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3 December, 2007  
London Calling

Leverhulme laments the passing of Lord Bridge of Harwich, who got the Birmingham Six case wrong but Spycatcher right … Another possible miscarriage of justice as Court of Appeal orders a retrial in the Jill Dando murder case

imageIt is sad to report the death of Lord Bridge of Harwich who took the chair-lift upstairs this week at the grand old age of 90.

Why is it that so many senior judges (Denning, Hailsham, Megarry, Wilberforce, Barwick, and McTiernan) live to such biblical ages?

Lord Bridge left us, appropriately enough, at the time when miscarriages of justice seem to be in the news in Blighty.

During the summer of 1975 his Lordship presided in the medieval Great Hall of Lancaster Castle at the trial of the Birmingham Six.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the judge himself was responsible for interruptions in the evidence about the pub bombings which had been attributed to the IRA.

Twice his Lordship had to see a dentist, once he had acute gastritis and then he was forced to adjourn a rather passionate summing-up because his throat spray was not restoring a fading voice.

But the judge was in full voice when the jury heard him say after they found the defendants guilty that it had been “the clearest and most overwhelming evidence I have ever heard in a case of murder”.

imageThe Birmingham Six were duly potted and served 16-years in prison before their convictions were quashed, primarily due to doubts about the voluntariness of the confessions.

The Court of Appeal refused to criticise Bridge (pic).

In an interview a year later his Lordship said he was “unhappy” about what had happened, but not “guilty”.

* * *

Nigel Bridge, who rejoiced in the rather splendid middle name Cyprian, was a robust and clever judge. He was renowned, said the Telegraph, for his mastery of the facts and a deftness in applying them to the legal issues.

In the Spycatcher case, he took the dissenting but commonsense view that continued suppression of Peter Wright’s book was futile because it was already available to large sections of the public.

Lord Justice Purchas told the story of hearing a case as a new Court of Appeal judge with Bridge and Templeman LJJ, as they both then were.

They had legendary reputations and it was not long before they were promoted to the highest court.

Templeman once shook the trees of those barristers who love to say, “For the sake of completeness,” when he declared in Ashmore v Corporation of Lloyds [1992] 1 WLR 446 at 453 that:

“It was the duty of counsel to assist the judge by simplification and concentration and not to advance a multitude of ingenious arguments in the hope that out of ten bad points the judge will be capable of fashioning a winner.”

Purchas told of the time the three of them heard some tricky arguments in a complex case. The bewigged brethren retired to consider their decision. He watched in awe as Templeman said, “It’s all very clear. No need to reserve. I can deliver judgment now”.

Bridge said, “Yes, all very plain. I can too”.

Purchas, feeling some degree of comfort now that he could just say “I concur”, returned to the court with his colleagues and heard Templeman LJ deliver a beautifully reasoned judgment.

Then to his horror Bridge LJ went diametrically the other way. As it dawned on him what was happening, Lord Justice Purchas could only do one thing: he started writing furiously.

* * *

imageThe Court of Appeal has ordered a retrial in the Jill Dando case.

This is an alleged miscarriage of justice against Barry George (seen here with Dando), the man convicted of shooting the TV presenter and who has been in prison for six years.

The case was entirely circumstantial and much was made of a speck of firearms residue found deep in the pocket of George’s coat, which is now the subject of some debate.

At the same time, a man has been charged with the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common 15-years ago. The innocent Colin Stagg was cleared of the killing by an Old Bailey judge in 1994 but he spent more than a year in prison.

Instances of miscarriage of justice certainly make for dramatic news stories and they lead members of the public to believe that they are commonplace events, when they are not.

Too often the finger is pointed at the trial judge and not at lazy, incompetent or dodgy investigators.

The errors take years to correct and when a claim is made for compensation expect to have 25 percent deducted for board and lodging as a guest of Her Majesty. See O’Brien [2007] UKHL 10.

* * *

On a brighter note, it’s nice to know that solicitors in the City are not out of pocket.

Average partner hourly rates at magic circle firms have risen 67 percent from £375 ($A877) to £625 ($A1,463) in four years.

The Lawyer reports that even rates for newly-qualified lawyers have risen 34 percent to £235 ($A550) an hour.

Most of the magic circle firms have thoughtfully provided beds and showers for their employees so one must presume that “board and lodging” is thrown in.