Monday, 7 October 2013

Jock Thomson QC: brave critic of a deeply flawed system

[The following are a few snippets from the obituary of Jock Thomson QC in The Herald:]

Jock Thomson QC, who has died aged 71, was one of Scotland's finest and most respected criminal lawyers whose strong social conscience often brought him into conflict with the legal establishment. [RB: I was amazed to learn that Jock was 71. Had I been asked, I'd have guessed he was up to ten years younger.]

Never afraid to speak his mind, he railed against injustice and unfairness throughout his career. Only last year he attacked what he called the unholy, unhealthy alliance of law makers and senior figures at the Crown Office which he said had resulted in a morally and mortally flawed legal system.

Mr Thomson, a robust figure in every way, was among the country's most distinguished and effective advocates. His guid Scots tongue, confident courtroom manner and vast experience ensured that he always enjoyed a busy and successful career. Over the years, he was involved in some of the country's most notorious criminal trials. (...)

He was educated at Robert Douglas Memorial School, Scone, before moving to Perth Academy. He left school at 16 and joined the merchant navy as a deck hand.

After four years sailing the world he returned to Perthshire and joined the local constabulary, rising to the rank of sergeant. In 1971 the force, in its wisdom, gave Mr Thomson the opportunity to study law at Edinburgh University. Three years later, at the age of 32, he graduated LLB. However, instead of returning to the police, he chose to embark upon a legal career.

He secured a traineeship at the Campbeltown firm of Stewart, Balfour and Sutherland and after completing his training joined the procurator fiscal service, working first in the Borders. He later became a fiscal in Glasgow before being called to the Bar in 1983. (...)

In 2000, by then one of the country's most experienced and respected defence counsel, Mr Thomson was promoted to the "rank and dignity" of Queen's Counsel. (...)

Mr Thomson was a man of great principle who was always prepared to speak out when the occasion merited an opinion. Though he never courted controversy, he never shied away from it either.

Last year, in a letter to The Herald, he entered the ongoing debate about the issue of corroboration in court cases. He went on to raise fears about any moves to scrap an accused person's right to silence, declaring: "Will the next inexorable step be the replacement of the presumption of innocence with that of a presumption of guilt? It's beginning to look that way."

He was also a stalwart supporter and advisor to the Justice for Megrahi campaign. (...)

As a younger man, Mr Thomson was a keen rock climber, skier, sailor and windsurfer. He was also a guitarist and folk singer and helped found Perth Folk Club.

Latterly, as a lover of opera, he became a director on the board of the award-winning Opera on a Shoestring company.  

[Robert Forrester’s appreciation on behalf of JFM can be read here.]

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