Obituary: Geoffrey Brice

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
GEOFFREY BRICE was a greatly admired Queen's Counsel, writer and academic - modest in manner, quick in intellect and fair in all his dealings. He was well known internationally in maritime law and in particular in the law of salvage.

He was educated at Magdalen College School, Brackley and University College London. He was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1960, where he won a Harmsworth Scholarship and the Robert Garraway Rice Prize. In 1961 he joined chambers specialising in Admiralty law in Queen Elizabeth Buildings ("QEB") in the Middle Temple. Whereas it was usual for young tenants to sit and wait their turn for instructions, probably to act as junior or note-taker to a leading member of chambers, Brice branched out and for some years did criminal and common law work on the Oxford Circuit.

This however was not to last for long, because he was soon spotted by Admiralty solicitors looking for an able and industrious junior. Brice liked to understand at first hand that which he was required to deal with in his legal practice. Accordingly he went to sea for three weeks in the North Sea on a Hull trawler and made a lifelong friendship with the trawler skipper.

In 1979 he took silk, was appointed by the Lord Chancellor to the Panel of Wreck Commissioners and made a Lloyd's Arbitrator in salvage by the Council of Lloyd's. He was destined to become the Appeal Arbitrator in May 2000. In 1986 he was elected a Bencher of the Middle Temple.

As a QC he was involved in many of the leading High Court cases and salvage arbitrations. There was not a trace of arrogance in his character, yet if he thought his cause was right he would press to take the matter further on appeal. He was counsel in the House of Lords in the case of the Goring (whether there was a right to salvage in inland waters), in the Popi M (whether a ship was lost by scuttling or by being struck by an unidentified submarine) and in the Nagasaki Spirit (determining the type of expenses recoverable as "special compensation" where there was a threat of damage to the environment).

He was Counsel for the RNLI in the Penlee lifeboat disaster of December 1981, where the crew of both the lifeboat and the ship were lost on the Cornish coast, and in the loss of the Burtonia with three of her crew in the North Sea when the lifeboat was misdirected.

Brice had a strong sense of duty for those who suffer the results of casualties at sea. He appeared de bono with others for the Family Association (many of whose members he came to know personally) in the Formal Investigation into the loss of the bulk carrier Derbyshire in the South China Sea, with her crew of 44 men and women from Liverpool; and he appeared for the Treasury Solicitor in the investigation into the loss of the Hull trawler the Gaul. Due to the recent ability to film and investigate at depth (the Derbyshire lies in a depth of two and a half miles), both these investigations will be reopened in the new year to consider the fresh evidence. Brice would have had a keen interest in the results.

Despite this busy and engaging practice he found time in 1983 to write a definitive text book on the law of salvage (Maritime Law of Salvage). With the stranding of the oil tanker Torrey Canyon off Land's End in 1967 and later the Amoco Cadiz on the coast of Brittany, a whole new dimension had come into salvage - the need to prevent pollution following major casualties ashore or at sea irrespective of whether there was the successful salvage of property. Brice had attended the Conference of the Comite Maritime International in Montreal in 1981 and was a member of the UK Government Delegation to the International Maritime Organisation Legal Committee from 1984 to 1989.

The result of these deliberations was the International Convention on Salvage 1989 which had as its principal objectives the safety of vessels and other property in danger and the protection of the environment. Not surprisingly Lloyd's relied upon his expertise and he became heavily involved in the drafting of the 1995 Lloyd's Standard Form of Salvage Agreement and subsequently was a major contributor to the new and simplified Lloyd's Form 2000.

Brice was also well placed to write authoritatively on the effect of the major changes brought about by the convention which he incorporated in the second edition of his work in 1993. His book displays an inquisitive mind eager to debate and discuss current questions of salvage law, if not already established by common sense or precedent.

Despite being innovative, Brice respected tradition and had a scholarly knowledge of legal maritime history stretching back to the foundation of Admiralty law in the Laws of Oleron in AD 960. He enjoyed lecturing on his chosen subject and was appointed Visiting Professor of Maritime Law at Tulane University in New Orleans in 1989 and a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Natal in 1996. In Britain and abroad he was generous with his time for pupils and students in discussion and advice when away from the rostrum.

In 1980 he was appointed a Recorder of the Crown Court and in recent years sat regularly as a Deputy High Court Judge in the Queen's Bench Division hearing a wide range of cases. In both these capacities his early days of practice on Circuit stood him in good stead.

Geoffrey James Barrington Groves Brice, barrister: born Ash, Kent 21 April 1938; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1960, Bencher 1986; Lloyd's Arbitrator 1978-99; QC 1979; Wreck Commissioner 1979-99; Visiting Professor of Maritime Law, Tulane University 1989-99; Visiting Professor of Maritime Law, University of Natal 1996-99; married 1963 Nuala Brice (one son); died High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire 14 November 1999.