Born: February 21, 1951;

Died: March 9, 2021.

JAMES Taylor, former Sheriff Principal of Glasgow and Strathkelvin, who has died in his at the age of 70, had a varied and successful legal career and made a significant contribution to the improvement and modernisation of procedures in Scotland’s courts. 

In 1988, the Government set up an Inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster. McGrigor Donald was instructed to act and James, who had joined the company’s Glasgow commercial litigation department only the previous year (he would become partner after a year, then head of litigation) leapt at the opportunity to become involved.

With his enormous capacity for detail, his reputation was established as someone who could handle complex, long-running cases. In subsequent years he acted in the Ocean Odyssey Fatal Accident Inquiry, the Inquiry into the Removal of Children from Orkney, and the Inquiry into the Dunblane Primary School tragedy. 

 In 1993 he became one of Scotland’s first solicitor advocates, specialising in civil litigation and appearing regularly in the higher courts.

 Five years later he was appointed sheriff in Edinburgh, before becoming the Commercial sheriff at Glasgow and Strathkelvin in 1999. His contribution to the success of what was then, for the Sheriff Court, very much a novelty, cannot be emphasised strongly enough. 

In 2005, he was appointed Sheriff Principal at Glasgow and Strathkelvin, dealing with all civil appellate matters arising in what is one of the busiest courts in Europe, introducing case management into the dispensation of justice far beyond commercial cases, gathering an LLD in 2013 from the University of Glasgow and teaching at the University of Strathclyde as a visiting Professor. 

But his most significant contribution to public life was yet to come.

The Scottish courts at the beginning of the 21st century were an ad hoc profusion of archaic practices and procedures, many of which had been unchanged from the 19th century.  

The criminal courts had just undergone an exhaustive review of its practices and procedures by Lord Bonomy when the then Lord Justice Clerk, Brian Gill QC, was charged with planning and implementing root-and-branch reform of the civil courts. James was part of a close-knit advisory “Board of Four” and his voice was a strong formative influence in Lord Gill’s Scottish Civil Courts Review 2009, later to become the Civil Courts (Reform) (Sc) Act 2014. 

James was born in Inverness and raised in Nairn, where his father was the bank manager. The town and its people remained close to his heart throughout his life. He attended Nairn Academy, where as well as accumulating academic prizes he acquired a lifelong passion for golf, at one time playing off scratch. 

He completed a BSc degree in Chemistry at the University of Aberdeen, before changing paths and studying and graduating in law. A music enthusiast, he had a particular if unlikely penchant for Motown and Northern Soul, which he put to good use to self-fund his LLB degree, setting up the James Taylor Travelling Disco, and becoming a well-known figure as resident DJ to the gilded youth of Aberdeen. 

After graduation, he was apprenticed in the city at Brander and Cruikshank, Advocates, practised at Lefevre and Co., Advocates, and became a partner at A.C. Morrison and Richards.  By that time, he had covered the whole spectrum of High Street solicitor legal work including matrimonial, personal injury, and employment, before specialising in commercial work. 

It was this breadth of experience which gave him the insight into human nature in its variety of legal relationships, which was to prove invaluable to his work in later years.  He believed that law was for the people, and that those who did not know their rights, or could not exercise them, had, in effect, none. 

But architectural reform meant nothing to him until and unless the question of legal costs was addressed. For him ,“access to Justice” was a meaningless shibboleth unless it meant access to the courts. And there could be no access to justice whilst the economics of litigation meant that access to the courts was available only to the rich, or to the very poor in the form of an increasingly beleaguered Legal Aid scheme. 

In his Review of Expenses in Civil Litigation (2013), James made radical changes to the costs regime, and increasing transparency and fairness. It is undoubtedly a legal tour de force, which together with the Gill reforms in which he played an integral part, is shaping and transforming the whole legal landscape of this country.  

Retiring as Sheriff Principal in 2011, he devoted the following years to completing his Review and appearing in 2018 before the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament, which was considering how to implement his Review in legislation.

His absence from public life in the intervening years had diminished neither his charm nor his forensic skills. His proposals were passed virtually unaltered in the Civil (Expenses and Group Proceedings) (Sc) Act 2018.    

In 2013 he and Lesley retired to Nairn but in a cruel twist of fate was soon diagnosed with prostate cancer, an illness he bore with courage, resilience and stoical good humour. Despite the valiant efforts of the Urology Unit at The Royal Marsden, London and his consultant Professor Ros Eeles, he finally succumbed peacefully in March, with Lesley at his side.

James, who is survived by Lesley, sons Andrew and Robbie, and grandchildren, Angus and Calum, was a man who wore his honours and his learning lightly, possessed of high self-confidence but quite without arrogance. He was a man of strong religious faith, too, and between 2004 and 2012, while in Glasgow, he was a Director of, and volunteer day-helper at, the Lodging House Mission, a Christian community dedicated to the care of the homeless, the vulnerable and the excluded. Just as in his professional life, James was committed to faith in action.

Ronald E. Conway