Lord Slynn of Hadley, who died on 7 April 2009, was one of the outstanding advocates of his generation and practiced from chambers in 1 Hare Court which were then regarded as the intellectual power house of the Bar. Called in 1956 after studying law at Trinity College Cambridge and having served in the RAF where he gained the Sword of Honour, he was pupil to Roger Parker, later Lord Justice Parker. He himself would be pupil master to 16 young barristers whose names read like a Who’s Who of the senior judiciary, leading QCs and an Attorney General. In 1967 he was appointed Junior Counsel to the Ministry of Labour and the next year became First Junior Counsel to the Crown (the “Treasury Devil”). In the latter role of advising and representing Ministers and government departments, he displayed his ability to cut through the mass of detail and distil the very essence of a case rapidly, objectively and with great effect. He became the first “Treasury Devil” to take Silk, in 1974, by which time he was already Recorder of Hereford. At the age of 46, in 1976, he was appointed a Judge to the High Court, Queen’s Bench Division.

Advocate-General appointment

It is especially for what he did after that, that we remember him. Lord Chief Justice Lane had Gordon Slynn marked down for very high office. Lord Hailsham (Lord Chancellor 1979–87) was equally keen to deploy his immense abilities in Europe. Luxembourg won at that stage, and he was appointed Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) in 1981. His opinions, which displayed great clarity of thought and judgment, were very persuasive to the ECJ. He was instrumental in gently moving the ECJ towards accepting a greater role for oral argument in its proceedings. He also made an outstanding contribution to the development of the Bar in Europe. His eight years as Advocate General and three subsequent years as the British judge meant that he left a very positive mark on the ECJ, and—together with his natural ease with people of diverse backgrounds and culture—on all those who encountered him.

Whilst at the ECJ and continuously thereafter, he applied a considerable amount of his energy towards projects to assist states which sought to join the European Union. In addition, despite being based in Luxembourg, he was able to devote time and energy to serve as Treasurer of Gray’s Inn in 1988. In the same year, he was elected Chairman of the International Law Association (“ILA”), replacing Lord Wilberforce and working tirelessly for the next 20 years to ensure that the ILA maintained its reputation as a truly international institution dedicated to the research and practice of public international law.

Indeed, Lord Lloyd recently observed that “Gordon found complete fulfillment in Luxembourg. He was also a marvellous advocate for European law, and the work of the European Court in this country. He gave countless lectures in which he explained what was going on, and the importance of it all for us. He never failed to turn up at the Judges’ Service in Westminster Abbey at the beginning of the legal year usually in some robes of a startling colour, just to remind us that ‘there is a world elsewhere’.”

A Lord of Appeal in Ordinary

Despite his invaluable presence at the ECJ, he felt it was time to come home and he was promoted directly to the House of Lords. His speeches in cases such as Pinochet (No 1) (see [2001] 1 AC 61, [1998] 4 All ER 897) were characterised by independence and clarity of thought. Lord Lloyd also observed that “In the international field he shone. Lord Wilberforce told him that he would have been proud to have written Gordon’s speech in the Pinochet case”.

In 1997 he was diagnosed with cancer and told that he had weeks to live. With characteristic courage, tenacity and resolve, he confounded the prognosis of leading cancer specialists and continued to sit as a Law Lord until 2002.

Later life

Thereafter many remarked that they often saw him just as he had come from, or was about to depart for the airport. He was always sought after to sit as an arbitrator, gives lectures and speak at international conferences. His mind revelled in dealing with challenges, and saying no to an invitation was next to impossible for fear of causing offence. Even in his 70s he demonstrated what his friends and colleagues had seen all this life: a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, speed of thought and understated yet powerful style of delivery.

His wife Odile, who is French and who studied at the Sorbonne, and whom he met when she nursed him in hospital during a serious illness in 1962, continued to support Gordon, and 47 years after their first meeting nursed him when he was struck by a series of respiratory infections at the end. Through a foundation they helped widows and orphans in the slums of Calcutta. Their William and Mary house in Eggington, Bedfordshire hosted many guests from all over the world. Guests were always introduced to his pet dogs – Raj and Pastis – both were brought to his bedside when it became clear that he was too ill to leave the hospital. His cellar of fine wine (he was a Chevalier de Tastevin) and art collection reflected a man whose aesthetic sense was very keen, and his love of the performing arts meant that visits to the opera and Sadlers’ Wells (of which he was a governor) were frequent.

Taking up the fight

In recent years, he displayed conviction by taking up the fight on behalf of a group of Iranian dissidents who had been living in Iraq, and were in fear of being expelled by Coalition Forces after March 2003. At some risk to himself, he travelled by road to “Camp Ashraf” in Iraq to see the people, and to argue with US Military Generals for their refugee status to be respected. In addition, he was moved to place his full support behind the campaign to remove the People’s Movement of Iran (“PMOI”) (a dissident Iranian organisation) from the List of Terrorist Organisations (Proscribed Status).

A few weeks before his death, he spoke movingly of how he recently flew to an Eastern European state, to intervene personally on behalf of a couple of Iranian dissidents who were to be deported back to Tehran – he believed almost certainly to their death. His intervention with the authorities in the early hours of the morning prevented this. His moral authority and credibility was pivotal in enabling successful legal challenges against Proscribed Status to be brought on behalf of the PMOI in England, the ECJ and elsewhere.

His legacy

Lord Slynn’s legacy is brilliance as a lawyer and judge, often accompanied by a twinkle in the eye revealing a human being who also revelled in life – and lived it to the full.

Khawar Qureshi QC is Vice-Chairman of the Bar Council International Committee