Judge; Born February 24, 1929; Died November 7, 2008.

The Hon Lord Caplan, who has died aged 79, was a former High Court appeal judge who oversaw some of Scotland's most famous criminal and civil cases, in particular the damages claim following the Piper Alpha disaster, a hearing which proved to be the longest case in Scottish legal history.

In July 1988, the explosions and fire on Occidental's Piper Alpha platform, 120 miles north east of Aberdeen, resulted in the world's worst offshore oil disaster, claiming 167 lives. Caplan was the judge who heard the proof and legal arguments at first instance in the litigation of Elf (successor company to Occidental) with contracting companies over compensation payments, a hugely complicated matter which took three and a half years and produced an opinion 1450 pages long after 13 million words of evidence had been heard.

It was a marathon hearing that called heavily on Caplan's well-earned reputation for painstaking work, and the public outcome was an order to oil companies to pay more than £100m in damages. The private work behind the scenes involved Caplan having to establish immediate mastery of both the complex technical and legal jargon of the offshore industry as well as the nigh arcane aspects of finer points of insurance liabilities. Each evening, he transcribed his lengthy handwritten notes from the court on to his computer.

In 1992, a youthful Tommy Sheridan, then leader of Scotland's Anti-Poll Tax Federation, called Caplan "pompous" at the judge's sentencing him to six months in Saughton prison for contempt of court. It was hardly a merited remark, for in professional life the self-effacing Caplan - while an imposing figure - never struck a frightening figure. But the colourful remark stuck, and resurfaced two years ago during Sheridan's defamation case against the News of the World when Lord Turnbull stated "I know Mr Sheridan has a certain opinion of judges ".

Caplan personified much of the pleasantly unusual. He was one of only two judges from Scotland's Jewish community (the other, Lady Consgrove, is now retired). Yet he could so easily have carved a career in photography. Fascinated by cameras from youth, his study made him an imposing authority on the subject - and just as he was gentle, mannerly and extremely thoughtful in matters of the Bench, so he was with the shutter, producing studies involving extraordinary use of colour.

Elected a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1988, he took quiet pride in what he regarded as the greater honour of the letters AFIAP after his name - translated from the French as "Artist of the International Federation of Photographic Art", the FIAP being an internationally-recognised academy across more than 80 nations. Acceptance into it is given only after two major achievements within a five-year period.

He exhibited in his own right at the Edinburgh Festival, and jointly with Douglas May QC, and had been a selector at the 147th International Print Exhibition of the Royal Photographic Society four years ago. Locally, he was an award-winning and conscientious member of Edinburgh Photographic Society.

Born in Glasgow, the only son of businessman Hyman Caplan and his wife, Rosalena, Philip Isaac Caplan was educated at Eastwood High School and graduated in law from Glasgow University. He worked as a solicitor between 1952 and 1956, was called to the bar in 1957, and took silk in 1970. He was appointed Sheriff of Lothian and Borders in 1979 and then Sheriff Principal of North Strathclyde before elevation as the first sheriff to become a senator of the College of Justice in 1989. Until retirement in 2000, he was latterly a member of the inner house of the Court of Session.

Strong interest in the wider administration of justice involved Caplan in several roles outside court, such as the Refugee Survival Trust; Family Mediation Scotland and the tribunal on plant varieties and seeds. His work with the Scottish Association for the Study of Offending led to his being appointed honorary life patron.

He never lost contact with Glasgow University and, with Professor Ross Harper as chairman, became involved the £1.7m appeal to establish a Chair of Social Justice in memory of Donald Dewar. In 1996, his alma mater recognised him with the conferral of an honorary doctorate.

Caplan, who died after a long illness, had two sons and one daughter from his first marriage in 1953 to Elaine Gelfer, daughter of Abraham Gelfer, a cap and tie manufacturer from Giffnock. The marriage was dissolved, and in 1974 he wed Joyce Leigh Stone, by whom he had a daughter. By GORDON CASELY