Death of a Member: Lord Judge Debate

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Department: Leader of the House
Thursday 9th November 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I know that noble Lords from across the House were deeply shocked and saddened to learn yesterday of the passing of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I add my sadness and deepest condolences to his family.

I enjoyed nearly a year with him as Convenor of the Cross Benches. Whatever the great matters of state that we should have been discussing, we usually ended up just talking about our families. My oh my, he loved his family so much—that is probably the one takeaway I had from him.

As is normal, we will now hear tributes from the usual channels. I know that many noble Lords have passed their heartfelt remarks on to the leaders and convenor, who will, I am sure, do their best to reflect the outpourings of admiration and sadness that they have received. I am also aware that some other noble Lords may feel that they want to pay tribute today. It is customary for the focus of tributes to come from the leaders and usual channels but, if other noble Lords would like to contribute, I respectfully ask that their contributions be as brief as possible. I expect any Back-Bench remarks to be no more than a minute long, as we have seen with other similar tributes.

Noble Lords may also find it helpful to know that the Office of the Convenor of the Cross Benches is co-ordinating written tributes and regards for Lord Judge’s family, should noble Lords wish to pass those on. I have no doubt that, in the fullness of time, they will be very warmly received.

Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, on happier mornings than this one, after I became the Leader of your Lordships’ House, there would from time to time come a knock on my door and a smiling, spectacled face would somewhat hesitantly edge round it. “May I have a word?”, that gentle, quiet-spoken voice would ask. How readily I always welcomed in the late Lord Judge, mildly puzzled that I would be so deferred to by someone so much more gifted than me.

Of course, infinite courtesy was a mark of his, as was that genial humility that belied his remarkable career. He was born in Malta in 1941 and, as a baby, was almost killed during the fascist siege; thank goodness for the errant hand of that Axis bomb aimer. He became a brilliant scholar. He was called to the Bar in 1963, took Silk in 1979 and, as we know, went on to become a great judge, first in the High Court in 1988, and then as a Justice of Appeal in 1996. He became the President of the Queen’s Bench Division in 2005 and was the Lord Chief Justice from 2008 to 2013.

Beyond the bare bones, I am not qualified to speak of that very great legal career but, when he retired as Lord Chief Justice, he became, I would submit, a very great parliamentarian. Noble Lords know how it is in this place: no one ever reads a speech. You sometimes struggle to calculate, as yet another page of typed script is turned, how long it is going to go on. But with Igor it was so different. He would appear with a few notes on a couple of sheets of letter paper, often written down not much before, and would speak for four minutes or so in the simplest and most beautiful English, forged into arguments of steel and illumined by humour, quote or anecdote. He would seize the whole House by the scruff of the neck and compel its attention.

He became Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers in 2019 and, as Cabinet Office Minister responsible for the constitution and later as Leader of your Lordships’ House, I regularly met him. My predecessor, my noble friend Lady Evans of Bowes Park, and my noble friend Lord Ashton of Hyde, who both much regret not being able to be here, have asked me to express their fondest appreciation of their own exchanges with Lord Judge in the usual channels and how they ever valued his charm and sound sense—as they saw it, a mentor, counsellor and friend. Once, my noble friend Lord Ashton remembers that, in a very British manner, they conducted a whole negotiation with a House of Lords mouse which neither of them mentioned sitting motionless on the chair behind Lord Judge’s right ear. Igor, it seems, like Orpheus, could even charm the animals.

Certainly, to discuss an issue with him was a joy, whether you agreed or disagreed. His keen intelligence, good humour and firmness of principle were always there, but with that open mind. He was a man of utter integrity; he had a profound passion for the common law, the ancient liberties of our land, parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law—on which, of course, we agreed. Where we differed, which I hated, the most usual point of difference was over the prerogative or the role of the Executive. Igor was an admirer of the great jurist and parliamentarian Sir Edward Coke and, being a bookish man and fathoming another such in me, he generously gave me Coke’s biography, which he thought might persuade me during his differences with the Government over the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. One thing I could agree with Coke on was his dictum “Lex est tutissima cassis”—the law is our safest shield. Igor took that as a title for a book and a watchword for life; and, in his sure, safe judgment in court and in this place, he was the living embodiment of it.

His deeply rooted constitutionalism rested in a lifelong interest in history, which it so happened we had both read at the same university. When the business was done, he would enjoy a talk of history or cricket—or music, a love he inherited from a gifted mother, who we can deduce admired Stravinsky. Your Lordships may allow me one anecdote. When, as Leader, within a matter of days, I was plunged into having to do one of the most difficult things I have ever had to—pronounce the eulogy for our late Queen—I was struggling alone an hour before in my office wondering if I would be able to say what I thought the House would want to hear without actually breaking down. Then came that gentle knock on the door and the smiling face came round. It was Igor. “How are you getting on?”, he asked kindly. I told him my problem. “Just read the difficult bits aloud four or five times,” he said, “and then you will know them by heart or be familiar. That will get you through.” Of course, as ever, Igor’s advice was right.