Thursday 19 October 2017

`Appalling vista' judge dies at 100

BERNARD PURCELL

BRITAIN'S best-known judge Lord Denning forever associated in Irish minds with controversial remarks about the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four died yesterday at the age of 100.

BRITAIN'S best-known judge Lord Denning forever associated in Irish minds with controversial remarks about the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four died yesterday at the age of 100.

The former Master of the Rolls, who retired in 1982, dominated English and Welsh law throughout the mid twentieth century and presided over some of the most important cases ever heard in British courts.

Irish, black and homosexual people were offended by him although, ironically, despite his prejudices, his judicial legacy is acknowledged as that of a ``champion of the underdog''.

He invented the doctrine that a deserted wife is entitled to a share of her husband's property.

BEST-KNOWN

He is best-known in Ireland for remarks made during and after his tenure as Master of the Rolls the second most senior full-time judge after the Lord Chief Justice and ranked third after Lord Chancellor.

He held the post for 20 years until 1983 when he stepped down from the bench but not from controversy at the age of 83.

As Master of the Rolls he threw out a civil action by the Birmingham Six against West Midlands Police in 1980 and remarked that to accept their case that police officers had lied about their confessions and beaten them would have opened up ``an appalling vista''.

When the Guildford Four's convictions were overturned in 1989, he said they were probably guilty of murder anyway. He subsequently apologised.

OUT OF CONTEXT

He also criticised the campaign to release the Birmingham Six.

Although widely quoted as having said that had the Six been hanged when convicted ``we shouldn't have all these campaigns to get them released'', he always insisted his remarks had been taken out of context.

But when the Birmingham Six convictions were eventually overturned in 1991, he admitted he had been wrong, apologised and condemned the West Midlands Police.

His retirement was prompted by controversial remarks about black jurors.

Remarks in his 1982 book ``What Next In The Law,'' following a trial arising out of a race riot in Bristol, were taken to mean that some black people were unsuitable to serve as jurors.

Threatened with libel proceedings by two of the jurors on the case in question, he publicly apologised.

HOMOSEXUALS

In 1990, he suggested homosexuals should not be appointed as judges because he believed them to be vulnerable to blackmail.

Despite the impression generated by some of his remarks and his portrayal by some campaigners he was not anti-Irish and was unfailingly courteous in dealing with any Irish media requests to talk about his controversial remarks.

Although ahead of his time in many areas such as family law, he was nonetheless very much a product of his time in some of his prejudices and principles.

He was criticised for saying publicly what most barristers and judges would only venture privately.

It should be remembered that until a number of England's ``establishment'' figures took up the cases of the Maguire Seven, Guildford Four, and Birmingham Six, their guilt was also the settled belief of most Irish ministers and TDs.

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