Obituary: Mike Meston, Emeritus Professor of Law

Mike Meston. Picture: Complimentary
Mike Meston. Picture: Complimentary
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Born: 13 December, 1932, in Aberdeen. Died: 8 February, 2013, in Aberdeen, aged 80.

Mike Meston was a noted legal historian and a leading authority on the law of succession in Scotland.

For many years he was also an honorary and temporary sheriff who traversed the country to sit in courts from the far north to the Borders under the cheerful motto, “Have wig, will travel.”

Among myriad roles, it was one he particularly relished. But beyond the academic exterior and brilliant legal mind was a man whose talents extended to the more practical pursuits of photography and clock restoration, both of which he executed with expert skill.

Born in Aberdeen, where his father was deputy editor of the Press and Journal – a family connection that would later prove useful when a student prank required publicity – he was educated at the city’s Robert Gordon’s College.

His ability to excel was evident from his youth when he was a keen sportsman and gifted student. He played hockey, cricket, golf and tennis and was an accredited coach in the latter. He gained a first in history from Aberdeen University before going on to do a law degree there, as a result of his interest in constitutional history, in which he achieved distinction.

He followed this double with a graduate scholarship to Chicago where he completed a Juris Doctorate.

On his return to Scotland, Meston, who qualified as a solicitor in 1957, was appointed a lecturer in private law at Glasgow University in 1959. He moved back to Aberdeen in 1964 to take up senior lecturer’s post. Within four years he was professor of jurisprudence and, subsequently, professor of Scots law, a position he held from 1971 until his retiral in 1994.

He also served as head of the department of private law, dean of the faculty of law and as university vice principal – the latter at a challenging time when universities were faced with redundancies and severe cutbacks.

His teaching, supervision and administrative duties often entailed burning the candle at both ends and his commitment to the university was unquestionable.

Over the years he also chaired its South African investments, radiation protection and chapel committees. He was a trustee of its development trust, for which he wrote the original deed of trust in 1982, and made an invaluable contribution to the success of the Sixth Century Campaign, an initiative to mark the start of the university’s sixth century of existence.

His name is also indelibly linked to a lesser known exploit at the university many years earlier which was only fully explained during celebrations to mark the institution’s 500th anniversary.

In the quad at King’s College is a bench sporting a plaque inscribed: “The Cloche Boys Nov 3 1953 In penance for a dastardly deed”, followed by five names including Meston’s.

In an interview for the Quincentennial History Project, Prof Meston, along with several of his fellow former students, finally threw light on the intriguing inscription.

It transpired that in a fit of boredom, three of the group had decided to create their own fun. A plan was hatched to steal the library bell which drove students mad when it was clanged loudly to mark 10pm closing time. They needed publicity and, because of his father’s position on the newspaper, Meston, who also acted as the lookout man, was recruited.

They dubbed themselves The Cloche Boys (cloche being French for bell), and a story duly appeared the following day. But silencing the bell came at a cost – the library closed for some time. The bell, which had been secreted in one of their families’ coal cellars, was later returned, anonymously, via taxi. It wasn’t until decades later that the pranksters revealed themselves by donating the bench to mark their antics. Ironically, Meston had by that time been in charge of the library as curator of its committee.

His own contribution to legal literature included: The Succession (Scotland) Act 1964; The Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981; The Scottish Legal Tradition; the Aberdeen Stylebook 1722 and Meston’s Succession Opinions.

In addition to his university commitments he served as an honorary sheriff from 1972 and temporary sheriff from 1993-99. Among other appointments he took up were roles as chairman of M&D Technology Ltd, which manufactured MRI scanners; trustee of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland; chair of the Children’s Panel training advisory committee and of the Margaret Blackwood Housing Association.

He was also president of the UK body the Society of Public Teachers of Law (now the Society of Legal Scholars), a member of Grampian Health Board and the complaints committee for the Law Society of Scotland, a non-executive director of Aberdeen Royal Hospitals NHS Trust and session clerk of Aberdeen’s Beechgrove Church for 21 years.

In his leisure time he was a gifted photographer, who produced some spectacular images, and a repairer and restorer of clocks, often to be found among his collection of pendulums, weights, winders and clock faces etc in his den known as the Clockery.

Professor Margaret Ross, Aberdeen University vice principal and head of College of Arts and Social Sciences, said: “Professor Meston was an enthusiastic and dedicated supporter of the university over so many years. He will be greatly missed by us all as a friend, colleague and inspiration to many, who was always generous of his time and advice.”

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Doris, sons Donald and John and granddaughter Charlotte.