Lord Macphail

2009 has already seen a number of grievous losses to the law in Scotland, but on 23 October 2009 another was recorded with the death of Lord Macphail at the age of 71.

Iain Macphail had been ill for some time.  He was appointed to the Court of Session bench in 2005, relatively late after a long and distinguished career on the shrieval bench lasting over 30 years and culminating in his appointment as Sheriff Principal of Lothian & Borders in 2002.  He was also a Scottish Law Commissioner from 1990 to 1994.  He is the only Scots lawyer to be appointed to the prestigious Arthur Goodhart Professorship in Legal Science at the University of Cambridge, which he held in academic year 2001-2002.  He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2005.

Lord Macphail was a prolific author.  His books on Evidence (1987) and Sheriff Court Practice (1988, current edition 1998-2002) are authoritative and influential treatments which will stand as his monuments in the world of Scots law.  For many years a research paper on evidence which he wrote for the Scottish Law Commission in 1979 was the treatment of the subject in both academe and legal practice.  But he was much more than even these major works will show: a quiet, thoughtful and always courteous man without any of the arrogance that others with his accomplishments might have shown.  No doubt he was also a tough judge, nicknamed "No-bail Macphail", according to The Scotsman; but he stood four-square and eminent in the fine Scottish tradition of scholar-judges.

In the early 1990s Macphail was nominated for the degree of LLD by publications at Edinburgh University.  Some of the less learned members of the relevant university committee doubted whether a mere sheriff who had got his LLB from Glasgow could be scholar enough to merit the award of an LLD from such a university as Edinburgh, even if Macphail was actually one of its alumni as well (in Arts).  The then Dean of the Faculty of Law at Edinburgh, himself a Glasgow LLB, took to the vital committee meeting copies of Macphail's great works; and when the nomination came up for discussion, simply placed them one by one on the committee table.  The degree was duly awarded in 1992.

A nice obituary in The Times here.