Obituary : Lord Cameron

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The Independent Online
"Time was, Mr Chancellor, when Scottish judges were better known for coarseness, like Braxfield, or conviviality, like Hermand, Aitcheson and others, or eccentricity, like Monboddo, or rather erratic scholarship, like Kames. But today we have judges who give outstanding public service in realms far beyond their official roles. Among such is John Cameron." Thus spoke the Public Orator of the University of Glasgow at the Doctor of Laws Ceremony in 1981.

"Jock" - he was never recognised as anything other than Jock - Cameron was one of the considerable Scottish Appeal Court judges of the century, and recognised as such by legal Edinburgh. But he also had another dimension: high up the list of the great and the good, he was sought out by successive governments and the stratosphere of the Civil Service to address the thorniest problems of post-war Britain.

Indeed, in 1967 it was deemed appropriate by Harold Wilson, Ray Gunter, Minister of Labour, and the senior Civil Service that this Scot of more than pensionable age should chair a committee of three with Pat Lowry, then director of personnel for the British Leyland Motor Corporation, and Danny McGarvey, of the Building Trade Workers, to sort out the trade disputes between Myton Ltd and certain workers at the Barbican Development Site in the City of London and between Bernard Sunley & Sons and certain workers at the office development site in Horseferry Road, Westminster. Cameron was sent for as the Red Adair of industrial confrontations. Over a period of three decades he was never far away from those tasks deemed best undertaken by an understanding top-class lawyer of wide interests.

Jock Cameron was born in Edinburgh, in 1900, a child of the New Town and of the Enlightenment. He was equally at ease and at home in the prestigious New Club or the Bohemian intellectual Scottish Arts Club in Rutland Square. His father, John Cameron, an SSC (Solicitor Before the Supreme Court), sent him to Edinburgh Academy. He remained a passionate Academical, rendering great service to the school as a governor and much else. As dinner guest this year of the Edinburgh Academicals in London at the Caledonian Club, I was told that it was the first time for 40 years that Lord Cameron had missed the annual gathering.

He served with the Royal Navy on Destroyers as a 17-year-old in the closing months of the First World War and as an RNVR officer in the Second World War, winning the Distinguished Service Cross in 1944 for his work on convoys.

In 1927 he married Eileen Burrell, by whom he had two daughters and a son, Kenneth, who was to become Lord Cameron of Lochbroom, Lord Advocate from 1984 to 1989 and since then a judge like his father. Indeed in the year before he demitted as a judge Cameron saw his son installed as the principal government law officer in Scotland.

In 1943, tragedy struck. Eileen died when Cameron was away on convoy duty. Returning unexpectedly, he entered his own house shouting greetings for his wife. A distraught neighbour had to explain that she had been buried the week before; there had been no way of contacting him. The following year he married Eileen's friend Iris, widow of Lambert Shepherd; with her he lived in great happiness for half a century and more.

In 1948 Cameron became Dean of the Faculty of Advocates. But his great contribution as a superb committee man and chairman had already begun. He was scarcely out of uniform before the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland Joe Westwood appointed him to chair the committee on Legal Aid and Legal Advice in Scotland. Along with F.E. Balfour, John Henderson, Alexander Inglis and John MacBean, they prepared a scheme for legal assistance in Scotland guided by two fundamental principles, "a desire to build . . . on existing foundations and to ensure the greatest possible measure of flexibility in upholding the honourable tradition of gratuitous representation of poor persons by counsel and solicitors in civil and criminal causes". Cameron throughout his life was determined that all people, rich or poor, should have their case properly represented in the courts of the land.

Having made a success of the Legal Aid Committee, he was appointed in 1947 to the Court of Inquiry into a dispute between employers and workpeople of the National Joint Council for the Port Transport Industry. This was a prelude to his work on the same subject during the 1958 strike, with Brigadier L.C. Mandleberg and Martin Pounder.

In 1955 Cameron chaired a report along with Sir Colin Anderson of P&O and Harry Douglas of the Steel Workers Union in a dispute between the British Transport Commission and the National Union of Railwaymen, who were represented by their formidable general secretary Jim Campbell. Cameron contended that the argument used by the commission in past negotiations, that they found themselves unable to pay rates which they might agree to be proper because of certain terms of their financial constitution, was not only undesirable in that nationalised industry but also unsound in the light of figures provided by the British Transport Commission, and should not be repeated.

It was Cameron too who chaired the Court of Inquiry, along with Sir Graham Cunningham and G.B. Thornecroft, into a dispute between the National Federated Electrical Association and the Electrical Trades Unions. The employers suspected that the actions of the union were dictated by political rather than industrial motives and that the union were not seeking a genuine settlement but causes for dispeace, and furthermore that there was no guarantee that if arbitration were offered it would be accepted by the union and the award observed. Cameron was fair to the union, saying that if in such negotiations no agreement could be found either as a basis for the calculation of wages or for the determination of the wage rate itself then one or both of these matters should be referred to arbitration by the voluntary action of the parties. He was a champion of arbitration. "If the parties think - as they must - that they have a good case, nothing can be lost by discussion or if need be by arbitration: it is only a bad case that will not stand impartial investigation."

Such was the confidence that Cameron engendered that he was put in sole charge of the Court of Inquiry in 1957 into the causes and circumstances of a dispute at Briggs Motor Bodies Ltd, Dagenham, between the Ford Motor Company and members of the trade unions. The latter nominated as their representatives John Boyd, a member of the Executive Council of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and Harry Nicholas, then assistant general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. Boyd, later to be chairman of the General Council of the TUC, and Nicholas, later to be General Secretary of the Labour Party, both speak of their enormous respect for Cameron as chairman of industrial committees.

In 1967 Cameron chaired the Court of Inquiry into the problems caused by the introduction of web offset machines and other modern printing techniques in the printing industry. David Basnett, later General Secretary of the General and Municipal Workers, echoed the regard expressed by Boyd and Nicholas. The committee stressed that there was great advantage in keeping the number of bodies within the printing industry to a minimum and recommended the assessment of manning required of web offset processes.

Cameron laid the foundations for relatively civilised relations in the printing industry. In 1969 he was given possibly his hardest task of all by the Governor of Northern Ireland to investigate the immediate and precipitating causes of the disorders which broke out in Londonderry on 5 October 1968 and continued there and elsewhere. Cameron recognised the growing and powerful sense of resentment and frustration among the Catholic population at the failure of the Government to investigate the complaints or to provide and enforce a remedy for them. Resentment, particularly among Catholics, to the existence of the "B" Specials as a partisan and paramilitary force recruited exclusively from Protestants was identified by Cameron and his two colleagues on the inquiry, Professor Sir John Biggart and James Joseph Campbell. It was one of the most insightful inquiries into Northern Ireland.

The following year Cameron chaired the report of the regulation of Scottish Inshore Fisheries. The general conclusion was that the greatest measure of freedom should be enjoyed in the exercise of the public right of fishing consistent with the maintenance of adequate stocks and protection of legitimate individual rights. The relative importance of the fisheries within the three-mile limit - apart from the expanding element of shellfish fishery - to the total effort and value of the Scottish fishery had declined over the years with the increase in range and capacity of fishing craft. Cameron and his colleagues Professors S.G.E. Lythe and MacRitchie, R.H.W. Bruce, a foreman, and J.C. Robertson identified that conservation was an international problem and that conservation measures applying only to waters within UK fishery limits are of value only in relation to localised or sedentary stocks.

In December 1972, when Lord Justice Phillimore, the chairman, became ill, Cameron was appointed to the Committee on the Law of Contempt which had been set up in June 1971. He became acting chairman on 19 July 1973. "Scandalising the court should cease to be part of the law of contempt. Instead," argued Cameron, "it should be made an indictable offence both in England and Wales and in Scotland to defame a judge in such a way as to bring the administration of justice into disrepute."

Cameron was a man of refined humour and included a statement that the law of contempt had its lighter moments. "There is a story that an egg was thrown at Vice-Chancellor Malins when he was adjourning his court at the end of the day. He is said to have remarked that he presumed it was intended for his Brother Bacon, who was sitting in an adjoining court."

Cameron's last major public work was undertaken when he was nearly 80 years of age as an active member of the Pearson Committee, the Royal Commission on Civil Liberty and Compensation for personal injury set up by Robert Carr as Home Secretary in 1973 and which reported to Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary a few years later. Cameron was chairman of the Executive Committee of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and a member of the Court of Edinburgh University, first as Rector's Assessor and from 1961 as Chancellor's Assessor. He actively promoted scholarship through the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which he was President from 1973 to 1976; the only previous lawyer-president of that society was Sir Walter Scott.

Cameron was also involved in many projects for the promotion or revival or encouragement of aspects of Scottish culture and distinctive features of Scottish national life, as Chairman of the Highland Panel, in discussion with men of letters, on the Scottish Enlightenment, in the work of the Cockburn Society for the presevation of the best of the built environment of Edinburgh, a city so beloved by Cockburn, another of the better breed of Scottish judges. To Jock Cameron, modern Edinburgh was both like classical Athens and, in many ways again, like the colourful 18th-century Edinburgh - an exciting, lively mixed society in a comparatively small, lovely and fascinating city.

John Cameron, judge: born Edinburgh 8 February 1900; Advocate-Depute 1929-36; QC (Scotland) 1936; DSC 1944; Sheriff of Inverness, Elgin and Nairn 1945, Inverness, Moray, Nairn and Ross and Cromarty 1946- 48; Dean of Faculty of Advocates 1948-55; Advocate 1954; Kt 1954; a Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland and Lord of Session (as Lord Cameron) 1955-85; KT 1978; married 1927 Eileen Burrell (died 1943; one son, two daughters); 1944 Iris Shepherd; died Edinburgh 30 May 1996.