Lord Johnston

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Dean of the Faculty of Advocates of Scotland

Born: 13 January, 1942, in Stirling.

Died: 14 June, 2008, near Kelso, aged 66.

HE WAS the son of an eminent judge and rose to fill senior posts in the Scottish legal system, but The Rt Hon Lord Johnston, PC, BA, LLB remained a loyal and gracious person throughout his distinguished career at the bar and on the bench. Before being appointed dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Lord Johnston was chairman of Industrial Tribunals (1982-5) and of Medical Appeal Tribunals (1985-9). From 1977-89 he was, for an important decade, treasurer of the Faculty of Advocates.

In court, Lord Johnston always possessed a sense of informed informality that put people at their ease. He defied the image of a stereotypical judge and preserved an independent streak – both professionally and personally – which endeared him to colleagues throughout his career. Affectionately known as "Big Al", Lord Johnston was a large man in every sense of the word.

An example of Lord Johnston's unwavering sense of duty and impartiality was seen in a case in 1999. His summing up was a model of rectitude and balance. "All I propose to do now," he told the jury, "is to give you one or two what might be described as aids as to how you might go about this task. But I repeat my warning: I'm not intending to, and hope I will not, give you the impression that I have a view on the matter; this is simply designed to help you to go about your business, and you may ignore it as you like or proceed on any other basis as you like pertinent to the case."

Alan Charles Macpherson Johnston was the son of the noted judge Lord Dunpark. Lord Johnston attended the Edinburgh Academy and Loretto School before reading law at Jesus College, Cambridge, and Scottish law at Edinburgh University. He started his training as an advocate in 1966 and his sharp mind was soon recognised with a string of important cases. He became an advocate in 1967, often acting for the National Coal Board, was junior counsel to the Scottish Home and Health department (1974-9) and served as an advocate depute (1979-82). Lord Johnston was appointed QC in 1980.

Throughout this period of his career Lord Johnston became a close friend of his colleague Lord Abernethy, who said: "We did our devilling at exactly the same time and I got to know and admire Alan. He presented his argument in court with total clarity and was a strong debater. I acted as his vice-dean of the Faculty of Advocates and we worked closely together. Alan had the knack of telling people what he thought was right and not what they wanted to hear. He was not one for mincing his words but he was a delight to work with. Alan worked tirelessly for the good of the faculty and took on a very heavy workload. He had an outstanding career at the bar and was an exceptionally successful dean. But Alan was held in high esteem by the profession and blessed with a great sense of humour."

Lord Johnston was appointed a senator of the Court of Justice in 1994 and served as chairman of the Scottish division of the Employment Appeal Tribunal from 1996-2005. But it was his time (1989-94) as dean of the Faculty of Advocates which marked Lord Johnston out as a major force in the Scottish legal system. The faculty is responsible for the education and practice of Scotland's senior courtroom lawyers. Along with the judges and the solicitors, the post of dean is one of the crucial appointments of the Scottish legal system.

Lord Johnston filled the post with a committed authority and a restless energy. He represented and supported the advocates at all levels with typical enthusiasm and remained popular with them. He tried to take some of the mystery out of the legal process by hosting informal evenings with colleagues, the press and foreign legal representatives.

He was dean when solicitors were introduced into court proceedings and he pioneered the televising of a court in action. He allowed an appeal to be filmed in which he delivered the summing-up in a comprehensible and straightforward manner. That judgment can be seen on the BBC website with Lord Johnston in full robes and wig: it was a so-far unique legal event.

Lord Johnston was a well known figure in the United States. He was an honorary member of the American Bar Association and visited the country for 12 years, giving lectures and attending legal conferences.

Lord Johnston was also keen to raise the profile of the profession in Europe. "Scotland is one of the stateless nations of Europe," he said recently in a far- ranging speech. "It is unique in having a legal system without a legislature. As such it has to rely on the good offices of a political establishment which knows little about it. Most Europeans, and the English, see us as the northern circuit of the English legal system." Lord Johnston did much to alter that perception and make the Scottish system more widely known and understood in Europe.

He held several appointments including chairman of the Court of Heriot Watt University and chairman and governor of Loretto School. He was chairman of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Scotland and founder and trustee of the Clark Foundation for legal education.

Another colleague on the bench was Lord Wheatley. "I had known him since our childhood in Edinburgh," he told The Scotsman. "Alan had great presence and an instinctive feel of what was right in the law and life. His mind was always alert – he could pick out the salient points in an argument and go straight to the core of a problem: he was rarely wrong. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of case law and was a man of total integrity. Alan had a huge involvement in the future of the legal profession in Scotland and he is a tremendous loss."

Very much an outdoor man, Lord Johnston was a keen golfer, stalked on Jura and fished the rivers of Sutherland and the Borders for much of his life. He had been a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers for more than 40 years and remained a devoted family man: a special pleasure was the recent birth of a grandson. He was awarded an honorary degree from Heriot Watt University in 2001.

Lord Johnston married Anthea Blackburn in 1966. She and their three sons survive him.