Lord Rodger brings controversy to role

Edinburgh's legal community could be in for a shake-up when its new head takes office at the start of this month.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, a 51-year old bachelor, is a tenderfoot in terms of judicial experience, with less than a year on the bench. But as Lord Justice General and Lord President of the Court of Session, he will be Scotland's most senior judge, head of both civil and criminal law.

Unlike his predecessor, Lord Hope, Rodger is not a product of the Edinburgh legal scene but a Glasgwegian who, his friends say has “always entertained a healthy suspicion about people from Edinburgh”.

A polyglot and former fellow in law at Oxford, Rodger is an outstanding academic and international jurist who writes articles on the law in his spare time.

His climb up the professional ladder was quick – from Advocate Depute in 1985, to Solicitor General for Scotland in 1989, Lord Advocate in 1992, and judge in 1995.

His latest appointment, announced in July, was clouded by comments that this was a political move – an attempt to replace the outgoing Lord President, Lord Hope, with someone more sympathetic to the Government.

Rodger's supporters dismiss such remarks as “rubbish”. One colleague said: “These suggestions are preposterous – he is his own man.

“He has an unrivalled experience of government and so is less likely to be pushed over by them.”

“I imagine he would be pretty determined to stand up for the Court of Session,” said another.

This may well be true. Colleagues close to Rodger say that although he seems a quiet man, he can be a stubborn and forceful opponent. “He has real force of personality when it matters and can be quite dogged,” one said.

Rodger takes over as rel ations between judges and the Government are fraught. Michael Forsyth's controversial white paper on crime and punishment has been greeted with dismay by the legal profession, and Rodger may have to deal with Scottish devolution if Labour wins the next general election.

But his first challenge is likely to be implementing the Cullen proposals for reform of the Court of Session. Similar to Lord Woolf's proposals for reform of the civil justice system, the proposals aim to streamline and standardise court procedure and introduce judicial case management.

Rodger may also have work to do with the public, who know him as the judge who sentenced two youths who kicked an old man to death to 18 months' imprisonment because of their age the day after a teenager was sentenced to life for snatching a handbag.

Accused by SNP MP Roseanna Cunningham of bringing the entire Scottish judiciary into disrepute, and of leaving the police “disgusted and sickened”, Rodger refused to comment on the sentence, which is being appealed.

Yet for all this, Rodger is widely respected and many lawyers acknowledge that he is the outstanding lawyer of his generation, with unrivalled experience of European courts. And everyone agrees that he is absolutely dedicated to his work.

Friends say he has a wicked sense of humour, a highly developed sense of irony and the common touch. “He is a very good communicator with ordinary people.”

“Rodger will bring a lot of imaginative ideas to the Court of Session,” predicts one close colleague. “And these may not be welcome in all quarters.”