Obituary: Donald Keating

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The Independent Online
Donald Keating was one of the pioneers in the field of construction law. His book Law and Practice of Building Contracts including Architects and Surveyors (1955) is now in its sixth edition - renamed Keating on Building Contracts - and is still the authoritative volume on the subject.

The book first appeared five years after Keating had been called to the Bar, and helped to found his large and varied practice in building and civil engineering disputes in Britain and abroad; it also led to the establishment of the leading set of construction chambers which now bears his name. It was published at a time when little serious scholarship had been devoted to the subject. Its success led to a reprint the following year and to successive editions in 1963, 1969 and, after a great personal struggle following the death of his first wife, in 1978. The fifth and sixth editions of the book were produced after his retirement, in 1992 and 1995, under the editorship of Mr Justice May, a former member of Keating Chambers, with Keating as consultant editor.

Keating on Building Contracts broke new ground in more than scholarship. Keating himself always regarded the subject as tied firmly to its common- law roots and eschewed ideas of construction-specific principles. Yet from the outset he appreciated the pivotal role of the standard forms of contract as equivalent to private legal codes. The first edition of his book thus included the first systematic legal commentary on what was then known as the RIBA Form of Contract.

Many others followed his lead, but none of the many published works now available can match Keating's terse but invariably apt style. He preferred the pregnant footnote to the argumentative text. When the fifth edition of the book appeared Keating took some pleasure in a pithy article in the Construction Law Yearbook dissenting from May's text, which had respectfully departed from the fourth edition on the vital subject of quantum meruit.

As an advocate Keating had an unerring instinct for identifying and pursuing tenaciously those points which could win the case. He would not cut corners but was the master of the tactical concession, which ensured a case was fought on the ground he chose. In the course of his appellate practice he invented the written submission, then often handwritten, now universally required by the judges.

Keating was a brilliant lawyer and would have made an outstanding judge. The course of his career was probably determined by the inexplicable rejection of four applications for silk. He was finally appointed Queen's Counsel in 1972, too late for appointment to the bench, but three of his juniors in the Chambers he established have now been appointed to the High Court. Keating was made a Recorder of the Crown Court in 1972 and enjoyed equally sitting on criminal cases and on Official Referee's business.

Before being called to the Bar Keating read History at King's College London, specialising in the British Empire, which remained a lifelong interest, and served with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. He maintained a deep interest in politics as well as journalism and the arts, making him a vivacious companion and fierce debater. He loved well- structured argument.

Donald Keating was a devoted family man. After the death of his first wife Betty in 1975, he married Rosamond Blundell-Jones, a barrister who became a stipendiary magistrate. He continued in vigorous full-time practice as an advocate and arbitrator up to his death.

John Uff

Donald Norman Keating, lawyer: born 24 June 1924; called to the Bar, Lincoln's Inn 1950, Bencher 1979; QC 1972; a Recorder 1972-87, 1993-95; member, DTI study team on Professional Liability 1988-89; Head of Chambers, Keating Chambers 1976-92; married 1945 Betty Wells (died 1975; two sons, one daughter), 1978 Kay Blundell-Jones (one son; and one stepdaughter deceased); died 1 August 1995.