This case was about a “birly court”: a voluntary association of small proprietors and tenants that regulated property lines and common pasturages in their neighborhood. The birly court in Elsrighill (Elsrickle) levied a fine on one of its members, John Wilson. When Wilson refused to pay, the court’s elected officers seized two of his pewter plates. Wilson complained to the sheriff of Lanarkshire, alleging that the birly court lacked authority to take such an action. The sheriff-substitute, John Bannatyne, found that the officers were guilty of a riot and had them detained. In response, the officers sued both Wilson and Bannatyne for wrongful imprisonment.

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