducing letters to those who are alleged to have broken the law, spelling out exactly what they have infringed. Most of the time they do not even realise they have done anything wrong and all they need is a bit of education on the matter."
Mr Way's job was thrust into the limelight when Donald Trump wanted to use a coat of arms on the promotional material for his proposed golf resort at Menie Estate.
"Hats, jackets, letterheads and envelopes bearing the misused Scottish symbol were outlawed under the heraldry laws," he says. "Even somebody as powerful as Mr Trump needed to abide by the rules of the heraldry system."
Mr Way says companies like to use a coat of arms "because it conveys status, long establisment, integrity and quality". But he adds: "It is a powerful Scottish trademark subject to copyright laws. A new whisky cannot stick a coat of arms on the front to give the impression it is well-established and of high quality. It would be like sticking a Coca-Cola label on any bottle of fizzy pop."
And the digital era has made the job much more relevant, he says: "The job comes with even more responsibility nowadays because there are lots of unlawful coats of arms floating around the internet."
On the recommendation of First Minister Alex Salmond, Mr Way was appointed as a sheriff by the Queen last week. He will sit mostly in the Sheriffdom of Tayside, Central and Fife – and will retire from his position as procurator fiscal next month.
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