A Judge’s Marshal in the early 1960s – Postscript 1

This blog is a response to the comment by Sir Paul Jenkins, who was Treasury Solicitor between 2006 and 2014.  It has always been my hope, since I opened this blogsite last week, that it would include an inter-active element, so I am happy to respond to what Paul has written.

When the Mansion House at Newcastle was no longer available to the judges (and it was soon to be blighted by its proximity to one of T.Dan Smith’s roadways cutting through the heart of Newcastle), a house at Medomsley was used as substitute lodgings.  Perhaps it was doing double duty for both Newcastle and Durham when Paul was a marshal in 1977.  By the time I was appointed a High Court Judge in 1988, the Teesside Crown Court (in Middlesbrough) had taken the place of Durham as the place which High Court judges visited.  When I went there for three weeks that autumn I stayed at Kirklevington Hall, a vast Victorian house near Yarm which had been built for a member of the Richardson family, of Richardsons Westgarth, the Hartlepool shipbuilders.  Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss had used the Hall as her base recently when she was conducting the Cleveland Child Abuse Inquiry.

The following year both Medomsley and Kirklevington Hall were closed, and instead of them newly acquired lodgings at Plawsworth, near Chester-Le-Street, did double duty for judges visiting either Newcastle or Teesside.  I went there for the last time in the summer of 2006 when the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal sat for a week in Newcastle for the first time.

Like Paul, I do not remember trumpets at Newcastle or at Durham.  But on that first visit to Teesside in 1988, there was certainly a trumpeter.  He was hidden from sight behind a large bush when I arrived at court in pouring rain on the first day of my visit.   After getting out of the car I stood at the bottom of some stone steps while the High Sheriff, Mrs Nan Bloom, stood at the top to greet me, but I could not move until I heard the unseen trumpeter, who was a bit slow off the mark.  So the High Sheriff and I both got a bit wet.

I remember both Ralph Kilner-Brown and Pat O’Connor.  The former, a grammar school boy, had been a British hurdles champion and a Liberal Party Parliamentary candidate before he became a High Court judge in 1970.  I used to appear before him in employment cases.  I remember that on one occasion, when I was representing the Central Arbitration Committee in the Divisional Court, he and the other member of the court Sir John Donaldson (a commercial law specialist) very clearly did not agree.  Ralph understood and accepted my arguments, and he knew much more about the delicacies of industrial relations than John ever did.   John for his part was much keener to move the Divisional Court backlog (which had built up during Lord Widgery CJ’s final years on the court) than he was to have to enrol a third judge for a rehearing of the case after the first two had disagreed.   So when they came back to court after considering what to do he said, rather grumpily: “Mr Justice Kilner-Brown will give the first judgment” and then, even more grumpily” I agree”.

Sir Patrick O’Connor was described in an obituary as a “gregarious, clubbable man”.  As a barrister he practised in the specialist personal injury set of chambers which occupied a floor lower than ours at 2 Crown Office Row in the Temple.  He became a High Court judge in 1966, and was quickly followed on to the bench by two other distinguished members of those chambers, Ted Eveleigh and Hugh Griffiths.  They both became leading judges and they both died earlier this year.

I first met Pat when he came down to Cumberland Lodge in the autumn of 1962 with a contingent of Inner Temple students.   Unlike many more senior members of the Inn at that time, he immediately saw the importance of building bridges with the many Commonwealth law students who were coming to the Inn in those days before Bar training schools were established in their home countries.  As a High Court judge he was notorious for his generosity to personal injury plaintiffs.  If a case was moved at the last minute to his court for trial, it was noticeable how much more generous the defendant’s insurers suddenly became in their pre-hearing settlement offers.  His daughter Tricia was doing sterling work as a senior lawyer at the Law Commission when I joined it as chairman in 1993.

Finally, Peter Taylor, the future lord chief justice who disliked tripe so much, was one of my heroes.  He had to resign from the Bench very suddenly after only four years in that high office, and died the following year.  When I went to the AGM of the Justices’ Clerks’ Society at Stratford-upon-Avon in May 1996 very soon after his resignation, I took the opportunity of saying:

“But first I hope you will forgive me if I start by saying something which wasn’t in my original script. Last Thursday might I went with my wife to a charity concert in Middle Temple Hall. The place was packed, and I don’t suppose there were more than a handful of people there who already knew the news which was to hit us between the eyes as soon as we got home. If we had, the applause for Lord Taylor, who played the piano quite beautifully that night, would surely never have stopped.

At a personal level , I have lost a leader and a mentor whose personal example in each capacity I will not easily forget.   During the ten years which may remain to me on the Bench – if my own health stands up – I will constantly be asking myself “What would Peter Taylor have done?”

At a national level, we have lost an outstanding Lord Chief Justice.

And on an occasion like this I think I can say with confidence that hundreds and hundreds of his friends – for few very senior judges can have had so many friends – and thousands and thousands of people who do not know him on a personal level will be wishing him and his family well as he fights this illness  which has made him give up the job which he adorned so much.

I was lucky enough to sit with him in the Court of Appeal for a fortnight at the start of this year. What impressed me most was not just the obvious respect which everyone in court had for his sense of fairness.   It was the fact that if he thought that something had gone wrong and that a defendant was justified in thinking he or she had had a raw deal from a court of justice, he wouldn’t hesitate to step in and quash a conviction if that was what he thought justice demanded . I think there is a great temptation for a judge at that level to be inclined to support his fellow judges and to decline to intervene even if things seem to have gone rather wrong in the court below. That wasn’t Lord Taylor’s style at all, and it was very good to watch him in action at close quarters . We will all miss him terribly.”

I showed this to Peter soon afterwards.  I think he was rather touched.

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