Lord Stott; born December 22, 1909, died April 12, 1999

GORDON Stott was once asked what qualities were needed to make a good Lord Advocate. ''You must have confidence in your own judgment and make up your own mind,'' he replied, summing up with perfect accuracy how he conducted his own colourful career.

Not long before his death he was offering trenchant opinions on the law to journalists who called him at his Edinburgh home seeking a quote on some story. The only difference in recent years was that he took a bit longer to get to the phone.

George Gordon Stott was born in December 1909, a son of the manse. His father was minister of Cramond Kirk in Edinburgh for 30 years and the young Gordon Stott received his early education at Cramond Village School.

He graduated from Edinburgh University with a first-class honours in Classics and won the Vans Dunlop Scholarship in Law. He was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1936 and took silk in 1951.

From 1961 to 1974 he was sheriff of Roxburgh, Selkirk, and Peebles, and when Harold Wilson's Labour Government took office in 1964 Stott became Lord Advocate.

He followed the tradition of Lord Advocates at that time by appointing himself to the Bench in October 1967 where he remained until he reached the official judicial retirement age of 75 in December 1984.

The bare bones of his career hardly begin to do justice to the lasting impression Lord Stott created in an action-packed career. From 1925 he kept a diary and three volumes have now been published covering his life and times as a QC, Lord Advocate and judge from 1954 to 1973. They are models of what a diary should be - candid to the point of indiscretion, witty, and informative.

He recalls in evocative detail the era of the wireless, the gramophone, Woolworths, Ford Zephyrs, and Helen Shapiro. The entry for November 13, 1964, records: ''On television tonight an interesting programme on the Beatles, a skiffle group from Liverpool whose progress round the country is marked by enormous crowds of hysterical teenagers.''

Stott was no great respecter of the qualities of the somewhat decrepit Scottish Bench in his time at the Bar but, unfortunately for the libel lawyers, most of their lordships had passed on by the time his diaries were published.

He lamented the early death of Lord Thomson in 1962 as ''another misfortune for the Court of Session which could so much more readily have spared some of its other judges''.

He recalls the day when court business was much delayed because, after taking part in Lord Kissen's installation ceremony, Lord Mackintosh had absent-mindedly put on his hat and coat, and gone home.

His most prominent target was Lord Clyde, who was appointed Lord President of the Court of Session following the death of the much-respected Lord Cooper.

In an interview with The Herald after he retired, Lord Stott said: ''After Cooper died, the First Division of the Court of Session fell on evil days and there were some atrocious decisions. We had to go frequently to London to get them put right.

''The pneumoconiosis cases were a good example because the victims of that fell disease would certainly have got short shrift in the Court of Session.

''But the House of Lords saw that they got justice.''

In his diaries, he describes Clyde as ''the worst judge that one could imagine'' who had the habit of committing his ''off-the-cuff'' judgments to writing before a hearing began and ''concussing'' his judicial colleagues into agreeing with him.

On the political front, Stott was a bit of a maverick, not always ''on message'' as they say these days.

In his diaries he criticised the Labour Government for failing to plan ahead in 1966 and work out the principles by which a socialist government should be guided. Nor did he toe the official Government line on foreign policy.

''On Vietnam the Government gave the appearance of being committed to support the United States whose bombing aeroplanes continued for no intelligible purpose to lavish on that unfortunate country an increasingly powerful but futile demonstration of the American way of death.''

While it would be inaccurate to say that Stott courted controversy he certainly attracted it, whether for locking up ''tug-of-love'' mum Mrs Sarah Campins for refusing to divulge the whereabouts of her children or doubting the wisdom of young women consuming copious amounts of vodka then allowing young men they had only just met to take them on a shortcut through the woods.

As a judge he found custody cases the most difficult he had to deal with and in his human way would often chat with children to find out what they thought. One little boy said he would prefer to stay with his father rather than his mother.

''When I asked him why, he said 'It's the mince. It's not watery'.''

Lord Stott opposed capital punishment and was no great believer in the deterrent value of long sentences served in ''miserable, overcrowded, and sordid prisons''. He thought the idea of family courts was worth pursuing and that the time was ripe to consider no-fault liability in damages actions.

Above all, Gordon Stott was a man who knew his own mind and was never afraid to express it.