Obituary: Alan Finlayson MA, LLB, OBE, lawyer, child law expert and Sheriff

Alan F Finlayson. Picture: Contributed
Alan F Finlayson. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 19 December 1934, in Dumfries. Died: 16 January, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 79

There are very few people with more friends and acquaintances from such a wide professional and social spectrum than the late Alan F Finlayson, mostly known to the public as the first Reporter to the Children’s Panel but also as a competitive bridge player, golfer and general sporting follower.

Alan Finlayson was born in Dumfries the son of teachers, his father being the headmaster of Laurieknowe Primary.

He was educated firstly at Dalswinton Primary and then at Dumfries Academy, where he represented the school at football. Those who knew Alan latterly might find it surprising that he also played football for Cumnock Juniors in the Western league.

After passing his Highers he spent the sixth year at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh but always regarded himself as a Dumfries Academicical.

At Watsons he stayed in the boarding house but as he did not play rugby the master asked where he was going on Saturdays. When Alan told him he was playing Juvenile football he was “confined to barracks”. The story does not end there.

Alan competed in the annual rugby penalty competition, where, despite his refusal to play rugby, he narrowly lost the final, giving him the satisfaction that he would have excelled at the game had he wanted to.

On completion of his National Service with the 7th Hussars (a source of many amusing stories, particularly of his times in Hong Kong), he attended Edinburgh University, graduating in Law.

He quickly became a partner in Rankin and Reid but his interest was in people, not paperwork, so when criminal legal aid was introduced in 1964 he was among the first to take the opportunity to represent people under this system.

Shortly thereafter, in 1968, the Children’s Panel system was introduced in place of the existing juvenile courts. Alan was appointed the first Reporter to the City of Edinburgh Panel (which became Loathian region on local government re-organisation) and there he found his natural home.

He was starting out from scratch and his reputation grew swiftly. He was widely admired both in Scotland and abroad. He travelled to various countries to lecture and extoll Scotland’s unique system, especially to the USA, and his contribution to juvenile justice was recognised when he was given the Freedom of the City of Cleveland, Ohio.

Further recognition came with his appointment to OBE in 1987 and Edinburgh’s Citizen of the Year in 1999.

As the Reporter, he had to present to the lay panel the facts concerning a child who had been remitted by any of the appropriate agencies. He had to guide and advise the members, which he did with consummate skill, which resulted in him earning unanimous admiration.

However, this admiration was far from one way as he was forever in awe of the volunteer panel members, drawn from all sections of society, who gave freely of their time and brought great expertise and common sense to the system.

There is no doubt that Alan regarded the success of the hearings’ system as one of his greatest achievements.

As his standing in the legal community grew, and following his retirement as Reporter, he initially took on the role of consultant to the Scottish Office as a child law expert, before being appointed as a temporary, later part-time, Sheriff.

With the unstinting help of his wife Dorothy, who acted as his driver, he was the first Sheriff to preside over all 49 Sheriff courts in Scotland, a matter of great pride to him.

He was a man of great common sense and compassion, and the role of Sheriff was ideal for him.

Away from his professional life, he was a keen “Doonhamer” and the highlight came when Queen of the South reached the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers in 2008. Alan arranged and organised the day with a group of friends, not many of whom supported Queens but all went to support Alan. It is was day those who were there will never forget.

Although ending in defeat, it did not dampen this feel-good experience, thanks to Alan’s enthusiasm. He also organised buses to go to Scotland matches at Hampden with an eclectic cargo from dustmen to judges; still well remembered by the dwindling band of participants.

He was a keen member of the Royal Scots Club and represented them for many years with Stewart Marshall in bridge league matches.

He was also a keen spectator of rugby and cricket, choosing on a Saturday, along with his dear friend WIllie Mould, which would be the most entertaining game.

One of the few people who could not drive, he was never without loyal friends to take him, which, as his mobility decreased, he so appreciated.

He will be greatly missed by family, friends and all who came in contact with him. He was married to Dorothy for 49 years and she and their two sons, Atholl and Duncan, survive him.