The Rt Hon Lord William Prosser.


Senator of the College of Justice.

Born. 23 November 1934.

Died. 22nd March 2015

The distinguished former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and Court of Session judge, Lord Prosser, has died in Edinburgh aged 80. He was one of the most respected legal minds in Scotland and brought immense prestige to the Scottish legal profession. He was also active in other capacities throughout Scotland - both in the arts and heritage organisations.

Prosser greatly assisted the establishment of the University of the Highlands and Islands helping it gain university status in 1992. Fiona Larg its Chief Operating Officer told The Herald yesterday, "Willie was a great source of advice and guidance to the university in its formative days and we will always be indebted to him for the wisdom with which he helped us through the process of creating a new distinctive institution for the Highlands and Islands."

Prosser was also active on the boards of the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland, the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust, The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh and the Sir Walter Scott Club. His commitments to the legal profession included serving on Scottish Committee of the Council on Tribunals.

Prosser brought to all these appointments his incisive mind and a clarity of vision. He was the most erudite and perceptive of judges - always supremely well-informed with a total grasp of the intricacies of the case. He shared his extensive knowledge generously and was invariably courteous and considerate to nervous witnesses. Prosser was scrupulously balanced in his questioning and in his summings-up.

William David Prosser was the younger son of an Edinburgh solicitor who had won the MC in the First World War. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy where he was a senior Ephor (prefect). Prosser often returned to the school to talk to societies and the Sixth Form. He read classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford where he gained a first and then read law at Edinburgh University.

After National Service he read for the Bar, was admitted to the Faculty in 1962 and took silk in 1974. Prosser became vice-dean of the Faculty in 1979 and Dean in 1983. In 1986 Prosser was appointed a judge retiring in 2001.

Prosser was active in upgrading and modernising aspects of the internal administration of Scottish law. As Dean of the Faculty he put in hand an extensive revision of the pension arrangements for the widows and orphans of former employees.

Prosser was also much involved in a bi-annual conference of European Bar associations. When it was held in Edinburgh Prosser hosted the proceedings with a genial informality.

He was a man with an astute and independent mind. In 2003 he argued that cannabis should be legalised - "the government's current cannabis laws are clearly not working." Later that year he riled against the Edinburgh City Council who had formulated plans to ban cars from Princes Street and neighbouring residential areas.

He was a driving force in the Franco-British Lawyers Society and did much to ensure the Scottish system retained its own identity and not subsumed into 'British Law'. At conferences Prosser would act as the Rapporteur - he listened to all the arguments in both English and French and then summed up in both languages. It was a mark of his linguistic and legal virtuosity that his directions were never questioned and were considered a 'Magisterial tours de force'.

Prosser's love of France was enhanced by retaining a flat in the Pigalle district of Paris where he enjoyed the galleries and the local jazz clubs. He was a trustee of the Franco-British Council where Anne Corbett, the vice chair, remembers, "Willie's effectiveness owed much to his wonderful way with words spiced with humour. Wisdom without pomposity. I especially remember his warmth, joie de vivre and humanity."

His contribution to Scottish heritage included working to preserve or restore such buildings as Lady Cathcart House, Ayr; Strathleven House, Dumbartonshire and Auchinleck House, Ayrshire.

Audrey Dakin at Scottish Historic Buildings Trust recognised Prosser's assistance, "Lord Prosser was chairman of the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust at a time when the Trust was finding its feet, faced with the challenge of many important historic buildings under threat. His timely intervention helped save a number of them through initiating or completing nationally-significant projects."

Lord Prosser married Vanessa Lindsay in 1964. She and their two sons and two daughters survive him. One son followed his father into the law while the other is Head of Art at the Edinburgh Academy.