Obituary: Lionel Daiches

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The Independent Culture
WITH THE death of Lionel Daiches, Scotland has lost a distinguished Queen's Counsel and an outstanding orator. He was gifted with a rich and resonant voice; words came easily to him from an early age. His eloquence and ability to hold the attention of an audience in student debates at the university union and at the Diagnostic Society of Edinburgh University are still remembered.

In his days as a solicitor he was a colourful figure, in his black suit with bowler hat and cane, walking smartly up the Mound to the Sheriff Court. As an advocate in the High Court, his snuffbox was as much a part of him as his wig and gown. To the commonplace enquiry: "How are you today, Lionel?", he had his own response: "All the better for seeing you." His court appearances were marked by his unfailing courtesy to friends and opponents alike - and judges too, whatever he might say about them later in the sanctity of the robing room. Parliament House will not be the same without him.

Born in 1911, the elder son of Rabbi Dr Salis Daiches, Lionel was educated in Edinburgh at George Watson's College and Edinburgh University. A fascinating picture of his family and school life is given by his brother, David, in his book Two Worlds (1956), a description of an orthodox Jewish upbringing at weekends combined with life in a gentile society during the rest of the week.

At university, Lionel Daiches studied Art and Law. Having graduated in law, he joined the solicitors' branch of the profession and practised for several years, before military service took him to North Africa and Italy, including the Anzio beachhead. On his return to civilian life he forsook the solicitor's calling for the Scottish Bar, to which he was called in 1946.

Not surprisingly, his practice was largely, though not entirely, in the criminal courts. His success with juries brought increasing work, and in 1956 he took silk. Apart from five years when he sat on the bench as a Sheriff in Glasgow, he spent most of his career as a QC defending clients in the High Court. Five years as a judge were probably enough for Daiches. He was less at home in the role of a referee than that of a protagonist taking part in the fray at the Bar of the Court.

Out of court he was a popular after-dinner speaker, and had no difficulty making a witty and entertaining speech with minimal preparation. Practising advocates in Scotland, and I am sure the same is true of barristers in England, have first-hand experience of outstanding speakers in courts and on other public platforms. The best of speakers will tell you that they like time to prepare a speech, to put it in some kind of methodical form, and to think how to deliver it effectively. Others can make spontaneous speeches, but few can do so well. Daiches was one of the few. I heard him many times, and never failed to admire - and envy - his facility for finding the right words, phrases and quotations, all at the right moment.

He is survived by his two sons, his brother, Professor David Daiches (also a gifted speaker), and by Isobel Anne Poole, who brought so much comfort and happiness to him in his latter years.

Frederick O'Brien

Lionel Henry Daiches, barrister: born Edinburgh 8 March 1911; called to the Scottish Bar 1946; QC 1956; married 1947 Dorothy Bernstein (two sons; marriage dissolved 1973); died Edinburgh 11 November 1999.