Obituary: Sheriff Principal Graham Cox QC, MA, LLB

SHERIFF Principal who opened the proceedings of the Lockerbie trial

Sheriff Principal Graham Cox QC, MA, LLB, Sheriff Principal of South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway. Picture: Contributed

Sheriff Principal Graham Cox QC, MA, LLB, Sheriff Principal of South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway; Sheriff of Tayside, Central and Fife.

Born: 22 December, 1933, in Newcastle.

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Died: 27 December, 2014, in Crail, Fife, aged 81.

Sheriff Principal Graham Cox filled a unique place in the Scottish legal system as, during his term as Sheriff Principal of South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway he opened, ex officio, the proceedings of the Lockerbie trial. The two suspects were on trial for blowing up Flight Pan-Am 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. They appeared before him on the 6 April, 1999, at a makeshift Scottish court at Kamp Van Zeist, in The Netherlands, on charges of conspiracy, murder and violations of aviation laws. Those proceedings, purely formal, started the subsequent legal trial of suspects.

The Scottish legal system was under close international scrutiny throughout and the trial had to be seen to be conducted with decorum and dignity. That tone was set by Cox from those initial pre-hearings.

Graham Loudon Cox was the son of the manse and brought up first in Cambuslang and then Dundee. He attended Hamilton Academy and Grove Academy, Dundee before reading law at Edinburgh University and serving an apprenticeship with the Edinburgh legal firm of Young and Cruickshank.

Cox served in the army (1956–61) and rose to the rank of major in the Directorate of Army Legal Services. Lord Abernethy first met Cox at Aldershot where he went for training as a recruit. “Graham was already at Aldershot and he was very kind and helpful to me, as indeed he was when I arrived at the Faculty of Advocates ten years later. Graham was always a genuine and kind man with a fine and agile legal mind.”

Cox then devilled for James Mackay – the future distinguished Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern – and was called to the Bar in 1962, serving as an advocate for two years from 1966. That year he was appointed Sheriff of Tayside, Central and Fife. In 1993 he was appointed a QC as well as Sheriff Principal of South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway. It was through holding that position that he opened the Lockerbie trial.

In 1998 Cox sat in judgment in a complex case on a Wishaw butcher whose produce, it was alleged, was infected. The case gained a wide notoriety as it was one of the first incidents of reported E Coli in the UK. In a clear and concise judgment Cox said that the officials “were culpable for their (in)actions”.

In 2005 Cox sat on a review group concerned with the radical reform of the system of adoption in Scotland. He chaired the group that made 107 recommendations to change the laws – most significantly to help older children keep in touch with their birth family.

“I believe that the implementation of our recommendations will improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in Scotland,” Cox said when the announcement was made. In 2001 he was appointed to the chair of the Adoption Policy Advisory Group.

Cox was a council member of the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association and their secretary general, Dr Karen Brewer, told The Scotsman that “Graham took every opportunity to advance our work even after he retired in 2000. He organised a successful meeting of the council in Edinburgh and chaired the Triennial Conference in Edinburgh in 2000, one of our most successful conferences. His experience and wisdom both as a judge was invaluable to the association.”

Cox was also a much respected secretary of the Sheriffs’ Association and its president from 1991–93. He took much pleasure when he was appointed vice-chairman of the Northern Lighthouse Board, visiting many of the lighthouses round the Scottish coast.

In court Cox displayed a wide command of the law and was sympathetic to nervous witnesses – although he expected a detailed grasp of the case by the professionals involved.

Lord Wheatley got to know Cox well when he was Sheriff in Perth and Cox served in Dundee. “Graham was always straightforward and down to earth. He was a most efficient manager of court affairs and always exceptionally well organised and briefed. His judgments were marked for their clarity, honesty and fairness.”

Cox was a keen golfer and a long time member of both the R&A and the Western in Glasgow. He was a proficient skier and took great pride in his garden in Crail which overlooked the harbour.

He was an enthusiastic member of the Crail courses and delighted in the club’s long history. He also served as an elder at Dundee Parish Church.

Sheriff Principal Graham Cox, who donated his body to medical research, is survived by his second wife Jean and three daughters from his first marriage.