Obituary: Rt Hon Lord William Prosser, 80

William Prosser. Picture: TSPL
William Prosser. Picture: TSPL
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Tributes have been paid to Rt Hon Lord William Prosser, who has died in Edinburgh aged 80.

Lord Prosser, a former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and Court of Session judge, was one of the most learned legal minds in Scotland. He was also active in preserving the face of historic Scotland, serving with distinction on both the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland and the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust.

He was also a keen supporter of the arts and on the boards of The Royal Lyceum Theatre and the Royal Fine Arts Commission for Scotland.

Sir David Edward, former Judge of the Court of Justice of the European Communities, and who knew him since they were undergraduates at Oxford, said: “By any standard Willie must be one of the most intellectually outstanding minds in the Scottish legal profession – of any generation. We were called to the Bar on the same day. He had a deep sympathy of human frailties and a lively sense of fun. I remember him with great affection.”

William David Prosser was the younger son of an Edinburgh solicitor who had won the MC in the First World War. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy where he was Dux of the school and a senior Ephor (prefect). He often returned to the school to talk to societies and the sixth form. He read classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he gained a double first and then read law at Edinburgh University.

He was admitted to the Faculty in 1962 and took silk in 1974. In 1986, he succeeded Lord Stewart as a judge and he retired in 2001.

From the bench, he earned the total confidence and respect of his colleagues. His command of the law was absolute and his cogent understanding of the intricacies of a case was often remarked upon. All those who appeared before him rated him one of the most courteous and shrewd judges. He was always balanced in his questioning and exact in his summings-up.

Lord Abernethy who served as his vice-dean at the Faculty of Advocates said: “Willie was a towering figure at the Bar.

“I worked with him closely and we had a most happy working relationship. Apart from modernising the pension system for widows and orphans, Willie inaugurated a biannual conference of members of the European Bar: the meeting did much to enhance the prestige of the Scottish Bar.

“When it was in Edinburgh he hosted it magnificently.”

One of his life-long passions was France and he was a trustee of the Franco-British Council. He kept a flat in the Pigalle district of Paris and was devoted to the city and its famous galleries.

Lord Prosser married Vanessa Lindsay in 1964.

She and their two sons and two daughters survive him. Their son David is the current Head of Art at Edinburgh Academy.