Obituary: Donald Mackay, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, former Lord Advocate and Supreme Court judge

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon
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Donald Sage Mackay, former Lord Advocate and judge of the Supreme Courts Born: 30 January, 1946 Died: 21 August, 2018

When Donald Mackay, who has died in Edinburgh aged 72, was appointed Lord Advocate in 1995 he became known as Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. Wags at the Scottish Bar called him Brigadoon, some unaware of an Arran reference. But as he joked himself, Drumadoon was a big lump of hill and cliffs that sit above Shiskine Golf Club and look over to the Mull of Kintyre. Arran played a large part in his life.

As a young boy on holiday in Blackwaterfoot if he wasn’t on the golf course or on top of Goat Fell, he would help at Drumadoon Farm where the farmer was James Currie senior, whose daughter Janet was a real character. While a young solicitor Donald promised Janet Currie that if he ever became a judge, the name Drumadoon would appear.

There was nothing to suggest a life in law when Donald Mackay was born as first child to Peggy and Donald, respectively teacher and minister who were both from Glasgow.

After a few years in Aberdeen the family moved to Edinburgh and Donald went to George Watson’s College where he favoured science and maths over the arts and started a lifelong passion for rugby.

His first few weeks as a student were in the Science faculty at Edinburgh so switching to Law was a surprise. But he went on to gain an Ll.B and two further Masters degrees, the second from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.

On his return to Scotland, he was a legal apprentice at Davidson and Syme, and then worked at Allan MacDougall Solicitors where he became a partner. Donald Mackay’s earliest legal work included assisting women who’d been subject to domestic violence. This he did on a pro bono basis. He was admitted to the Scottish Bar in 1976, and became QC in 1987.

In 1979, he married Lesley Waugh who lived only two minutes walk from Greenbank Church where the ceremony took place. The few weeks prior to the wedding were quiet in Donald’s professional life due to a strike by court clerks. He told guests he was pleased to at last be making a speech again.

He spent several years as Advocate Depute, prosecuting in High Court criminal trials. Then he started what was to become a highly successful practice in public inquiry work.

He appeared for Orkney Islands Council in the 1991 Child Abuse Inquiry. He also sat on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for over five years at this time before being named Solicitor General in 1995, then Lord Advocate a few months later, serving in that position until 1997. Once on the bench he was encouraging to young advocates setting out in the courts. It did not prevent him quickly upbraiding defence counsel who wandered down blind alleys or wasted jurors’ time and his.

Lord Mackay’s colleague Lord Bonomy said: “My first encounter with Donald was also my first ever week in practice. I was Junior Counsel to him in a High Court sitting. From then on I was struck by the importance to him of ‘doing right’ by those he represented and judged. He encouraged and supported my involvement in a wide range of international judicial activities. Many others benefited from Donald’s interest in improving and maintaining standards in the wider legal profession.”

Solicitor Graeme Garrett who instructed him regularly as advocate said: “He threw himself heart and soul into cases and got on extremely well with clients. They could see Donald was on their side. It’s why he built such a big civil and criminal practice.”

Lord Mackay often invited pupils of Arran High School to visit his courts so they could learn more about criminal justice. After retirement, he enjoyed speaking in the House of Lords as a cross-bencher. And defying girth and slower pace, played his part in overseas fixtures of the Parliamentary Rugby Club that took place alongside British Lions tours.

Lord Mackay is survived by Lesley, their children Caroline, Diana and Simon, and by five grandchildren whom he loved. He was a fine older brother to Fiona, Alison and Alan.

He will be fondly remembered by them all and by his many, many friends inside and outside the law.

ALAN MACKAY