WHEN Scottish judge Lord Reed of Allermuir was sworn in as president of the UK Supreme Court this week, his friend and colleague Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore spoke of the huge contribution his “superlative” judgments have made to the development of common law in the UK.

Noting that the new president’s scholarship had been in evidence from the moment he joined the Supreme Court in 2012, the court’s Northern Irish representative praised Lord Reed for being “garlanded in academic achievements, wreathed in professional success, universally liked and admired by his colleagues, and regarded throughout the common law world and beyond as a jurist of the first rank”.

Gordon Jackson QC, dean of the Faculty of Advocates, said it was a description many in the Scottish legal world will recognise.

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“Back in 1983, when Robert Reed joined the Scottish Bar, he stood out as a very special legal talent, and only someone of such ability could have achieved the career he has enjoyed,” he said.

Back in 1983 the then Mr Reed, who had been educated at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, the law school at the University of Edinburgh and Oxford University’s Balliol College, carried out a wide range of civil advocacy, going on to serve as standing junior counsel to the Scottish Education Department between 1988 and 1989.

After a spell as an advocate depute, he went on to spend 13 years in both houses of the Court of Session before joining the Supreme Court bench three years after the institution was created to replace the House of Lords as the UK’s highest court.

He has now become the Supreme Court’s fourth president, taking the top job in the establishment’s eleventh year of existence and replacing Lady Hale of Richmond, who stood down last week on reaching the compulsory retirement age of 75.

For Aidan O’Neill QC, who has appeared before Lord Reed numerous times in both the Inner House of the Court of Session and the Supreme Court, it is a fitting appointment for a judge who is “unfailingly courteous and polite”, who is “always on top of the case from the outset” and whose questions are “very focused”.

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“I would say that his background as a Scots law practitioner and his academic background will prove a great asset to the UK Supreme Court, which hasn’t had a Scottish president since the days of his homonym namesake Lord Reid [who was the senior law lord of the House of Lords from 1969 until his death in 1975],” Mr O’Neill said.

“There has always been a strong emphasis in Scots legal practice of arguing and deciding cases by determining general principles, looking at academic writers seeking to synthesise the law, taking the comparative law approach and seeing and learning from how things happen in other countries.

“With Lord Reed as president there will be maintained the strong intellectual leadership and big picture approach of Lady Hale, who, unusually for an English judge, had a long career as an academic lawyer and Law Commissioner before coming to the bench.

“He brings that distinctively Scottish intellectual approach to the law, along with the disciplines of studying for and obtaining a doctorate from the University of Oxford - so he also knows England.”

For Professor Jim Murdoch of Glasgow University’s school of law, where Lord Reed is an honorary professor, it is in the area of human rights that Lord Reed’s intellectualism has perhaps had the greatest influence.

Having co-authored a book on human rights law in Scotland with Lord Reed in 2011, Professor Murdoch said that while previously the Supreme Court took the approach that, as the late Lord Rodger famously said, ‘Strasbourg has spoken, the case is closed’, “Robert Reed has helped reinvigorate that”.

“He has helped the Supreme Court realise that in terms of the Human Rights Act – and also the Scotland Act in terms of human rights issues – it’s too simplistic just to apply Strasbourg case law,” he said. “He’s helped jettison that narrow approach in favour of one that emphasises that domestic law principles are adaptable and robust enough to help answer questions. That jettisoning of the too-ready deference to Strasbourg, from the Strasbourg perspective, has been well received.”

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Ultimately, though, Professor Murdoch believes Lord Reed’s visibility as head of the highest UK court will be a good thing for Scots law and for those practising or seeking to practise north of the Border.

Mr Jackson agreed. “While the Faculty of Advocates is immensely proud that one of our own has attained the most senior judicial position in the UK, Lord Reed’s appointment is an honour which can be celebrated by the entire Scottish legal profession and the country,” he said.