Obituary: Oliver Adair, lawyer

Born: 2 November, 1954. Died: 3 June, 2015, in Glasgow, aged 60.
Lawyer who strove to ensure legal aid system served justice. Picture: ContributedLawyer who strove to ensure legal aid system served justice. Picture: Contributed
Lawyer who strove to ensure legal aid system served justice. Picture: Contributed

Oliver “Ollie” Adair was a popular, compassionate and talented lawyer who throughout his career provided great service not only to his clients but to his fellow solicitors whom he represented as a Law Society Council member and as the Society’s legal aid convener dealing with policy and reform.

Ollie was born on 2 November, 1954, to Helen and Oliver Adair. He was brought up in Glasgow along with his younger sister, Helen, and educated at Hutchesons’ Grammar school where he excelled academically and at sports. He played rugby and cricket for the school and football at the weekends for a local amateur team. Ollie remained passionate about sports all his life, excelling at football, with golf and horse-racing particular passions. In setting a standard that would exemplify his later career, Ollie was an active member of his local church as leader of the youth fellowship, as a superintendent in the local Sunday school and, whilst still in his twenties, a Church elder in Park Parish church .

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Ollie attended Glasgow University to study law and combined that with the post of entertainment convener for Glasgow University Union. In an early sign of his diplomatic and negotiating skills, he managed to persuade two up-and-coming bands – by the names of Thin Lizzy and Queen – to play for the student members .

He graduated with an LLB in 1977 and served his legal apprenticeship with the firm, Blair Bryden, where he was then appointed a legal assistant specialising in criminal court work. It was soon evident that Ollie possessed great gifts of intellect and advocacy. He established and maintained throughout his career a reputation as a criminal lawyer who was trusted by his clients and respected by those whom he appeared with and perhaps more importantly by those whom he appeared before. Many a procurator-fiscal depute who encountered Ollie as an ­opponent, welcomed his friendly, straightforward disposition only to then lose their case when Ollie successfully argued a point of law which was, more often than not, beyond their contemplation.

Blair Bryden recognised these talents and Ollie was assumed as a partner. However, in 1989, along with his great friend, Dougie Bryden, Ollie set up the firm of Adair Bryden to focus on the access-to-justice needs of the people of Larkhall and surrounding areas. The firm was as successful as it was respected.

In 1996, the solicitors of Hamilton and districts elected Ollie as their council member of the Law Society of Scotland. It was perhaps in this role, from 1996 until 2012, that Ollie’s great skills as a diplomat, negotiator and strategist were put to best use.

He was soon elected as the convener of the legal aid committee and from that point on became the representative voice not only of legal aid practitioners but of those vulnerable citizens who depended on legal aid to obtain access to justice.

This role proved to be a passion for Ollie and, in perpetually challenging times, regularly tested his consummate political skills and indeed his good nature. Ollie had to repeatedly try to reconcile the interests of legal aid practitioners who felt under-paid and under-appreciated with the economic priorities and challenges of successive governments, firstly at Westminster and from 1999 at Holyrood. He carried out these onerous responsibilities whilst continuing in private practice in Larkhall.

It is no exaggeration to state that the time and effort put in by Ollie on behalf of his colleagues and the public were often at a direct financial cost to his law practice despite the unstinting support of his partner, Dougie Bryden.

Ollie as a legal aid negotiator earned the admiration and respect of not only those who worked with him but of successive government ministers and the executive management of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, the body responsible for the administration of legal aid. It was this trust and respect from Kenny MacAskill, the justice minister, and Lindsay Montgomery, the long-serving chief executive of the SLAB, in particular that allowed Ollie and his legal aid negotiating team to help maintain a well-funded and full-scope legal aid system. In 2007, he was instrumental in accommodating changes to criminal legal aid to make the administration of summary criminal justice more efficient. Ollie knew better than anyone that legal aid worked best when it properly served those who needed it most. He always appreciated the wider concerns of his fellow citizens and was a longstanding member of the SNP. On several occasion, he stood as a party candidate in local elections.

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Despite his high-profile role in a sometimes controversial subject matter, Ollie remained popular amongst his colleagues who knew whatever differences of policy might arise, Ollie was a man of integrity, humanity and good nature. Many an awkward situation was diffused by Ollie’s ability to use humour to lighten the moment.

In his personal life, Ollie suffered tragedy when, in 1999, his beloved wife, Gill, died after a long illness. He devoted himself to the upbringing of his daughters, Nicola, Sara and Meghan and found happiness again in 2001 when he married Catriona.

As a lawyer herself, Catriona supported Ollie not only in bringing up his youngest daughter, Meghan, who was still at home, but in the continuing demands of his professional career. They were devoted to each other and enjoyed holidaying together at their timeshare in Dunkeld and in the Mediterranean sunshine. On these occasions, Ollie was happy to lose himself in a paperback book from a suitcase full of historical fiction.

Any remaining free time was spent following the fortunes of Rangers FC where Ollie enjoyed the years of great success and remained loyal and stoic during their current difficulties.

This period of happiness and contentment was interrupted when Ollie became ill in 2010. He fought his long illness with a courage and selflessness which amazed and inspired all who knew him. Catriona and his girls provided unstinting love and support to sustain him during this time and in turn they drew enormous strength from Ollie’s indomitable courage.

Despite a lengthy period of ill-health, Ollie enjoyed the company of family and friends, all of whom were made welcome whenever they visited. A special highlight was the marriage of youngest daughter, Meghan, in October last year. It was only in the latter weeks that Ollie succumbed to his illness and died peacefully surrounded by his family.

His family has lost a loving husband, father and brother and his friends, colleagues and clients have lost a tireless advocate of their interests. The justice system has lost one of its most talented members whose contribution made a real difference.