Obituary: The Rt Hon Lord Kirkwood, distinguished Scottish judge who never had a verdict overturned

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Rt Hon Lord Kirkwood, judge. Born 8 June, 1932 in Edinburgh. Died 22 April, 2017 in Edinburgh, aged 84

Scottish judge Lord Kirkwood, who has died aged 84, enjoyed a long and distinguished legal career. Appointed to the Bench in 1987, he later became one of the country’s most senior judges as a member of the Inner House of the Court of Session till his retiral in 2005.

During that period he was involved in many high-profile cases both civil and criminal, perhaps the most notable being as one of the five judges who deliberated at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands on the Megrahi appeal, the Libyan convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, and whose conviction they upheld.

A member of the Privy Council since 2000, it is understood he also enjoyed the highly unusual distinction of never having had a judgment overturned on appeal. That was testimony not only to his forensic ability but to the scrupulous preparation, conscientiousness and innate fairness he brought to the performance of his judicial duties. In the conduct of his court he was consistently courteous as well as patient and painstaking, qualities which earned him respect and affection across the legal spectrum. He also achieved success as a chess player representing Scotland, once memorably playing Russian Grandmaster Victor Korchnoi, and was Hon President of Chess Scotland.

He was admitted as an Advocate in 1957 following a Bar apprenticeship with Fyfe Ireland, Solicitors and devilling to Norman Wylie, later Lord Wylie. Soon he earned a reputation as an able and hard working practitioner recognised with his appointment as Standing Junior Counsel to the Scottish Home and Health Department. Several “devils” trained with him including John Smith, future leader of the Labour Party.

In 1970 he took silk and enjoyed a busy civil practice specialising in planning law. He took part in several major inquiries for which his services were much in demand. Alongside his busy practice he sat as Chairman of the Medical Appeals Tribunal prior to his judicial appointment. While a judge he was also a member of the Parole Board for Scotland in the 1990s. In 1995 his decision helped save the Fort William to London overnight sleeper service which British Rail had sought to axe, after he ruled that the necessary process preparatory to doing so had not been followed.

His involvement in two cases where he “reprieved” dogs from the death penalty imposed by lower courts brought him a level of nationwide and international publicity. The first, in 1998, concerned Woofie, a mongrel “sentenced” for pursuing a postman, whose case was championed by Brigitte Bardot. She arrived by private jet to attend the court hearing in Edinburgh, where French, Spanish and Norwegian television crews were also present. The other, in 2001, concerned Sam, a West Highland Terrier whose “sentence” for anti-social barking he commuted to relocation to the SSPCA to find him a new home.

Born Ian Candlish Kirkwood, only son of John Kirkwood, OBE, a solicitor, and his wife Constance, he was brought up in the capital’s Craiglockhart area where he attended George Watson’s College. While a pupil there he won the Scottish Junior Chess Championship, later representing Scotland and participating in the first World Student Team Championships in Oslo in 1954. He also memorably played against the celebrated Russian Grandmaster Korchnoi, the commemorative pennant still proudly displayed on his study wall.

At school he participated in a mock trial representing a “client” accused of murder for whom he secured a not guilty verdict, foreshadowing his future success in law, and also won the mock election against seven opponents where credit was accorded to his “forensic skill”.

At Edinburgh University he obtained MA and LLB. degrees while also representing it at tennis and winning a scholarship to undertake an LLM degree at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. There he made lifelong friends whom he visited regularly and achieved a degree of celebrity by being successful in a radio quiz show, earning a cash prize that enabled him to travel in the United States.

In 1965 he met Jill Scott at a mutual friend’s party in Edinburgh and in 1970 they wed, going on to enjoy almost 47 years of happy and fulfilling marriage together, living in the Murrayfield area of the city. They had two sons, Jonathan,a solicitor and Richard, a chef and spent many enjoyable family holidays together at their second home at Knockbrex House, near Gatehouse of Fleet, with its easy access to a beach and beautiful countryside nearby.

Apart from family and professional life, Lord Kirkwood continued to enjoy playing tennis at the capital’s Dean Club and was a keen fisherman at Loch Leven and the River Tay, among other venues. It was a pursuit which afforded occasional welcome relief from his professional responsibilities as he used to comment that casting a fly required his total attention.

He played golf at Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society and was also an enthusiastic Hearts supporter for many years, keeping Saturdays sacrosanct for attendance at Tynecastle, usually in the company of good friend and fellow judge Lord Caplan.

In retirement he and wife Jill went on many cruises but unfortunately health issues made his latter years difficult. Despite that he remained positive and uncomplaining and those who cared for him considered him “an outstanding gent”. That opinion is shared by many from all walks of life and is one of his defining characterisitics.

He is survived by his wife, sons and grandchildren Finlay, Freya and Kenzie. A Memorial Service will take place on 26 May at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh at 2pm.