Earlier this year, I commented on the first of Lord Hope’s Diaries. That volume was illuminating and surprising, not least in disclosing the insecurity which Lord Hope sometimes experienced in his time as a practising QC. Since then, a further two editions have been published. While the second volume, recording his time as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, may seem rather drier, the latest covers Lord Hope’s time (1989-1996) as Lord President and is a fascinating account of a rapidly changing era.

Lord Hope was elevated to the judicial bench as Lord President straight from being Dean. In the second volume of his Diaries, he observed that his appointment was not wholly welcomed, not least by his predecessor, Lord Emslie. A sense of being something of an outsider continues in the third volume, as he recounts uneasy relationships with the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Ross, and with a number of the more junior judges.  

His account of his relationship with Lord Morton of Shuna, for example, discloses real wariness combined with admiration for how Lord Morton handled a diagnosis of terminal cancer. It is a sad irony that Lord Hope’s description of constructive meetings with the then Lord Advocate, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, many about Lord Hope’s elevation to the House of Lords in 1996, coincide with the latter’s recent death.

It was a time of significant innovation – and controversy. Issues included allegations of homosexuality (in a less enlightened era) and blackmail in the legal profession, brought to a head with the resignation of Lord Dervaird and Lord Hope’s handling of matters with the press, the first major child abuse scandal (in Orkney), the Dunblane massacre, the prospect of televising courts in action, the rights of solicitor advocates to appear in the Supreme Courts and the sacking of a Sheriff.

Lord Hope provides a rare and intimate insight into the inner workings of government and politics in the 90s, participation in (and the protocol for) state, international and other official events, and impressions of people he met (for example, meetings with the Princess Royal reveal a touching appreciation of her unpretentious and genuine manner), combined with a prodigious workload. His observations are peppered throughout with references to sightings of birdlife from his home.

It is interesting to speculate on the motivation for publishing diaries. These accounts offer a really fascinating historical record which present and future generations should value. They are also very private, repeating candid observations written contemporaneously. They contain forthright comments about, and criticisms of, colleagues and others which, when written, must have been a helpful way to discharge frustration at some of what Lord Hope felt he was experiencing.

Years later, some may wonder about the value of making public such personal comments and the appropriateness of revealing what others may have thought at the time were confidential discussions. For example, reading Lord Hope’s description of his private conversations with Lord Morton’s oncologist feels rather awkward. Some readers might leaf anxiously through the pages wondering if they have been referred to. A few may feel upset by remarks about them. Others will be flattered. Many who are mentioned are now dead. What would they have said if they could comment on some of these matters? Others, still alive, may wish that they could give their versions of events.

These questions seem pertinent when we read how sensitive Lord Hope himself was to criticism, feeling isolated and upset by what others were thinking of him, concerned to live up to expectations and trying to please. Of course, he is not alone in having such feelings.

It is understandable that public figures wish to set the record straight especially when, at the time, they were often unable to speak publicly.  But balancing historical relevance with sensitivity towards the feelings of others must have required considerable thought. 

Lord Hope’s acclaimed attention to detail is apparent throughout. There is a touch of human fallibility however with reference to junior counsel in one case as “Sam Allardice”. Sam Allardyce was then manager of Blackpool FC (and later of England).  Counsel involved was Craig Allardice.

Lord Hope is one of the outstanding legal figures of the past two generations in Scotland. His judgments will bear reading for years to come. He was involved in, and led, significant changes in the legal system. How he is perceived in the years ahead will be shaped not only by his public actions but also by these very personal contributions to Scottish legal literature.

John Sturrock QC was a practising advocate from 1986 to 2002 and is now a mediator.

Originally published in The Scotsman on 3 September 2018.

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