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Obituary: Lord Stott

WITH THE death of Gordon Stott, Scotland has lost a distinguished judicial figure and a remarkable legal personality some months short of his 90th birthday.

After a notable career at the Scottish Bar, where he acted predominantly for industrial workers in accident cases, Scott was Lord Advocate in the first Wilson administration from 1964 to 1967. It was an office in which he relished his total independence of government as a public prosecutor and legal adviser, for his independence of mind and outspokenness were characteristic. As Lord Advocate then he was responsible for promoting certain overdue law reforms which had been advocated but not implemented and for the setting up of the Scottish Law Commission alongside its counterpart for England and Wales.

He became a Senator of the College of Justice (High Court judge in Scotland) in 1967, retiring in 1984 on reaching the statutory age limit of 75, latterly having served in the First Division appeal court (formerly chaired by the late Lord Clyde, the Lord President Clyde).

Stott had an acute legal mind partly hidden behind a somewhat bluff, no-nonsense and gently mocking manner. His pleading was a model of forceful economy and he was a formidable opponent as Lord Clyde found the hard way - by having his adverse judgments routinely reversed when Stott appealed them to the House of Lords (which could have benefited from having him as a Lord of Appeal).

Gordon Stott was born in 1909, a son of the manse. He had a conventional education at Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University where he was a distinguished law scholar. He espoused socialist politics in the 1930s which did not endear him to the legal establishment when he was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1936. He was a founder member of the Muir Society of Labour lawyers just before the outbreak of the Second World War and for a time he was secretary of the Edinburgh Trades Council.

As a man of strong principles he was a pacifist and conscientious objector during the war, doing agricultural work in place of military service. He gave his services free as counsel for other objectors before the tribunal for conscientious objectors. During the war years he edited a Labour journal, the Edinburgh Clarion. Though a Labour parliamentary candidate on several occasions he was not elected to Parliament.

After the war he was an Advocate-Depute (prosecuting counsel) and took silk in 1950. Before being appointed Lord Advocate in 1964 he was a member of the Monopolies Commission, 1949-56, and Sheriff Principal of Roxburgh, Berwick and Selkirk, 1961-64.

In his personal life Stott was friendly and compassionate, with a preference for plain speaking and zero tolerance for hypocrisy or pretension. A tall figure with a somewhat windswept look, he was to be seen striding over the local hills or walking his dog (which was said on occasion to accompany him to court - and in court - when he was a judge). As a keen walker his latter years were unhappily restricted by failing legs. His mind remained as sharp as ever.

After retiring Stott published three biographical volumes reflecting diaries which he had kept for much of his life: Lord Advocate's Diary (1991), Judge's Diary (1995) and QC's Diary (1998). These contained entertaining anecdotes and insights on contemporary legal life and politics. But it was generally felt that they revealed more about Stott the man than about the personalities targeted.

George Gordon Stott, judge: born Edinburgh 22 December 1909; Editor, Edinburgh Clarion 1939-44; Advocate-Depute 1947-51; QC 1950; Sheriff of Roxburgh, Berwick and Selkirk 1961-64; PC 1964; Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland (as Lord Stott) 1967-84; married 1947 Nancy Braggins (one son, one daughter); died Edinburgh 12 April 1999.