Brian Kearney

Born: August 25, 1935

Died: March 28, 2024

Scots Law has lost a legend and Scotland’s children a champion following the death of Sheriff Brian Kearney, who loved the law and made contributions to it, appreciated by so many. His career embraced practising as a solicitor in Glasgow, a lengthy period on the bench as a sheriff and prolific author of various publications, latterly relating to the children’s hearing system, which became invaluable to many court users.

His legal credentials stretch back well before his birth. His grandfather, who was a colleague of a notable red Clydeside,r was in 1925 sentenced to 60 days in prison and a £10 fine for addressing a public meeting and inciting police officers to strike and to violence. The case reached the appeal court and is still an authority on the evidential value of a police officer’s notebook.

Thereafter his parents were married not in a church or registry office but by an irregular form of marriage unique to Scotland known as marriage by declaration (where the couple, before witnesses, declare themselves married), which was thereafter registered by the local sheriff. Even then it was an archaic and rare procedure and known to few apart from bemused first-year law students.

Brian Kearney was born in Greenock, where he spent the majority of his childhood, attending Greenock Academy, before embarking on studies at Glasgow University for an MA, LLB. During summer vacations he worked both as a shore porter at Wemyss Bay and a hospital orderly at Erskine Hospital.

At university he made many lifelong friends and in particular met Elizabeth Chambers who would become his wife for 58 years. They married in 1965 by which time he was a junior partner in Biggart Lumsden, specialising in employers’ reparation after completing a traineeship with Maclay Murray and Spens.

Ultimately, he opted to decide cases rather than argue them and was appointed Sheriff of Dumbarton in 1974 before transferring to Glasgow Sheriff Court in 1977, becoming senior sheriff there prior to his retirement in 2007. He was a founding member of the Judicial Studies Committee, ultimately the Judicial Institute, the body responsible for training members of the judiciary. Whilst both a solicitor and sheriff, he was a huge and encouraging support, providing wise counsel to many hopeful lawyers setting them on the path to successful careers including high office.

After some years on the bench which he himself found most satisfying and those who appeared before him became appreciative of his enthusiasm, integrity and compassion for others, he decided to share his experiences as a court practitioner.

Read more: Robert Millar obituary: Herald writer and editor at Reporting Scotland

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His first book, An Introduction to Civil Procedure in the Sheriff Court, was published by the Law Society in 1982. He then made a considerable contribution to the development of the law as it affected children. He was a member of the Child Law Review Group, presided over the inquiry into the childcare policies in Fife, was author of two editions of Children’s Hearings and the Sheriff Court, The Scottish Children’s Hearing System in Action and authored sections on children’s hearings in periodical publications.

He was regarded as a champion of children’s hearings and one of the foremost experts on the law and practice of the system in Scotland. He addressed groups and conferences at home and further afield. His seminal book helped people to understand how children are supported. He took great pleasure in and thoroughly appreciated the privilege of meeting with some of the many people who give up their time to ensure that those children who require it receive the treatment which best promotes their interests. His generosity in sharing his experience and expertise in this area has left a lasting impact on the system.

After retirement he was a legal member to the Parole Board for Scotland for several years and played an active part in organising training events for the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. In 2019 he was delighted and humbled to receive, in recognition of his achievements, honorary life membership of the Law Society of Scotland. He continued to write on the law until his recent illness.

Throughout this distinguished career he enjoyed a happy home life with a devoted wife and four children of whom he was immensely proud. They shared interests in music and literature and had many family holidays on the Firth of Clyde and abroad. When the grandchildren arrived he took a great interest and derived much joy in watching them grow up. He is a shining example to all of how to make a contribution to the lives of others whilst enjoying life to the full himself.

He is survived by Elizabeth, his children Clare, Martin, Paul and Colin, and ten grandchildren.