Obituary – Brian Donald, solicitor and sheriff involved in Orkney child abuse inquiry


Born: July 11, 1944;

Died: April 28, 2016

BRIAN Donald, who has died aged 72, was a popular and well-known figure on the Scottish legal landscape for over 40 years, initially as a solicitor and latterly as a sheriff. He played a central role in the inquiry into alleged child abuse on Orkney in the 1990s and was associated with Scotland's pioneering Drug Courts.

He was highly regarded, progressive and compassionate and earned the respect and affection of all with whom he came into contact. On one occasion on being informed an accused in a drug court was in the toilet suspected of an overdose, it was Mr Donald applied mouth to mouth resuscitation.

His sense of public duty and commitment to the law were also reflected in his membership of various bodies including the Stewart Committee on Alternatives to Prosecution, the Scottish Legal Aid Board, various Law Society committees, the Parole Board Scotland and the Franco-British Lawyers’ Society.

A highly cultured individual he enjoyed a wide range of interests involving music, theatre, languages and travel.

Law was not his initial choice of career as he had hoped to pursue a career in the diplomatic service, being a talented linguist. His original intention was to leave school at the end of fifth year to study languages but his headmaster at Lawside Academy in Dundee persuaded him to complete a sixth year during which he developed an interest in law.

This led to a legal course at Queen’s College, Dundee, then part of St Andrews University, where, in addition to the usual student activities, he also enjoyed ice skating. At the same time his linguistic interests were maintained through vacations in Strasbourg.

After graduating, he served an apprenticeship with the firm of T.J. Addly & Son in Edinburgh, receiving a good grounding in court practice before moving to Ayr for a period as assistant solicitor with A.C.White, Silver, Young and Cosh. His love of languages then prevailed for a period as he left the law temporarily to spend time in Italy where he taught English at the Shenker Institute in Rome and to Italian RAF personnel near Naples. While there he perfected his Italian and immersed himself in the culture and lifestyle.

In about 1973, a university friend, Peter Gillam, later also a sheriff, told Brian that Edinburgh solicitors, J. and A. Hastie, S.S.C, were looking to employ an assistant, at a time when jobs in the profession were at a premium. He applied successfully but was not required to begin for six months, a period he spent in London staying with brother Norman.

Once he began with ‘Hasties,’ he was soon assumed as a partner and headed up the firm’s litigation department. He appeared regularly in court representing clients mostly in civil cases but also involving some criminal work, particularly road traffic cases, and became an able court practitioner. One of the firm’s biggest clients, the Automobile Association, wanted a presence in Glasgow, leading to the opening of an office there for which Mr Donald took primary responsibility.

Another branch office was opened in Galashiels and again Mr Donald was very involved. At the same time he served on the Stewart Committee and by the early 1980s he had started what was to be a decade tutoring at Edinburgh University on civil advocacy as part of the legal diploma programme.

In 1984 his ability and contribution was recognised with his appointment as a temporary sheriff. At the same time he continued his solicitor’s practice and in 1991 became involved in the Orkney Children's Inquiry. This related to the removal of children from their homes by social workers amid allegations of abuse. Mr Donald,with Peter Gillam, was instructed to represent Paul Lee, the Orkney Islands Director of Social Work, in many ways the focal point of the inquiry. This was an onerous and time consuming responsibility requiring Mr Donald’s regular presence in Orkney over a period of months.

In 1999, he was appointed permanent sheriff assigned to Kirkcaldy. There he presided over a wide range of cases but was particularly associated with the work of the Drug Court, a pioneering initiative begun in 2002. The aim was to reduce drug misuse and associated offending by the use of treatment based options, a concept which gained Mr Donald's wholehearted and empathetic support. A good listener,he proved particularly able at communicating positively with those who appeared before him and was very encouraging in their efforts to deal with drugs issues. The occasion on which he gave mouth to mouth resuscitation to an accused was a measure of the man, according to friend and colleague Krysta Johnston.

On retiring in 2008, he continued as part time sheriff for a while and also became a part time member of Parole Board Scotland.

There he made a valuable contribution through his diligence, judicial approach and innate fairness. An enthusiastic Francophile, his part time status enabled him to indulge his love of that country and its culture, splitting his time between here and his house in the small village of Vidauque in Provence.

He was born in Dundee, the eldest of five sons of Anna and George and was brought up in Granton Place there. His father was a motor mechanic who had seen service in India and north Africa during the war. Although professionally very busy, he found time to pursue his wide range of interests. He was fluent in French, Italian, Spanish and German.

He had an excellent singing voice and was member of a number of choirs including the Malcolm Sargent. Amateur dramatics was another passion and he performed in several companies such as the Bohemians and the Edinburgh Music Group.

He is survived by partner Norbert Epain, brothers Norman, George, Gavin, Graeme and their families.

JACK DAVIDSON is the online edition of Scotland's favourite newspapers, that brings you your Daily news. Every day we bring you the best in Scottish news, sport, entertainment and opinion, including breaking news, picture galleries, videos and live blogs.

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