Scotsman Obituaries: Heriot Currie QC

Heriot Currie QC. Born: 23 June 1952 in Oxford. Died: 20 April 2021 in Edinburgh, aged 68

Heriot Currie was highly respected for his integrity and fairness of approach in court.
Heriot Currie was highly respected for his integrity and fairness of approach in court.

Heriot Currie was a highly accomplished Queen’s Counsel who appeared in many of the most significant cases in Scotland and England over the last 40 years and was considered one of the finest legal brains of his generation. His brilliant incisive intellect enabled him to identify crucial issues in cases and present his arguments in a concise, coherent and persuasive manner. He was also held in high regard for his integrity and fairness of approach in court.

High-profile cases in which he appeared included Santa Fe International v Napier Shipping in the early 1980’s, then the longest-running case in Scotland; the Piper Alpha Inquiry; the Lockerbie Inquiry; and the Piper Alpha Re-Insurance litigation. Recently he represented David Whitehouse in his claim for damages for wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution arising from the financial collapse at Rangers FC. He also enjoyed the distinction of being instructed in several appearances in the House of Lords, then the UK’s highest civil court, and latterly the Supreme Court. His outstanding reputation was recognised in his appointment in 2013 by the Lord Chancellor as a Chairman of the Competition Appeal Tribunal, a UK-wide specialist judicial body dealing with complex cases involving competition and economic regulatory issues.

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While professional life was time consuming and demanding, it did not impinge on his leading a full life or dampen an engaging personality whose congenial company and very amusing sense of humour were much enjoyed by friends and family.

Heriot Whitson Currie was born the eldest of four children to parents Heriot and Evelyn – known as Eva – in Oxford where his father was studying agricultural economics. Later the family relocated to Edinburgh where Heriot, along with Candace, David and Nicola, were brought up in Corstorphine.

From an early age it was apparent Heriot was a bright child and he distinguished himself academically at Edinburgh Academy, winning the Gold Medal as Dux in 1971 and playing a full part in the school’s debating team and Dramatic Society. Having also won a scholarship at the Academy he went to Wadham College at Oxford University to study classics. Following Oxford, he studied law at Edinburgh University before undertaking a Bar apprenticeship with Simpson and Marwick W.S. He then began “devilling” to join the Faculty of Advocates under his “devil master” Arthur Hamilton, later Lord President of the Court of Session.

After admission to Faculty in 1979 his first notable case, surprisingly, concerned criminal law, not an area of practice with which he was associated. He acted as junior counsel to James Clyde QC, later Lord Clyde, in the defence of one of the accused in a terrorist case in Glasgow High Court involving allegations of gun running from Scotland in furtherance of Ulster loyalist activities. Although initially convicted, a successful appeal followed and a grateful client avoided a sentence of 11 years’ imprisonment.

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Thereafter he built up a successful commercial and public law practice comprising areas including competition law, public inquiries, judicial review, professional negligence, construction law, arbitrations and commercial fraud. From 1987 to 1992 he was Standing Junior Counsel to the Scottish Department of Trade and Industry and in 1992 he took silk. Having been called previously to the English Bar, Gray’s Inn, in 2003 he joined Monckton Chambers, leading London barristers, to facilitate practice in England while continuing to do so in Scotland, and in 2007 was one of the founders of Axiom Advocates offering specialist expertise in defined areas of commercial and public law. As a chairman of the Competition Appeal Tribunal he continued in office until earlier this year, presiding over a number of important cases.

In his funeral eulogy, close friend and colleague Lord Richard Keen QC described Heriot as “Truly a Lion of the Scottish Bar” while Roddy Dunlop QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, called him “One of the titans of the Scottish Bar”.

He was married to Carolyn and they had three daughters, Chloe, Ursula and Ismay. The marriage was later dissolved and in 2003 he wed Paula Christian, whom he met in London. They set up home in Edinburgh’s New Town where they remained, happily married, until his death. Heriot enjoyed close family ties not only with his daughters and grandchildren Benjamin and Naomi, but also with his siblings, for whom he fulfilled a much appreciated older brother role, especially after the relatively early death of their father in 1983.

Heriot had a wide range of interests which he found time to pursue despite a busy professional schedule. One of his main passions was music, with tastes ranging from classical to jazz to reggae. He was a member of New Town Concerts at the Queen’s Hall where, as a Friend of the Edinburgh Festival, he attended morning concerts. He also supported Scottish Opera and Edinburgh Jazz Festival. Another passion was walking, which he and Paula particularly enjoyed in John Muir Country Park near Dunbar, while he was also an avid reader of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Latterly he enjoyed working in his allotment at Warriston, practising yoga, playing tennis and golf – he was a member of Royal Burgess and Muirfield. He was a stalwart member of the Bench and Bar Golfing Society and played in the annual match against the English Bar. He liked to cook with music in the background, often adventurous recipes.

A well-rounded, cultured individual, Heriot combined professional excellence with being the best of company.

He is survived by his wife, children, grandchildren, mother and siblings.

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