Colin Campbell 1944-2022: A Tribute

Colin Campbell who died on 20 May this year was one of the pioneers of IT and law and a founder of our Society.

Though born in Glasgow, he grew up as an Aberdonian and graduated with a first-class degree in law from the University of Aberdeen and then became a law lecturer first at the University of Dundee and later that of Edinburgh. Colin’s main legal interests were in the philosophy of law and sociology of law. He also began to be interested in computers and their applications to law.

In 1970 the first body in the UK dedicated to the development of IT and law was set up in Scotland – the Scottish Legal Computer Research Trust, under an initiative from Sir Charles Fraser of W.J.Burness WS, but with support from solicitors in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Colin was one of the Trustees of this body. The Trust immediately called a conference on the topic, published articles and in 1971 asked Colin to write a Report on what had been done to date on IT and law, both in the UK and further afield in North America and Europe. I was a co-author together with Bill Aitken of the Edinburgh Regional Computing Centre.

I was at that time based in Birmingham, working for a software company, so used to travel up to Edinburgh on the overnight sleeper (the red-eye special). Colin and Bill agreed we could start our meetings at the ungodly hour of 8 am, as I was at my brightest and best then and rapidly deteriorated thereafter till by 3 pm I was ready to sleep on the train back to Birmingham.

The report came out in November 1972, and noted in particular the opportunity presented by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO)’s remit to produce Statutes in Force. A body called the Statute Law Society (founded in 1968 and still going) was among those vigorously calling for IT to be used so that HMSO’s magnum opus would not be an expensive one-off set in hot metal, but would be a “soft” publication so that it could be continuously updated thereafter. Sir Desmond Heap of the Law Society of England and Wales was active in this and deputed Paul Leach the Officer of the Law Society tasked with investigating the future of the profession, to convene a study group for this in 1972. Colin was involved with this.

In 1973 our own Society was founded and Colin and I were founder members. However, the next year Colin was appointed Professor of Jurisprudence at the Queen’s University, Belfast – at that time the youngest professor of law at any UK University. He could no longer represent Scotland on SCL’s General Council and the Irish representation was already fully taken up. However he was co-opted back onto the General Council and remained there till 1988.

Colin was assiduous in attending SCL meetings and his interventions were always constructive and helpful. The fact that he put his SCL career in his Burke’s Peerage biographical details shows that he thought the Society important.

In 1988 at the age of 43 Colin became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham – again the youngest holder of such office at the time. He remained there for 20 years and so was less occupied in IT and law. He established foreign campuses of his University in China and Malaysia, became HM’s First Commissioner for Judicial Appointments, a member of the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights in Northern Ireland, and the Mental Health Legislation Review Committee.

However apparently some in Nottingham found him difficult to work with. The Times published an obituary on Monday 13th June almost exclusively devoted to his tenure at Nottingham, in which he was described as “a divisive figure, rarely troubled by self-doubt”. I read this obituary of Sir Colin with some incredulity as I remember him as a helpful, patient but meticulous author and I note that the 15 reminiscences published by the University of Nottingham in their Campus News (https://exchange.nottingham.ac.uk/blog/tributes-paid-following-death-of-nottinghams-former-vice-chancellor/ are also consistently and strongly positive. Certainly our own Society is in his debt.

Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell 1944-2022. Photography credit courtesy of Nottingham University

Richard Morgan is a Fellow of the SCL having been a founding member and one time Chair. He is also the author of Morgan, Berry & Burden on IT Contracts published by Sweet & Maxwell.

Published: 2022-08-15T14:00:00

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