Obituary: Douglas James Risk QC, sheriff who took no nonsense on the bench but had a keen sense of fun

Douglas James Risk QC, Former Sheriff Principal. Born: 23 January, 1941, in Glasgow. Died 20 November, 2017, in Cults, Aberdeen, aged 76.

Former Sheriff Principal
 Douglas James Risk QC
Former Sheriff Principal Douglas James Risk QC

Douglas Risk was the former ­Sheriff Principal of Grampian, Highlands and Islands and temporary judge at the Court of Session.

The son of a solicitor, his sharp, incisive mind was ­evident at an early age when the Glasgow Academy schoolboy gained a place at ­Cambridge University’s ­Gonville and Caius College. After graduating with a BA he returned home to complete his law degree at Glasgow University in two years, before heading back to Cambridge for a third degree, an MA.

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By that time he had been admitted to the Faculty of Advocates and went on to spend a number of years on civil work at the Court of ­Session in Edinburgh. He was standing junior counsel for the Scottish Education Department in 1975 but a couple of years later was appointed a floating sheriff for the Lothian and Borders jurisdiction.

It was one of two posts available at the time – the other was in Aberdeen where the burgeoning oil industry and expanding population were keeping the courts ­busier than ever. In 1979, he moved north to the Granite City, where he would spend the next 22 years on the bench, initially as a sheriff based in Aberdeen and Stonehaven.

Known for his strict but fair administration of the law, he regarded his time in the North-East as the best period of his professional career. After ­taking silk and being appointed a temporary judge at the Court of Session in 1992, he was elevated to Sheriff Principal the following year, ­succeeding Ronald Ireland who had become widely known for presiding over the then longest and most expensive fatal accident inquiry (FAI) in Scottish legal history, the investigation into the Ocean Odyssey rig explosion that killed a young radio ­operator.

Like Ireland, Risk conducted a number of inquiries into accidents in the offshore industry and had the razor-sharp intellect required to assimilate the complex technicalities of the sector. He ­presided over the Wildrake diving bell FAI into the deaths of two divers in 1979 and over the Brent Spar FAI that followed the loss of six men, killed when a helicopter crashed into the oil storage platform in the North Sea in 1990.

His role as Sheriff Principal also took him to Inverness one week each month and he particularly enjoyed sitting in some of the jurisdiction’s farthest flung courts across the Highlands and Islands.

While Risk, who retired in 2001, cultivated a stern, ­no-nonsense persona on the bench, away from work he was entertaining company. A keen sportsman in his youth, he played cricket and rugby at Cambridge, was a rugby referee for several years and played golf, often with his wife Jennifer, whom he met at Bearsden North Church ­during his student years.

In Aberdeen, he was an active elder of Holburn West Church, on the board of governors of Albyn School and very much involved with the Royal Northern & University Club where he had been chairman and helped to organise celebrations to mark its 150th year.

A great lover of classical music, he and his wife ­supported Scottish Opera, holding fundraising garden parties for the organisation. He also played a vital role for theatre goers by providing audio description for drama fans with sight loss, a service he carried out in memory of his solicitor father James, who was left blind by the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa.

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Risk was suited to this demanding activity which requires concentration, attention to detail and the ability to summarise information ­accurately and objectively, albeit he occasionally added his own amusing asides.

He approached these duties very rigorously and invested a great deal of time learning the scripts and watching performances throughout the week in preparation for a variety of productions which would be audio described during each Saturday matinee. He was particularly fond of pantomime and once turned up for a ­Friday night performance in full costume – as an Ugly Sister.

It transpired the tall, angular sheriff, known for his poker face on the bench, had not stinted on the underwear. Having gone to a cut-price retailer to purchase a bra, he caused some amusement at the till when the assistant joked that the lingerie was not for him. “Oh yes it is!”, he gleefully shot back.

He is survived by his wife ­Jennifer, sons Kenneth, Malcolm and Colin, daughter Helen and extended family.