Lord Davidson, Advocate and senator of the Court of Justice

Born: 13 April, 1929, in Edinburgh. Died: 18 June, 2009, in Edinburgh, aged 80.

AS ONE of Scotland's most celebrated advocates and judges Lord Davidson had a career that spanned many areas of the law in Scotland. He was involved, as an advocate, in two of the most noted trials of recent years – the "Glasgow rape case" and the "Spey canoe case" – and he was widely respected for his legal knowledge and erudition. He had a presence that suited the grandeur of the bench but remained down-to-earth, considerate and courteous. Davidson also acted as procurator to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland – a post he filled with dignity and dedication.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a friend and colleague of many years, recalls Davidson as "a man of authority and gravitas, a loyal and generous friend for whom I had the greatest respect". He said: "He often appeared before me and he always displayed a consummate skill: his submissions were articulate, honest and painstakingly prepared. I observed the notes he made during a trial were neat and accurate. And legible – not always the case with lawyers. His understanding of the technicalities of the law was immense. The title of 'learned counsel' was seldom more appropriate."

Charles Kemp Davidson – always known as Kemp – was the son of the distinguished minister of St Andrew's Kirk in George Street, Edinburgh, and after attending Fettes College, where he won prizes for classics and music, he read literature at Brasenose College, Oxford, and then law at Edinburgh University. He did his national service with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and in 1956 spent some time in Berlin guarding Rudolf Hess in Spandau Prison.

He became an advocate in 1956 and was junior counsel to the Ministry of Works from 1962 and from 1965 to the Inland Revenue. Davidson was appointed a QC in 1969. His devil master during his early career was Douglas Reith QC. Many of his cases at this stage were for personal injuries and his ability to present a complex case in a succinct and clear manner made him ideal for such sensitive affairs.

A major trial was the so-called Spey canoe case of 1969, when the owners of the salmon fishing on the River Spey brought a case against Clive Freshwater, who ran outdoor activities in the Highlands. The owners wanted to ban his two-day canoe trip down the river as, they argued, it disturbed the fishing. Davidson, representing Freshwater, won – after a lengthy trial, an appeal and a hearing at the House of Lords – a resounding victory. The victory protected the public rights of navigable waters.

Davidson served as keeper of the advocates library (1972-76) and was appointed vice-dean of the faculty in 1977. In 1979 he became dean and in that capacity was the leading counsel in the celebrated Glasgow rape case in 1982. It was a unique case and deemed "no proceedings" after the Crown case collapsed in September 1981. The girl, referred to as "Carol X", had been raped and was considered by doctors too vulnerable and traumatised to give evidence. After much debate a private prosecution was brought. The issue was surrounded in controversy and led to the resignation of Nicholas Fairbairn, the Tory MP and solicitor-general for Scotland.

But Lord Emslie, leader of the Appeals Court, ruled that a fair trial could take place and a private prosecution was in the public interest.

Davidson presented the prosecution case of this savage crime with clarity and precision. Three youths were convicted of indecent assault.

Throughout his life Davidson devoted much of his energies to work on behalf of the Church of Scotland. He was particularly proud of acting as an elder at his father's former church in George Street for 49 years and served as procurator to the General Assembly from 1972-83. Davidson sat on the platform with other dignitaries at all assembly meetings and cut a distinguished figure in full wig and gown. He often had to advise the assembly on legal matters and was available throughout the year to provide further advice.

The Very Reverend Dr James Weatherhead recalled when he was moderator Davidson's strong sense of duty. He said: "Kemp's advice was always invaluable. He was a modest and rather shy man but his opinions were balanced, reasoned and sure-footed. He had great concern for the Church's wellbeing and was admired by many in the Kirk."

Sadly, this most kindly and humane man was afflicted for many years by Parkinson's disease, an illness he endured with courage and fortitude. His mind remained active and he served as chairman of the Scottish Law Commission (1988-96) amongst other duties.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry remembers "a wonderful advocate – never flamboyant or showy – but a total master of his brief". He said: "To appear before Kemp in court was always a pleasure. He had an ability to smooth out even the most technical of cases. He was patient and punctual and summed up for the jury with a determined sense of balance.

"Kemp was a mild-mannered man with a dry sense of humour that often relaxed a nervous witness. He was widely admired throughout the legal profession and will be much missed."

Kemp Davidson married Mary Mactaggart in 1960. She and their son, two daughters and grandchildren survive him. A granddaughter was born days before he died and Davidson, to his delight, was fit enough to meet her.

Back to the top of the page