OBITUARY: Legal brain and devoted Presbyterian James Tweed

James Tweed
James Tweed

James Scott Tweed kept a deliberately low profile, but was among the most accomplished legal figures of his time.

The devoted Presbyterian was buried last month after succumbing to Parkinson’s disease.

He had been born at the family farm in Ballycoose on August 20, 1926, to parents Campbell and Lavinia Tweed.

He was a pupil of Cairncastle Primary School and later Coleraine Academical Institution, before studying at law Trinity College, Dublin – both at Bachelor and then Masters levels.

He went on to work at law firm O’Rorke, McDonald and Tweed where he remained until 1977, when he was sworn in as a resident magistrate.

He was assigned to Belfast Juvenile Court in 1979.

His son Alan, a merchant seaman, said: “He did a lot of training in juvenile criminal law. He used to go to the police college and train them. It was quite specialised.”

He was also appointed a Deputy County Court Judge – bypassing the stage of becoming a barrister first, and his family believe he was the first man in Northern Ireland to accomplish this.

He also took up the post of Honorary Secretary of the Resident Magistrates’ Association.

Alan added: “He tried to keep a low profile. It was the serious times of the Troubles. His house was well-fortified. He had alarm systems and bullet-proof glass installed. He had a direct link to the police station, and a bodyguard when he was travelling.”

In 1985 he was elected member of the council of the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association, going on to be its vice-president.

The role was hugely prestigious. Up until that point he had opted to stay quite close to home, and would usually holiday in England or Scotland rather than travel abroad.

But he soon found himself voyaging across the globe, particularly to African countries, as well as Canada and the Caribbean.

The organisation held high-powered annual meetings which drew major international judicial figures, and often heads of governments too – and he was instrumental in organising it all.

“But he never really talked about it at home,” said Alan.

“He built a wee bit onto the house, a study, and worked away every night. Even as a resident magistrate in Belfast there was a lot of homework to do... but my father never complained.”

By the time of his retirement in 1997 (when he was accorded an OBE) he was senior resident magistrate in Belfast.

He had married his wife Audrey (nee McCrum) in 1953 and they spent most of their life in Drains Bay, east Antrim, before moving to Ballygally.

Outside his legal work he was a very active Rotarian, and among his other roles were as past captain and vice-president of Larne Rugby Club, honorary life member of Muckamore Tennis club, and worshipful master of Cairncastle freemasons lodge.

He was also an elder of Cairncastle Presbyterian Church and had sat on committees within the Irish Presbyterian church as a whole.

He was described by his family as a traditionalist Presbyterian, and “very much a family man”.

He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease since 1997, and died as a result of the disease on December 22 at a residential home in Carnlough.

His funeral was held on Christmas Eve at Cairncastle Presbyterian before he was buried at Larne Cemetery.

He is survived by sister Kathleen and children Alan, Grace, Jennifer and Robin – the latter of whom followed him into the legal profession and still works as a solicitor today.