We mourn the passing of one of the greatest advocates and legal brains this country has ever seen.   Advocate Douglas Jamieson Shaw QC died peacefully in the afternoon on Wednesday 6 November 2013 with his beloved wife Rachel at his side.   Douglas Shaw has rightly been described by a leading law firm in Durban as one of ‘South Africa’s most learned and distinguished lawyers who graced our courts for 64 years with his immense knowledge, keen legal insights and impeccable conduct’.

See also:

In memoriam: SA’s last QC – a tribute to Douglas Shaw*
Tribute by Malcolm Wallis, judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal

When practising as an attorney in Johannesburg in the early 1970s I was told by our senior partner, the late Charles Friedman, that he regarded Douglas Shaw as one of the finest advocates in South Africa and frequently briefed him in commercial and tax matters.

In January 1976 I started practising as an advocate in Pietermaritzburg and was fortunate to be briefed as a junior to Douglas Shaw on a few occasions.    In fact he was responsible for my move to the Bar in Durban in 1978.   He told me if I was really serious about practising as an advocate I had to be in Durban.   I took over the chambers of David Friedman in Fenton Road in Durban as he had just been appointed to the bench. I still have the bookcases I bought from David Friedman.

One of my most embarrassing experiences was receiving a brief from one of the largest law firms in Durban headed ‘Adv GS Giles SC with you Adv DJ Shaw and Adv D Gordon’.   I could not believe my eyes and immediately telephoned the attorney to point out the grave error.   Needless to say the attorney received a very severe reprimand when he arrived with the client for the consultation.

On leaving the Bar in 1981 and resuming practising as an attorney I briefed Douglas Shaw a number of times.   On one occasion I asked him if he was prepared to appear in the former Industrial Court.   His reply was ‘yes, but the fee will be R250 000 for the day’.   In other words having experienced a few setbacks with some labour matters he had no intention of going anywhere near that tribunal.

As a matter of interest to labour lawyers Douglas Shaw was the senior counsel in one of the first major cases involving an employer’s repudiatory breach of an employment contract.   Douglas Shaw appeared for the former employee and his junior was Malcolm Wallis, now a highly regarded judge in the Supreme Court of Appeal.   For those who are interested the case is Stewart Wrightson v Thorpe [1977] 3 All SA 267; 1977 (2) SA 943 (AD).

The wit of Douglas Shaw is legendary.   Below I quote some extracts from a tribute that David Gordon paid to Douglas Shaw in 2007.   The one story I particularly like is when he appeared in an appeal in Pietermaritzburg for the respondent.   Richard Feetham appeared for the appellant and his junior was the brilliant Peter Hunt, who had a doctorate in law.   [As an aside Peter Hunt died tragically  in January 1976 a few day before I arrived in Pietermaritzburg].   Richard Feetham proudly announced that he appeared for the appellant ably assisted by his learned junior Dr Hunt’.   Douglas Shaw stood up and said he appeared for the respondent ‘without the benefit of any medical assistance’!

On behalf of our family I express my deepest sympathy and condolences to Rachel and the family.

A tribute to Douglas Shaw QC

[David Gordon SC of the KwaZulu-Natal Bar, Durban, paid tribute to Douglas Shaw QC in recognition of his contribution to maritime law in SA on behalf of the Maritime Law Association of South Africa at its conference and annual general meeting on 19 May 2007.   This is an abbreviated version of David Gordon’s speech].

We all know that Douglas has a superb and vivid wit.   He once referred to one of our colleagues as ‘Instant law – just add boiling water.’

On another occasion when asked for his reaction on the elevation of one of our judges to the Appellate Division he stated: ‘A remarkable act of levitation.   By doing so he has increased the average IQ of both the Natal Provincial Division and the Appeal Court.’

Returning from Bloemfontein one afternoon, Douglas and I got stuck in Johannesburg and we had to stay at the airport hotel.   Their hospitality to Douglas extended to no hot water in the basin, bath or shower – boiling hot water in the toilet -half frozen/half cooked kingklip and upon returning to his room, a jet-lagged Oriental guest fast asleep in his bed.   As we were leaving reception the following morning, a young woman clip-clopped in her high heeled shoes, kept pace with us, and asked, ’What brought you gentlemen to the hotel, our advertising, your travel agent, word of mouth, what was it?’ Douglas stopped and answered quite simply, Misfortune’.

May his soul rest in peace.   He will be fondly remembered for many years.

Note:  Sadly David Gordon SC died in April 2018 and condolences to his family.