Obituary: Lord Avonside

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The Independent Online
Ian Shearer (later Lord Avonside) was one of the great advocates of this century.

To be his junior, especially before the appellate committee of the House of Lords, was a stimulating experience, and to appear against him called for every ounce of one's resolution. As a judge he would accept nothing less than the highest standards of counsel and he brought out the best in most of them. No tolerance was shown for slipshod or ill-prepared work, and his somewhat forbidding manner commanded universal respect and, in some of those who appeared before him, even a degree of fear. For good counsel, however, an appearance before him was always an exciting pleasure and no judge could have been more helpful to the presentation of a well- argued case.

He was born in 1914, and educated at Dunfermline High School, at Glasgow University (MA 1934) and Edinburgh University (LLB 1937). In 1938 he was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates. His intellect was amply demonstrated at school and university and he began his life at the Bar with the additional huge advantages of a clear-headed passion for accuracy and precision, a powerful personality and the great gift of presence. It is not surprising that his quality was recognised by the legal profession even in the short time before the beginning of the Second World War. At the outbreak of war he at once joined the Army, serving in the Royal Artillery until 1946. He became a major and was heavily involved in the long siege of Malta.

On his return to practice he made his mark again at once, and was mainly engaged for the rest of his life as an advocate in heavy and important civil litigations, including prominent revenue and valuation cases, and in the early 1970s the Burmah Oil case. He appeared for the Duke of Argyll in the opening stages of the sensational divorce case which lasted from 1959 to 1963. As a junior counsel he held many appointments, the most prestigious of which was Standing Counsel to the Inland Revenue. In 1952 he took silk and in 1960 he became the Sheriff of Renfrew and Argyll.

The pressures of his professional life, however, did not prevent him from finding time to sit on a number of important committees including the Scottish Committee of the Council on Tribunals from 1958 until 1962, when he was appointed Lord Advocate in the Conservative administration. This was a remarkable and inspired appointment because he had not been involved in party politics and he made a splendid contribution to that great office of state without having a seat in Parliament. It was not until much later that it became the practice to confer upon the Lord Advocate a seat in the House of Lords. There is no doubt that in Scotland his most visible impact was made in his running of the Crown Office and criminal prosecutions, with his characteristic demand for very high standards.

In 1964 he took his seat on the Bench as Lord Avonside and until he retired in 1984 he gave outstanding service to his country and the law of Scotland in the Outer and Inner Houses and as Chairman of the Valuation Appeal Court. He did so with great ability even after his health deteriorated in the early Seventies and in spite of a succession of serious accidents in which he broke most of the important bones of his body.

This brief synopsis of his professional and public career barely hints at the kind of man Ian Shearer was. His build was formidable and commanding and his dominant personality was evident in everything he did, as an advocate of consummate skill. He had little patience with fools and did not attempt to conceal his opinion, but to his friends, and they were many, the warmth and kindness of Ian Shearer, his companionship and hospitality were their rich rewards. He was wonderful with children, particularly if they seemed bright.

His garden was one of his many passions and he dearly loved his roses. Exotic cats and finches fascinated him and he had a deep interest in wild mammals and the countryside. Until his various accidents steadily robbed him of full mobility he was a competent golfer and an excellent foursome partner - a great competitor. The greatest loves of his life were, however, his wife Janet whom he married in 1954 and Alistair and Ann, his son and daughter. To Janet he was devoted, and that he survived all his physical troubles for as long as he did without losing his enjoyment of life, was undoubtedly because of her and her love for him.


Ian Hamilton Shearer, judge: born 6 November 1914; Standing Counsel to Customs and Excise, Board of Trade and Ministry of Labour 1947-49, to Inland Revenue 1949-51, to City of Edinburgh Assessor 1949-51; Junior Legal Assessor to City of Edinburgh 1951; QC 1952; Chairman, National Health Service Tribunal, Scotland 1954-62; member, Scottish Committee of Council on Tribunals 1958-62; Sheriff of Renfrew and Argyll 1960-62; Lord Advocate 1962-64; PC 1962; Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland (as Lord Avonside) 1964-84; Chairman, Scottish Valuation Advisory Council 1965-68; member, Scottish Universities Committee of the Privy Council 1971-96; Chairman, Lands Valuation Court 1975-84; married 1942 (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1954 Janet Murray; died 22 February 1996.