Formerly Consultant Psychiatrist, Royal Edinburgh Hospital, and Director of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland
Dr James (Jim) Dyer was born in Arbroath on 31 December 1946 and died in Edinburgh on 24 January 2019 aged 72 years. He shaped the practice of most of Scotland's mental health law in force today. One of the most influential psychiatrists of his generation, he led the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland for many years, keeping the focus of the Commission always on the care of those with mental disorder who had been detained. A quiet, gentle and firm man who never lost sight of what was important in the care of patients, he brought a sense of gravitas as well as professional insight to the work he carried out and raised awareness of mental health issues in Scotland.
He had a focused interest in mental health law and significantly influenced the formation and practice of mental health law in Scotland. From 1991 to 2016, he worked to shape mental health law and the nature of the provision of mental healthcare and treatment in Scotland. He was a Member of the Millan Committee, whose report led to the enactment of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, which is still in force today. Having joined in 1991 as HM Medical Commissioner, in 1993 he was appointed Director of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, serving in that capacity until 2003. He increased the reputation of that national body, fiercely preserving its independence from government and policy makers.
From 2005 to 2016, he continued to make his mark, and his influence was visible as a medical member of the new judicial body created under the 2003 Act, namely the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland. He was a valued member of the tribunal and sat on numerous hearings involving the detention of persons with mental disorder. He was also the first Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner – a newly created part-time post which he held from 2003 to 2009. His time as Commissioner was marked by his independence and the further investigation of complaints which were raised with him against Members of the Scottish Parliament. In 2003, he was awarded the OBE for services to mental health in Scotland.
Born in Arbroath, a son of the manse, with his sister Christine, he would comment on the dutiful way his mother faithfully fulfilled the role of a minister's wife while at the same time caring for her family. His father was a traditional Minister of the Church of Scotland and would observe the Sabbath as part of his Christian life. He would, for example, refrain from watching television on a Sunday, although Jim would comment, with a glint in his eye: ‘Well, that lasted until they began broadcasting Dr Finlay's Casebook’.
Jim Dyer was educated at Bo'ness Academy, and spent his last 2 years of high school at Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen. He went on to read Medicine at Aberdeen University, graduating in 1970. He was made a Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1975 and a Fellow in 1992.
He worked as a Registrar in Psychiatry at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (1972–1977), then served for a time as Scientific Officer with the Medical Research Council, studying parasuicide and suicide. Upon his return to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, he took up post as a Consultant in General and Rehabilitation Psychiatry, and at the same time was an Honorary Senior Lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh (1981–1991). In this capacity, he was keenly interested in community and rehabilitative psychiatry and the legislative framework created to protect the rights of patients who were detained. He published prolifically and, based on his research, he produced papers, articles and chapters for books on the subjects of suicide and parasuicide, schizophrenia, psychiatric services and mental health legislative issues.
He had a keen engagement with and interest in a number of the major issues that are currently under debate – he was a founder member of the Medical Campaign against Nuclear Weapons, a member of Dignity in Dying UK; a member of Doctors for Assisted Suicide, Scotland, and a member of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on End of Life Choices. His personal interests ranged from current affairs to reading, photography and opera, and to cultural and other trips to various parts of Europe. Above all, he enjoyed the company of like-minded people who wished to wrestle with the intellectual and ethical challenges of a modern Scotland.
He married Lorna Townson in 1969, that marriage being dissolved in 1994. They had two sons, Paul and Euan, and a daughter, Rowan. In 1994, he married Suzanne Whitaker, whereby he gained a stepson, Christopher, and two stepdaughters, Sophie and Emily. He had one granddaughter, Elka, who was born in 2010.
Dr Jim Dyer died, after a lengthy time, of the effects of prostate cancer and, wholly in character, he had prepared for that death.