HL Deb 06 May 1943 vol 127 cc427-31

My Lords, your Lordships will have heard with deep regret the news of the death of Lord Hewart. Lord Hewart was not only a renowned Judge and a most distinguished member of your Lordships' House. He was a great Englishman. He was a man of wide and varied interests. Scholar, statesman, political thinker, lawyer, Judge and wit—he was each and all of these things. And he was more beside. In a supreme degree he was a very human man. He had those qualities of sympathy, humour and robust common sense which are characteristic of the County of Lancashire from which he sprang. Of latter years ill-health had caused his ever-increasing withdrawal from our public life, and therefore to the men of the younger generation he was, perhaps, a famous name rather than that real and living influence which for men of his own generation I know that he remained. My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, the Lord Chancellor, with all the authority of an intimate friend and a great lawyer, will be speaking to your Lordships of that side of Lord Hewart's public life for which probably he will be chiefly remembered—his work as lawyer, Attorney-General and Lord Chief Justice of England. But before I give way to him, I am sure your Lordships will wish me, in the name of the House, to record our sympathy with Lady Hewart and the other members of Lord Hewart's family.


My Lords, you will, I trust, allow me to add a few words, for, alike in Parliament and in our Courts of Law, I have had a very long association with this distinguished man, and indeed I was fortunate to make his friendship even before the time when he entered the House of Commons. As the Leader of the House has just said, Gordon Hewart had really remarkable qualities. He was a wit, a scholar, an accomplished Parliamentarian, a beautiful speaker of good English, a Minister of wide experience who attained Cabinet rank, and then, for eighteen years, the dignified and imperturbable President of our Courts of Common Law. At that home of sound learning, the Manchester Grammar School, and afterwards at Oxford, he acquired a taste and a knowledge in classical literature which remained with him throughout his life and, as I personally know, consoled him in his last years of illness and retirement. Like some others who have become distinguished at the English Bar—like Sir Edward Clarke, for example, or the late Lord Merrivale—he first pursued the profession of journalism. Indeed he was for a time in the Press Gallery before he turned to the law. When he entered into what was the main occupation of his life, by common consent he became in the Courts an advocate of the first order. Those of us who had much to do with him in those days, whether as King's Counsel or as Law Officer, had the very best reasons for respecting his powers alike in attack and in defence. I may perhaps say of him—and he would have relished the quotation—what Diomede said when he was consulted as to the prowess of Æneas:

Experto credite quantus In clipeum adsurgat, quo turbine torqueat hastam. Alike when using the shield and when hurling the spear, the power of Gordon Hewart was not to be denied.

And, my Lords, I venture to remind you that in his prime in the House of Commons Gordon Hewart was a most effective debater. I should doubt whether his persuasive authority in that Chamber as Attorney-General, not merely in technical matters but in the main political controversies of the day, has ever been surpassed. He did an immense amount of important work in connexion with the close of the last war. He attended the Peace Conference at Paris as one of our representatives, and he played a leading part in handling many difficult problems. By that course of development which seems almost to be a peculiarity of this country, after a career in the very centre of turbulent controversy he passed to the serener atmosphere and more remote asso- ciations of high judicial office and he filled the position of Lord Chief Justice with unfailing dignity and courtesy and authority.

There is one other feature which everybody who knew him would wish to have specially mentioned. Throughout his life and in all sorts of circumstances, Gordon Hewart was a most admirable and felicitous speaker, with a wonderful command—a really wonderful command—of the telling phrase, whether humorous or serious. Many of your Lordships must have had occasion to admire this quality of his, though he seldom exhibited it in this House. As he passes from the scene we may fitly say of Lord Hewart that, in the many parts which he was called to play on the stage of life, he always showed himself the master of his task. He will be remembered as a man of high and varied accomplishment who, over a long stretch of years, devoted his talents to the service of his country.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Addison would have wished to have been here to associate himself with the words that have been spoken of Lord Hewart. In his absence may I, on behalf of the Labour Peers in this House, be permitted to say how cordially we associate ourselves with the tribute paid by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to the memory of Lord Hewart and with the expression of sympathy to Lady Hewart?


My Lords, after the eloquent tributes that have been paid to Lord Hewart, I desire to add very little, but as, during his political life, he was a member of the Liberal Party, I think something should be added from this Bench. As a Liberal Member of Parliament, as a Law Officer of the Crown, as a Cabinet Minister, and as Lord Chief justice of England, Lord Hewart was a notable figure in the public life of this country. He did not often take part in debates in your Lordships' House but I recollect very well one occasion on which he did so. It was when my noble friend Viscount Sankey, who was then Lord Chancellor, introduced the Supreme Court of Justice (Amendment) Bill, and I think that on that occasion, as perhaps some of your Lordships will recall, Lord Hewart took part in the discussion with consider- able effect. I do not propose to refer to Lord Hewart's career at the Bar; that has been so well and so fully dealt with by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. I would only add that Lord Hewart was an author of note and that one of his books, The New Despotism, in which he sought to champion the rights of the individual against the encroachments of bureaucracy, will be read for many years to come.


My Lords, permit me as one of Lord Hewart's old friends, who sat with him for many years in the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, to say a few words in addition to those which have fallen from the lips of other members of this House. As a barrister practising locally in Manchester, and as a junior in London, Gordon Hewart enjoyed a high reputation. This was enhanced when he took silk, and became one of His Majesty's Counsel. Subsequently, as Solicitor-General and Attorney-General he was one of the foremost advocates of his time. His cross-examinations were those of the new school—very quiet and very effective; and his addresses to a Judge or a jury, whether on questions of law or questions of fact, were persuasive because he could make the most intricate problems and the most complicated details appear simple and straight-forward. These qualities enabled him to obtain in the House of Commons the same high reputation as he had at the Law Courts. It was my good fortune to sit with him frequently in the Court of Criminal Appeal and on appeals from justices. He was a generous colleague, and he had a great gift of language which enabled him to pronounce judgments in perfect English. He had a burning desire to do justice, and he was the author of that memorable maxim that: "It is essential not only that justice should be done, but that justice should appear to be done.'

His Parliamentary experience taught him the dangers of excessive bureaucracy, and led him to uphold the powers and advantages of an independent Judiciary. He was an excellent public speaker, especially at social functions, and many of us think he was the best of his day. He had his personal griefs. His eldest son, an undergraduate at Balliol who had just taken a First Class in Classical Moderations, was killed in Gallipoli. His second son was invalided in the European War. In later years he suffered, for some time, from ill health. In private life he was a most delightful companion, and although in public life it fell to my lot, at times, to disagree with him, that did not destroy our old friendship or make me forget the many pleasant hours I had spent with him both on arid off the Bench.

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