John Usher, 1945-2008

November 20, 2008

John Usher, a leading authority on European law, has died.

He was born in Cheshire on 12 August 1945 and educated at Hyde Grammar School and Newcastle University before receiving a scholarship to study at the University of Nancy, France. In 1967, he became a lecturer at the University of Exeter.

Before continuing his ascent up the university ladder, he acquired invaluable experience by spending the period 1974-78 at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, first as a researcher and then as a referendaire (legal secretary) to the first British Advocate-General. It was a challenge to bridge the communications gap between mutually suspicious advocates of common and European Community law and partly because of this, perhaps, Professor Usher remained for the rest of his life almost without equal in his mastery of the most minute detail of European legislation.

Re-entering academic life, he was appointed lecturer in European law at the University of Edinburgh, the only British university that then ranked with Exeter in its commitment to serious study of the field. After the untimely death in 1980 of John Mitchell, the first Salvesen professor of European institutions, Professor Usher became acting head of the Centre of European Governmental Studies and then, in 1983, reader at University College London.

His first chair, as professor of European law and director of the Centre for European Legal Studies at Exeter (1986-95), was followed by a return to Edinburgh as director of the Europa Institute (1995-2002), dean of the faculty of law (1996-99) and head of the School of Law (2003-04). He returned to Exeter to finish his career as head of the University of Exeter Law School.

Along with a number of jointly authored works, Professor Usher's publications included the highly influential European Community Law and National Law: The Irreversible Transfer? (1981) and European Court Practice (1983), a pioneering article-by-article commentary on court procedure, as well as volumes on agricultural law and financial services in European law.

Kim Economides, professor of legal ethics at Exeter, remembers him as "a humane professional greatly admired by European law specialists and one of a select few who regularly advised governments. He was capable also of touching many others through his understated charm, infectious laugh and impressive talent for languages and music. Most knew him as a careful, balanced scholar, but I prefer to remember him laughing with his loving wife, Jean, when they hosted parties flowing with conversation, wine and Mediterranean food."

Professor Usher died of leukaemia on 13 September. He is survived by his wife, their two sons and two grandsons.

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