Young, George (DNB12)

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YOUNG, GEORGE, Lord Young (1819–1907), Scottish judge, born at Dumfries on 2 July 1819, was son of Alexander Young of Rosefield, Kirkcudbrightshire, procurator fiscal of Dumfriesshire, by his wife Marian, daughter of William Corsan of Dalwhat, Kirkcudbrightshire. After education at Dumfries Academy, he studied at Edinburgh University (where he was made LL.D. in 1871), joined the Scots Law Society on 21 Nov. 1838 (president 1842–3), and passed to the Scottish bar on 2 Dec. 1840. Successful from the first, he was soon one of the busiest juniors in the Parliament House. Appointed advocate depute in 1849, he became sheriff of Inverness in 1853. At the celebrated trial of Madeleine Smith for the murder of Emile L'Angelier (30 June–8 July 1857) he was junior counsel to John Inglis [q.v.] , afterwards lord president, and the accused is said to have owed her acquittal largely to his skill in preparing the defence. In 1860 he was made sheriff of Haddington and Berwick, and in 1862 he succeeded Edward Maitland (raised to the bench as Lord Barcaple) as solicitor-general for Scotland in Lord Palmerston's government. His practice had now become enormous. He was retained as senior in almost every important case, frequently with James Moncreiff, first Baron Moncreiff, as his opponent. He particularly excelled in the severe cross-examination of hostile witnesses, and in addressing juries his cool logic was often more than a match for the eloquence of Moncreiff.

In politics Young was a liberal, and continued solicitor-general in Lord Russell's government which came in after the death of Palmerston (October 1865). At the general election of 1865 he was returned for the Wigtown district. Out of office in 1867 and 1868, during the governments of Lord Derby and Disraeli, he became again solicitor-general on the formation of the Gladstone administration of December 1868. In the following year he succeeded James Moncreiff (when he was made lord justice clerk) as lord advocate. He was called to the English bar on 24 Nov. 1869 by special resolution of the Middle Temple, of which he was elected an honorary bencher on 17 Nov. 1871. In 1872 he was sworn of the privy council.

Young's management, as lord advocate, of Scottish business in parliament has been described as ‘autocratic and masterful’ (Scotsman, 23 May 1907). He was as severe with deputations as with witnesses in cross-examination, and alarmed the legal profession in Scotland by far-reaching schemes of law reform. He prepared a bill for the abolition of feudal tenure, and it was rumoured that he contemplated the abolition of the Court of Session. Nevertheless his legislative work was useful. He was the author of a Public Health Act for Scotland passed in 1871 (34 & 35 Vict. c. 38). He carried through parliament, in spite of considerable opposition from a party in Scotland which accused him of wishing to destroy religious teaching in elementary schools, the Scottish Education Act of 1872, which closed a long controversy by establishing elected school boards, and leaving it to each board to settle the religious question according to the wishes of the electors (35 & 36 Vict. c. 62). In 1873 his Law Agents Act set up a uniform standard of training for law agents in Scotland, and abolished exclusive privileges of practising in particular courts (36 & 37 Vict. c. 63).

At the general election of 1874, owing, it was thought, to resentment at his treatment of Henry Glassford Bell, sheriff of Lanarkshire [q.v.] , over differences which had arisen between them, Young lost his election for the Wigtown district by two votes. Mark John Stewart (afterwards Sir M. J. Mactaggart Stewart) was declared successful. A scrutiny was demanded, and the election judges awarded the seat to Young, by one vote, on 29 May 1874. But he had already accepted a judgeship, and taken his seat with the title of Lord Young on the bench of the Court of Session (3 March 1874). On the return of the liberals to power in 1880 it was understood that he had offered to resign his judgeship, and become again lord advocate. John McLaren, Lord McLaren, was appointed, and Young remained on the bench. Having been a judge for thirty-one years, he retired owing to failing health in April 1905. After a short illness, caused by a fall while walking in the Temple, he died in London on 21 May 1907, and was buried in St. John's episcopal churchyard at Edinburgh.

In his old age Lord Young was almost the last survivor of a generation which had walked the floor of the Parliament House when Alison was consulting authorities for his ‘History of Europe’ in the Advocates' Library below, and when Jeffrey and Cockburn were on the bench. He had come to the bar in the days of Lord Melbourne and Sir Robert Peel, and held office under Lord Russell and Lord Palmerston. It is believed that at the time of his death he was the oldest bencher of the Middle Temple. For many years he was a prominent figure in the social life of Edinburgh. He told good stories, and was famous for witty sayings. As a judge his powers were great; but his quickness of apprehension often made him impatient both with counsel and with his colleagues. He was too fond of taking the management of a case into his own hands; and it was largely owing to this defect that he was not conspicuously successful on the bench, though he fully retained his high reputation as a lawyer.

Young, who married in 1847 Janet (d. 1901), daughter of George Graham Bell of Crurie, Dumfriesshire, had a large family, of whom four sons, all in the legal profession, and six daughters survived him. Two portraits of him, by Sir George Reid and Lutyens respectively are in the possession of his daughters, and a bust by Mrs. Wallace is in the Parliament House.

[Scotsman, 19 Feb. 1874, 12 and 23 May 1907; The Times, 23 May 1907; Records of Scots Law Society; Roll of the Faculty of Advocates; Notable Scottish Trials, Madeleine Smith, p. 286; Memoirs of Dr. Guthrie, ii. 294–305; Galloway Gazette, 13 Jan. 1872; Hansard, 3rd series, vol. 209, p. 250; Sir M. E. Grant-Duff's Notes from a Diary, ii. 181 et passim.]

G. W. T. O.