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Kiwi legal connection to Scottish royalty and literary fame

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Annabel Maxwell-Scott
Annabel Maxwell-Scott

Directly related to Scotland’s most celebrated novelist and with links to the Royal Stuart household, Auckland-based Australian-born crime barrister Annabel Maxwell-Scott identifies as a Londoner and a Kiwi.

Annabel is a distant granddaughter of acclaimed Scottish historical novelist, poet, playwright, historian, lawyer and judge, Sir Walter Scott.

Scott, attributed with making Highland tourism and tartan wearing popular, gave the world many literary classics, including Rob Roy and Ivanhoe.

Annabel Jane (Annabel) Maxwell-Scott
Entry to law
Graduated BSc (Hons) in Psychology from Bristol University. Admitted in New Zealand in 2010.
Barrister in Verus Chambers, Auckland.
Speciality area
Criminal defence.

“I have read his books, and I like Heart of Midlothian, which is about crime. They are quite hard going,” she says.

Annabel’s older brother is The Times arts and theatre critic Dominic Maxwell – or Sir Dominic James Constable-Maxwell-Scott, the 14th Baronet of Haggerston, to give him his full title.

Her younger brother Matthew Maxwell-Scott stood unsuccessfully as a Conservative candidate in the 2017 UK election, being narrowly beaten by Liberal Democrat Tom Brake in a south London constituency.

“Sir Walter Scott’s daughter was the last of the Scott line and she married a Constable-Maxwell. We were triple barrelled Constable-Maxwell-Scott until my father changed it to double-barrelled Maxwell-Scott. My brother Dominic calls himself Maxwell.

“My second cousin, James Maxwell-Scott, is a QC in London. I think his grandfather was a QC as well.”

James represented the Borough of Kensington in the Grenfell Tower inferno inquiry in 2017.

A relative, Catherine Maxwell Stuart, is the 21st Laird of Traquair, and mistress of Traquair House - a grand pile near Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders - dating back to 1107.

Continually inhabited for 900 years, Traquair has been occupied by the Catholic Stuart family since 1491.

“The Maxwell Stuarts and the Maxwell-Scotts are family through the Constable-Maxwell connection. I can’t remember what Catherine is to me - too complicated - but some cousin.

“My Dad and Peter Maxwell Stuart, Catherine’s father, were very close. Peter’s wife, Flora, introduced my parents to each other. Flora and Mum are best friends.

“We’re quite inbred. My aunt says there aren’t many aristocratic Catholics left in Scotland.

“I spent my summers at Traquair with my father and Peter Maxwell Stuart. As children we hid in Traquair’s priest holes. Dad and Peter enjoyed the Traquair ale. At one stage I was put in charge of tastings in the brew house. That was not a good idea.”

Psychology degree

Annabel practised at 9-12 Bell Yard, London, now Foundry Chambers, and at the independent Bar in London, before coming to New Zealand in 2009.

She was a senior lawyer with the Manukau Public Defence Service before going to the independent Bar in 2013. She has done more than 250 jury trials and is on the prosecution panel for the Serious Fraud Office and Manukau Crown solicitor.

She didn’t study law and does not have a law degree. “In the UK it doesn’t work like that. I studied psychology.

“In the UK you can do any degree you want and, provided you have got a degree, you can then do what’s called a common professional examination which deals with your six core law subjects in one year.

“After that you go to Bar school, the Bar Professional Training Course. Basically, it means it takes a year longer but you don’t have to sit through three years of medieval law at university.”

She attended the Inns of Court School of Law and the College of Law, London.

“I think I was attracted to law after watching a documentary on Edward Marshall Hall when I was about 12.”

Sir Edward Marshall Hall KC was an English barrister who had a formidable reputation as an orator. He successfully defended many people accused of notorious murders and became known as "The Great Defender".

“Then I read Rumpole of the Bailey. Initially it was Agatha Christie when I was really young and that also got me into crime.

“It wasn’t really law I was interested in, it was crime I got into. I became fascinated with crime. There used to be a television programme called Crown Court which I watched.

“I was always winning prizes at school for public speaking. I never wanted to be a commercial lawyer, I always wanted to be a criminal barrister. It’s the human side that appeals to me, dealing with people and life.

“I used to prosecute and defend about 50/50 in the UK. You can’t do that here but I am on the panel for the Crown Solicitor in Manukau and for the SFO.

“My father Michael – who died when I was 16 - was a journalist and literary critic at the Daily Telegraph for most of his career. Dad cycled to Fleet Street every morning.”

Her father became the 13th Baronet of Haggerston in 1972. Her mother Deirdre (86) still lives in London.

“Dad was 52 when I was born. He was in World War II, and took a year out from his studies at Cambridge to be in the army. I was brought up all over the world.

“I was born in Australia which is why I have an Australian passport.”

Annabel’s grandfather Malcolm was a rear admiral in the Royal Navy and was also Aide-de-Camp to King George V. He was based in Melbourne when her father was born and he got Australian citizenship.

Married to Glaswegian gardener Brian Woods, whom she met in a bar while she was following the English cricket team on an Ashes tour to Australia, Annabel has a son, Archie (8), and a daughter, Iona (5).

“I’m a cricket fan and have watched cricket in Sri Lanka and South Africa and now I am forced to watch the All Blacks. I don’t follow any other sport.

“I grew up in the era of Boycott and Botham. Watching a tiny black and white TV. I wasn’t allowed up or down the stairs unless I could give my brother the names of five cricketers in the team. I had very little option. Cricket is a big part of my life.”

Travelling for cricket

“I’m a big reader of fiction and have started reading crime novels a lot. I like British novelist Barbara Trapido, and mainly modern contemporary stuff.

“I was well travelled – and travelled a lot for cricket, including to New Zealand before I moved here - but not so much now because my little boy is autistic so we can’t really go anywhere.

“I played the piano and flute at school and listened to a lot of classical music, especially after my father died. But I’m not musical at all. The Pet Shop Boys would be my favourite band.

“Archie and I watch television programmes together. We are watching all Doc Martin episodes at the moment. He loves it. And I watch Netflix. I used to watch all the Coen Brothers films quite religiously. I like a psychological thriller.

“Now I watch kids movies. Toy Story 4 was the latest, that’s good.

“We have tropical fish. I seem to have an extraordinary skill for being able to keep them alive. The skill seems to be to do nothing, just leave them.

“We go to Tutukaka [in Northland] a lot for holidays.

“I don’t know quite what I was thinking when I bought it, but I drive a red convertible Audi A3.

“Dinner guests would include Walter Scott, Stephen Fry, maybe Jane Austen, Queen Victoria, and the Duchess of Devonshire would be fascinating. Lamb shanks in winter and in summer a barbecue – I’m a Kiwi now - with heavy red wines, like a shiraz.

“In my first-ever case I had to cross-examine a nun, which was very unfortunate. I had to accuse a nun of lying. So that was a memorable moment.

“As an alternative career I would probably be a doctor but my ideal occupation would be to have a bookshop, probably something like British sitcom Black Books, with a café and jazz in the evenings.”

Annabel’s family home is Sir Walter Scott’s rambling Abbotsford, in the Scottish Borders, and planning is underway for a big family reunion there in 2021.

“There are about 30 or 40 descendants. We are in a trust which runs Abbotsford. We gave it to the National Trust and they gave it back, because it was going to cost millions to renovate it. The place is huge.”

Her brother Matthew serves as a trustee of the charitable trust which now runs Abbotsford.

“That’s why Traquair has done so well, it has been opened up to festivals, weddings, visitors and short stays. These historic places have to pay for themselves.”

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