Heuston, Robert Francis Vere (1923–95), jurist, was born in Dublin on 17 November 1923. He was the eldest son of Vere Douglas Heuston, managing clerk in Guinness's brewery, and his wife, Dorothy Helen, née Coulter. He was proud of his direct descent from a first cousin of Robert Emmet (qv). He was baptised into the Church of Ireland and remained a practising anglican all his life. Heuston was educated at St Columba's College, Dublin, and at TCD, from where he graduated with a first-class honours degree in law; he was auditor of the College Historical Society in 1945. Admitted to the King's Inns in 1943, he was called to the bar in 1947. Almost immediately he embarked on what was to be a distinguished academic career. Following a year as a research student at St John's College, Cambridge, he was elected a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford.
In 1953 Heuston accepted an invitation to become the editor of one of the best known of English legal textbooks, Salmond on the law of torts, which dealt with the law of civil wrongs other than breaches of contract, including such important areas as negligence and defamation. He was solely responsible for every edition from the eleventh to the eighteenth, at which stage it was renamed Salmond and Heuston on the law of torts. The law of tort developed enormously in the twentieth century, particularly in respect of negligence because of the growing importance of actions for personal injury; every edition of Salmond on tort for which Heuston was responsible therefore necessitated a considerable amount of new text. This demonstrated not merely his erudition and industry but also a style that was peculiarly his own; spare, lucid, and enlivened by a dry wit and literary and historical allusions. Salmond had always been a work that judges, practitioners, and students alike relied on, and that tradition was continued under Heuston's editorship: it remained one of the most frequently cited textbooks in Irish courts.
As a teacher of law Heuston was highly regarded in Oxford: there were often queues to gain admission to his lectures. John Maurice Kelly (qv), politician and academic, who was one of the students whom he supervised, acknowledged Heuston's help and encouragement in the writing of what was to become his important work Fundamental rights in the Irish law and constitution (1960). Heuston's own interest in the subject was reflected in his Essays in constitutional law, published in 1961, a characteristically idiosyncratic survey of some unexplored areas of the law. It was followed in 1964 by the first volume of his Lives of the lord chancellors, covering the years from 1885 to 1940 and reflecting not merely his legal learning but his wide-ranging reading in history.
On 2 July 1962 Heuston married Bridget Ward-Perkins (née Bolland), widow of his friend the economist Neville Ward-Perkins, who had also been a fellow of Pembroke, and thus became stepfather to the four children of that marriage. In 1965 he left Oxford to become professor of law at the University of Southampton. It was an upheaval for him and his new family, but he felt strongly that a working life spent entirely in Oxford would be unduly constricting. He occupied the Southampton chair until 1970, when he returned to TCD as regius professor of laws, where he remained until 1983. He was also a member of the law reform commission from 1975 to 1981 – he had played a similar role in England as a member of the law reform committee (1968–70).
The school of law at TCD during the years of Heuston's tenure of the chair was enlivened by the presence on the staff of two future presidents of Ireland, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, and of Kader Asmal, later a cabinet minister in post-apartheid South Africa. But it was also a period during which the proposal for a merger of UCD and TCD, originally made by Donogh O'Malley (qv) as minister for education in 1967, led to much controversy, in which the law school was inevitably embroiled since one of the critical questions raised by the merger was whether the existing law schools in the two universities should be replaced by one unified faculty and, if so, whether the new faculty should go to UCD or Trinity. Heuston, who for all his gifts as a teacher was shy and retiring by nature, cannot have found these battles congenial. They came to an end in 1974 with the virtual abandonment by the government of the original merger proposals. Heuston had also no great enthusiasm for the administrative aspects of his chair and chose early retirement at the age of sixty.
In 1987 the second volume of his Lives of the lord chancellors, covering the years 1940–70, appeared. He made full use of the opportunities afforded him in his retirement of keeping in touch with old friends in Ireland and England by his appointment as honorary bencher of King's Inns and Gray's Inn, as Arthur Goodhart professor of legal science at Cambridge (1986–7), and as an honorary fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford. He also enjoyed his spells as a visiting professor at the University of Melbourne and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Despite his quiet manner, he was no recluse, and was an excellent raconteur who enjoyed civilised dining. He died of cancer 21 December 1995 at a Dublin hospice, and was buried at St Patrick's, Tara, Meath on 31 December; he was survived by his wife and four stepchildren. A portrait photograph of him is at Pembroke College, Oxford.