The end of 2020 saw the end of an era in Scots law publishing, as Sir Gerald Gordon QC retired as editor of the Society’s publication Scottish Criminal Case Reports after completing 40 years in charge.
Now 91, Gordon has edited the series since its inception in 1981 and, with only a few exceptions, has edited every report and written every case commentary published to date.
Though he holds a special affection for a series he was very much involved in creating, Gordon told the Journal that it was not actually his idea but that of the late John Boyle, then in charge of the Society’s publications fund. “That was at a time when the Scots Law Times was way behind with reporting, and Crown Office had started sending roneoed accounts to the fiscals and defence solicitors were getting a bit miffed because they didn’t have this up to date information when the fiscals did.” Which makes it a little ironic that defence lawyers have been known to refer to the series as the “fiscal’s friend”, something that amuses him greatly.
Gordon’s condition for being involved was that he would be allowed to write commentaries on cases if so minded – not a usual feature of mainstream law reports. “I started with some trepidation, because I had at that time fairly recently become a full time sheriff at Glasgow and didn’t know quite how their Lordships would react to a sheriff telling them off. Actually they were very good and I got a rather nice letter from [Lord Justice General] George Emslie after the first issue. In fact, I think the bench treated me much more respectfully than I treated them!”
In any event SCCR very quickly established itself, and kept its status even as other law reporting became more current. As it does today, though to a different mix of content: “The work of the courts is different and the number of cases has exploded. We no longer worry about housebreakings; we worry a little still about drugs; we never worried about ‘historic sex cases’ in those days – we didn’t have any.” Gordon, however, has not lost his forthright manner: one of the last cases he reports is “a rather pointless five judge thing”.
His retirement marks the end of a publishing career that began with a Scots Law Times article in 1956, three years after his admission as an advocate, and includes the standard texts on both criminal law and criminal procedure as well as SCCR. However he recalls an inauspicious start – his first submission was rejected by the late T B Smith, who disagreed with his analysis of Donoghue v Stevenson. Fortunately for the profession, that proved to be no deterrent.
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