Professor John W Cairns joins anti-human trafficking initiative

"Tumbling Lassie" Committee established to raise awareness of Scotland's history of slavery

“But we have no slaves in Scotland and mothers cannot sell their bairns.”

These were the words of judgement that concluded the 1687 case of Reid v Scot of Harden and his Lady.  A travelling showman had objected to the refuge a couple had offered a “tumbling lassie”, a girl forced by the showman to perform gymnastic feats. The showman claimed he had bought the girl from her mother and that the couple’s charity was in conflict with the contract he had signed with her. Ultimately, the case was dismissed and the “tumbling lassie” freed.


This little-known case became the catalyst for Alan McLean QC to establish, in conjunction with a group of fellow advocates, the Tumbling Lassie Committee. The Committee was set up to raise awareness of Scotland’s history of slavery and to discuss the future of laws pertaining to slavery and human trafficking.

Professor John Cairns, Edinburgh Law School’s Professor of Civil Law and internationally recognised expert on slavery and the law, will be playing an integral role in the Tumbling Lassie Seminar on Saturday 10 October. For more information and to register for the event, please visit