Obituary: Hon Lord Dervaird, QC, Judge, Law lecturer

Rt Hon Lord Dervaird, distinguished QC, judge and lecturer on law. Picture: TSPL
Rt Hon Lord Dervaird, distinguished QC, judge and lecturer on law. Picture: TSPL
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Born 8 July, 1935, at Stranraer. Died 23 December, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 80.

Lord Dervaird was a distinguished student both at school and at Oxford and Edinburgh universities. He was appointed a judge of the Court of Session in 1988 but resigned after his name appeared in high-profile reports surrounding various homosexual activities. Dervaird took the honourable action and asked for a personal interview with the Lord President and offered his resignation forthwith. It was immediately accepted. Dervaird then became a much respected professor of Law at Edinburgh University and an acknowledged international authority on arbitration law.

John Ian Murray was the son of a Wigtownshire farmer. He first attended local schools in Stranraer before the Edinburgh Academy. He read law at Corpus Christi College, Oxford gaining a First and then passed as an LLB at Edinburgh University in 1962. He was called to the bar that year and appointed QC in 1974.

He quickly established a reputation in civil law matters, particularly commercial and agricultural law. He served in various capacities in the legal profession: as a Scottish Law Commissioner from 1980 to 1988, a part-time member of the Scottish Law Commission (1979-88), chairman of the UK Agricultural Law Association, 1980-86 and chairman of the, Scottish Council of Law Reporting (1979-88). In 1988, he became a Judge of the Court of Session and took the title Lord Dervaird.

In 1989, the so-called “Fettesgate” scandal broke in the newspapers. It was a messy and unseemly story that allegedly named several leading members of the Scottish legal profession and senior politicians. The reason it was dubbed Fettesgate by the press was because much of the enquiry was centred at the Police HQ at Fettes.

The news that a newspaper was about to print a story alleging indiscretions by Lord Dervaird brought the scandal into sharp focus. He was interviewed by the Lord President, who delicately asked about his sexual leanings. Dervaird admitted to having been “indiscreet”. It was decided that his conduct was incompatible with his continued tenure as a judge and his resignation was immediately accepted.

The then prime minister, John Major, asked the then Lord Advocate, Lord Rodger, to conduct an inquiry into the alleged “magic circle”.

An exhaustive three-month investigation led by the prominent QC and future judge William Nimmo Smith and James D Friel, regional procurator-fiscal of North Strathclyde was carried out into the alleged magic circle conspiracy. Dervaird was quoted in the final Nimmo Smith inquiry as saying: “It would not be untrue that he had had homosexual relations.” Nimmo Smith made detailed research into Dervaird’s case, writing a special two-page chapter.

Nimmo Smith’s finding were unequivocal and concluded: “There is no allegation in the statement, directly or by implication, of homosexual behaviour by any prominent member of the Scottish legal establishment.”

Nimmo Smith did not find that Lord Dervaird’s conduct constituted criminal conduct and he had “no reason to believe that Lord Dervaird’s official conduct as a judge had in any way been affected by the matters which led to his resignation”.

Lord Dervaird was appointed the Dickson Minto Professor of Company and Commercial Law at Edinburgh University in 1990. It was a post he filled with much academic wisdom and his broad knowledge of the law greatly enhanced the department. He was made emeritus professor on his retirement in 1998.

Dervaird then concentrated on arbitration law and sat as an arbitrator and counsel in numerous international arbitration proceedings. Among the numerous prestigious appointments he held was president of the Advocates Business Law Group.

In 2011, Dervaird was appointed co-vice-president of the Arbitration Centre of Scotland. That year he spent a month in India giving a series of formidable lectures on arbitration to students at Lucknow University.

Dervaird wrote widely on legal matters and published several authoritative books, notably The Stair Society of Scots Law and The Scottish Legal Tradition. As well as being an emeritus professor at Edinburgh, he also lectured on international arbitration at King’s College, London and at Strathclyde University.

Hector McQueen, professor of private law at the University of Edinburgh and a former academic colleague of Dervaird, told The Scotsman: “Ian took a relatively wide approach to his remit, and a notable academic achievement was his Masters course on arbitration law, a subject in which he also supervised a number of PhD students.

“Many of the students have gone on to either successful academic or practitioner careers, and hold their teacher in affection as well as esteem.”

Dervaird remained devoted to Wigtownshire all his life and was a keen countryman. As well as farming he was a keen ornithologist, an avid curler and lover of music.

He married Bridget Jane Godfrey in 1960. She and their three sons survive him.