Charles Stoddart

Born: April 4, 1948

Died: October 26, 20238

Charles Stoddart, who has died aged 75, made a remarkably broad contribution to Scots law as judge, academic and reformer over the course of his career.

Born in Dunfermline and educated at Dunfermline High School, he studied law at the University of Edinburgh, followed by postgraduate study at McGill University in Canada, writing a thesis on the reform of Scottish divorce law. Following qualification as a solicitor in 1972, he worked as a lecturer in Scots law at the University of Edinburgh for seven years until 1980, teaching criminal law and evidence, overlapping with a role lecturing at the Scottish Police College.

This was a period where student textbooks were limited in number: undergraduates aiming to understand the criminal law of Scotland for the first time had a choice between one text not updated since 1948 or a magisterial reference work of well over a thousand pages.

With fellow academic Christopher Gane, he set to work producing a casebook on the subject which for the first time in many years provided students with an accessible and up to date entry into the subject. No mere summary of the work of others, it drew on the authors’ own careful research into unpublished and difficult-to-access unpublished materials from the depths of the Scottish courts’ records. “Gane and Stoddart”, as it was affectionately known, was a staple for generations of law students, going through four editions over 29 years after its first publication in 1980, and was later accompanied by a companion volume on criminal procedure.

At the same time, he pursued a PhD on the topic of legal aid, later revised to become the standard text on the subject for practitioners, itself going through four editions until 1994, and wrote the 1980 text Bible John: Search for a Sadist, which remains a reference point for those seeking to understand the notorious unidentified killer.

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After 1980, he worked for a period as partner in the firm of John G Gray & Co, SSC and Edinburgh, and in 1988 was appointed as sheriff at Paisley in 1988, moving to Edinburgh in that role in 1995. In 1997 he was appointed as the first Director of Judicial Studies for Scotland, responsible for implementing training for all judges across the country.

His work in that role was instrumental in developing standard resources such as the (then) Charging the Jury Manual, which in its modern form is used daily in the courts as the basis for judges issuing directions to juries on how to discharge their role. This role was combined with judicial service, including such important cases as a Fatal Accident Inquiry investigating the 2000 death of Christine Foster as a result of falling masonry in Edinburgh, making a series of recommendations to improve the safety of older buildings. He contributed further to the literature, producing two editions of a textbook on criminal warrants, and editing Greens Criminal Law Bulletin, a regular reference point for practitioners on developments in the field.

Drawing on his expertise across academia, practice and the judiciary, he was in constant demand as a contributor to all manner of law reform initiatives. Service on the Rules Councils which monitored criminal procedure and civil Sheriff Court procedure was followed, for example, by membership of government committees on serious violent and sexual offenders, the Sentencing Commission for Scotland, a Scottish Government review of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in Scottish cases, and the Post-Corroboration Safeguards Review, set up as a response to the Scottish Government’s decision to postpone its controversial proposals to abolish Scotland’s corroboration requirement.

His work on the last of these groups led to a process of further research and reform which continues to this day. He acted as a consultant to the programme of jury research which the review recommended, the results of which have formed the basis for aspects of legislation which the Scottish Government is currently steering through Holyrood. Towards the end of his life, he continued to take a keen interest in the latest developments in this area.

While he retired from the bench in 2009, he was shortly thereafter back in judicial service as a temporary Sheriff Principal, serving also as a judicial member of the Parole Board. He also took on editorship of Renton and Brown’s Criminal Procedure, the standard reference text for all practitioners and judges in Scotland’s courts, only relinquishing that role earlier this year. He also freely gave up his time to assist with student events such as mooting and client counselling competitions, while his counsel was always appreciated by colleagues.

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Retirement did, however, give him more time to travel, with regular visits in recent years to Romania to visit his daughter and grandchildren, while he stayed in frequent contact with the many friends he had made over the course of his varied career.

He is survived by his wife Anne, his daughter Nicola and his grandchildren Anna and Adam.

James Chalmers