ONE of Scotland’s leading lawyers has thrown his weight behind the Better Together campaign after being appointed chairman of the Scottish Conservatives.
Richard Keen QC, the longest serving Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in more than 60 years, takes over the role from the Conservatives’ only Scottish MP, David Mundell.
The appointment, which was confirmed yesterday, came as a surprise to many in the faculty.
Mr Keen, 59, was expected to step down as dean soon, but was thought likely to focus on legal work south of the Border.
Despite his influence and prestige – he is one of the highest-earning lawyers in Scotland – Mr Keen has not been particularly high profile.
However, he did criticise the Scottish Government in 2010 for introducing “kneejerk legislation” in response to the Supreme Court’s Cadder ruling.
After the court had ruled that accused people should be given access to a lawyer before being interviewed by police, the Scottish Government introduced emergency legislation. The legislation extended the length of time someone can be detained from six hours to 12, with the possibility of a further 12-hour extension, giving police more time to question someone after a solicitor has been located.
Mr Keen said the bill should have gone out to consultation, adding: “Kneejerk legislation is never a good thing.”
James Mitchell, professor of politics at Edinburgh University, said it would be interesting to see how Mr Keen’s skills were put to use.
“Someone so senior in the legal fraternity will have certain skills that are transferable as a debater,” he said. “But the chairman is rarely a debating role.”
However, he warned: “I can see from the Scottish Conservatives’ point of view that it is a real coup to have someone so distinguished.
“But distinguished names do not bring you votes. You need to have a strategy.
“I hope they have not assumed they can have a big name in place of a strategy.”
However, Ruth Davidson MSP insisted Mr Keen would be part of the recipe for future success.
The Scottish Conservative leader said: “As one of the UK’s leading legal brains, he brings a wealth of external experience to the party and I am looking forward to working closely with him as we lead the team at a critical time in the politics of our country. Richard’s appointment shows the Scottish Conservatives are committed to bringing in the brightest and best people from across Scotland as we make the changes our party needs for future success.”
Mr Keen added: “I welcome the opportunity to assume the chairmanship of the Scottish Conservatives as we enter such a significant period in our political and constitutional history.
“As we face the potential break-up of Britain, there are many in Scotland who will be reminded of the values of our party and its role in maintaining what is so much more than just the political union of the UK.”
In a statement, the Faculty said: “The Faculty of Advocates has announced today that the Dean of Faculty, Richard Keen QC, will be stepping down from the post at the anniversary meeting in January 2014.
“Richard Keen QC has served as dean for more than six years – the longest period by any dean in recent times. He will continue in practice as a QC.
“The arrangements for the election of a new Dean of Faculty will be announced at the anniversary meeting of the Faculty.”
Profile: Respected legal eagle who made his name with Lockerbie trial
Richard Keen QC is considered one of the sharpest legal minds of his generation, but he cemented his place in history during the Lockerbie bombing trial at Camp Zeist.
He was 46 and had built up an enviable reputation in major insurance cases. However, he was a criminal novice so it was a surprise that he was asked to represent one of the accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhima, pictured.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Keen admitted he would have had “regret” had he not taken on such an important case. Fhima was acquitted.
When asked about his success, he put it down to his expertise in examination and cross-examination of forensic experts, something which has continued to bring him success in the civil courts. He is highly regarded for his skills in complex commercial litigation and cases involving extensive expert evidence. As well as insurance litigation, he specialises in company law and civil fraud. More recently he acted for the Weir Group over breaches of the UN Iraq sanctions.
Mr Keen was born in 1954 and educated at The King’s School, Rochester, and Dollar Academy, before studying at Edinburgh University. He was appointed a QC in 1993 and became Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in 2007.
He is also a member of the bar in England and Wales, and practises in London. Mr Keen lives in Edinburgh and is married with two children, a son and daughter.
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