Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet

The Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet is a private society of Scottish solicitors, dating back to 1594 and part of the College of Justice. Writers to the Signet originally had special privileges in relation to the drawing up of documents which required to be signeted, but these have since disappeared and the Society is now an independent, non-regulatory association of solicitors. The Society maintains the Category A listed Signet Library, part of the Parliament House complex in Edinburgh, and members of the Society are entitled to the postnominal letters WS.

Society of Writers
to Her Majesty’s Signet
AbbreviationWS Society
TypeProfessional body
PurposePromotion of standards in legal services
HeadquartersSignet Library
Coordinates55°56′56.80″N 3°11′29.91″W / 55.9491111°N 3.1916417°W
Region served
Keeper of the Signet
Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Main organ
Parent organization
College of Justice
Signet Library - 01
Signet Library as seen from George IV Bridge.


Solicitors in Scotland were previously known as "writers"; Writers to the Signet were the solicitors entitled to supervise use of the King's Signet, the private seal of the early Kings of Scots. Records of that use date back to 1369.[1] In 1532, the Writers to the Signet were included as Members in the newly established College of Justice, along with the Faculty of Advocates and the Clerks of the Court of Session. The Society was established in 1594, when the King's Secretary, as Keeper of the Signet, gave commissions to a Deputy Keeper and 18 other writers.[1]

Writers to the Signet began as clerks to the Keeper of the Signet, and were afforded the privileges of freedom from taxation by the Burgh of Edinburgh, exemption from military duty, and rights of audience before the bar of the College of Justice. Writers were involved in drawing up summonses to the Court of Session. Writers were, however, de jure prohibited from acting as procurators but de facto this was often ignored.[2]

In 1599 it was proposed that the Faculty of Advocates and the Society of Writers be merged into a single organisation, with the Writers against it. Such an idea was again proposed in 1633 which the Writers again opposed.[2]

In civil actions in the Court of Session, a pursuer is required to have his writ stamped with the Signet to give him authority from the Queen to serve the writ on the defender. That conferral, called "passing the Signet," was previously carried out by the Signet Office, the administration of which was one of the Society's responsibilities. In 1976 the Signet Office was merged into the General Department of the Court of Session and the Society was relieved of any responsibility for it. Nevertheless, the requirement of "passing the Signet" survived.[3]

The Signet Library

Signet Library ceiling
Ceiling of the Signet Library

The Signet Library was designed by Robert Reid with interiors by William Stark. It was finished in 1822 in time for the visit to Edinburgh of George IV. William Henry Playfair and William Burn were also involved in working on the building.

The building is a classical masterpiece and is a category A listed building. The classical architecture inspired the concept of Gran Caffè and Italian influence. [4]


Nowadays, these functions are no longer performed by the Society, which has become an independent professional body of solicitors. The Society's stated purpose is "promoting the highest standards in legal services,"[5] This is achieved through the provision of education services including the Professional Competence Course (PCC) and Continuing Professional Development courses (CPD).[6]

Keeper of the Signet

The Keeper of the Signet is one of the Great Officers of State of Scotland, and is one of the offices held by the Lord Clerk Register. The current Keeper of the Signet is Lord Mackay of Clashfern, former Lord Advocate of Scotland and Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom.

The office is now a purely ceremonial one, as the Keeper of the Signet grants a commission to the Principal Clerk of Session to allow the Signet to be used. The Keeper of the Signet is the senior officer of the Society of Writers to the Signet and issues commissions to new members. Although the Society is a private body, the Register of Commissions forms part of the records of the Court of Session, held by the National Archives of Scotland. The Keeper does not exercise administrative functions over the Society, these being delegated to the Deputy Keeper. The present Deputy Keeper is Caroline Docherty, Consultant at Morton Fraser LLP.[7]

Associate Membership

Jurists, advocates and foreign lawyers may be granted associate membership of the Society. Associate members are entitled to use the designation: "Associate Writer to the Signet" with the postnominal letters, AWS. Prominent associate members include Harvey McGregor QC and the late former President of Poland, Lech Aleksander Kaczyński.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Origins of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet". WS Society. Archived from the original on 5 March 2012. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  2. ^ a b Finlay, John (2007-01-01). "The Lower Branch of the Legal Profession in Early Modern Scotland". Edinburgh Law Review. 11 (1): 31–61. doi:10.3366/elr.2007.11.1.31. ISSN 1364-9809.
  3. ^ "History of the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet". Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  4. ^ History of the Signet Library, The Signet Library website
  5. ^ "Purpose". WS Society. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  6. ^ "Education". WS Society. Archived from the original on 20 July 2006. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  7. ^ "Office holders". The WS Society. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  8. ^ "Signet News" (PDF). WS Society. Spring 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 July 2015. Retrieved 27 August 2015.

External links

Adam Ferguson (British Army officer)

Sir Adam Ferguson (1770–1854) was deputy keeper of the regalia in Scotland.

Alexander Forrester (minister)

Alexander Forrester was born in 1611, son of Duncan Forrester and Margaret Ramsay. He was decended from the Forresters of Garden. He graduated with an M.A. from St Andrews University in 1631. He had been "ane conformist in Ireland, preached three quarters of a year in Edinburgh, and been two years with the armie". He was proposed for the parish of Livingston in 1646 but settled in St. Mungo in 1650. Refusing to conform to Episcopacy in 1662, he was confined to the parish. He was apprehended for holding a conventicle. He acted as clerk to a General Meeting of Presbyterian ministers in Edinburgh, 24th May 1676.

He was apprehended while preaching the Gospel in Fife, was imprisoned in St Andrews, and, on the 3rd August, 1676, sentenced to the Bass. Released on giving caution to appear when called, a paper found on his person revealed that on the 25th May, 1676,

fifty-three outed ministers met for conference at Edinburgh, and took measures to maintain correspondence throughout the church in the wilderness, and to have young men brought forward for and sent out in the work of the ministry. As Mr Forrester would reveal nothing as to place or persons, he was anew sentenced to imprisonment in the Edinburgh Tolbooth "in a chamber by himself, that no person have access to him except with meat and drink, and that he be not allowed the use of pen, ink, or paper."He was examined by the Privy Council of Scotland on 8th February 1677, indicted upon the more serious charge of “sedition” — which, however was entirely groundless — and adjudged to imprisonment in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. A lengthy quotation of the Council's minutes is given by Anderson. He was sent to the Bass Rock on 3rd August 1677. Having been liberated, he died at Edinburgh, 28th May 1686.

Alexander M. S. Green

Alexander M S Green M.Theol (Hons), LL.B, LL.M, M.Litt, FSA Scot is the Procurator Fiscal to the Court of the Lord Lyon. Green was appointed to this position in July 2010.

Archibald Hope, Lord Rankeillor

Sir Archibald Hope, Lord Rankeillor (1639 - 10 October 1706) was a Scottish advocate and judge, the second son of John Hope, Lord Craighall, the grandfather of the botanist John Hope and the great-grandfather of the chemist Thomas Charles Hope, FRSE.

College of Justice

The College of Justice includes the Supreme Courts of Scotland, and its associated bodies.

The constituent bodies of the national supreme courts are the Court of Session, the High Court of Justiciary, the Office of the Accountant of Court, and the Auditor of the Court of Session. Its associated bodies are the Faculty of Advocates, the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet and the Society of Solicitors in the Supreme Courts of Scotland.

The College is headed by the Lord President of the Court of Session, who also holds the title of Lord Justice General in relation to the High Court of Justiciary, and judges of the Court of Session and High Court are titled Senators of the College of Justice.

Craigie Aitchison, Lord Aitchison

Craigie Mason Aitchison (26 January 1882 – 2 May 1941) was a Scottish politician and judge.

Ernest Wedderburn

Sir Ernest Maclagan Wedderburn OBE FRSE WS (1884 – 3 June 1958) was a Scottish lawyer, and a significant figure both in the civic life of Edinburgh and in the legal establishment. He held the posts of Professor of Conveyancing in the University of Edinburgh (1922–35), Deputy Keeper of the Signet (1935–54), and Chairman of the General Council of Solicitors (1936–49), the forerunner to the Law Society of Scotland, and chaired the latter 1949/50. He was also an enthusiastic amateur scientist, and first Treasurer then Vice President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

James Campbell Reddie

James Campbell Reddie (26 November 1807 – 4 July 1878) was a 19th-century collector and author of pornography, who, writing as "James Campbell", worked for the publisher William Dugdale. According to Henry Spencer Ashbee, Reddie was self-taught and viewed his works from a philosophical point of view.

John Hamilton Gillespie

Colonel John Hamilton Gillespie (14 October 1852 – 7 September 1923) was a Scottish-American soldier, land developer, businessman and politician, who settled in Sarasota, Florida, becoming Sarasota's first mayor.

Law Society of Scotland

The Law Society of Scotland is the professional governing body for Scottish solicitors. It promotes excellence among solicitors through the support and regulation of its members. It also promotes the interests of the public in relation to the profession. The Society helps to shape the law for the benefit of both the public and the profession.The Society was established by statute in 1949 and its rules are set out in the Solicitors (Scotland) Act 1980. All practising solicitors, currently around 10,500, are members. The Society is funded by its members and has an annual budget of almost £8 million.

Michael Linning

Michael Linning, Writer to the Signet WS (24 September 1774 - 17 February 1838) was a Scottish solicitor who wrote The First Book of Napoleon. He was the son of Thomas Linning and grandson of the Rev. Thomas Linning, Minister of Lesmahogow. He attended Glasgow College from 1788 to 1793.

Parliament House, Edinburgh

Parliament House in Edinburgh, Scotland, was home to the pre-Union Parliament of Scotland, and now houses the Supreme Courts of Scotland. It is located in the Old Town, just off the Royal Mile, beside St Giles Cathedral.

RAF Legal Branch

The Royal Air Force Legal Branch (RAFLB) or Directorate Legal Services (DLS) - as it is better known - is the uniformed legal service provider for the Royal Air Force. It consists of solicitors and barristers qualified in a Commonwealth jurisdiction. DLS is headquartered at Air Command RAF High Wycombe. The Directorate is currently staffed by a mixture of members of:

The Law Society of England and Wales;

The Law Society of Scotland;

The Bar Council of England and Wales; and

The Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet.

Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow

The Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow is a professional body of legal practitioners based in Glasgow and providing services to lawyers in the city and the surrounding area. The Faculty owns and operates the largest law library in the West of Scotland as well as a small branch library at Glasgow Sheriff Court, and runs a programme of continuing professional development (CPD) seminars.

The Faculty is similar to the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet (WS Society), a professional association of solicitors which maintains the Signet Library in Edinburgh, however these bodies play no regulatory role for their members, only providing services, and should be distinguished from the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates, which are the respective regulatory bodies for solicitors and advocates in Scotland.


Signet may refer to:

Signet, Kenya, A subsidiary of the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), specifically set up to broadcast and distribute the DTT signals

Signet ring, a ring with a seal set into it, typically by leaving an impression in sealing wax

Signet ring cell, a malignant cell type associated with cancers

Signet Books, an imprint of the New American Library

SigneT, a class of racing dinghy, designed in 1961 by Ian Proctor

Signet (Phi Sigma Kappa), a publication produced by the fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa published four times a year

Signet Jewelers, the world's largest speciality retail jeweller

USS Signet (AM-302), a minesweeper

Kodak Signet, Kodak 1950s 35mm still camera line

Signet (automobile)

Society of Advocates in Aberdeen

The Society of Advocates in Aberdeen is an independent non-regulatory professional body of solicitors in the northern Scottish city of Aberdeen and its surrounding area. It is a membership organisation providing a library, continuing professional development (CPD) courses and social events for its members, as well as engaging in representative activities, similar in form to the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet (WS Society) in Edinburgh and the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. The Society has its base in the Advocates Hall, located on Concert Court behind the Sheriff Court.

Despite the name, its membership is drawn from the solicitors' profession, and not members of the Faculty of Advocates. Although membership of the Society was previously a requirement for the practice of law, this is no longer the case and the Society has no regulatory role, this being the province of the Law Society of Scotland. Its members are permitted to title themselves, Advocate in Aberdeen.

William Menelaus

William Menelaus (10 March 1818 – 30 March 1882) was a Scottish-born mechanical engineer, who made his name and fortune as the works manager at the Dowlais Ironworks in South Wales.

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