Alan Finlayson

Alan Finlayson
Herald Scotland

First Reporter to the Children’s Panel

Born: December 19, 1934; Died: January 16, 2014 aged 79.

Alan F Finlayson, who has died aged 79, was the first Reporter to the Children’s Panel. As a child law expert, he was also a consultant to the Scottish Office and was appointed a temporary, later part-time, sheriff. He was the first sheriff to preside over all 49 sheriff courts in Scotland.

He was born in Dumfries, the son of teachers, his father being the headmaster of Laurieknowe Primary, and was educated first at Dalswinton Primary and then at Dumfries Academy where he represented the school at football. He also played football for Cumnock Juniors in the Western league.

After passing his Highers, he spent the sixth year at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh but always regarded himself as a Dumfries Academical. At Watsons, he stayed in the boarding house but as he did not play rugby the master enquired where he was going on Saturdays. On being told by the young Finlayson that he was playing juvenile football he was "confined to barracks".

Despite his refusal to play rugby, he went to compete in the annual rugby penalty competition, where he narrowly lost the final giving him the satisfaction that he would have excelled at the game had he wanted to.

On completion of his national service with the 7th Hussars, he attended Edinburgh University graduating in law. He became a partner in Rankin and Reid but his interest was in people and not paperwork so when criminal legal aid was introduced in 1964 he was among the first to take the opportunity to represent people under this system.

Shortly thereafter in 1968, the children’s panel system was introduced in place of the existing juvenile courts. Mr Finlayson was appointed the first reporter to the City of Edinburgh Panel (which became Lothian region on local government re-organisation) and there he found his natural home.

He was starting out from scratch and swiftly his reputation grew. He travelled to various countries to lecture and extoll Scotland’s unique system especially to the USA and his contribution to juvenile justice was recognised when he was given the Freedom of the City of Cleveland, Ohio. Further recognition came with his appointment to OBE in 1987 and Edinburgh’s Citizen of the Year in 1999.

As the reporter he had to present to the lay panel the facts concerning a child who had been remitted by any of the appropriate agencies. He had to guide and advise the members which he did with skill.

However this admiration was far from one-way as he was forever in awe of the volunteer panel members, who were drawn from all sections of society, gave freely of their time and brought great expertise and common sense to the system.

There is no doubt that Mr Finlayson regarded the success of the hearings system as one of his greatest achievements. As his standing in the legal community grew, and following his retirement as reporter, he initially took on the role of consultant to the Scottish Office as a child law expert, before being appointed as a temporary, later part-time, sheriff.

With the help of his wife Dorothy, who acted as his driver, he was the first sheriff to preside over all 49 sheriff courts in Scotland, a matter of great pride to him. A man of great common sense and compassion, the role of sheriff was ideal for him.

Away from his professional life, he was a keen Doonhamer and the highlight came when Queen of the South reached the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers in 2008. He arranged and organised the day with a group of friends, not many of whom supported Queens but all went to support Mr Finlayson.

He was a member of the Royal Scots Club and represented them for many years with Stewart Marshall in Bridge league matches. He was also a keen spectator of rugby and cricket choosing on a Saturday, along with his dear friend Willie Mould, which would be the most entertaining game. One of the few people who could not drive, he was never without loyal friends to take him, which, as his mobility decreased, he so appreciated.

He was married to Dorothy for 49 years and she and their two sons, Atholl and Duncan, survive him.