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Davidson, (Charles) Kemp, Lord Davidson (1929–2009), advocate and judge, was born in the Queen Mary Maternity Home, Edinburgh, on 13 April 1929, the son of the Revd Dr Donald Davidson (1892–1970), Church of Scotland minister, and his wife, Charlotte Brookes, née Kemp (1903–1987). At the time of his birth his father was minister of South Leith church; he was also a director of the National Bible Society of Scotland. Davidson's early life was spent in Edinburgh. The family moved to Bournemouth in 1937, but in 1941 Kemp Davidson (as he was always known) returned to Edinburgh as a scholar at Fettes College. There his liking for unaided endeavour emerged, as did his unswerving integrity. These were, however, combined with a strong affection for those around him, and an ever present delight in the absurd. From school he went to Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read literae humaniores, graduating in 1951, and then to Edinburgh University to read law. After two years linking this degree course with a bar apprenticeship in a solicitors' office, he undertook his national service, serving as a subaltern with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in British Guiana and Berlin. What for many might have been an odd interlude in an otherwise unmilitary life was for Davidson a lasting bond. He belonged as an Argyll for life.

As was required for the Scottish bar, Davidson's final university year was combined with devilling for an advocate, leading to his admission to the Faculty of Advocates in 1956. The bar at that time had fewer than 100 in practice: an able intrant would get work. For Davidson this began in the everyday field of reparation. However, he saw no task as undemanding. An ‘ordinary’ case might reveal profound issues of principle. His passion for both law and justice meant that he was happy on the ‘cab-rank’, and he soon acquired a wide-ranging practice in civil and public law. Throughout his years as a junior advocate and, from 1969, as queen's counsel he remained a true generalist. He would have wished no narrower or more specialist career. He regarded practice at the bar not as a personal pursuit of success, nor as a vehicle for finding clients or causes that he himself might feel congenial or think deserving. It was a service: every client was owed equal sympathy, equal energy. Victory for an underdog certainly brought extra satisfaction—notably in Wills' Trustees v. Cairngorm Canoeing and Sailing School (1976), establishing a general right of navigation on the Spey against exclusive claims by riparian owners of fishings. But other kinds of client (as during his years as standing junior counsel to the Inland Revenue) received the same unstinting commitment.

As with his own practice, so too as a member of the Faculty of Advocates. In 1972 Davidson was elected keeper of the Advocates' Library, continuing the reorganization commenced by his predecessor Jack Mackenzie Stuart. In 1977 he was elected vice-dean of faculty, and in 1979 dean of faculty. By then, a much needed transformation of the bar's affairs had been launched under Donald Ross, succeeded by James Mackay. With computerization a centralized administrative company had been created, employing all the advocates' clerks and handling the collection of all fees. This inevitably gave rise to problems and dissatisfactions but as vice-dean, and then outstandingly as dean, Davidson ensured that the new systems became efficient and accepted. His years as dean brought many other new demands and burdens. Increasing numbers, inadequate premises, disputes over legal aid, new levels of intrusion from government, the need to find the proper place for the bar in Scotland, the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond—to all such issues he brought an unwavering sense of the bar's public obligations as well as its corporate and individual interests. His practical wisdom won the deep respect and gratitude of all. The years as a faculty office-bearer (1972–83) were also Davidson's years as procurator to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland. His father had latterly been minister of St Andrew's Church, later St Andrew's and St George's, Edinburgh, and throughout his life Davidson was a pillar of that congregation and of the wider kirk, constantly called upon for his thoughts and advice.

Elevation to the court of session bench, with the judicial title of Lord Davidson, in 1983 was inevitable. He was an ideal judge in civil cases. He was rapidly recognized as an equally fine trial judge in criminal matters. The expectation was that he would go on to higher judicial positions. This was not to be. For reasons of health, the rather rigid requirements of court proceedings became intractable for him, and in 1988 he took on the different but heavy role of chairman of the Scottish Law Commission. He was to remain there for eight years of remarkable aspiration and achievement. His richly jurisprudential cast of mind, never unduly academic, gave the commission's activities an unexpected spirit of adventure. It was possible, as he liked to put it, to push forward the frontiers of justice in ways that had not been open, even to him, at the bar or on the bench. Across unpromising legal terrain, historic or contemporary, his zest never flagged. With colleagues from academe and the professions, and in forging enduring links with the English commission, his personal qualities as well as his legal pre-eminence left a unique and lasting mark.

On 3 September 1960, at the Scotch National Church, Covent Garden, London, Davidson had married Mary Mactaggart (b. 1936), daughter of Charles Mactaggart, solicitor, of Campbeltown, Argyll, where his own father and grandfather had both been ministers. The marriage thus had the happy consequence of reviving family links and strengthening the regimental bond. It led, too, to frequent visits to Kintyre. After his retirement from the Law Commission in 1996 Davidson's interest in the law was undiminished, but his physical problems, partly because of unsuccessful surgical interventions, resulted in his becoming very seriously disabled. Over these long latter years he was able to continue living at home with the devoted care of Mary, and his mind and spirit stood firm and upright to the end. He died of tetraplegia on 18 June 2009 at his home, 22 Dublin Street, Edinburgh, and was survived by Mary, their two daughters, and their son.

William D. Prosser


The Scotsman (23 June 2009) · The Herald [Glasgow] (29 June 2009) · Daily Telegraph (3 July 2009) · The Times (16 July 2009) · The Guardian (17 Aug 2009) · WW (2009) · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.


obituary photographs · portrait, Faculty of Advocates, Parliament House, Edinburgh