Sheriff and penal reformer;
Born: 9 July, 1934: Died: 8 August, 2012.
Sheriff Stuart Kermack, who has died aged 78, was an enlightened sheriff whose guiding principle in sentencing offenders was a philosophy of rehabilitation rather than retribution.
He came from a family with a long tradition of service in the legal profession and his father, a sheriff in Glasgow and, later, in Oban, held a respected place in the legal world of his time.
Educated at Glasgow Academy, Jesus College, Oxford and the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, he was called to the Scottish bar in 1959. In 1965 he was appointed as sheriff at Elgin and Nairn and in 1971 he moved to Forfar where he remained for the rest of his career. He was not, however, the conventional figure which his background might suggest and he made a distinctive contribution in his work as a sheriff and in the wider influence he exerted.
From the outset he was concerned to promote improvements in the law's treatment of offenders. He was for some years secretary of the Edinburgh branch of the Howard League for Penal Reform and long into his retirement continued to contribute to its work and the associated work of Sacro, the offenders' organisation.
He was also active in the formation and development of the children's hearing system, in family conciliation and in alcohol education. All he did flowed from a humane concern informed by a close acquaintance with contemporary thinking. In one of his publications he described himself as an "old-fashioned Scottish lawyer". It was not a description which many would have recognised.
Throughout his time in Forfar Sheriff, Mr Kermack's duties there were combined with duties in other courts, successively Perth, Arbroath and Dundee. Despite his abiding philosophy, rehabilitation sometimes had to give way to other considerations, but he sought wherever possible a positive result for the offender.
Sheriff Richard Scott who knew him well has said: "What I admired about Stuart was his longstanding and principled interest in the rehabilitation of offenders. He pioneered local initiatives which are now applied generally."
Among these was a scheme for alcohol education for drink-driving offenders, but not all his initiatives related to criminal matters. He was the driving force behind and founder president of Family Mediation Tayside and Fife which was to become, with his strong support, what Sheriff Kevin Veal, his successor in Forfar, has described as "a truly major player on the wider contact and mediation scene" and through his involvement with what is now Relationships Scotland he ensured the availability to the courts of contact centres where in a child-centred environment parents could have contact with children from whom they were separated.
Mr Kermack and his family used to the full the advantage of closeness to the hills and places of historical interest. He was a keen walker and camper and skied, if in precarious and unpredictable fashion, until he was 50. He had a profound interest in and knowledge of Scottish history and, as president of the Forfar and District Historical Society, played a leading part in the commemoration in 1985 of the 13th centenary of the battle of Dunnichen (or Nechtansmere), a battle between the Picts and Northumbrians as crucial as Bannockburn for the identity of the Scottish nation.
From his youth Stuart Kermack had suffered from a degenerative condition of his eyes which he knew might lead to eventual blindness. His retirement in 1993 was brought on by failing eyesight and illness. In retirement he pursued his historical and literary interests as long as his eyesight permitted. In The Pictish Symbols and the Vita Sancti Columbae he developed an original interpretation of Pictish symbolism. He read widely, from PG Wodehouse to Tolstoy, and wrote poetry. Much of his poetry was for private use but one of his published poems found a place in Gordon Jarvie's anthology 100 Scottish Poems to Read Out Loud and Sonnets for My Son, written after the death of his son Gavin, who had died in 1994 at the age of 25, was published and well received.
As a judge Sheriff Kermack was scrupulously fair, completely without pomposity or remoteness and noted for his helpfulness to those in the early years of professional practice. Tributes paid after his death showed the respect and warmth with which he was regarded by the legal profession.
Eventually his blindness was total and deafness, although not of equal severity, supervened. A few years ago he seemed to make a good recovery from a stroke but later became immobile. Those who knew him in his later years will remember most of all his courage and perseverance in the face of adversity.
In 1961 Stuart Kermack married Barbara Mackenzie who was his support in all he did and on whose care he was much dependaet. He is survived by her and by his daughter Janet, sons Calum and Lewis, daughter-in-law Rita and two grandchildren.
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