Obituary: Lord Michael Jones, judge

Born: 18 February, 1948 in Edinburgh. Died: 13 March, 2016 in Edinburgh, aged 68

Lord Michael Jones
Lord Michael Jones

The sudden and untimely death of Scottish judge Lord Jones (Michael Jones, known as Mike) has shocked and deeply saddened all who knew him,a grievous blow to his family and a major loss to the Scottish legal system.

His path to the Bench was a highly unusual one in that before studying law he spent seven years in the RAF, latterly as a fighter pilot with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. In the early ‘70s he was deployed in Germany as an operational pilot in a F4 Phantom jet fighter squadron. During the era of the Cold War, their duties included responsibility for a tactical nuclear strike on Soviet Russia.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

This entailed training in low flying at speeds of up to 600mph. As Mike described it in 2013 in a talk to leavers at his old school, The Royal High School, “flying at about the height of the Scott Monument at a speed that would take you from one end of Princes Street to the other in three seconds”. He continued how they were instructed,while on this prospective mission, to look to the right when a nuclear explosion occurred on their left and to put an eyepatch on their left eye to protect them from flash blindness. This was at a time when Phantoms were flown on manual controls using maps and vision was crucial. With typical wry humour and understatement,Mike remarked that “I can’t say I was happy”about turning his head away from the flight path with one eye covered as his jet hurtled along at about 600mph scarcely above ground level.

He thoroughly enjoyed his time in the RAF and though relieved at not having to undertake a nuclear strike,acknowledged he was prepared for it and,if necessary,would have done so. It was no role for the faint hearted.

While in Germany he met his first wife Linda. A routine medical examination disclosed an irregular heartbeat rendering him unfit for flying duties and after a year in a desk job he left to study law,his interest kindled by participation in two courts martial.

He graduated with distinction from Dundee University winning several prizes,appreciative of this “second chance” at education. Mike and his wife partly financed his course through the purchase and refurbishment of flats with Mike doing much of the work himself, guided by Readers’ Digest DIY manuals. His attitude was that he could master a skill if it were explained in a book,a challenge relished.

Admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1977 following a period of ‘devilling’[training] to Ranald MacLean, later Lord MacLean, he soon built up a busy practice and was much in demand by solicitors seeking to instruct him in both civil and criminal cases. Appointed Advocate Depute in 1984, he prosecuted serious crime in the High Court for three years, including many high profile cases,onerous and taxing work.’Taking silk’ in 1989, becoming a QC, his practice focussed principally though not exclusively on weighty civil litigation.

During this time, he and Linda had four daughters, but subsequently parted company. As with his RAF duties, Mike was enthusiastic about advocacy and threw himself wholeheartedly into it.

Extremely dedicated and assiduous, he spent long hours mastering briefs,becoming an exceptionally able counsel who was highly acclaimed,admired and respected.

Through his commitment and skills, he developed a varied practice,involving him in many complex cases, always providing an exceptional service to his clients. A glance at only a few examples of cases in which he acted gives a flavour – the Piper Alpha Inquiry,the Dunblane Inquiry, the Chinook Helicopter Inquiry,the McTear v Imperial Tobacco litigation,the successful defence of Mohammed Sarwar MP.

Mike was especially proud of saving Lanark Blue Cheese for the nation. Environmental Health Officers wanted to declare the unpasteurised cheese as unfit for human consumption and Mike acted successfully for the owner, Humphrey Errington.

In 2005, Mike became a judge in the Court of Appeal in Jersey and Guernsey, a post he held for seven years. He left the Scots Bar in 2008 to become senior partner at Simpson & Marwick, before becoming a judge in Scotland in 2012.

At a specially convened sitting of the Court of Session to commemorate him three days after his death,Scotland’s senior judge, Lord President Carloway paid tribute to Mike’s contribution to the Bench and the application of his meticulous analytical skills to a wide range of subjects,particularly as commercial judge. Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, James Wolffe, QC, described him as “one of the outstanding advocates of his generation,and of any generation,” adding that he had a ‘quality of grace’.

As well as being a singularly successful practitioner, Mike also contributed significantly to and was a pioneer of the Faculty’s course in advocacy skills, a subject about which he was passionate.

He tutored and lectured on it not only here but in the US, Northern Ireland, South Africa and elsewhere. A technological enthusiast, he was instrumental in the introduction of systems of electronic presentation of evidence in court.

His achievements are particularly meritorious given that his early days were not auspicious. In the course of his parents’ divorce, his custody was contested,which,unusually then,was awarded to his father, Norman, a civil servant.

His grandmother, who died when Mike was 15, was responsible for much of his upbringing. Doubtless this contributed to his account of being ‘a dreadful pupil doing the minimum’ but after graduating from Cranwell RAF College, success replaced dormant potential.

He married Fiona Craddock whom he had first met while she was ‘devilling’ as advocate. They enjoyed a very happy and fulfilled marriage,their sons being born in 1993 and 1996.

Mike was a loving father adored by his children for whom he always had time, humour and wise counsel. His family and home in Roslin with its views to the Pentlands were very dear to him. He loved being surrounded by his children and grandchildren there. Mike had wide interests,was witty, charming and congenial company and not averse to a party.

Music was one of his main interests,played on his sophisticated sound systems,particularly the Beatles but also opera. Another was travel,especially to the US where he had a condominium in Colorado and enjoyed skiing in the winter and hillwalking in the summer.

To excel in life in one area is an achievement,to do so in more than one is remarkable. To be blessed also with exceptional personal qualities is only given to very few and Mike truly was one of those.

He is survived by Fiona, daughters Sophie, Katie, Jenny, Felicity,sons Richard and Christopher and grandchildren Liam, Caelan, Maisie and Amelie.