A fond farewell

A reflection on the extraordinary achievements of the outgoing Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge

Contributor
Maura McGowan QC, Chairman of the Bar

A standing ovation in the court of the Lord Chief Justice is a rare phenomenon. But it happened spontaneously, and with genuine warmth, at the valedictory ceremony for the outgoing incumbent, Lord Judge. The court was packed and places had been available by invitation only. If the proposed broadcasting of the proceedings in the Court of Appeal had been in place, it would have been a marvellous occasion to have captured for posterity.


We are, rightly, very proud of our senior judiciary in this jurisdiction. They demonstrate wisdom, great intellectual skill, combined with sense and integrity; some of them can even be charming. Igor Judge typifies, in fact, exemplifies all those qualities.

Lord Dyson, Master of the Rolls, told the assembled court: “We are here to say an official and very public farewell to one of our greatest Chief Justices.” That is probably the highest praise any judge could ever receive. However, it is for his contribution on a wider stage that we, the profession, should thank him most profusely. He has been one of our greatest champions in recent years.

Lord Dyson went on to say: “He has been responsible for leading the judiciary of England and Wales during a period of unprecedented difficulties and changes. The government likes to portray challenges as opportunities.”

That is certainly true, but he has never forgotten his “first” career as a barrister. He has done a great deal, quietly, to protect and strengthen our position, within the confines of his role, in recent years. I am sure he will be much louder in his defence after 1 October.

In fact, he has been a true friend and supporter to the profession throughout his career and, over the course of the last six months, to me personally. He has been a great counsellor and ally through some very difficult times.

He has also, possibly to the surprise of some, demonstrated his great skill as a champion of the rights of a much wider community. At the conference of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association in Cape Town in March of this year, he spoke with great eloquence on the life of the former president, Nelson Mandela, and the devastating impact upon the country and its people of years of rule under the former political and judicial systems.

As a white Lord, he addressed a predominantly black, male African audience on apartheid and its consequences, especially for women. He commanded their attention and respect. He moved them to tears and to two standing ovations. He spoke with extraordinary emotion and power.

He captivated, charmed, inspired and pricked the conscience of every one of the hundreds of people in the auditorium.

Of the role of judges he said: “We aim to do justice, according to the oath I took, ‘without fear or favour, affection or ill-will’. A similar oath is taken by every judge in the common law world. It means, but it does not simply mean, that the judge must be courageous in facing possible personal threats, whether from individuals or officers of the state: it goes much further. What the oath means is that, whether all those untoward threats are absent or present, the judge must be blind to prejudice: impartial, fair, balanced, with a true appreciation of the common humanity which binds us all and which we have all – everyone of us – inherited. In that way we ensure equality before
the law.”

As a judge, he has more than lived up to those extraordinarily high standards he set for himself. As somebody who supposedly gave up advocacy 25 years ago, he showed a skill and expertise that those of us who are still trying to get it right could only find simultaneously impressive and depressing.

On behalf of the Bar I wish him and Lady Judge, Judith, a long, happy and healthy retirement. As such a devoted couple they deserve, at least that and all our thanks.

As the holder of the office of Lord Chief Justice, he will be greatly missed. As a champion of the profession, he will not be allowed to retire for a very, very long time to come.

The following day, 31 July, an elderly coal miner sat in the jury box in the same Court 4 of the Royal Courts of Justice. Again the court was composed of the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Queen’s Bench Division, the President of the Family Division, members of the Court of Appeal and the High Court. At the end of the war, he had emigrated from Poland to Stoke-on-Trent. He watched with immeasurable pride as his daughter was sworn in as a Lady Justice of the Court of Appeal.

That is social mobility.

“There would be little to say on this subject, were it not for the nonsense that has been talked about it.” – A. J. P. Taylor quoting Sir Lewis Namier, in his introduction to F. Tobias, The Reichstag Fire.

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