THE recent death of Lord Kincraig - Bobby Johnston to his many friends, as evidenced by the number attending his funeral - at the age of nearly 86 almost closes a chapter in the history of the Faculty of Advocates relating to a substantial number of members whose legal studies were disrupted by the Second World War.
In Bobby’s case, however, he was considered unfit for service for medical reasons, despite his protestations, and thus he proceeded to call to the Bar during the conflict. He rapidly established a substantial and varied practice which he developed during the Forties and Fifties, gaining silk in the middle of that latter decade.
The obtaining of that distinction barely disrupted his career, as he quickly became one of the busiest seniors in practice. A meticulous, and thorough pleader, he was an effective advocate and was much in demand. Opponents and witnesses alike were treated with calmness and courtesy, and even the most irascible judge was rarely aroused. He was immensely supportive of his juniors, particularly in appearances in the Divisions.
In 1970, one suspects slightly to his surprise because of his innate modesty, he was elected Dean of Faculty, defeating his electoral opponent by one vote, which would have been two if this writer had not been laid up with jaundice. During his term as dean, the faculty embarked on a series of momentous changes in its administration, and the dean commenced the process of steering it through the minefield with customary calm and efficiency.
Elevated to the Bench in December 1972, he brought the same characteristics to his court. Interventions were rare but always to the point. Judgments were written expeditiously and were well constructed. His charges to juries, civil or criminal, were a model of clarity.
In 1987 he was appointed by the government to chair a committee on the general question of the early release of prisoners and the parole system in particular, consequent upon serious rioting in United Kingdom prisons. A similar committee was set up in England under Lord Carlisle.
The Kincraig Committee had to digest a considerable amount of evidence and material which the chairman always seemed to have at his fingertips as he moderated what were at times very vigorous debates among the members. The recommendations of the committee were largely accepted by the government, leading in due course to legislation in 1993 on automatic early release of short-term prisoners, subject to recall if reoffending, and a revised parole system. It brought a wry smile to his face when he recently observed that politicians were continuing to argue about the subject over a decade later.
A staunch Scot born, bred and substantially educated in Scotland (Strathallan and Glasgow University, with a minor diversion to Cambridge), he was an intense family man, his devotion to which was only matched by his enthusiasm for his successive gardens at Longniddry and for the golf links which he constantly graced from a very early stage of his life.
He talked of happy holidays in his youth at Cruden Bay, the North British Railway’s attempt to emulate Gleneagles. Latterly he frequented Longniddry and Muirfield, where he was regularly to be observed until very recently proceeding enthusiastically upon his self-propelled trolley. He was a member of the Scottish Bench and Bar team in the annual battle with the English for more than three decades.
A delightful companion on the golf course, he adhered rigorously to the principle that his partner did not intend to hit the bad shot when it duly occurred.
The latter years were marred by the premature death of his first wife, Joan, but he recently found happiness and contentment in his second marriage to Margaret, who survives him together with his children, Graham, a sheriff in Glasgow, and Barbara, and his grandchildren, upon whom he doted.