Whigs, Tories and Scottish Legal Reform, c. 1785-1832



Smyth J & McKinlay A (2011) Whigs, Tories and Scottish Legal Reform, c. 1785-1832. Crime, History and Societies, 15 (1), pp. 111-32.

In early nineteenth-century Scotland the debate over political reform occurred alongside a shadow debate over legal reform. On the one side the young Whigs of the Edinburgh Review argued for the adoption of English legal practice, particularly in civil law, as the means to modernise and civilise Scotland. On the other side stood the Tory jurists who responded by defending Scotland's more humane criminal law. Unlike in England, there was no need to repeal the numerous statutes detailing the death penalty, since Scotland had long been used to judge-made law. These debates reveal rival notions not just of legal procedure but also of Scottish identity. Both sides however, were constrained by their own agendas; the Whigs had little option but to ignore England's ‘bloody code', while the Tories could not push their defence of Scots Law as far as questioning the value of the Union of 1707.

Crime, History and Societies: Volume 15, Issue 1

Publication date31/12/2011

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Dr James Smyth

Dr James Smyth

Senior Lecturer, History