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Tributes follow death of former judge Lord McCluskey

21 July 2017

Politicians as well as leading legal figures have paid tribute to the former Court of Session and High Court judge Lord McCluskey, who has died at the age of 88.

Gordon Jackson QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, described him as a "giant of Scots law", while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said he was "one of the leading lawyers of his generation".

A solicitor's son, John Herbert McCluskey studied at Edinburgh University and was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1955, becoming a Queen's Counsel in 1967. He was appointed Sheriff Principal of Dumfries & Galloway in 1973 but the following year was named Solicitor General in the incoming Labour Government, a post he held until 1979. He was created a life peer in 1976.

In 1984 he was appointed a Senator of the College of Justice; he sat in the Outer House and then the Inner House until he retired in 2004. He was the first serving judge to deliver the BBC's Reith Lectures, which he gave in 1986 under the title Law, Justice and Democracy, discussing his ideas of what judges should and should not be involved in.

He was not afraid to take a distinctive view of the law. “He had an outstanding career as counsel, law officer and judge", Mr Jackson stated. "Although often outspoken, his views were always challenging and merited the most careful consideration. Solicitor Aamer Anwar commented on Twitter that he was "A great lawyer and judge – never scared to speak his mind."

After retiring from the bench, Lord McCluskey remained a frequent commentator on legal affairs, and was active as a working peer until earlier this year. In 2011 he was appointed by the Scottish Government to chair a panel reviewing the position of the UK Supreme Court in relation to Scottish cases raising human rights issues. This followed two controversial decisions where the court took a different view to the Scottish courts. The panel's recommendations, that appeal should continue but only cases of "general public importance" be allowed to be taken, have since become law.

However he regarded his lifetime achievement to be moving of an addition to the bill that became the Scotland Act 1998, to preserve the independence of the judiciary by removing a provision that would have allowed the removal of a judge on a majority vote in the Holyrood Parliament.

Paying tribute for the Law Society of Scotland, its President Graham Matthews said: "Lord McCluskey was someone of immense stature within the legal profession who conducted himself without fear or favour. He was a knowledgeable, highly capable and extremely dedicated individual who played a central role in the administration of our justice system."

Noting that Lord McCluskey's role as a member of the House of Lords, whether as a law officer or as a member of the cross benches, ensured that he was able to contribute to the making of the law as well as its interpretation, the President continued: "He was admired by many in the legal profession for the deft, humane, principled and persistent way he handled his legal work on the bench or in the House of Lords. He was also very good company and had a great sense of humour."

He added: “His contribution to the law was recognised with a lifetime achievement award from the legal community earlier this year, and in the standing ovation which followed his speech at the awards ceremony. He will be much missed and we offer our sincere condolences to his family and friends."

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Martin Doonan

Friday July 28, 2017, 10:44

My sister has just told me of Lord McCluskey's death and raised a question regarding Lord McCluskey's being related to our family. My father had spoken of this when we were much younger. His name was James Kenneth Doonan and one of his relatives was James Doonan JP who had a connection to The Stoneyburn Miners Welfare Halls 1924.

Sorry to hear of the loss of s great man may his legacy continue.