HL Deb 29 June 1971 vol 321 cc145-9

My Lords, by the death yesterday of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, Parliament and the Law have suffered the loss of one of their most revered and beloved figures, and it falls to me, as the youngest of his surviving successors as Lord Chancellor, to say a few words in tribute to his memory. I do so the more willingly because between him and my family there was a long and lasting friendship. He gave me my silk gown. My father made him a Judge. And though 25 years separated us in point of age, he showed throughout my public life a sympathy and a warmth towards me which was always the more affecting because one saw that it was natural and sincere.

He was a member of the legal profession since 1906, the year before I was born. When he died yesterday he was in his 90th year. Only a few days before his death he wrote a letter in the elegant and firm calligraphy we knew so well, excusing himself from the complimentary dinner at his own Inn of Court to celebrate the retirement of Lord Parker of Waddington. To the end he remained in command of his superb and lucid talents. He had been a Member of your Lordships' House since 1944. Most of your Lordships with more than a few years' service remember him well. In my own mind's eye I can see him now, speaking from the place which now I occupy on the introduction of commercial television, to which I was then opposed. The fine presence, the command of English, the fastidious style of utterance are in my imagination as I speak. Every inch a gentleman, every inch a scholar; and a scholar of Winchester at that, the school of which he was so proud and of which he subsequently became Warden, a Lord Chancellor who was also a Double First in Classics (Honour Mods in 1902, Greats in 1904), not the first, nor, I hope, the last of the scholars who applied their first-class intellects to the service of their country, first in the law and latterly in the Cabinet.

He was one of the few Lord Chancellors in recent years, with Buckmaster, Sankey and Maugham, who came to the Woolsack straight from the Bench and not from politics. Like Buckmaster and Maugham, the latter of whom he might well have substituted in succession to my father but for his then junior standing as a Judge, he was a practitioner, and a Judge, in the Chancery Division. He was master of his law, quick, courteous, and decisive, though those who appeared before him will remember, but with complete approval, that his capacity for suffering fools gladly was limited by the power and speed of his intellect. Though of a most conservative mind (in the best sense and with a small "c") he will be remembered, among other things, as the Lord Chancellor who set up the Law Reform Committee.

We all admired him in this House, and those of us who had the privilege of his friendship and acquaintance loved him dearly. His integrity, his poise, his capacity in the Appellate Committee to take the chair with perfect control and economy of time, made him in many ways a model Lord Chancellor. Only one sadness darkened what must to many of us have seemed a long, full, balanced, distinguished and happy life: the loss of his two dearly loved twin sons, the one killed on the field of honour at Arnhem in 1944, the other deceased after a sad illness in 1951. Our hearts go out to his widow and kinsmen. The remembrance of him will abide for many years to come.

I cannot forbear to conclude with a quotation from a famous judgment of his, delivered in this House, at once a tribute to his sense of style and to the elevated nature of his legal and political philosophy: A blind unquestioning obedience said Gavin, in the course of his speech in Christie v. Leachinsky, is the law of tyrants and of slaves. It does not yet flourish on English soil. Nor, my Lords, will it ever do so so long as Winchester, Oxford and Lincoln's Inn continue to nourish such children for the service of Church and State.

2.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like from these Benches to join in everything that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said about the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds. It was no surprise to anyone at the Bar when Lord Simonds, after a brilliant academic record, had such a practice that he was appointed a Puisne Judge, and it must be, I suppose, about thirty years ago that I first appeared before him in the Chancery Division. His analytic and incisive mind was such that he could go to the heart of any legal problem, however complex, and he had the happy facility that some judges, but not all, have of being at once always courteous while at the same time not allowing time to be wasted. The fact that he was appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary from being a Puisne Judge and remained so for fifteen years, seven years before he was Lord Chancellor and eight years after he was Lord Chancellor, shows what a mark he has left upon our law. He was always very kind to me, and I have lost not only a predecessor but a friend. To-day our hearts go out to Lady Simonds, and we on these Benches send her our deepest sympathy.


My Lords, I should like to add a few words to the very fitting tributes that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, have paid to Gavin Simonds. The Lord Chancellor has spoken of him and of his career, and I should like, if I may, to endorse all that he and Lord Gardiner have said. There are, of course, many in this House and in the law who knew him well and loved him. When he was Lord Chancellor I was a Law Officer. Law Officers and Lord Chancellors have to work closely together, and it was during those years that I came to know him and clime to become a close friend of his. And the more one saw of him the more one admired him. I do not suppose that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and I can realise fully how difficult it must be for someone to come to the Lord Chancellor's Office without any previous experience of politics—and that Gavin did. That he triumphed over all the difficulties no one will dispute.

He was a valiant fighter for the causes in which he believed; how valiant will perhaps not be fully appreciated until the Cabinet papers, which he wrote with wonderful clarity and felicity of language, are made public. My memories of him are many: of appearing before him as a judge of first instance; of appearing before him in the House of Lords, and, on occasion, of sitting with him when he sat judicially.

Great things have already been said about his fine mind and his incisiveness of mind. He was always courteous; he always got on quickly with the work. Sometimes he was apt to say, "Well, I think we have understood that point. What is your next point?" Perhaps proceedings in this House could be expedited if that were sometimes said here. My memories of him are many. They go back to happy days fishing with him on the Test; the days in Scotland, and many other occasions. We who knew him well loved and miss him greatly. His marriage was an exceptionally happy one, and I hope that what has been said to-day in this House and elsewhere will bring some comfort, by its recognition of his qualities and of our admiration of him, to his widow.


My Lords, tributes were paid to Lord Simonds this morning both in our Appellate Committee and in the Privy Council, but perhaps your Lordships will allow me to add a few words now, as one who sat with him in our judicial work for about fifteen years. For the last ten years before his retirement, or thereabouts, he presided regularly, and he set us such an example that I look back on that period as a golden age. It has fallen to me to try to do my best to follow that example since I succeeded him as senior Lord of Appeal seven or eight years ago, and it has been no easy task.

Gavin Simonds has taken his place as one of the great masters of the law of recent times, and he has done so by reason of a unique combination of strength of character, clarity of vision, felicity of language and mastery of every branch of law. His work will long influence the practice of the law in our courts, and for my own part there is no one to whom I look back with greater veneration and affection.

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