Obituary: Sheriff Brian Donald

Born 11 July 1944 in Dundee. Died 28 April 2016 in Edinburgh.
Sheriff Brian Donald, popular figure on the Scottish legal landscape. Picture: Neil HannaSheriff Brian Donald, popular figure on the Scottish legal landscape. Picture: Neil Hanna
Sheriff Brian Donald, popular figure on the Scottish legal landscape. Picture: Neil Hanna

Brian Donald was a popular and well known figure on the Scottish legal landscape for over forty years, initially as solicitor and latterly as Sheriff. He was highly regarded, progressive and compassionate and earned the respect and affection of all with whom he came into contact.

His sense of public duty and commitment to the law were reflected in the appointments he held as member of various bodies including the Stewart Committee on Alternatives to Prosecution, Apex Scotland, the Scottish Legal Aid Board, various Law Society committees, the Parole Board Scotland and the Franco-British Lawyers’ Society. A highly cultured individual he enjoyed a wide range of interests involving music, theatre, languages and travel.

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Law was not his initial choice of career as he had hoped to pursue a career in the Diplomatic Service, being an enthusiastic and talented linguist. His original intention was to leave school at the end of 5th year to study languages but his headmaster at Lawside Academy in Dundee, Mr. Adams, persuaded him to complete a 6th year during which he developed an interest in law. This led to a legal course at Queen’s College, Dundee, then part of St Andrews University, where as part of his extra curricular activities, he became an enthusiastic and accomplished ice skater. At the same time his linguistic interests were maintained through vacations in Strasbourg.

After graduating, he served an apprenticeship with the firm of T.J. Addly &Son then in Young Stret, Edinburgh, receiving a good grounding in court practice before moving to Ayr as assistant solicitor with A.C. White, Silver,Young and Cosh. His love of languages took precedence as he left the law temporarily to spend time in Italy where he taught English at the Shenker Institute in Rome and to Italian R.A.F. personnel near Naples.While there he perfected his Italian and immersed himself in the culture and lifestyle.

In 1973 Brian learned through a friend,Peter Gillam, later also Sheriff,that Edinburgh solicitors J. and A. Hastie, S.S.C,were looking to employ an assistant,this at a time when jobs in the profession were at a premium. Brian applied successfully but was not required to begin for six months, a period he spent in London with brother Norman.

Once he began with ‘Hasties,’ he was soon assumed as a partner to head up the firm’s litigation department.

He appeared regularly in court representing clients mostly in civil cases but also involving some criminal work, particularly road traffic matters, and developed into a very capable court practitioner. As one of the firm’s biggest clients, the Automobile Association, was keen to establish a presence in Glasgow, a branch office was opened in the city for which Brian took primary responsibility, spending much of his time there.

Another branch office was later opened in Galashiels in which again Brian was very involved. At the same time he served on the Stewart Committee and by the early 1980’s had started what was to be a decade tutoring at Edinburgh University on civil advocacy as part of the legal diploma programme. He was very popular with his students who considered him an excellent teacher, very approachable and encouraging.

In 1984 his qualities were recognised with his appointment as a Temporary Sheriff resulting in his sitting in many courts throughout the country.At the same time he continued his solicitor’s practice and in 1991 he became involved in the Orkney Childrens’ Inquiry. This related to the removal of children from their homes by social workers amid allegations of abuse. Brian,with Peter Gillam, was instructed to represent Paul Lee,the Orkney Islands Director of Social Work,in many ways the focal point of the Inquiry. This was an onerous and time consuming responsibility requiring Brian’s regular presence in Orkney over a period of months.

In 1996 he was appointed to the board of Apex Scotland,whose aims include the reduction of offending and rehabilitation of offenders.

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In 1999,he was appointed permanent Sheriff assigned to Kirkcaldy. There he presided over a wide range of cases but was particularly associated with the work of the Drug Court,a pioneering initiative to reduce drug misuse,set up in 2002. Empathetic and a good listener,he proved particularly able at communicating positively with those appearing before him and was very supportive of their efforts to deal with their problems.On one occasion on being informed an accused was in a court toilet suspected of an overdose,Brian applied mouth to mouth resuscitation,’a measure of the man’ as friend and colleague Krysta Johnston recalled.

On retiring in 2008,following a series of ‘retiral parties’ occasioned by his sociable nature, he continued as part time Sheriff for a period while also becoming a member of Parole Board Scotland. There he made a valuable contribution through his diligence,judicial approach and innate fairness. An enthusiastic Francophile,his part time status enabled him to indulge his love of that country and its culture, splitting his time between here and his house in the small village of Vidauque in Provence.

He was born in Dundee where he was brought up in Granton Place, the eldest of five sons of Anna and George. His father was a motor mechanic who had seen service in India and north Africa during the war. Despite a busy professional life, Brian found time to pursue his wide range of interests. Languages were a lifelong love and he was fluent in French,Italian,Spanish and German. He enjoyed travelling and went all over Europe,to Hong Kong,Australia, US and Bali. He had an excellent singing voice and was member of a number of choirs including the Malcolm Sargent. Amateur dramatics was another passion and he performed in several companies such as the Bohemians,the Graduates and the Edinburgh Music Group.

An exceptionally decent and accomplished individual,infused with a strong social conscience, Brian enhanced many lives. He is survived by partner Norbert Epain,brothers Norman, George, Gavin, Graeme and their families.