Mr Justice McCardie (1869-1933) – Rebel, Reformer, and Rogue Judge

Antony Lentin

Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2016)

Hardback 205pp 978-1-4438-9780-8

Dust to sand. For my generation, studying 30 years or so after his shocking death in 1933, few of the judgments of Mr Justice McCardie impinged on our legal consciousness. Such is the short-term fame of so many distinguished judges, operating at a level well above that of a puisne judge. Years later in a second-hand bookshop I discovered a collection of his judgments under the intriguing title Judicial Wisdom of Mr Justice McCardie and found myself admiring their clarity and down-to-earth common sense. He was a brilliant judicial communicator.

This excellent biography by Antony Lentin takes a detached and fascinating look at a very controversial figure. Like the great Tom Denning, he was described as a living legend and crusader, but also as a judicial infidel and a rogue judge running amock. We follow him from Birmingham to the Middle Temple with a prize Certificate of Honour from the Council of Legal Education. Then to the chambers of the Leader of the Midlands Circuit, where ultimately he had a very successful Circuit practice. Moving to London, he became the leading junior of his time, working late into the night with a team of six devils operating on a rota basis. His diary once recorded 21 cases in a single day in separate courts. Renowned for outstanding advocacy, a charming and courteous manner and a good voice, he was ‘the nicest of cross examiners’. So often the best way. Fed up with waiting for a fastidious Lord Chancellor, Lord Loreburn to give him Silk, he went straight from a leading junior to the High Court bench in 1916, at the astonishingly early age of 37.

As a judge, he was intemperately rebuked on appeal in a matrimonial case by Lord Justice Scrutton, which caused him to complain bitterly but incisively to the Lord Chancellor. He became a household figure, hugely admired by the public. Many wrote to him with their own myriad legal issues, receiving back courteous and helpful replies. Space does not permit examination of his many newsworthy judgments, but it is worth recording that he had an excellent court manner for those who appeared in front of him.

To the last, Mr Justice McCardie retained the freshness and enthusiasm of his youth. Then tragically the light went out, when he shot himself at his home in London at the age of 59. Was it ill-health, recognition of waning skills or were there other pressures, possibly financial? No matter: his end should not disguise the depth and quality of the man. Rebel, reformer and rogue judge indeed. Lentin has combined deep scholarship with vivid imagery, creating a fitting tribute to an extraordinary and populist figure, whose personality and achievements deserve to be remembered. I strongly recommended this striking portrait.

Category: 
Issue: 
Author details: 
Nigel Pascoe QC

Nigel is a former leader of the Western Circuit, practises crime from Pump Court Chambers, and is a Master of Drama in the Inner Temple. He is on the editorial board of Counsel.