Sheriff J V Paterson (1928-2010)

Borders correspondent William Windram has drawn our attention to the death on 7 May 2010 of one of the early stars of Scots Law News, Sheriff James Paterson, who sat in the sheriff courts of the Borders area for 37 years altogether, between 1963 and his retirement in 2000.

Back in 1998 Sheriff Paterson was the man before whom the trial of the Beef Warrior – a Lauder hotelier who served beef on the bone to his guests in defiance of the Beef Bone Regulations 1997 – began and seemingly ended when the sheriff dismissed the case on the grounds that the regulations in question (introduced to combat the spread of mad cow disease) were null and void, being "irrational and manifestly absurd".  This apparently led to Clarissa Dickson-Wright declaring Sheriff Paterson her "new hero".  Not so the Court of Criminal Appeal, however, which upheld the procurator fiscal's appeal in the case and instructed Sheriff Paterson to proceed to trial.  The case was however subsequently dropped when the Beef Bone Regulations were repealed.

Our correspondent thinks Sheriff Paterson may also have been the sheriff in the initial breach of the peace case which led on to the sex equality case about the Hawick Common Riding in 1997.  We cannot confirm this from our coverage of the story, although the sheriff who dealt with the actual sex discrimination case at first instance was Brian Reid, with the late Sheriff Principal Gordon Nicholson determining the appeal.

Earlier in his career Sheriff Paterson also took part in a case which, had we been around at the time, would undoubtedly have received the attention of Scots Law News.  This was the case of the Eyemouth prawns in 1973.  A 16-year old girl was charged with cruelty to animals by cooking live prawns on a hotplate at the fish processing plant in Eyemouth harbour where she worked.  Media interest and speculation abounded as the trial before Sheriff Paterson approached: were prawns animals and did they feel pain, or were their contortions on the hotplate simply a natural reflex action when taken from their usual environment?  Alas, before these interesting issues could be  aired in court, the prosection took fright and the case was dropped. 

When Sheriff Paterson left the bench in 2000, he was apparently the longest-serving judge then in Britain.

Full obituaries of Sheriff Paterson, who was of course an Edinburgh law graduate, in The Selkirk Advertiser, The Scotsman, and The Herald.

A PS from Matt Jackson, advocate: "Sheriff Paterson was known , affectionately, by those who appeared before him as the Great Purple People Eater!" (added 10 June 2010)